Pain in Practice: What to Do?

Dan Cayer
3 min readOct 11, 2021

There’s something to be discovered right where we don’t want to find it.

One of the things that you often don’t imagine when you begin, or want to begin, meditation is that you will likely be in pain at times. Instead of clear-headed bliss or peace, your knees will be bothering you, your back will be stiffening, or you will be chased by anxiety or sadness. We don’t put that on the marketing materials.

For many of us, meditation is where we’d like to escape the pain of our lives: distress, heartbreak, indecision, social media. We imagine a still place, quietly humming with contentment.

When my wife undertook a meditation retreat in Thailand many years ago (one in which she was admittedly unprepared for), she met with the young Abbott at the Buddhist monastery and asked him about these intense aches and pains from sitting all day. He looked at her with a smile of recognition and said, “Ah, pain, always your friend.”

So, what the heck was he talking about?

When you’re in pain — physical or emotional — you feel something has to be done. What’s more clear than exactly what is to be done is the recognition that something must change right now. It’s understandable. But what if it’s not going away easily? Or what if, despite your best efforts, you continue to be pestered by inconvenient emotions on a daily basis. Super annoying!

Each day of our lives, we are affronted by something we don’t want to experience — the weather, a scary thought, a glance at our body in the mirror, or being disappointed by others. Sometimes it’s a little pain, sometimes it’s a lot.

It’s those who have a lot of pain that are forced to deal with the issue front on. Normally, we try to solve all our problems — and sometimes, with great success. Here’s an example: if the space under your bathroom sink is cluttered and unappealing, go to Bed, Bath & Beyond (my main competitor for your inbox attention), get a shelf-organizer and voilà, problem solved!

But the mindset of someone in chronic is often that their life is one giant problem to be solved. Always brainstorming, scanning options, always busy in the mind because maybe you will be able to get everything in order.

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Dan Cayer

Meditation + Alexander Technique teacher. Author of “Don’t Get Better,” forthcoming guide to sanity, humor, and wisdom during illness. dancayer.co