Friday, October 24, 2014

Sacred Exhaustion


Your tiredness has dignity to it! Do not rush to pathologise it, or push it away, for it may contain great intelligence, even medicine.

You have been on a long journey from the stars, friend. Bow before your tiredness now; do not fight it any longer.

There is no shame in admitting that you cannot go on. Even the courageous need to rest.

For a great journey lies ahead. And you will need all of your resources.

Come, sit by the fire of Presence. Let the body unwind; drop into the silence here. Forget about tomorrow, let go of the journey to come, and sink into this evening's warmth.

Every great adventure is fuelled by rest at its heart.

Your tiredness is noble, friend, and contains healing power... if you would only listen...

- Jeff Foster

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Tolle on Fear

What if the name of the sensation we call FEAR, was changed to 'BANANA'? Would it be the same?

Monday, September 29, 2014

On Death & Dying (Buddhism)

...Eckhart Tolle on Death and Dying...

This essay has been presented at the conference Dying, Death and Grieving a cultural Perspective, RMIT University, Storey Hall, 349 Swanston Street, Melbourne, Victoria, 22nd and 23rd March 22, 2002.

Buddhist View on Death and Rebirth

...Ven. Thich Nguyen Tang...

--- o0o ---

As a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, working as a Buddhist chaplain at several of Melbourne's hospitals and as well as Melbourne assessment prison, I have witnessed many personal tragedies faced by the living and of course the very process of dying and that of death and many of these poor people faced their death with fear, with misery and pain before departing this world. With the images of all these in my mind, on this occasion, I wish to share my view from the perspective of a Buddhist and we hope that people would feel far more relaxed in facing this inevitable end since it is really not the end of life, according to our belief.

Death and the impermanence of life

In the teaching of the Buddha, all of us will pass away eventually as a part in the natural process of birth, old-age and death and that we should always keep in mind the impermanence of life. The life that we all cherish and wish to hold on.

To Buddhism, however, death is not the end of life, it is merely the end of the body we inhabit in this life, but our spirit will still remain and seek out through the need of attachment, attachment to a new body and new life. Where they will be born is a result of the past and the accumulation of positive and negative action, and the resultant karma (cause and effect) is a result of ones past actions.

This would lead to the person to be reborn in one of 6 realms which are; heaven, human beings, Asura, hungry ghost, animal and hell. Realms, according to the severity of ones karmic actions, Buddhists believe however, none of these places are permanent and one does not remain in any place indefinitely. So we can say that in Buddhism, life does not end, merely goes on in other forms that are the result of accumulated karma. Buddhism is a belief that emphasizes the impermanence of lives, including all those beyond the present life. With this in mind we should not fear death as it will lead to rebirth.

The fear of death stemmed from the fear of cease to be existent and losing ones identity and foothold in the world. We see our death coming long before its arrival, we notice impermanence in the changes we see around us and to us in the arrival of aging and the suffering due to losing our youth. Once we were strong and beautiful and as we age, as we approach our final moments of life we realize how fleeting such a comfortable place actually was.


It is natural to grieve the loss of family members and others we knew, as we adjust to living without their presence and missing them as part of our lives. The death of a loved one, or even someone we were not close to, is terribly painful event, as time goes on and the people we know pass away along the journey of life, we are reminded of our own inevitable ends in waiting and everything is a blip of transience and impermanent.

At a certain moment, the world seems suddenly so empty and the sense of desperation appears to be eternity. The greater the element of grief and personal loss one tends to feel sorry for oneself.

Some of us may have heard the story of the women who came to the Buddha in great anguish, carrying her dead child pleading him to bring the child back to life. The Buddha said Bring to me a mustard seed from any household where no-one had ever died and I will fulfill your wish. The woman's attempt to search for such seed from houses were in vain and of course she could not find any household in which no-one had ever died and suddenly she realized the universality of death.


According to Buddhism, our lives and all that occurs in our lives is a result of Karma. Every action creates a new karma, this karma or action is created with our body, our speech or our mind and this action leaves a subtle imprint on our mind which has the potential to ripen as future happiness or future suffering, depending on whether the action was positive or negative.

If we bring happiness to people, we will be happy. If we create suffering, we will experience suffering either in this life or in a future one.

This is called the Law of Karma, or the Law of Cause and Effect. Karmic law will lead the spirit of the dead to be reborn, in realms which are suitable appropriate to their karmic accumulations.

According to His Holiness, the 14 th Dali Lama of Tibet, that to cultivate the good karma, our good actions are an excellent way prepare for our death. Not performing evil deeds, keeping our heart and mind pure, doing no harm, no killing, sexual misconduct or lying, not using drugs or alcohol has very positive merit which enable us to die as we have lived.

The way we pass reflects the way we lived our lives, a good death putting a good stamp on a good life. As Leonardo Da Vinci once wrote in his notebook; Just as a well spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings a happy death. If we have lived a life of emotional turmoil, of conflict selfish desire unconcerned for others, our dying will be full of regrets, troubles and pain. It is far better to care for the lives for all around us rather than spending a fortune in prolonging life or seeking ways to extend it for those who can afford it, at the expense of relieving suffering in more practical ways. Improving the moral and spiritual quality of life improves its quality for us all rather than the selfish individualism that benefits the elite few who draw most resources.

Preparing for death:

Buddhist clergy often remind their followers about closeness of death, emphasize the importance in getting to know death and take time to prepare for their own demise.

How do we prepare for death?. It is really simple, just behave in a manner which you believe is responsible, good and positive for yourself and towards others. This leads to calmness, happiness and an outlook which contributes to a calm and controlled mind at the time of death.

