The late Zen teacher Darlene Cohen was dedicated to helping the terminally ill deal with pain. She died in 2011 and wrote about her own experiences with chronic pain in a 2002 Tricycle article “The Practice of Nonpreference”.

“Overwhelmed by the power of pain, I could do little else but surrender to the pure physicality of my existence. If, at any given moment, I was aware of ten different aspects of the present moment – say, the hum of the air conditioner, the thought of the laundry I had to do, my glasses sliding down my nose, and throbbing pain in my hips – that’s too much pain; it’s one object of awareness out of ten.

But if, at that moment, I could become aware of a hundred aspects of the present moment – not only the ten things I noticed before but also more subtle aspects, like the shadow of the lamp against the wall, the brush of my hair against my ear, the pull of my clothes against my skin – then my pain was one among a hundred objects of consciousness, and it became a pain I could live with.”

The idea of expanding awareness to include more and more in any given moment was one of the most important retraining tools I had. If I focused solely on the dystonic movement, it was all consuming and overwhelming. The process of stepping back to practice being inclusively aware reduced the power of the dystonic sensation.

 

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