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Buddhadharma : Spri 2007
spring 2007| 36 |buddhadharma just submit passively to this fate. but I’ve found that when I put aside the worries connected with the pain and simply bear it patiently, it eventu- ally subsides to a more tolerable level. From there I can make more realistic decisions and function effectively. the experience of chronic pain has enabled me to understand how inseparable pain is from the human condition. this is something that we in america, habituated as we are to comfort and con- venience, tend to forget. Chronic pain has helped me to empathize with the billions living daily with the gnawing pain of hunger; with the millions of women walking miles each day to fetch water for their families; with those in third World countries who lie on beds in poorly equipped, understaffed hospitals, staring blankly at the wall. even during the most unremitting pain – when reading, writing, and speaking are difficult – I try not to let it ruffle my spirits and to maintain my vows, especially my vow to follow the monastic path until this life is over. When pain breaks over my head and down my shoulders, I use contem- plation to examine the feelings. this helps me see them as mere impersonal events, as processes that occur at gross and subtle levels through the force of conditions, as sensations with their own distinct tones, textures, and flavors. the most powerful tool I’ve found for mitigat- ing pain’s impact is a short meditative formula repeated many times in the buddha’s discourses: “Whatever feelings there may be – past, present, or future – all feeling is not mine, not I, not my self.” benefiting from this technique does not require deep samadhi or a breakthrough to profound insight. even using this formula during periods of reflective contemplation helps to create a distance between oneself and one’s experience of pain. Such contemplation deprives the pain of its power to create nodes of personal identification within the mind, and thus builds equanimity and fortitude. although the technique takes time and effort, when the three terms of contempla- tion – “not mine, not I, not my self” – gain momen- tum, pain loses its sting and cracks opens the door to the end of pain, the door to ultimate freedom. One button at a time Those faced with chronic pain, says Darlene Cohen, can find comfort and delight in the subtle details of everyday life. darLene cohen, a Long- time memBer of the san francisco Zen center, was ordained a Zen priest in 1999. she is the author of turNiNg SufferiNg iNSide out: a ZeN approaCh to LiviNg with phySiCaL aNd emotioNaL paiN (shamBhaLa puBLications). WheN I beCaMe CrIPPLeD by rheumatoid arthritis, I was completely overcome by unremit- ting pain, terror, and despair. unable to walk, too weak to lift a phone, I thought bitterly of how much time I had wasted pursuing everlasting peace of mind. For seven years, over thousands of hours of zazen and maybe thirty sesshins, I had sat on a black cushion pursuing enlightenment in order to cope with just such an occasion – all to no avail. but I was wrong about the failure of practice, and within months of being struck by the condition, I knew it. First of all, though ravaged by pain and dis- ease, my body was deeply settled. While my mind had been plotting my rise to power at the San Francisco Zen Center, my body had been devel- oping the tremendous stability associated with regular sitting practice. So even though I was overwhelmed and consumed by the pain, I was able to surrender completely to the physicality of my existence, moment after moment. Left alone to explore my consciousness without distraction, I discovered that wherever I looked, there were experiences other than pain waiting to be noticed: here is bending, here is breath, here is sun warm- ing, here is unbearable fire, here is tightness. all these perceptions were fresh and fascinating. the consciousness that sitting practice cultivates is open to many kinds of experience, not all of them necessarily pleasant. If at any given moment I am aware of ten different elements – my bottom on the chair, the sound of cars passing outside, the thought of the laundry I have to do, the hum of the air-conditioner, an unpleasant stab of sharp knee pain, cool air entering my nostrils, warm air going out – and one of them is pain, that pain will domi- nate my life. but if I am aware of a hundred ele- ments, those ten plus more subtle sensations – the animal presence of other people sitting quietly in the room, the shadow of the lamp against the wall, the brush of my hair against my ear, the pressure of my clothes against my skin – then pain is merely ©KiKismiTh,CourTesypACewilDensTein,neWyorK