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Buddhadharma : Fall 2010
example, you may have lower back pain and, using the body scan, discover that the tension and tightness expands up to the top of the head—that your entire upper body is a constricted mass of pain. Is there a need for the extra tension and tight- ness beyond the lower back area? The truth is, you may be further exacerbating your pain by holding this musculoskeletal tension. So how do you deal with this extensive area of constricted tension and pain? Mindful awareness will not only allow you to see where you’re holding unnecessary tension, but will also help you soften and possibly release tension in these areas where there’s no pain at all. Mindfulness also teaches that if you can’t release the tension, you can practice riding its waves, just observing them, letting them be, and allowing them to ripple wherever they need to go. Just like watching ripples in a pond extend out farther and farther, you can give space to sen- sations and let them go wherever they need to go. Learning to be with pain may feel counterintuitive, but it’s a fundamental step in healing. Rather than investing your energy in fighting or resisting pain, learn to go with it. This is an ancient wisdom that goes back to the Buddha, who taught that whenever there is resistance to what is, there’s suffering. Step 2: Working with Emotions that Arise Why is it that we have such a hard time dealing with physical and emotional pain? Is it because of our upbringing? Do we live in a culture that prefers to deny the existence of pain? We certainly receive many cultural messages that encourage us to keep a stiff upper lip and suppress, repress, avoid, or deny our pain and other feelings. Mindfulness, on the other hand, offers a pathway to work- ing with the uncomfortable emotions that often arise when you have physical pain, such as anger, rage, sadness, confu- sion, despair, grief, anxiety, and fear. Bringing mindful aware- ness to emotions allows you to begin to acknowledge them, no matter what they are, validating and acknowledging them without censorship and without resistance. As with physical pain, resistance to difficult emotions often causes more pain, while learning to let be and go with them, rather than fighting them, can often diminish or change the suffering associated with them. Rather than fighting difficult emotions, simply allow and acknowledge whatever you feel, letting the waves of emotion go wherever they need to go. As mentioned earlier, there are important distinctions between “acknowledgment” and “acceptance,” and between “ letting be” and “letting go.” To “acknowledge” is to simply see things as they are, whether you like it or not. “Accep- tance,” on the other hand, can be seen as being okay or at peace with things as they are. If you’re experiencing pain, it may be difficult to be okay with the pain, but you can acknowledge it even if you don’t accept it. Likewise, “letting be” is different from “letting go.” “Letting go” implies being able to release, whereas “letting be” simply provides space for things to be as they are. Just like the sky gives space to a storm, you can give space to your emotions. Acknowledging emotional pain helps create the possibil- ity for deeper understanding, compassion, and peace. As you A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class taught by Janet Solyteges at the Shambhala Center in Boulder, Colorado alanRabold buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 10 40