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Buddhadharma : Fall 2010
91 fall 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly “It’s almost certainly the case when a person is having a dramatic experience of pain breaking up that their endorphins are through the roof,” Young says. A brain imaging study conducted on athletes in Munich has shown that the euphoria that comes with vigorous exercise is due to the transmission of internal opioids such as endorphins to the cingulate and other regions. Placebos, which can be quite effective against pain, have also been shown to increase the body’s flow of these morphine-like chemicals. So while Young’s hypothesis has yet to be demonstrated in the labo- ratory, it may well be that we can release these pain-killing substances with sufficient mindfulness practice. Young says that to deal effectively with pain, we need three things: the clarity to untangle the individual sensory elements, concentration to focus on each element, and the equanimity to experience each element without suffering. In addition to pain’s sensory and emotional components, Young adds self- talk and the mental images that arise with pain. If we can apply mindfulness to each element, we can pick them off one by one. Turning toward pain with acceptance is a key strategy that Young teaches. But he also says we can turn away from pain and concentrate on a more pleasant object, like the breath. Unlike a distraction strategy for coping with pain, which can be fleeting, with sufficient practice concentration can be more enduring. Young says that while mindfulness is often defined as “nonjudgmental awareness,” more precisely it’s a question of equanimity. “Nonjudgmentalness can be a factor of equanimity, but equanimity is broader concept,” he says. Equanimity does not mean passivity. So when one has a physical injury, or even the kind of pain that might indicate a heart attack, instead of panicking, one can mindfully apply good judgment and do what needs to be done. “You can have equanimity with the physical sensations, the thoughts, and the feelings,” Young says, “while you take objective action.” There is nothing inherently wrong with taking a pill to relieve pain. One can mindfully lay a tablet on the tongue, sip from a glass of water, and swallow. But if mindfulness can relieve the suffering from pain, and sometimes even pain sensations themselves, doesn’t it make sense to give it a try? Mindfulness can also work as a complementary therapy in conjunction with medication. In cases of severe pain, drugs often fail to block all the pain. Mindfulness can help when drugs fall short. The best time to learn how to apply mindfulness toward pain may be before one is in severe pain. It’s like having an emergency kit available with you just in case you break down. We are all of the nature to grow old, to become ill, and to die. Few of us will escape from experiencing significant physical pain at one time or another. It helps to be prepared. Dodging one arrow is enough. Celebrating 40 years in business. Come visit us. www.tibetanlanguage.org Tel: 406/961-5131 • firstname.lastname@example.org TIBETAN LANGUAGE INSTITUTE LEARN TIBETAN Experience the joy of reading your texts and prayers in Tibetan LESSONS with DAVID CURTIS Over 17 years’ experience teaching hundreds of students Tibetan by Group Teleconference Call This Summer & Fall Free “Intro to Tibetan” Lecture: August 14 Level 1, Level 2, & Reading Courses: Starting in September Tibetan from the convenience of your own home: TLI makes it fun. TLI makes it easy. Private Lessons by Telephone Deepen your relationship with the Dharma TLI BOOkSTORE: hELPING STUDENTS ENhANCE PRACTICE & STUDy Best-selling Beginners’ Package with Effective Instructional DVDs & more Visit our website for: Tibetan learning materials for modern students, info on our courses, & free study aids “Learning Tibetan from David Curtis is definitely one of life’s better experiences.” —K.J., VA