On my second night in hospital following my surgery, I was in a great deal of pain. I was already on morphine and codeine, yet the pain wouldn’t subside and was getting quite unbearable. I realised I was bracing myself against the bed and couldn’t see how I was going to get through the night. Slowly I became of aware of how tense I was and that I was ‘suffering’ the pain and thought ‘right what can I do with this.’ Thankfully I remembered Lama Shenpen’s teaching on ‘Sensitivity’ in the Discovering the Heart of Buddhism study course book, that really helped me:
“The only good thing that can be said about feeling pain and suffering is that at least you are alive. When we feel pain, generally we do not want to stop feeling alive, we just want the pain to stop. It is very important to link into that constant feeling of aliveness as something good and inescapable. That is the goodness of your heart which can never be destroyed, even by death. It is not something conditioned, because it does not come and go. It is always there, alive, sensitive and responsive. If you can turn towards this quality with the confidence, that it is the Indestructible Heart Essence itself, pain and suffering themselves can become a tremendous inspiration.”
So in the first instance I remembered how I’d thought that I could’ve quite easily died during the operation, so I turned my attention to my gratitude at being alive and remembering the above teaching, that this intense pain was telling me: I am alive!
I started by noticing how tense and braced I was holding my body. Noticing the tension, I tried to breathe deeply and relax my body as much as I could whilst repeating ‘I’m grateful for being alive, I’m grateful for this pain which is reminding me I am alive’.
I could feel myself begin to relax and a sense of spaciousness start to open up between the ‘me’ who was was experiencing the pain as ‘bad’, and the more open quality of gratitude for the pain and its inherent aliveness.
I then remembered an article about Lo Jong Mind Training from Lion’s Roar, slogans for turning obstacles into the path. One in particular came to mind from that article: ‘See confusion as Buddha’. I thought that if pain is really the aliveness of Indestructible Heart Essence (Buddhanature) itself, then if confusion is Buddha (as a distortion of our inherent clarity), so pain is Buddha, as a distortion of our inherent sensitivity. With that concept in mind, I visualised myself prostrating to this pain as Buddha and a most dear teacher, repeating ‘Namo (homage to the) Buddha, Namo Dharma, Namo Sangha’ as my mantra.
I also tried to tap into the power and ‘adhistana’ (blessing) of the lineage and of heart connections to give me some extra strength and comfort. I might’ve been physically alone at that moment, but I wasn’t alone in my plight and practice. I imagined the Buddhas and lineage teachers willing me on in my practice. I thought of the sangha and my Dharma friends, as well as my family, who I knew were wishing me well. By tapping into those heart connections and Samayas (inescapable bonds) through meditation, I could start to feel a sense of strength and power in that which gave me confidence, strength and courage.
By meditating by focussing on my breath and welcoming the pain as Buddha, I was gradually, just moment by moment initially, relaxing into the intensity of the pain, as that quality of aliveness. Eventually, with that quality of aliveness came a sense of well being that felt untouched by external pain factors. I was alive and meditating and experiencing the aliveness of the IHE, which allowed me to tap into its unshakeable essence of goodness and well being.
I managed to get through what felt like the longest night of my life, was even able to get some sleep, by transforming my pain into practice.