“If the problem can be solved, why worry? If the problem cannot be solved, worrying will do you no good.” – Shantideva
For the last two weeks I’ve been in bed unable to move due to a big ole stone stuck in my saliva gland. Every time I ate (or even thought about eating for that matter) the gland would swell up to golf ball size and ache like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It was the worst pain I have ever been in.
During this time laying perfectly still I really started to think about all the people out there who have it so much worse than me and my stone. And now that the stone is gone (thank you surgeon!) I wanted to write down some things that I’ve heard about in the hope that it might help you if you ever go through some horrible physical pain or sickness. I hope it helps someone out there.
Getting on top of the worry
If you talk to my friends and family they will probably tell you that I am a big worrier. I seem to make things out to be worse than they are and I worry intensely about things that haven’t happened yet. This is a very bad thing as it makes many a mole hill into a mountain.
Worry seems to make any pain that is there seem a lot worse than it is and this leads to a lot more suffering for you and your family. I think that if you can tackle the worrying you are halfway there as most physical pain is somewhat manageable.
A best friend with cancer
Some of my long time readers might remember that my best mate had cancer a few years ago. It was a pretty tough time for everyone involved (mostly him) and we all spent a lot of effort looking into ways to deal with the physical and emotional pain that was going on. I remember one night sitting with him whilst he was in unbearable pain and wishing there was more I could do. I also had the thought that one day it might be myself in that bed and that I should prepare my mind now and not wait for it to happen.
So even if you are not in pain now I hope that you will take some time to research some techniques as it seems that those who have trained their mind and bodies are able to cope with the bad times much better than those who start training when the problems occur. Of course I don’t want you to worry about getting sick, that’s not the point. I just hope that you might do a little preparation in case it ever happens.
Dealing with physical pain and painful sickness
There it is – the stone once removed from the saliva duct. Painless operation but a very painful few weeks before hand. All that trouble over a tiny little calcification!
Like I said, most of these ideas are things that I used when I was in bed with the saliva gland stone and when my best friend was dealing with cancer. They worked for me but there is no guarantee that they will work for everyone. If you yourself have any advice for people going through something painful then please leave a comment as it might really help someone out there.
1. Compassion – think about others more than yourself
More than anything else I am thankful for compassion. My mother and all my loving Buddhist teachers have constantly tried to teach me to make other people more important than myself. And while I have absolutely no real understanding of this, it did become very important when I was in pain.
It actually sounds quite selfish now, thinking about compassion in order to make your pain better. But as I was laying there unable to move I naturally started to think about all the other living beings out there who are in much worse pain than I am. All those people who are suffering terminal illnesses or have just had their arm blown off in Iraq. My pain, by comparison, is fairly minute.
I realized after a few days of being sick that I had a choice. I could panic and worry about whether I would ever get better or start thinking about others. Shifting my mind away from myself seemed to give me some strength and a will to endure and be brave and get back on my feet because there are a lot of people out there who can’t.
2. Giving and taking meditation – take on the suffering
In Tibetan Buddhism there is a tradition of meditation called Tong Len or giving and taking. It is basically an aid that helps you develop compassion and weaken your self clinging by imagining that you are taking on all the sickness of other sentient beings by using the breath. I am obviously not qualified to teach this so head over to this website for a nice teaching by a western nun called Pema Chodron.
Basically what I would do while I was sick was imagine that I was taking on all sentient beings suffering when I breathed in, and when I breathed out I would give them all my happiness. I imaged that my pain was me taking on the illness of everyone else. Again, this practiced seemed to help me because it made the experience meaningful. It gave me a chance to practice. Other than that all I could do was lie still and worry about whether the surgeon would accidentally cut an artery in my neck and kill me!
3. Accept help – don’t be ashamed
When my best mate was in hospital one of the doctors mentioned how important it was to be honest and open about how you are feeling because if you’re not two things happen. Firstly, the doctors have trouble diagnosing you because they aren’t sure what your true symptoms are. Secondly, your pain doesn’t get managed properly because no body knows how much pain you really are in.
For the first month of my illness I didn’t really talk about how much it hurt. Because of this the doctors just sort of plodded along not really thinking it was a huge problem. Finally the pain got so bad that I rang my GP desperate and begging him for a referral for a specialist. Within an hour I was talking to a surgeon who said he could operate in two weeks. Had I not opened up about the pain I would probably still be laying in my bed in agony, unable to eat or drink.
During that time I also asked my teachers to do prayers for me and my friends and family to help me with things like DVDs or just someone to chat to when I needed a distraction. Unless you open up and accept the help it is really hard for anyone to know what to do for you. Without the kindness of my doctors, teachers, relatives and friends I don’t know what I would have done.
I would love to hear about what has helped you or a family member deal with some pain or illness that has happened. It can be a very lonely and frightening time and it would be nice to use this post as a tiny bit of support for anyone who might stumble upon it one day when they really need somewhere to turn. If it is you that is going through something painful I hope you get better really soon.