Monday, March 20, 2006

The role of pain in mindfulness work

It's normal to avoid pain but not always skillful. Sometimes it's essential that we experience pain in order to know what's really going on interiorly. This point is made with a wonderful illustration I found the book Mindfulness and Acceptance edited by Hayes, Follette and Linehan:
If you went to a dentist with a bad tooth, and the dentist looked around in your mouth, poked, prodded, and scraped, but only touched teeth that were healthy, the appointment would be painless but not particularly useful. Although the dentist may have kept you comfortable, if you paid the dentist for that appointment, your money was stolen, and you walk away with the same troublesome tooth. We use metaphors such as this to illustrate to clients the point that pain can be inherent in addressing problems.
If you work with someone like a therapist or spiritual director to help you with your inner work, this illustration is definitely worth remembering. Pain is not necessarily terrible. In fact, the willingness to accept pain is actually an important part of alleviating our suffering. The pain is temporary, after all, but the benefit is lasting.

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