Through this positive and compassionate outlook of life, always being aware of the impermanence of life and having a loving attitude towards all living things in this transient existence we will be free of fear in opposite to grasping selfishly to life due to not having experienced happiness in life.

Having lead a responsible and compassionate life and have no regrets when death approaches enables us to surrender without a struggle to the inevitable and in a state of grace which need not be as uncomfortable as we are led to believe.


The concept of rebirth or reincarnation has become more popular in the west in recent years due to the influence of Tibetan Buddhism, especially, the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (by Sogyal Rinpoche, 1992) became a best seller in the USA and has been widely read throughout the developed countries by new generations who are concerned with alternative thinking and eastern cultural perspectives. Naturally people concern with life beyond death was stimulated by the ideas contained in such philosophies and beliefs.


The supreme aim of Buddhism is to obtain nirvana or enlightenment. This translated means a state of liberation or illumination from the limitations of existence. It is the liberation from the cycle of rebirth through countless lives up and down the 6 states of existence. It is obtained through the extinction of desire.

Nirvana is a state that is obtainable in this life through the right aspiration, purity of life, and the elimination of egotism. This cessation of existence as we know it, the attainment of being, as distinct from becoming. [1] The Buddha speaks of it as unborn, un-originated, uncreated, unformed, contrasting it with the born, originated, created, and formed phenomenal world. Those who have obtained the state of Nirvana are called Buddhas. Gautama Siddhartha had obtained this state and had become a Buddha at 35. However it is now believed that it was only after he had passed away that he reached such a place of perfect tranquility, because some residue of human defilement would continue to exist as long as his physical body existed.

According to Buddhism if a human does not obtain nirvana or enlightenment, as it is known, the person cannot escape the cycle of death and rebirth and are inevitably be reborn into the 6 possible states beyond this our present life, these being in order from the highest to lowest;

Heaven. In Buddhism there are 37 different levels of heaven where beings experience peace and long lasting happiness without suffering in the heavenly environment.

Human life. In Buddhism we can be reborn into human life over and over, either wealthy or poor, beautiful or not so, and every state between and both as it it is served up to us. Anything can happen, as is found in human life and society all around us as we are familiar with in the day to day human world in is myriad of possibilities. What we get is a result of our Karma of what we have dragged with us from previous existences and how it manifests in our temporary present lives.

Asura. A spiritual state of Demi-Gods but not the happy state experienced by the gods in the heavens above this state. The Demi-Gods are consumed with jealousy, because unlike humans, they can clearly see the superior situation of the gods in the heavens above them. They constantly compete and struggle with the gods due to their dissatisfaction with their desires from the others.

Hungry Ghost. This spiritual realm of those who committed excessive amounts of evil deeds and who are obsessed with finding food and drink which they cannot experience and thus remain unsatisfied and tortured by the experience. They exhaust themselves in the constant fruitless searching.

Animals. This realm is visible to humans and it is where spirits of humans are reborn if they have killed animals or have committed a lot of other evil acts. Animals do not have the freedom that humans would experience due to being a subject constantly hunted by humans, farmed and used in farming, also as beasts for entertainment.

Hell. This realm is not visible to humans. It is a place where beings born there experience a constant state of searing pain and the various types of hell realms reads like a variety of horrific torture chambers. Those with a great deal of negative Karma can remain in such places for eons of time.

To conclude, as already mentioned, none of us can avoid death and if we are not free from the vicious cycle of death and rebirth, we are doomed to the endless cycles of life and death and its paradoxical nature of suffering, of happiness and sadness, youth and ageing, healthiness and sickness, pain and death, all because we are so attached to the existence in the first place.

The Buddha urged us to prepare for death, to prepare for that journey by cleansing the mind and not being so attached to things, to be able to let go and release ourselves for needing to be, from needing to have. Through this we will not suffer so much as we pass through the final stage of the present life, we can let go, be grateful for what we had but not clutch to it, not try to ensure permanency and cause ourselves to suffer more than we need to. This way we can end the cycle and leave forever, obtaining nirvana and release from the cycle of death and rebirth.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Power Of Now, with Jeff Foster


This is for anyone who is going through a crisis, big or small.

Friend, I know that sometimes it feels like everything's falling apart, and even the most beautiful spiritual words sound like bullshit, meaningless, flowery, new-age drivel. We lose everything we thought defined us, or made us happy, everything that seemed to matter to us, and it feels like we will never recover. We are left in total despair, disappointment, disillusionment. It seems like 'the end', with no hope of recovery.

Yet in life, there are no true endings, only transformations, new beginnings emerging from rubble. Old dreams dying, the false falling away, which can be excruciatingly painful, of course, of course! Destruction, breakdowns, disruptions, shocks and losses, often feel like enemies, but always contain seeds of the new, and sometimes it just takes time to recover. This devastation you are going through, this crucifixion of dreams you feel, is an opportunity to let go of EVERY SINGLE IDEA you've ever had of how your life was "supposed to be", all those cherished dreams that were simply false, yet beautiful and useful at the same time.

The invitation today is to be present to your life, to wake up to it, to turn towards this immediacy, to dignify what is actually happening where you are. If there is loneliness visiting you here and now, do not turn away. If there is fear, do not push it away or try to escape. If there is frustration, anxiety, or just a quiet sense of hopelessness moving in you, do not reject these energies. They just want to be felt, now. They are not wrong. They are your lost children, orphans of awakening, and just want to move and be felt. Sometimes life brings us to our knees so that we will FEEL everything we've been running away from all our lives. And yes, the 'meeting' may hurt. But perhaps feeling the hurt is the beginning of healing, not the ending of it.

