Thursday, August 27, 2009

Zen & the Art of Telling Pain Who's in Charge

In one of the books I recently read, Eat Pray Love, the author talks about her experiences with meditation. She talks about her quest to enter that tranquil state of meditation where pain and annoyances are irrelevant.

I've thought about this idea before--being able to just "take it" when you're in pain, without being ruffled or upset. So today when I got a seriously, seriously painful paper cut right before going into the grocery store, I thought I'd give it a try.

"Just let it go," I said. "Accept the pain. Accept that you cannot do anything about it right now and don't get upset."

Paper cuts are evil. They can sting and throb in pain until you get them covered up in a bandage. This was a particularly deep and nasty cut and it was really throbbing. So I didn't expect my little "accept the pain" mantra to do much.

However, once I told myself that I would just accept the circumstances and move on with my life, the pain miraculously disappeared instantly. Disappeared--I couldn't feel a single thing. This was somewhat unfortunate, because then I was shocked and started marveling how this could be possible until I was obsessing about the paper cut. And once I started thinking about it, I realized I was still in a lot of pain.

Again, I decided to just let go. The pain was gone again in an instant. Or rather--the pain wasn't gone but it was forgotten completely. I couldn't feel it at all. I let appreciation fill me up and float me away and then went on with my shopping. A few times during the trip, I was reminded of the throbbing pain in my finger and each time I told myself: "Just let go."

Now I'm feelin' pretty tough, although in reality I am a total pain-abhorring cry baby. I literally can't stop my eyes from tearing up when one of my kids does something particularly ferocious like jumping onto my nose or grabbing my hair and then trying to run away with it. Luckily, those times are extremely few and far between, and so are paper cuts.

But what about other kinds of pain and frustration? What about everyday annoyances like somebody driving three miles per hour in the no-passing, 35-mph zone when you're late for a really important, non-reschedulable appointment? What about times when life just isn't fair and you can taste the bitterness starting to sink into your chest? Can those kinds of pain just *poof* disappear?

I think so. I think it takes a lot more maturity and a lot more practice than most people care to give it. I also think it's the key to inner peace and continuing joy. So next time my kids wake up at 2:00 a.m. barfing and it's just NOT FAIR that I "get" to clean it up ... I'm going to try to just tell myself: LET GO. Let go of the pain. Let go of the frustration. Move on ... or relive this unhappiness until you've made yourself sick, too. Just let go.


  1. Watch out for those paper cuts because on Oprah on tuesday, there was this lady that cut her finger while she was slicing celery. Next thing she knew, she had a flesh eating bacteria thing that took half of her upper body. Literally. They had to cut it off. From a simple cut.

  2. Gosh, that's ... inspirational? informative? disgusting? chunderiffic?



  3. Hey, I could have used your Zen-like company around here at 6 when I got a massive slice form a can lid. Blood everywhere and intense throbbing. Ugh. But you are so right about the letting go, esp with emotional pain too. Greta post. Thanks!