Personal hang-ups and over-reactions can occasionally throw us for a loop and even sabotage important relationships and projects. They often escape a person’s understanding and control and force them to endure their problems, leaving them increasingly insecure. I have come to call these constellations LRPPs (pronounced: lurps), or Long-standing, Recurrent, Painful Patterns of hurt. A person’s early experiences, especially the painful ones, predispose them to a heightened sensitivity to certain problems and to reacting to those problems in self-defeating ways. Being insecure and self-preoccupied in this way keeps people from fulfilling their purpose and from applying themselves meaningfully. Psychotherapy, as well as mindfulness, compassion, and awareness meditation practices, have helped me during the last four decades to find a measure of peace and freedom.
I found that working with painful patterns is especially necessary in these times, as many of our old painful patterns are getting triggered by the difficult circumstances in our country and in our world. Uncertainty, trauma, danger, and divisiveness are regularly unearthing our own woundedness and fears.
Over the years I have learned that when I bring steady compassionate awareness, understanding, and choice to such recurring, painful challenges, these obstacles can become opportunities. My own LRPPs have been a doorway to a new kind of wisdom, to an opening of the heart. By looking at our own old wounds, identifying them, and being with them compassionately, we can all find healing and contribute to our world in a meaningful way. The following practice allows us to do just that so our experience can transform, and doors can open in creative and life-giving ways.
There are three parts to the following Breathing Through Pain Meditation. In the first step, we carefully attend to and relax into our breath. Then we become one with the sensation of breath. By doing so, we connect not only to breath but also to the interconnected flow of life itself. It is important to ground ourselves in this first stage of “being breath” while allowing breath to be part of the field and flow around us.
In the second step, we bring attention to the center of our chest. We notice what is happening in our heart and feel whatever pain is found there right now. We notice how our body is holding that pain and how we experience it. We notice our feelings, attend to those feelings, and feel our feelings, being fully present.
In the third step, we return and expand our awareness of the sensation of breath. We let the pain in our heart be as it is and allow ourselves to immerse totally into the sensation of breath. While sensing breath, we feel ourselves being carried along by the effortless flow of our body’s breathing. We pay more and more attention to breath flowing through. Then we come to attend gently to the pain in our heart. Finally, our attention returns to the sensation of breath as part of flow.
Throughout this practice, we let go of trying to “fix” ourselves or our pain. Instead, we let the breath of life flow through the pain. In this way, we gain a wider, wiser perspective. We abandon an ego-motivated position, which itself comes out of isolation. When ego governs our relationship with the world and our LRPPs, our emphasis is on strengthening, aggrandizing, and justifying our separate sense of self. What is “I, me, or mine” is most important: the “I” who did or did not do something, the “me” who got snubbed by someone, or the “mine” that was taken away or denied. When we are in pain, we also tend to retract, contract, cut off, curl up in a ball, and separate ourselves from others. Pain that is trapped in isolation like that typically perpetuates itself. When we are stuck ruminating on our hurt feelings, that only makes things worse, like a snake biting its own tail. Pain in isolation is the very definition of suffering. When we practice the Breathing Through Pain Meditation, our pain is still there, but our suffering is less. With this practice, we connect to a wider perspective. We feel our feelings as we surrender into the web of life. Having grounded ourselves in interconnectedness, we experience the flow of life energy. We expand our awareness, letting our heart rest in its natural state.
Breathing Through Pain Meditation
Let your awareness descend into your body, right down to the ground, right down to the earth.
With a quiet, attentive mind, simply be present within your body as you allow your awareness to fill the whole space of your body right up to the top of your head.
Now allow your awareness to drop deeper into the sensations of breath, allowing your awareness to become one with the sensations of the breath stream. Allow yourself to be carried in the flow of the breath stream: breath stream flowing in with the in-breath, breath stream flowing through with the out-breath. Allow your awareness to be carried in this effortless flow, like a particle awakened in the stream.
As the breath stream continues to flow through, bring your attention to the center of your chest to the area of your heart.
Allow your awareness to drop down into this area. Notice how you are feeling in your heart right now, and notice whatever pain is in your heart. There may be a tightness, an ache, a sense of spaciousness, or numbness. Stay with the felt sense of this experience.
For just a few moments, allow yourself to merge with your suffering . . .
If you find yourself getting carried away by thoughts, by the narrative of what this is all about, relax, release, and return to the sensation of body and breath.
Now, while being with that experience, bring your attention back to the effortless flow of breath, the effortless flow of the breath stream. Back to the breath stream that flows in with the in-breath and flows through with the out-breath.
Now, open the cave of your heart to the breath stream.
With the exhale, allow the breath stream to wash through and around your heart, carrying in its flow the pain or whatever is there.
All you have to do is to let go to the breath stream, let go to the washing through of the breath stream that is carrying all life in its effortless flow.
There is so much to do that you don’t have to do. You don’t have to move the clouds in the sky, you don’t have to make the rivers move, or the honeybees find their favorite pollen flowers.
All you have to do is to allow a sense of flow to happen.
The choice is yours: you can hold on tight, or you can let go; you can release your pain, or the energy of your pain, to the breath stream, to the always effortless flowing through of the breath stream.
Let go to the breath stream that is flowing in and flowing through, carrying all into the deeper stream, for the sake of all beings, into the deeper stream.
Slowly repeat the following to yourself: “May all beings be happy, may all beings be safe, may all beings be free, and may I become what I need to become to allow this to happen.”
Visit Shambhala Publications for a free audio version of this practice and more.
Excerpted from Heart Medicine: How to Stop Painful Patterns and Find Peace and Freedom—at Last by Radhule Weininger. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. www.shambhala.com
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