Dealing with Physical Pain During Meditation

Question

How is it possible to withdraw from the senses to achieve a meditative state when one has pain and or severe itching caused by a health condition? Is it possible? If so, by what specific means? Thank you so much in advance.

—Marta, US

Answer

Dear Marta,

Is withdrawal possible? Yes, but the stronger the pain, the more difficult it becomes.

It is also a personal thing: where we are at, meditatively speaking. Highly advanced meditators can withdraw their consciousness even during acute pain, during operations and so on, without anesthesia. On the other hand, beginners have a hard time even with any slight physical discomfort. Most of us are somewhere in between.

So if you have “severe itching” and “pain”, unless you are truly advanced, mediation will be quite tough. I would reduce meditation to a feasible minimum: you decide what that minimum is, meaning how long you can maintain at least some quality. If that is only a short time, be it so.

Then concentrate on practices which don’t require withdrawal: prayer, chanting, affirmation, visualization, yoga focused on the inner energy, devotional reading, or anything else which uplifts you.

Of course (needless to say) you do your best to resolve that pain and itching, to “keep the body fit for Self-realization,” as Yogananda put it. But since you have certainly done that, the above applies.

You may try, during mediation, to dissolve the pain using this specific method of the Hong Sau technique of meditation which Swami Kriyananda teaches in his fabulous book, Awaken to Superconsciousness:

The mantra Hong-Sau can be used to dissolve the consciousness of pain. All pain originates in the thought of ego (‘Why is this happening to me?”). By mentally chanting “Hong-Sau” at the seat of that pain, one dissolves the ego’s connection to the pain, and thereby lessens, or even dissolves, the pain itself.

Try doing this while you sit in the dentist’s chair (I mention the dentist’s chair because it was my first example), or at any other time that you experience pain, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. Don’t limit your practice to those times when you want desperately to rise above pain. Do it in response to any sensation, whether light or intense, pleasant or unpleasant, simply as an exercise in interiorization of the mind.

Concentrate at the center of the sensation. Then watch the breath at that center. Don’t control the breath. Simply watch it. As it comes in of its own accord, follow it mentally with the chant Hong. Feel as you do so that the word itself is relaxing and dissolving your ego-identification with that sensation.

Then, as the breath flows out, follow it mentally with the chant Sau. Feel, with the utterance of this word, that you are coming ever more deeply to rest in the peace within.

Maybe in this way you will be able to use this pain as a fabulous spiritual opportunity: to detach yourself, your consciousness, from it, becoming ever more free inside.

All the best, many blessings,
Jayadev