wisdom-of-discomfort1-p22What should I do if I experience considerable physical pain in my knees and my back when I practice sitting meditation?

I love it when people ask technical questions about pain associated with meditation postures because, rather than just saying, “Make yourself comfortable,” it gives me the opportunity to explain why we suggest these postures in the first place.

One way to address concern about pain is to ask three basic questions: “How does sitting in a particular way increase the ability of the mind to see more clearly? How does seeing more clearly develop wisdom? And how does wisdom lead to compassion?” (It is, after all, wisdom and compassion, not stalwart sitting, that are the point of practice.)

So, how does sitting still, upright, and resisting the temptation to move, focus and clear the mind?

It is, indeed, a helpful technique. First, holding a styled position requires attention—attention brought to bear on the present situation—and so random thoughts are less likely to distract the mind. Second, the decisiveness in the mind that intends to be awake and present—“I’m doing this now”—also guards against distraction. And third, the mind itself, in a context of simplicity, has the natural tendency to return to ease. (I often think about the snow globes with lovely scenes at their center, scenes hidden from view as long as the “snow” is shaken up. Once the globe is left alone on a steady surface, the snow settles, and what is meant to be seen is revealed.)

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