Today's guest author has written about a powerful spiritual experience – an illness. It seems almost impossible that we could ever be thankful for a serious physical problem, but it's true nevertheless. It isn't always that way of course. But I had Graves disease and my suffering was so great that I had to stop resisting my experience, just as Richard explains here. Acceptance was the only possible way to heal.
Chronic pain can be a prison with deep, dark, dank, cramped cells and impenetrable walls. I know that place all too well. I entered it in February 2000 when incapacitating headaches nearly destroyed my career. This is the story of how meditation helped me escape from that prison and transform my suffering into healing.
When the headaches erupted, my reaction to the pain was instinctive. At first I fought back with the weapons of anger and resentment. When I could not defeat the pain or drive it away, I protected myself with the armor of fear and self-pity. Why me? Why now? What did I do to deserve this? I also sought medical help. An MRI confirmed that I had no brain tumor, but with one exception none of the doctors I consulted treated me as a person. The many pills that they prescribed changed my personality and drained my intellectual and emotional energy.
The onset of chronic headaches in 2000 could have ended my career and converted me into a bitter, angry person. Because of meditation that did not happen. After suffering for two and a half years, I began meditating daily in 2003 with the support of Jean Colucci, a psychologist who based her therapy on meditation and Buddhist teachings. While working with her, I participated in a meditation retreat at which a voice of wisdom revealed the truth about the headaches and the suffering they had caused. This truth, so simple, yet so deep, is that the suffering is not caused by the pain, but by the mental state associated with the pain. Through meditation, I learned not to push the pain away, or to react to it with fear, anger, and self-pity, but rather to accept it.
Accepting the pain allowed it to become my best teacher, a wise guide who continues to reveal new insights about life and suffering and pain and letting go and love. Meditation has bestowed many additional gifts: it calms my mind, enables me to connect with the wisdom of my body and the wisdom of the present moment, allows my body’s natural healing powers to flourish, and has freed me from the prison of chronic pain into a vast landscape of equanimity and peace.
The wisdom about pain, suffering, and healing that the headaches revealed is the subject of my recently published book, Blinding Pain, Simple Truth: Changing Your Life Through Buddhist Meditation. My goal in writing it is to empower people who suffer from physical and emotional pain to heal their suffering and embrace their lives with equanimity, gratitude, and joy. The book is also an invitation to begin meditating. It is a practice with potentially infinite rewards that can become an all-encompassing approach to your life as it has become with mine.