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The value of pain?

techietechie India Veteran

I meditated for about 40 minutes in a full lotus posture - it was hellish, physically. Pain in my back, legs, etc.

But amazingly enough the mind did not wander because it was 'consumed' by the pain, I guess.

So it got me thinking. Is it possible that meditation postures are aimed at creating pain? You're so overwhelmed with pain that you give up your regular thinking patterns and obsessions. There is only pain, so your mind sort of comes to a standstill. It just doesn't have the opportunity or time to think of anything else.

Does pain serve a higher purpose, then?

Could this be the reason that zen emphasis sitting meditation?

Comments

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran
    edited March 1

    I would say that pain has no place in meditation.

    If the position you're in is causing you ongoing pain, change position. But do it mindfully. Without anger or judgment.

    dhammachickToshsatcittananda
  • kusalokusalo Monterey, California New
    edited March 1

    Firstly, major props @techie for even achieving the full lotus at all, never mind a staggering and unimaginable [by my standards] 40 minutes. I can last barely 20 minutes just kneeling with the support of a bench, after which I've sometimes rolled around on the mat holding my legs like an over-acting wrestler. So while I work on building up my masochist threshold with the seiza, for longer periods I sit on a chair - a loser Western meditator, I guess!

    My take on it, and as I always say, I'm not an expert on this or any other Buddhist or sitting topic, is that when I'm in mental distress sitting cross-legged for 40 mins as I did at one of my first Zen center visits, it does absolutely nothing to promote a viable sitting practice, it's just 40 mins of thinking "this is royal agony" and probably disturbing others with my fidgeting and constant leg adjustments.

    I read somewhere that Westerners, because it was so hard for them to be comfortable with the posture that was second nature to those Easterners who have sat lotus since childhood, figured it must be some kind of "enlightenment by torture" and that the amount of pain became a badge of honor. Apparently, that was never the purpose. The postures were simply intended to be the most stable.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited March 1

    A bit of discomfort keeps you awake and attentive. A lot of discomfort is hell and unhealthy as mentioned. If you want to practice sado-masochist highs, apply to Ms Kinky and the usual authorities.

    In an ideal mental and physical posture you are attentive and aware but not in pain ...

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran
    edited March 1

    @techie said:> Could this be the reason that zen emphasis sitting meditation?

    I think a lot of the obsession with posture and yogic contortion is cultural baggage, and I simply don't get the "no pain, no gain" mentality. I don't see pain in meditation as helpful or constructive, and I always advise people to find a comfortable posture. There is no reason why you can't use a stool or a chair or even lay down.

    lobsterKerome
  • gracklegrackle Veteran

    @techie. It took me awhile to master Padmasana. It was a step by step process. There is value in adjusting your mind to discomfort. But if frank pain is involved use half lotus or Burmese style. Until you are ready. But if you are not under training where it is expected to achieve Perfect Attention why do Padmasana at all?

    lobster
  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran
    edited March 1

    I've been reading Zen Mind, Beginners Mind and there a great deal of attention is given to posture. But the rationale given is that on some level the posture -is- the meditation.

    Pain in the mind or body is a signal that something is wrong. It can also be both a help and a hindrance to meditation, since it focuses the mind on something other than thoughts and pulls it to one of the sense objects.

    My personal approach to meditation is that posture matters some but after all the Buddha meditated lieing on his side. So I usually lie on my back while doing vipassana. I find it works well for me, and I appreciate the extra warmth :)

    But I do use hand mudra's, and I notice those give a significant boost to meditation. So perhaps there is something to be said for "the pose being the meditation", and it will eventually be worth exploring. I have bought a meditation cushion just in case.

