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Meditation Pains

I’m on day three of my third recovery from a meditation lapse this year, and by that I mean having fallen off of my daily meditation routine. This time around, I’ve decided to extend my meditation from thirty minutes to an hour every morning and night. The first obstacle this change brought was pain.

Pain is no news for me. I remember the excruciating pain from when I first meditated at temple. The abbot, Sayadaw U Kesava, placed me on a wood floor in front of a statue of Lord Buddha, we prostrated three times (Buddham pujemi – Dhammam pujemi – Sangham pujemi) and then he told me to sit and note the passing of my breaths. I suppose he wanted to sit for an hour, but after 40 minutes I was in so much pain that I had tears flowing down my cheeks. I whimpered. U Kesava laughed.

Many years later, I’m much less flexible and the pain is still just as real.

I begin by sitting down on a carpeted floor in Burmese position (maybe I should invest in zafu after all). After thirty minutes the numbness sets in, then the pain, then the extreme pain.

The only thing that gets me through the pain is knowing that I’ve done this for many years. When I was younger and worried about blood clots, I would have to remind myself that I haven’t heard of any meditation amputees. Sometimes I reflect on how much pain the renunciant Siddhartha must have gone through before he became Lord Buddha. Ultimately, I’m able to meditate through the pain because I am confident (from my experience) that it will go away in time. (Ooh, here’s a good related post that I just found.)

But there is one other teaching from U Kesava that works today just as it did those many years ago.

Immediately after sitting, we did walking meditation for about fifteen minutes. On that first day, I protested. I felt as though my legs were going to shut down like pieces of short-circuited machinery. U Kesava had me walk upright, completely upright, and to never stop. After three days, he told me, the intense pain from sitting meditation would go away.

I’m delighted to attest that many years later, his trick still works! I’ve been doing walking meditation after every sitting, and each day the intensity of my pain both during and after meditation has diminished by leaps and bounds.

But please don’t consider walking meditation to be a panacea for meditators everywhere. I just thought I’d share an anecdote that’s worked for me. I’m sure that much of my pain comes from a determination to sit zafuless. (I’m old school, what can I say?) And for many people, an alternative meditation chair might be the best way to avoid unnecessary pain.