And watch the mind. How it constantly spins, rewinds and fast-forwards, constantly leaves the present scene of your life, here and now. Thought is constantly running away from the present moment. It goes into memory - of how good things were before, of how wonderful your life used to be. And it longs to return there. And it feels unable to. And despair results. Regret. Longing. Homesickness. And it fast-forwards into the future, imagining all kinds of future scenarios, many dark and scary. It takes you into regions way beyond your control. And both movements into past and future disconnect you from where you are NOW, which is all there is. They take you away from your only point of power - this moment.

But this moment is all there is. This breath. These sensations. Present sounds, smells. Present beating of the heart, the feeling of your butt on the chair. A little bird singing on the tree outside. The buzz of the television over there. A feeling of contraction in the chest, tenderness in the throat. This is a call to radical, radical simplicity. To honouring the not-knowing. To admitting humility in the face of life. Without the story of past and future, can you really know that your life has 'gone wrong'? For that is the belief at the core of everything, isn't it? That your life has 'gone wrong'. That the 'me' has failed somehow. That the universe is cruel and somehow against you. It's an intelligent conclusion to make, yes. I won't judge you for it. But perhaps it's not the truth. Perhaps the mind doesn't know.

My friend, your disillusionment, your inability to believe all those spiritual teachings now, including my own, is not a mistake - it is pure intelligence at work! Your disillusionment is part of waking up, not the end of waking up! This is all an invitation to a deeper awakening than you ever thought possible. You are being forced to question everything - everything - including all those cherished spiritual teachings that once held so much value. You are being called to find your own authority, to let go of all those bullshit ideas about what 'a good life' means. You are being invited to let go of everything second-hand, everything old, everything received - from parents, teachers, gurus - everything in memory, and be present to life, raw and naked.

Sometimes we have to lose everything to remember our total humility, to remember that we are not in control, and that each moment is full of wonder and thrilling uncertainty. You are on a path of devastation now - it was exactly what Jesus was teaching. This is not the end for you - it is the beginning of a new and different life, a new way of moving in the world, however hard that is to see. It is a time of renewal, of slowing-down, of discovering the abundance contained within the nothingness. A time to be kinder to yourself. There is so much potential for you, friend, even if you cannot believe that.

There have been many times in my own life when I felt unable to go on, unable to stand. I felt that I had lost everything, that nothing was possible, that the void was the only life. But I just didn't know what the universe had in store.

Even though you feel lonely and abandoned, frightened and angry, friend, know that many others are walking with you, and many others understand. You will write your own book of transformation one day.

This moment, friend. THIS moment.

- Jeff Foster

Friday, August 22, 2014


1. You are not your mind.

The first time I heard somebody say that, I didn’t like the sound of it one bit. What else could I be? I had taken for granted that the mental chatter in my head was the central “me” that all the experiences in my life were happening to.

I see quite clearly now that life is nothing but passing experiences, and my thoughts are just one more category of things I experience. Thoughts are no more fundamental than smells, sights and sounds. Like any experience, they arise in my awareness, they have a certain texture, and then they give way to something else.

If you can observe your thoughts just like you can observe other objects, who’s doing the observing? Don’t answer too quickly. This question, and its unspeakable answer, are at the centre of all the great religions and spiritual traditions.

2. Life unfolds only in moments.

Of course! I once called this the most important thing I ever learned. Nobody has ever experienced anything that wasn’t part of a single moment unfolding. That means life’s only challenge is dealing with the single moment you are having right now. Before I recognized this, I was constantly trying to solve my entire life — battling problems that weren’t actually happening. Anyone can summon the resolve to deal with a single, present moment, as long as they are truly aware that it’s their only point of contact with life, and therefore there is nothing else one can do that can possibly be useful. Nobody can deal with the past or future, because, both only exist as thoughts, in the present. But we can kill ourselves trying.

3. Quality of life is determined by how you deal with your moments, not which moments happen and which don’t.

I now consider this truth to be Happiness 101, but it’s amazing how tempting it still is to grasp at control of every circumstance to try to make sure I get exactly what I want. To encounter an undesirable situation and work with it willingly is the mark of a wise and happy person. Imagine getting a flat tire, falling ill at a bad time, or knocking something over and breaking it — and suffering nothing from it. There is nothing to fear if you agree with yourself to deal willingly with adversity whenever it does show up. That is how to make life better. The typical, low-leverage method is to hope that you eventually accumulate power over your circumstances so that you can get what you want more often. There’s an excellent line in a Modest Mouse song, celebrating this side-effect of wisdom: As life gets longer, awful feels softer.

4. Most of life is imaginary.

Human beings have a habit of compulsive thinking that is so pervasive that we lose sight of the fact that we are nearly always thinking. Most of what we interact with is not the world itself, but our beliefs about it, our expectations of it, and our personal interests in it. We have a very difficult time observing something without confusing it with the thoughts we have about it, and so the bulk of what we experience in life is imaginary things. As Mark Twain said: “I’ve been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” The best treatment I’ve found? Cultivating mindfulness.

5. Human beings have evolved to suffer, and we are better at suffering than anything else.

Yikes. It doesn’t sound like a very liberating discovery. I used to believe that if I was suffering it meant that there was something wrong with me — that I was doing life “wrong.” Suffering is completely human and completely normal, and there is a very good reason for its existence. Life’s persistent background hum of “this isn’t quite okay, I need to improve this,” coupled with occasional intense flashes of horror and adrenaline are what kept human beings alive for millions of years. This urge to change or escape the present moment drives nearly all of our behaviour. It’s a simple and ruthless survival mechanism which works exceedingly well for keeping us alive, but it has a horrific side effect: human beings suffer greatly by their very nature. This, for me, redefined every one of life’s problems as some tendril of the human condition. As grim as it sounds, this insight is liberating because it means: 1) that suffering does not necessarily mean my life is going wrong, 2) that the ball is always in my court, so the degree to which I suffer is ultimately up to me, and 3) that all problems have the same cause and the same solution.