    However I feel there are other factors that are more important in learning to meditate. Good focus, concentration and overcoming the hindrances your mind throws up are key, and if you can't do that while entirely comfortable I doubt whether you can do it while in discomfort. So I decided to tackle these first.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    I don't think so. Meditation postures have specific reasons for them. Pain is not one of them. And they are not required by any means. Sitting cross-legged and in half or full lotus is about collecting your energy inward. When you can comfortably sit full lotus, it is a relaxing pose, not a painful one. This allows your ankle bones to not sit on the floor, which becomes uncomfortable in cross legged or half lotus position. Full lotus stops that, and allows you to sit longer. But most people have to do a lot of work to work up to that pose because decades of sitting on furniture has shaped their bones, ligaments, muscles and everything else in there to be adapted to doing that. Not sitting on the floor. And definitely not sitting lotus. Lotus is very stressful on the knees when you are not prepared and you can significantly injure yourself forcing your body to do it.

    Since you can get into lotus, I would just practice sitting, outside of meditation, for a little bit each day, slowing increasing the time until you can comfortably do so for meditation. The knee has several ligaments, and it takes longer for them to adapt to changes. Often weeks or months. Damaging them is debilitating and greatly increases your chances for osteoarthritis later in life.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Indeed. The knee is the most complex joint in the body, because it has anterior AND posterior cruciate ligaments, and inner and outer lateral ligaments, as well as tendons attached to it....

    Ligaments have no blood supply, because they merely connect bone to bone. Tendons do (connecting muscle to bone), although even in this case, the blood supply is minimal.

    Injury to both ligaments and tendons, therefore, is very serious, because the healing process takes so much time.
    Hyper-extension of ligaments is also extremely detrimental to the joint's structure. Hyper-extension doesn't necessarily lead to greater flexibility. The ability to be flexible is down to the health, condition and elasticity of your muscular structure, not the tendons and ligaments, as they're connective tissue, and designed to hold things together.

    Zen meditation has nothing to do with overcoming, tolerating, enduring or 'transcending' pain.

    There's an element of Ego involved in that.
    And Ego does not make a good bedfellow...

    Pain's 'Higher Purpose' is to tell you to quit doing what you're doing or it will "all end in tears".

    I studied anatomy, and have seen the damage caused to the knee joint by excessive pressure.

    Trust me. It isn't pretty.

    pegembara
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    Ah, the PAIN thicket once more....

    @SpinyNorman : try to remember that those who tout "no pain, no gain" almost universally forget the ipso-facto corollary "no gain, no pain." This is serious.

    My understanding over 40-50 years is: 1. Everyone suffers pain; 1a. The cute-sters note that pain is inescapable, suffering in optional. 2. Trying to sidestep pain is like trying to sidestep blue sky ... somehow and in some way, everyone has to cope with their pain.

    1. As much as I hated the pain of Zen practice, it did offer me a forum in which to confront the inevitable. Physical pain and mental pain are no different ... both are limited and the realm of meditation is not to continue limiting this life.

    Do I recommend pain like some hip masochist? Nope. Do I recommend caving in to the wondrous warnings of pain? Nope. I just think that everyone has to serious up ... yes, there will be pain, Buddhist and otherwise (if such a thing exists), and a firm, quiet response is probably best.

    Your life, your move. :)

    Dhammikalobster
  • ToshTosh Veteran

    Sitting in a comfortable position, with an uncomfortable mind is enough for me to be dealing with. Boredom is pain enough without adding to it.

    lobsterBunksSpinyNorman
  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran
    edited March 1

    If it really was all the way "no pain, no gain" then how do you explain all the Americans who put on hundreds of pounds from profoundly pleasurable cheeseburger eating? They certainly "gained" something...

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    @Kerome First off, most Americans gain their weight from sugar, not cheeseburgers. It's the 48 ounce coke and fries they take with the burger that are vastly more the problem. Second, totally just my opinion but after a lot of observation and discussions, i think a lot of the people who are obese and morbidly obese also struggle with emotional and/or mental issues that contribute to their eating habits. Many, many of them turned to food for comfort the same as addicts turned to drugs to deal with serious issues that weren't properly handled. Anyhow. Just sayin'. Their emotional pain is often extreme and it's best not to mock them stereotypically for eating too many cheeseburgers. The problem is far more complex than that most of the time. When they seek medical help they are put on very low carb diets. Not low cheeseburger diets.

