+4 votes
by (610 points)
Can meditation remove all physical pain or just the mental pain associated with it? I know that it can truly remove certain physical pains and aches as when I meditate and "relax" certain parts of my body the pain lessens but with severe pain will meditation just help with the mental pain associated with it?

Due to the nature of our body and life, it is normal that pain will arise from time to time (one can fall down, cut his finger....) but can meditation prevent us from feeling any physical pain in the future or just alleviate it when it arises?

3 Answers

+2 votes
by (3.6k points)
From my own experiences I can say that some physical pain can be removed entirely, others can only be alleviated whilst meditating. I guess it depends on the root cause of the physical pain.
Take f.i. shoulder pain. If it's rooted in stress, anger etc. then meditation can lead to total freedom from this pain.
If, however, the pain comes from a defect in the joint meditation can't remove the pain forever. In bad cases not even alleviate it. One will have to have surgery.

Others might have other experiences though.
by (610 points)
Thank you! It does really make sense and that's what I would have thought as well.

Sankha's answer (below) made me think of how despite having bleeding toes I could dance without feeling the pain yet as soon as the performance was over the pain was so intense I could not walk normally or wear shoes that wear a lot more comfy than point shoes.

So could any sort of pain vanish when our minds are just so focused on other things? But it would be hard to maintain such a state of focus 24/7 so it might be better to accept the pain and do what we can to alleviate it (surgery, rest...).

Thanks a lot for your answer!
by (3.6k points)
edited by
1) Speaking for normal situations
No, not any sort of pain can vanish when our minds are focused on other things.
In case of minor pain it is possible to pay attention to other things, get absorbed in them and then not feel the pain, because our attention is somewhere else. In these cases the wanting to experience the other sense impressions is greater than the pain.
But then there are cases with severe pain. When I say severe I'm talking about pain that is immobilising, crippling, so great that one can't sleep. In such cases the mind can't help but pay attention to the body, the body simply demands it and will override any other desires.

Simply put: sometimes the mind initiates what will happen next (is the cause), sometimes it's the body.
It depends not only on what the mind finds useful, important, valuable. But other factors, like the heaviness/greatness of the sense impression, are also relevant in 'choosing' what to pay attention to.
And sometimes, it's the body that decides, so to speak.

To give another example: urinating.
When the urge to urinate is small/minor, one can put this simply aside, ignore it; go dancing, have a talk, watch tv, whatever. But sooner or later the urge will be so great that it no longer can be ignored. The body will force you to go to the toilet, whether you want to or not. When in sleep you will wake up.

Same with the pain. If it's minor the mind will pay attention to something else if it wants to. But if the pain becomes too severe, so severe that normal bodily functions can't be performed, then the body will override any other desires/wants the mind could have and attention will be drawn to the bodily sensations.

So, no. One can't remove any pain by simply focus on something else.

This back-and-forth between mind and body as 'leader of the action' is one of the early stages of insight (the 2n of all 16) we gain when we practice meditation.

2) In 'not normal' situations
I'm referring here to deeper stages of concentrations.
When totally absorbed all pains vanish because the experience of the body has ceased completely. And with that the experience of physical pain will cease as well. This is the fact in the fourth (meditative) jhana. You won't feel breath anymore. Even the experience of the heart beat can be gone.

But: a) those stages are always temporarily; and b) you can't get into those stages with pain as severe as I illustrated above simply because the pain is so demanding and changing that the mind will never get still enough. (I'm a chronic pain patient. So, I do speak a bit from experience here. I also practice jhana next to vipassana.)

When it comes to those deeper stages of concentrations (jhana). You say you never been in them. I sincerely doubt it. In fact, in your answer to Sankha you explain a jhana perfectly: you didn't feel the pain until you were done dancing. As a ballerina your focus on your movements has to be absolute. You can't afford to be somewhere else with your mind or you'll loose balance. A voila: you have been in jhana when performing.
It's just not a (higher) meditative jhana, it was an 'ordinary one'. (Jhana are often misunderstood, especially by those not practising them.)
What I want to say is that you know what it is and there is no reason to think that you can't go there in meditation as well. In fact, I think that your habituation will incline your mind more towards concentration practice (samatha) than wisdom practice (vipassana). Something to look out for when you meditate, because it can present you with certain challenges.

