Do you have a really nagging mind? One that chatters on even when you don’t want it to? Making little asides like “You should just keep going”, “you’ll never get through that”, “do you really think your pain is real?”, “what are you going to do about ….”
Minds are like that. They hold a running commentary on everything we say, do, and every situation we’re in. Sometimes that wee voice can be helpful, but many times it just does not help.
Minds also like to solve problems. They’ll work hard to fix something (a bit like a bloke maybe?!), even when that something can’t be fixed. You know, like when your pain flares up, and your mind picks on you saying “you stupid woman, you shouldn’t have been lifting that, now you’ll pay for it, so why don’t you go find someone who will take that pain away!”.
The solutions are often things that have worked before. Pushing through to get something done. Deciding not to do something. Going to look for someone else to fix it. All of these work – in the right place, at the right time.
When it comes to chronic pain, one of the things minds do is try to get you to find something, anything, to go back to “normal”, whatever that is. Minds will suggest seeing a new person “maybe this one has the answer!”, will worry about a change in your pain “Oooh! what’s that? Maybe it’s something horrible, you need to go see someone about it”, will resist getting on with life as it is now in the hope that you can find a way to return to what you were before.
While there’s no problems with looking for a solution when solutions are readily found, the looking can turn into something very destructive indeed. How much time do you spend in waiting rooms? How much money do you spend on gadgets, treatments and consultations? How often do you protect yourself from doing something to avoid provoking your pain? How many family outings, sports games, time reading or contemplating or gardening or gazing at the sea?
What else could you do?
Well, minds chatter no matter what. That’s just what they do. What you CAN do is put that chatter in a category that means you recognise that it’s just your mind doing its thing. A bit like hearing a stream burbling over the rocks, or the wind blowing in the trees, or even the hum of the computer or fridge. That’s just the sound of your mind working. You don’t need to do anything with what it’s saying at all.
This is the heart of “mindfulness”. Mindfulness acknowledges that minds do what minds like to do: chatter. Mindfulness helps you hold those thoughts lightly, if at all. It’s not a “thing” to do, it’s a process of attending to what YOU want, while identifying when your mind heads off on its own chitchat, then gently reminding yourself that what you’d really like to do is attend to what YOU want. Being gentle about your mind’s ability to trap your attention, but always coming back to what you want to be aware of.
Why does it help? Well, it lets you recognise that what your mind is saying is just the noise that comes with having a brain. It’s just the hum of a machine, the stirring of the breeze, the trickle of water, the murmur of voices. You can choose to give those thoughts attention, when it suits you, but you can also choose to let them flow. If you do this, they’ll fade away (though they’ll come back from time to time as well), and you’ll have more time and energy to attend to what you really want to enrich your life.
So, if you’re off to watch your kids play football, or go for a walk along the beach, or even sit at the computer reading this, you can let your mind grab your attention and tell you that you NEED to “do something” about your pain, or you can choose to let your pain come with you, making some room for your pain to be there, and enjoy the moment.