6. Emotions exist to make us biased.

This discovery was a complete 180 from my old understanding of emotions. I used to think my emotions were reliable indicators of the state of my life — of whether I’m on the right track or not. Your passing emotional states can’t be trusted for measuring your self-worth or your position in life, but they are great at teaching you what it is you can’t let go of. The trouble is that emotions make us both more biased and more forceful at the same time. Another survival mechanism with nasty side-effects.

7. All people operate from the same two motivations: to fulfil their desires and to escape their suffering.

Learning this allowed me to finally make sense of how people can hurt each other so badly. The best explanation I had before this was that some people are just bad. What a cop-out. No matter what kind of behaviour other people exhibit, they are acting in the most effective way they are capable of (at that moment) to fulfill a desire or to relieve their suffering. These are motives we can all understand; we only vary in method, and the methods each of us has at our disposal depend on our upbringing and our experiences in life, as well as our state of consciousness. Some methods are skilful and helpful to others, others are unskilful and destructive, and almost all destructive behaviour is unconscious. So there is no good and evil, only smart and dumb (or wise and foolish.) Understanding this completely shook my long-held notions of morality and justice.

8. Beliefs are nothing to be proud of.

Believing something is not an accomplishment. I grew up thinking that beliefs are something to be proud of, but they’re really nothing but opinions one refuses to reconsider. Beliefs are easy. The stronger your beliefs are, the less open you are to growth and wisdom, because “strength of belief” is only the intensity with which you resist questioning yourself. As soon as you are proud of a belief, as soon as you think it adds something to who you are, then you’ve made it a part of your ego. Listen to any “die-hard” conservative or liberal talk about their deepest beliefs and you are listening to somebody who will never hear what you say on any matter that matters to them — unless you believe the same. It is gratifying to speak forcefully, it is gratifying to be agreed with, and this high is what the die-hards are chasing. Wherever there is a belief, there is a closed door. Take on the beliefs that stand up to your most honest, humble scrutiny, and never be afraid to lose them.

9. Objectivity is subjective.

Life is a subjective experience and that cannot be escaped. Every experience I have comes through my own, personal, un-sharable viewpoint. There can be no peer reviews of my direct experience, no real corroboration. This has some major implications for how I live my life. The most immediate one is that I realize I must trust my own personal experience, because nobody else has this angle, and I only have this angle. Another is that I feel more wonder for the world around me, knowing that any “objective” understanding I claim to have of the world is built entirely from scratch, by me. What I do build depends on the books I’ve read, the people I’ve met, and the experiences I’ve had. It means I will never see the world quite like anyone else, which means I will never live in quite the same world as anyone else — and therefore I mustn’t let outside observers be the authority on who I am or what life is really like for me. Subjectivity is primary experience — it is real life, and objectivity is something each of us builds on top of it in our minds, privately, in order to explain it all. This truth has world-shattering implications for the roles of religion and science in the lives of those who grasp it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stay with the Pain - I


The Good News and the Challenge

As soon as pain arises in the body, our minds become preoccupied with how to get relief. If we can remove the cause of the pain or numb it with analgesics, well and good. But most people, at some time in their lives, face significant pain from which they cannot escape, and millions of people, victims of disease or injury, must live each day in unavoidable and often excruciating pain.

If we cannot escape from the pain, must we then experience abject and meaningless suffering? No, there is an alternative, a way to escape not from pain but into it. We can apply mindfulness meditation to the pain.

Mindfulness meditation is a way of focusing awareness on the pain and observing it with precision, while at the same time opening up to it and dropping resistance. As we develop this skill, the pain causes less suffering, and may even "break up" into a flow of pure energy. This may sound too good to be true, but it is a fact that has been discovered by thousands of people. The technique of mindfulness takes time, effort and determination, but anyone can learn to develop this skill with regular practice. I want to be honest with you though. Managing pain through meditation is usually not a quick fix. But that is compensated for by the fact that it is a deep and broad fix. What I mean by "deep and broad" should become tangible to you as you proceed through this article.

The meditative approach to working with pain presents us with two challenges. The first challenge is conceptual: to understand the pain process in a new way, radically different from the usual. Often it takes time and struggle before this new paradigm is accepted, but it is well worth it, because this new way of looking at things gives us so much power and clarity.

The second challenge is practical: to acquire the focusing skills and concentration needed to experience pain in a new, empowering way. This involves the systematic, sustained practice of mindfulness exercises such as those given on the tape series Break Through Pain.

Pain comes in various "flavors" or types, such as burning, aching, shooting, itching, pressure or nausea. A person may experience several flavors simultaneously and a given flavor may vary in its intensity. For example, an burning may range from mild to fainting intensity.

What makes the method of "observing and opening" so extraordinary and powerful is that it works for all types of painful experiences, regardless of the type of pain, its intensity, or its cause: injuries, allergies, menstrual cramps, chronic fatigue syndrome, back pain and even the pain of terminal illness, such as cancer or AIDS. Indeed the same basic concepts and skills work equally well when applied to emotional pain such as anger, grief, fear and guilt.

What exactly do I mean when I say, "It works?" First, this method reduces the suffering caused by the specific pain you are dealing with. Second—and this is the really important point—working with your pain in this way fosters rapid personal evolution. It is a way to release psychological and spiritual blockages, a kind of deep and permanent cleansing of the very substance of your soul. To borrow language from the Christian tradition, the experience of pain stops being "hell" (that is to say, meaningless suffering), and turns into "purgatory" (a purification which opens the way for direct encounter with the spiritual source).

