For several years now, I have been suffering from a chronic illness. Depending on the blood counts, it's either Systemic Lupus Erythematosus with Specific Immunodeficiency, or Specific Immunodeficiency with Autoimmune Features. What it really means is daily pain and fatigue and weakness.
Buddhism speaks directly about suffering. And it tells us we have a choice: to suffer or to do something to reduce that suffering. Buddhism gives me several tools to help cope.
One is "switching self and other." If I'm having a really bad day, I think about all the other people who are also suffering with this disease. And I think to myself, "May all their sufferings come to me, and my happiness go to them." The idea being that by taking on their suffering, I might lessen it for others. Now that isn't physically possible, but the idea is that I accept that suffering and it helps to burn out the karma of everyone with the disease. And it reminds me that I am not the only one suffering this way.
Another tool is simple meditation. By meditating on the pain itself, I can lessen my perception of pain. And I can also learn more about the pain. For example, is it burning pain or stabbing pain? It is really pain or is it a burning sensation? Is it worse in one place and better in another?
Another way meditation helps is by getting me above the pain. I can focus my attention on something other than pain, and that lessens my perception of the pain. Calm Abiding Meditation helps by focusing your attention to an object instead of you. You take an object, and it can be any object, and really look at it for a few minutes. Then try to rebuild that object as clearly as possible in your mind. Then you hold that object as long as you can. When, not if, it begins to fade, open your eyes and look at it again. And go back to holding it in your mind.
This meditation helps by allowing me to get the focus off my pain and onto something else. And it isn't easy when you first begin, it takes more work to hold the object. But it helps me to let go of the pain.
The last tool I want to tell you about is visualization. It's similar to Calm Abiding but instead of an object, you focus on your body as a whole. See any areas of pain or tension as dark areas on and in your body. Visualize Buddha, or any deity you choose. See that person as radiating pure white light. Beautiful rays of that light began to emanate from the person and shine on the dark areas of pain and tension. As it washes over you, the pain dissipates, changed by that white light. The dark areas fade out and are replaced slowly with the light. As this happens, feel that the dark areas are now gone, dissolved into the white light. Now see the light rays slowly pull back into the person you chose, Now the White Light surrounds you, penetrates every area of your body clearing away all pain and suffering. Rest in that light.
One problem we, as humans, have is that we tend to tell ourselves stories about our pain. We have pain, then we say to ourselves things like, "Oh, this pain is so bad. I'll never be free of it," or, "I can't live with this pain. I just can't take any more." That adds the extra element of suffering to the equation. We already have pain, now we add stories to it and create suffering. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
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