    Bunkssilver
  • TiggerTigger Toronto, Canada Veteran

    It's the sugar that is the culprit

    Our entire lives we were told it was the fat - it's the sugar...what a sneaky devil

    KeromeTosh
  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran

    It was meant to be a humorous interlude, but you're right, we shouldn't mock.

  • TiggerTigger Toronto, Canada Veteran

    @federica said:
    Incidentally, I make my own baked beans AND tomato ketchup.... and even though they're lower in sugar than the commercial varieties, they're extremely tasty - and not an artificial additive in sight!

    I have a friend that makes all of her sauces herself too. She gets bushels of tomatoes (amongst other things) when they are at a good price and makes salsa and pasta sauce. It was the best tasting salsa and sauce I ever had.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    ....You haven't tasted mine yet....! :D

    Tigger
  • TiggerTigger Toronto, Canada Veteran
    edited March 2

    Party at federicas!

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    BYOB..... :D

    Tigger
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @Tosh said:
    Sitting in a comfortable position, with an uncomfortable mind is enough for me to be dealing with. Boredom is pain enough without adding to it.

    Well said. B)
    'Uncomfortable mind/body' is acceptable. Boredom is acceptable.

    Resistence is futile.
    We are the Dharma Borg. Boredom is irrelevant. You will be assimulated.
    :bleep_bloop:

    KannonTosh
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @kusalo said:

    I read somewhere that Westerners, because it was so hard for them to be comfortable with the posture that was second nature to those Easterners who have sat lotus since childhood, figured it must be some kind of "enlightenment by torture" and that the amount of pain became a badge of honor. Apparently, that was never the purpose. The postures were simply intended to be the most stable.

    Hi @kusalo <3
    Welcome.

    Stable is good as I was once told by a horse :glasses:
    I have been taught 'standing meditation' usually in preparation for 'walking meditation' but it is normally more associated with chi kung and tai chi. Sadly fewer populist yogis teach retaining a posture for long periods, apart from Shavasana. I am glad to say the advanced headstand is no longer considered a suitable meditation posture for beginners.

    Body torture was something the Buddha practiced and abandoned.

    Stability comes from inner poise not outer posturing. Chairs are perfectly acceptable.

    silver
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    The value of pain?

    Find a position that's not too uncomfortable...(that it becomes the focus of the mind's attention ...disturbs the mind) but also a position that's not too comfortable ...( not too cosy that the mind goes into sleep mode)

    You want something in between the two extremes.... "relaxed but alert" the middle way

    lobster
  • ToshTosh Veteran

    @techie said:
    Does pain serve a higher purpose, then?

    As a general rule - away from meditation - I think pain can be a great teacher. Recovered alcoholics, for example, prize their rock bottoms because that was the turning point that led to recovery.

    In A.A. literature it says "Pain is the touchstone for all spiritual growth."

    When I'm in difficulties, for whatever reason, I have at times asked "What can I learn from this?"

    lobster
  • upekkaupekka Veteran
    edited March 13

    @techie said:
    I meditated for about 40 minutes in a full lotus posture - it was hellish, physically. Pain in my back, legs, etc.