As a result of this purification you will eventually experience an increased sense of oneness and connectedness with all things; a decrease in negative emotions; a sense of happiness independent of your circumstances; and the disappearance of imprints and limiting conditioning from the past. Associated with this transformation of consciousness is a distinct feeling which I call the "flavor of purification." It is the good feeling that comes as a person is experiencing painful feelings in a skillful way.

Once you begin to develop a taste for this flavor of purification, pain, even horrible pain, becomes meaningful. Suffering diminishes and eventually is completely eclipsed by the joy of purification. This is what I mean by escaping into pain. If the pain is severe, and you are able to escape into it, you will experience an egoless state, a direct communion with the spiritual source.

The method of mindfulness applied to pain may appear to be very challenging. At first you may not have good concentration. Your mind will wander a lot and you will have to bring it back over and over again. But just as in any other exercise, skill comes with time and practice.

Short Example of How to Meditate on Pain

I would like to give you a tangible sense of the experience of mindfulness. Close your eyes and let your whole body relax and settle in. Pick one area where pain is significant.

Get a clear sense of the size and shape of the painful region. Is it long, round, triangular or some other shape? Is it flat like a pancake or does it have a three-dimensional volume? Is it uniform or does it have areas of greater or lesser intensity within it? Are its borders sharp or diffuse? Does it spread any influence through the body or is it completely isolated? --- You now have a much clearer and more precise sense of the painful sensation.

Now observe even more carefully, as though the pain were a living being in its own right, as though it were, for example, a lizard on a wall. How and when will this creature move? Will its borders change? Will it get stronger or weaker? Will its center shift? Watch very carefully for a while and notice that every few seconds the pain may change, if only in a tiny way. Every time the pain changes in any little way, relax your whole mind and body into it and just observe it without judgment. You may have to try this exercise many times but eventually the pain will reveal its wave nature. When it does, surf the waves!

This is a first step in developing the skill of mindfulness of pain. It is true that sometimes the pain may seem to get worse as you focus on it. This, however, is a temporary phenomenon.

How Pain Becomes Suffering

In order to understand how pain becomes suffering, you need to know a deep truth about the nature of suffering. Most people equate suffering with pain, but suffering is a function of two variables, not just one. Suffering is a function of pain and the degree to which the pain is being resisted. (S = P x R)

Your nervous system has built-in structures that produce and transmit pain signals. We might refer to them as "pain circuits." They are part of you, and left on their own, they function spontaneously and effortlessly as part of the flow of nature, like wind through the trees or ripples on a lake. They have one job and one job only: when stimulated they produce a kind of energy wave which we humans call "pain."

But as the result of a long conditioning process, human beings have also developed another part of ourselves, "resistance." Resistance interferes with that energy wave, fights against it, tries to beat it back. Thus deep within our being there is a kind of violent conflict, a veritable civil war between two parts of the same system.

This produces a pressure called "suffering." Since suffering is produced by one part of you fighting with another part of you, there is obviously a deep link between the physical process of learning to experience pain without suffering and the psychological process of becoming more integrated.

According to this view, resistance is a kind of internal friction; the system is grinding against itself. Such friction produces useless suffering and wastes physical and psychological energy.

Resistance occurs in both the body and the mind, and may be either conscious or unconscious. Conscious resistance in the mind takes the form of judgment, wishes, fearful projections, etc.: "I hate the pain. I can't stand this pain. When is it going to stop?"

Conscious resistance in the body takes the form of tension and holding. You have pain in the leg, but you may be tightening the jaw, tensing the breath, perhaps clenching throughout the whole body, not letting the pain spread and circulate. "Opening to the pain" is the practice of dropping the conscious resistance by letting go of the judging thoughts and continually relaxing your whole body as much as possible.

As for the unconscious resistance, by definition we have no control over this, as it occurs in the deep preconscious level of neural processing moment by moment. However, careful observation of the pain allows the unconscious to gradually unlearn its habit of resistance. This is why the practice of mindfulness involves intently pouring awareness on the pain as well as "opening up" to the pain.

The formula "suffering equals pain multiplied by resistance" contains both good news and bad news. The good news is that (at least in theory) no one ever has to suffer, because resistance can be made very small and eventually be reduced to zero through mindfulness exercises. When the resistance factor becomes zero, suffering is zeroed out, no matter how big the pain factor may be.

What's the bad news? In many cases resistance grows if the pain persists. Even though the pain may stay the same, the perceived suffering becomes unbearable because the resistance has become so large. Furthermore, according to this formula, even tiny subliminal pain can cause immense suffering if you strongly resist it. The suffering that underlies many forms of compulsive behavior such as substance abuse is often caused by subtle subliminal pain that is subject to immense subconscious resistance. In working with pain remember: subtle is significant!

Dropping resistance to the subjective flow of pain in no way implies that you stop resisting the objective source of the pain. In fact, as you get more and more skillful in opening to the pain, the energy that was being wasted in fighting with the pain is now freed up to fight for recovery and to live your life despite the pain. Although you need not necessarily surrender to the objective situation of being ill, you do surrender to the subjective sensations of pain that the illness causes. This reduces your suffering and increases your energy.

Pain Without Suffering

Although the suffering diminishes as resistance drops, the pain may stay, preserving the proper function of pain as a warning, motivation, etc. In other words, it is sometimes necessary to feel pain, but it is never necessary to suffer.

Pain informs and motivates; suffering drives and distorts. Pain experienced skillfully brings us closer to our spiritual source; suffering alienates us from our spiritual source and our fellow human beings. Suffering obscures the perfection of the moment; pain experienced skillfully is the perfection of the moment.