Anyway. Hope this clarifies things a bit better.
by (610 points)
Yes that was really helpful!!! :) Thank you so much for taking the time to help me out with this. Have a wonderful day!
+1 vote
by (7.7k points)

Physical pain cannot be felt even if you go to deep sleep. It's about shutting down the central nervous system. When you are in deep sleep, the mind only has Bhavaanga cittas and you don't even have a sense of time, space or existence. 

In Samatha meditation, when you enter the Jhaanas, the CNS is shut off. So you are no longer getting any input from the 5 senses including physical pain and you are only aware of the Jhanic experience with a fixated mind. But as soon as you come out of the Jhanas, you can feel the pain again. 

Even when the CNS is shut off, whatever that is happening in the body to cause the pain is still happening. The difference is that the brain is not receiving the signal and recognizing it as pain. So what is the real problem here? The real problem is the mind's reaction to the pain. The natural reaction of the mind to pain is to dislike it and wish for it to go away. But if you are able to train the mind in a way that it will simply acknowledge the pain as just pain  without disliking it or wishing it to go away, the pain stops being a problem. This is where Satipatthana meditation comes in. If pain is part of nature that comes and goes from time to time, the better strategy would be to be at peace with nature instead of trying to suppress it.

by (610 points)
That's very interesting!!! I am not sure I will ever reach the Jhanas but luckily I still have sleep to alleviate my pains (both mental and physical).  ;)
I am now able to handle mental pain a lot better. I still dont seen any changes with physical pain but with practice I think I will be able to make it more bearable. I used to be a ballerina, so my body suffered a lot. It is interesting to see that the pain could vanish when I had to perform and as soon as the performance was over I couldn't even wear my shoes yet I was wearing point shoes a few hours before (point shoes are a lot tighter than regular shoes haha!). I am not sure why this happened, maybe because I was so focused on other things than the pain, I wasn't able to feel the pain?

Thanks so much for your answer!!! :)
by (7.7k points)
Even in sports, lot of injuries are felt after the event is over. It could be a combination of your mental focus, desire to succeed and the release of bodily hormones that takes away the pain while performing.  Since you are not performing anymore, it's better to wear comfortable footwear even if it is not the most fashionable.  Yoga exercises are known to alleviate bodily pains. But I would recommend you to try Satipatthana meditation if you want a lasting solution.
by (610 points)
I do practice yoga daily and it's been very helpful with mental and physical pain!!! Now I need to practice meditation at least as much as I practice yoga ;) Have a great day!
by (7.7k points)
All the best!
+1 vote
by (950 points)
edited by

> So could any sort of pain vanish when our minds are just so focused on other things?

It is not about making the pain vanish. It is also not about focusing on other things to distract us from the pain. Vipassana is about confronting the pain head on so we can comprehend it and therefore become dispassionate towards it.

As long as the pain does not reach the mind, it stops mattering. SN 22.1 mentions what "reaching the mind" means. 

How does it reach the mind? Because we spin stories around it. OMG I am miserable, I am not going to be able to do things I wanted to do etc. Basically a sense of I, me, mine gets spun around the pain. (Technically known as bhava). Natural reaction to pain is to freak out - that is the hard wiring we carry from pre-language infancy, when only way to call for help was to freak out.

How do we prevent it from reaching the mind? This is where noting comes in. Noting when done right flushes out any sense of I, me, mine. What remains is pure objectivity.

> it might be better to accept the pain and do what we can to alleviate it

My boss says pain is a excellent guide and that there are 4 levels of understanding pain. I'll let him speak:

> I am not sure I will ever reach the Jhanas

For one, ordinary humans practice the Jhanas, so unless you are no ordinary human, the same holds for you ;) For two, there are nearly as may interpretations of Jhana as there are meditations schools. Here is what I mean. Jhanas are a means to an end. 3 of the traditions I know, agree that concentration at the level of 1st Jhana is sufficient for full release.

It probably is the case that your situation is not an ordinary one. I invite you give the at home course a good shot and then decide for yourself whether it is helpful or not. Regardless of what you may have heard about the course requirements, its best to speak directly to bhante and let him guide you. Feel free to book a one off meeting here.

by (610 points)
Thanks so much again for taking the time to write such helpful and thorough answers!!! Super helpful!

I plan on taking the course in the coming weeks as I am sure it will be  very helpful!

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