    But amazingly enough the mind did not wander because it was 'consumed' by the pain, I guess.

    this is because you are aware of the faculty of the body

    So it got me thinking. Is it possible that meditation postures are aimed at creating pain? You're so overwhelmed with pain that you give up your regular thinking patterns and obsessions. There is only pain, so your mind sort of comes to a standstill. It just doesn't have the opportunity or time to think of anything else.

    these are thought you have by clinging to the awareness of pain

    Does pain serve a higher purpose, then?

    yes
    Buddha says there are three kind of bodily feeling: pain, pleasure, neither-pain-nor-pleasure (upekka)
    when you are aware of the pain in the body there is no awareness of the objects around you:form, sound, taste, smell, thought
    so you do not have mental pain and pleasure
    this is the place where our real 'insight_vidarshana_ meditation' starts

    at this moment you take pain is i, my, myself
    that is why you talk about 'your' pain

    just be brave (this means right effort)
    pay attention to 'the pain' (this means right mindfulness)
    and see what is happening to 'the pain'
    before 'the pain' arises there was no pain
    and see what is happening to arisen 'the pain'

    if i explain what would happen when we are brave and pay attention to the bodily pain, that would be another knowledge add to your store of consciousness

    (Hope what i have written is understandable and please do not take this as i am preaching here)

    if you come back with the results you would get after practising with what you have read in this post (not that you have to do accordingly, because once you have read this it is within your store of consciousness, you can not erase it and the cause created by reading this post would bring back the results without your help)
    just practice the way you have been practising

    lobster
  • upekkaupekka Veteran

    few more facts for the store of consciousness

    what do you know about four grate elements in Buddha's Teaching

    you have to read or listen to few dhamma talks with regard to four grate elements
    then they are in the store of consciousness

    then meditate 'just as the way you have been doing before'
    from the time the pain arises, the meditation object (bavana nimitta) is the pain

    Dhamma reveals itself

    what we need is to have confidence in what we are doing (faith), the effort to do it regularly (persistence), pay attention to meditation object, the pain (mindfulness)

    which brings concentration and the knowledge of what is revealing (wisdom)

    Truth reveals, Right View arise, three fetters (self view, rites and rituals, and doubt) break

    lobster
  • upekkaupekka Veteran
    edited March 16

    @techie said:
    Does pain serve a higher purpose, then?

    have you had an experience of jhana?

  • namarupanamarupa Veteran
    edited March 16

    If the gain from pain does interests you, I will say that pain does diminish once comfortability is established, and occurs less frequently to not at all. When the legs start to send signals to the brain, its sending a question. "Hey! take a look here. Shouldn't you worry about this?" You should respond with the knowledge that the pain only lasts for as long as you want it to.

    upekka
  • upekkaupekka Veteran

    @namarupa said:
    If the gain from pain does interests you, I will say that pain does diminish once comfortability is established, and occurs less frequently to not at all. When the legs start to send signals to the brain, its sending a question. "Hey! take a look here. Shouldn't you worry about this?" You should respond with the knowledge that the pain only lasts for as long as you want it to.

    so gradually you will be experiencing jhana =)

  • shanyinshanyin Novice Yogin Sault Ontario Veteran
    edited March 17

    @federica What about when it feels like the mind is in pain? (I liked what you said about pain and just thought I'd ask. Maybe it is just anxiety or illusions that I am experiencing or symptoms of my illness)

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @shanyin, the Mind's pain is psychological. Interestingly, this can either be felt also in the abdomen, as a dull, hollow un-fillable ache, or it can manifest in the physical sense and transform into a bodily ailment.
    The kind of pain you might be referring to is emotional pain.
    That requires (at times) the ministrations, care and supervision of a dedicated, well-trained and experienced professional.

    lobster
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @shanyin

    Hope these links are of interest ... <3
    https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/step1.htm
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_behavioral_therapy
    http://www.aware.ie/help/life-skills-online-programme-information/

    I am going through such a restructuring to help with my underlying issues B) Soon I may be partially sane ... (who said well overdue?) :p

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Not I.....

    lobsterHozan
  • HozanHozan Veteran

    What is sanity anyway....?

  • HozanHozan Veteran

    karastilobster
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Good quote Hozan. I would suggest that Buddhist/spiritual mental health is being independent of our situation.
    Societies are not completely sick, just in various stages of getting well/balanced/whole ... which strangely enough is our own condition ...
    People are extraordinary. They move beyond, independenly of circumstance/karma through practice.

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