For most people the notion of pain which is not suffering may sound like a contradiction in terms. People have difficulty imagining what the experience of pain without suffering would be like. Does it hurt? Yes. Is that a problem? No.

People have difficulty understanding this because they are not familiar with the experience of pure pain, that is, pain without resistance. Since much of our habitual resistance to the flow of pain begins at the pre-conscious level, by the time we consciously experience a wave of pain, it has already been converted into suffering by unconscious resistance. In other words, most of us cannot remember experiencing pure pain. What people call "pain" is actually a combination of pain and resistance.

I might add that most people are also not familiar with the experience of pure pleasure. What people call "pleasure" is actually a mixture of pleasure and grasping. Just as consciousness is purified by experiencing pain without resistance, it is equally purified by experiencing pleasure without grasping. The dropping of resistance to pain and the letting go of grasping onto pleasure are sometimes called "equanimity."

Pain and Spiritual Purification

Many spiritual traditions involve the practice of asceticism, which means voluntarily taking on discomfort or deprivation. The hair shirt and self-flagellation of Christian Europe, as well as the sweat lodges and sun dances of the Native Americans, are examples of asceticism.

Unfortunately even people who practice asceticism sometimes do not clearly understand the underlying principles. This has led the entire endeavor to be looked upon as somehow perverse. It is often said that the Buddha rejected asceticism. I would rather say that he refined it, both conceptually and in terms of practice. Crude asceticism often involves a sense of oneself being sinful and worthless or an attempt to get tough or to achieve special powers through inducing altered states. But properly understood, asceticism is done for spiritual purification, i.e. softening the substance of the solidified self.

Pain multiplied by resistance equals suffering, but pain multiplied by acceptance equals cleansing. This tells us two important things. First, when pain is very intense, if you are able to maintain even a small degree of acceptance, then purification is still going on; that is, the pain is productive and meaningful. Second, even a small pain can bring significant purification if your attentiveness and equanimity are high. Thus, even though you may never do intense practices such as the Christian renunciates or the Native American spiritual warriors, you may attain comparably deep purification. This can be achieved by bringing an extraordinary amount of openness to the ordinary aches and discomforts of daily life.

Once you clearly understand that pain multiplied by equanimity equals purification, you are able to make a "conceptual reframing" of the pain. You are able to sacramentalize it, to see it as a kind of imposed monastery or sacred ceremony. Seeing pain as a natural monastery or imposed retreat for spiritual growth is particularly significant for those in chronic pain.

I have spoken of mindfulness meditation as being composed of two elements: an opening up to the pain, and a careful observing of the pain. The opening up fosters a process of spiritual purification. The careful observation leads to deep insight. This insight is like a many-sided jewel. One facet of this jewel is insight into impermanence.

Pain and Impermanence

I sometimes ask my students an odd sort of multiple choice question: Are the mountains moving? The possible answers being yes, no and it depends. I suggest that the correct answer is "it depends." It depends on how carefully and patiently you observe the mountains.

Certainly from the ordinary scale of time and space a mountain seems very solid. Indeed, mountain is a metaphor for permanence. Yet, viewed microscopically, even mountains are a dance of energy. Vibrating molecules are made up of even more rapidly vibrating atoms, which are made up of even more rapidly vibrating particles, and so forth, and viewed with the patience of centuries, the earth's surface resembles rippling protoplasm.

In the same way, your pain may seem as solid and permanent as a mountain. But as your powers of observation sharpen and your patience grows, you begin to perceive aspects of change or impermanence. The sensation of pain shifts shape or position every few seconds, becomes stronger or weaker, expands, contracts and circulates. Flavors change; a burn becomes an itch, the itch becomes a pressure, and so on. Eventually you come to realize that even the most horrible pain is in fact made up of pure vibrant energy. At this point, not only the pain but the whole sense of a suffering self dissolves and becomes part of the flow of nature, as effortless and refreshing as ripples spreading on a pond.

As insight into impermanence deepens you come to realize that not only pain, but indeed all seemingly solid experiences, are in fact elastic, vibratory, porous and transparent. With this realization, your understanding of yourself and the world goes through a remarkable and empowering shift in perspective.

This is analogous to the paradigm shifts of modern physics. The material body dissolves into a field of energy. The self as a separate particle dissolves into a vibrating wave which can unite both with your spiritual source and with all things. You become spiritual in the literal sense of the Latin word spiritus, which means "breath" or "wind," something insubstantial yet powerful.

Begrudging Down Time

Now I'd like to cover a few specific areas where people often have questions about working with pain. For instance, people often resent the fact that the pain takes time away from life, preventing them from participating in the meaningful activities of work and play. And indeed, unless you understand how to use the situation to evolve and purify consciousness, time spent in pain is mostly wasted and meaningless.

Fortunately, you can make a "conceptual reframing" of the meaning of time spent with pain. If nature (or "God") has given you so much pain that you cannot do anything else other than be with it, then there is a message here: you are not expected to be doing anything else!

In other words, spending time—even long periods of time—just feeling pain is a legitimate calling in the eyes of God and nature. Assuming that you are making at least some effort to purify and evolve consciousness by being with the pain in a skillful way, you are engaged in productive and meaningful work. You perform an important service to others by becoming an example to them, a source of hope, inspiration and empowerment.

Consider even the most extreme case, a person in so much pain that they can do nothing but lie in bed, seeing very few people, perhaps with no prospect of recovery, perhaps dying. You might think that in such an extreme case, even if the meditation were to help the victim, there would not be any broader benefit to humanity, but this is not necessarily the case.

Some scientists postulate the existence of "morphogenic fields." Put simply, this theory states that whenever a person does something, it makes it easier for all others to do the same thing, even though the others may have no direct contact with or even knowledge of the original person's work. This is sometimes referred to as the "hundredth monkey effect." According to this theory, a person isolated and cut off from contacts, who is working to purify through pain, is in some way making it easier for all other sufferers in the world to do the same; a worthwhile and meaningful job indeed!

When and Where to Meditate

People sometimes ask me, "How many hours a day do you meditate?" They are, of course, referring to the amount of time I spend in formal sitting practice. I answer, "Usually about an hour a day," but often I feel like saying, "I meditate twenty-four hours a day, hopefully." In other words, meditation can be carried on during the daily activities of life, as well as during set formal periods. Both forms of practice are useful.

If your focus of meditation is pain, then you can be meditating any time you feel the pain, because whenever you are observing and opening to it you are by definition meditating. If pain is always present, then you have a reminder and motivation to be in a meditative state all your waking hours, like the monks and nuns in monastic training. For you, pain is your monastery. This is another way in which your pain can be looked upon as an ally.

Of course it takes practice to meditate on pain while at the same time engaging in other activities. At first it will be challenging enough to meditate quietly by yourself, but as the state of concentration becomes habitual, you will be able to meditate in the midst of life activities.

Try to set aside a period of time most days for formal meditation, perhaps a half an hour each morning. Of course, if your pain prevents you from doing other activities, you may be formally meditating for many hours each day. You can meditate sitting in a chair, on the floor or lying down. During your periods of formal meditation, make sure that there will be no distractions. Turn off the phones. Let friends and family know that you need to be alone for a period of time.

Meditation is a state of both relaxation and alertness. If you meditate in a seated posture, try to keep the spine straight. This will help you to remain alert. If you meditate lying down, you must have very strong determination not to let your mind sink into sleepiness or even fuzziness. If you become even slightly drowsy, open your eyes and stare at infinity without getting involved with visual objects. This will help you remain aware and alert.

Some conditions that produce pain are made worse by prolonged periods of motionlessness. If this is true for you, be sure to move appropriately. But in between moving, try to be very still and focused.

The most important moment in any period of formal meditation comes when you get up to resume your daily activities. Your ability to maintain a meditative state throughout the day (and hence reduce the suffering from your pain) depends on how you handle this transition. Instead of thinking, "The meditation is over, now it's time to do this or that," think, "I have become somewhat more calm and focused. Now my job is to try to preserve this state."

During the day, whenever you become agitated or start to suffer a lot from pain, drop everything for a few minutes. Sit down or lie down and do a short but high quality "mini-meditation" to re-ground yourself. Do this as many times a day as needed throughout the day.

The combination of setting aside at least a half an hour each day for formal meditation together with frequent mini-meditations will eventually allow you to maintain a state of deep calm and high focus for much if not most of your day.

Melting and Freezing

I'd like to say a few words about the phenomenon of "melting and freezing." Sometimes as you are observing and opening to the pain, you may experience the pain softening. Sometimes it softens just slightly, flowing like thick molasses or lava. Other times it may become quite fluid and vibratory, expanding and contracting like an amoeba or even breaking up into a shower of champagne bubbles and subtle energy like an atomizer spray. If that happens, enjoy it and concentrate on the vibrations and undulations, letting them relax you, massage you, and take you into a place of peace and safety.

After long and consistent practice of mindfulness meditation, such experiences of impermanence happen more frequently. However, it is of the utmost importance not to make this the goal of your meditation. The only goal is to do your best to observe carefully and to open to the pain as it is. Whenever you do this, you are helping along a natural process of purifying and evolving yourself, whether or not you consciously experience any change in pain at that moment.

Along the course of this purification the pain may melt, but it may also "freeze up" again for various lengths of time. When the pain "melts" there is a tendency to think that the meditation is working, that you're making progress, or that you're doing it right. But if the pain "re-freezes," you may think the meditation is not working or that you are doing it wrong. Always remember the definition of a successful meditation session: a successful meditation is any meditation you did!

Consciousness is a many-layered structure. Like the geological strata of the Earth, the deeper layers contain older fossils. As you are pouring clarity and openness on your pain, the pain is actually functioning as a conduit or tunnel into the deepest reaches of your subconscious mind. As a layer of psychological blockage comes to the surface, it may cause the pain to solidify or get worse. Just open to that and keep on observing as much as possible, without an agenda that the pain soften or go away. It is part of nature's wry sense of humor that the quickest way to "break up" pain is to observe it without the slightest desire that it be different in any way.

So if the pain melts and then gets hard and harsh once again, you have not gone backwards, but rather a deeper level of blockage has percolated upward. You may go through many cycles of softening and re-congealing. The English poet, T. S. Eliot, who was also a Christian mystic, vividly described this aspect of the spiritual path in his "Four Quartets," where he writes, "Between melting and freezing, the soul's sap quivers."


When pain is extreme, you may feel like you are going to faint. Lie down and open up to that. Try to maintain your meditation technique through the fainting. Then the fainting will turn into an experience of deep meditative trance. You will feel that you have gone beyond the body and transcended suffering.

Admittedly this can be very frightening. It may take some practice before you can really "let go" into the faint. Eventually you will learn that there is nothing whatever to fear, as long as you keep a level of mindfulness and openness.

Primary Pain and Secondary Sensations

I would like to mention an important phenomenon which I call "secondary sensations." In addition to the primary sensation of pain, you may have secondary sensations such as heat, nausea, fatigue, agitation, heebie-jeebies, jerking, creepy-crawly feelings, etc. You may feel like your marrow is itching everywhere, bugs are crawling in your veins or that you're going to jump out of your skin. You may have pressures or tensions over your whole body. In some ways this may seem worse than the pain itself. These global secondary sensations are sometimes quite subtle. Remember, subtle is significant!

Often these secondary sensations are associated with emotionally charged resistance to the pain. Try to notice that your fear, hatred or annoyance is not continuous but tends to well up then subside for a moment then well up once again. As an experiment, feel your whole body and carefully observe what happens there each time annoyance or hatred of the pain arises. You may feel a wave of sensation spread for a moment through your body, perhaps so subtly that you aren't even sure it was there. That is the secondary sensation associated with resistance. Try not to resist the resistance!

Treat these secondary reactions in the same way you treat the pain itself. Observe them carefully and open up to them. Indeed, honor and welcome them because they are an important part of the purification process.

There is a deep relationship between these secondary sensations and the process of releasing blockages stored in the unconscious. I don't have time to really explain the theory at this point, but here's the gist, overly simplified.

Physical pain tends to activate your body's subtle memory of past pains, both physical and emotional. These will magnify your sense of suffering from the present pain unless you are able to detect them and open up to them. All you have to do is observe and open up to such secondary sensations the same way you observe and open up to the primary pain. This creates an optimal environment within which your unconscious can unburden itself. For years, unbeknownst to you, these subtle body memories have been continuously subliminally present, preventing each moment from being as fully satisfying as it could be. Now the pain has brought them clearly to the surface where they can be "felt through."

Character Distortion

Suffering may warp your perceptions and behavior, and this distortion can be a big part of the horror of the pain. If the pain persists or is chronic, a person may begin to act out of character and alienate friends, family and caregivers. There are a number of ways to deal with this.

First, try to remember that it is the suffering which is making the world look so grim and causing you to act out of character. As you learn to develop mindfulness, these distorting effects drop away.

Second, be willing to forgive yourself and others, over and over again. You aren't expected to get it right the first time around. It doesn't matter if you stray from the path, as long as you always return.

Third, remember impermanence. The periods of distortion don't last forever. As the Bible says, "This too shall pass."

Fourth, you can create and use a support structure of individuals and organizations who can give you objective feedback and get you back on track when you become mired in subjective suffering.

What to Do If Meditating on the Pain Makes It Worse

It is important to acknowledge the fact that the act of observing and opening to pain sometimes causes the pain to become dramatically aggravated. The pain may intensify or spread over the whole body. Sometimes it both intensifies and spreads; the hardest, worst flavor of the pain which previously had been confined to one region now fills the entire body, turning it into a single condensed mass of uniform sting. This sounds frightening and would seem to belie the claim that mindfulness helps one to cope with pain. Concerning this phenomenon, which I call "inflation", several points need to be remembered.

First, observing and opening usually lessens suffering. Inflation takes place only occasionally. Many people never experience this phenomenon. Second, when it does happen, it represents a stage in a natural process of liberation. Basically the body has now become a single sensation, unified and integrated. It has become "one", a necessary step before it can become "zero". Many victims of chronic pain are familiar with the cycle of the pain spreading and intensifying before it finally goes away, perhaps over a period of several hours or several days. The seeming aggravation of the pain as the result of meditating is in fact just the speeding up of this cycle. If you can somehow keep meditating through this inflation, the pain does not merely go away, but rather "breaks up", leaving insight and purification in its wake.

This should not be taken to imply that you must necessarily keep meditating on the pain if meditation is causing it to intensify and spread. When to do so is a subtle decision and depends on many factors. Allowing the pain to inflate too much too soon may create aversion to the meditative process or use up valuable energy that you need for healing or life's activities. So sometimes you may want to switch to a different kind of meditation, one that relaxes you or perhaps focuses away from the pain. You may even need to stop meditating entirely for a short time; use your own judgment.

When you finally do gain enough experience to stay with the pain no matter how much this worsens it, something like the following will happen.

Time slows down, the thinking mind more or less shuts off, the external world fades and the sense of a controlling self is neutralized. The entire stinging mass of the body slowly begins to lose its rigidity and to flow, first like dense lava then like honey… each wave of sensation seems to break up another kink in the substance of your soul.

The perception of the body "being material" is in fact produced largely by our habit of congealing around the flow of body sensation. The inflation of pain brings the body to a state of maximum uncontrollable congealing. When this finally gives, one comes to understand that there never was a "material body" in the ordinary sense. Body is just coagulated spirit.

Summing It Up

As soon as pain arises in the body, the mind becomes preoccupied with how to get relief. There are two kinds of relief, both of which are valid. There is the temporary relief that comes through eliminating a particular pain, and there is the permanent relief that comes through retraining your relationship to any and all pain. If temporary relief is not possible, then become ardently preoccupied with the noble quest for permanent relief!

"Any attempt or idea to escape from the uneasiness of ‘what you are facing at the moment’ is dissipation of energy, keeps one addicted to escape."

How you face, meet the immediate problem, disturbance contains the key to the secret of existence. Seeking satisfactory answers about Truth, God, soul, liberation is a distraction, is an escape. You have to be fully interested in your work, in what you are doing, in dealing with what you are facing at the moment to come to ‘what is True’. Any attempt or idea to escape from the uneasiness of ‘what you are facing at the moment’ is dissipation of energy, keeps one addicted to escape.

You are physically safe and secured now. Any insecurity, uncertainty, discomfort you are experiencing is only psychological, that is, it is in respect of future. To be comfortable with this insecurity, uncertainty is to ‘feel’ complete security now. One is on the self-sustained ground. Touch of the Original has happened.

Y V Chawla