Persistent pain comes in many different forms. It may a have specific name, like fibromyalgia, or spondylitis. It may affect your head, or your shoulders, your pelvis, or your gut. It might be termed neurogenic, or non-specific. It may happen pretty much constantly, or come and go unpredictably. And like as not, you have already tried lots of options to reduce it. So, you might be sceptical about a solution that targets your mind, not your body. 
Yet the links between the mind and the body in persistent pain are clear. Anxiety, for example, often co-exists with persistent pain. Emotions and stress activate the same circuits in your brain as physical injury. And when disease and pathology have been ruled out, finding a solution to persistent pain involves looking beyond tissue damage. 
Does this mean your pain is all in your head? Not at all. Pain is real, whatever the cause. Pain is a protective mechanism, and it can be activated by anything that signals danger to you. Mindfulness offers a chance for you to look at your pain with curiosity and kindness, moving up close, and understand how your habits of thinking are contributing to your pain. 

Beginner’s mind and reducing persistent pain 

When you want to use a skill like mindfulness to reduce pain, it is helpful to bring a beginner’s mind to your experience. Beginner’s mind encourages you to view each event, each sensation, as if for the first time. This is difficult, as your brain is used to using predictive processing 
to work out what is happening. Your past experiences, culture, conditioning, beliefs and expectations all form part of how you experience the world, from moment to moment. 
There are a number of ways you might bring a beginner’s mind to your experience of pain. 
Start keeping a journal, and note down what is happening when your pain increases. This might include noticing what you are thinking, what other stresses are around, who is involved, where you are. In this way, you can start to understand how you are talking to yourself, and build up a picture of common themes or situations that impact your pain. 
Bring curiosity to your experience. Rather than turning away from pain, trying to resist it or distract from it, try to look closer. What colour is it? Does it move? Is it shallow or deep? Does it have a texture? Any question you want to ask is valid. And any thoughts, emotions or feelings that arise are data for you. 
Make a habit of scanning your body, noticing any areas of tightness or pain. You tend to contract and tighten in response to pain. How would it be to do the opposite? Breathe into the area and allow it to let go? Bring some softening, rather than tightening, to the experience? 
Visualise a situation where you normally get pain. Or a situation you are anxious about because it might make your pain worse. Try to visualise it in as much detail as possible. And see if visualisation alone increases your pain. This is one example of the role of the mind. Only do this as much as you are comfortable with. Back off as soon as the sensations are too intense. 

Five ways to practice beginner’s mind even when you have pain 

Most people coming to mindfulness for pain have already tried other therapies and approaches. So in that sense, you are already practicing beginner’s mind, because you are being open to new possibilities. Here are five other ways you can practice beginner’s mind, in your daily life. 
Become a tourist in your own town. Observe your journeys, walking or driving, giving them your full, undivided attention. Take in your whole environment and see what you notice that you did not observe before. 
Try something new. Pick something you have not done before, and make a few notes about how you think about it before you start. Do you assume you won’t be good at something, or you won’t enjoy it? Follow this process, being aware of your thoughts as you do the activity, and reflect afterwards. What surprised you? What was different to what you were expecting? If you think the opposite of what you habitually think, what changes for you? 
Do something you do every day, but do it differently. Brush your teeth using your non dominant hand. Make a cup of coffee, paying full attention to every aspect of the experience. Get dressed noticing which arm you put into your top first, or which foot you put into your shoes first, and consciously change this around. How does this change the experience for you? 
Give your full attention to someone close to you. Listen, without judging and with interrupting. Make it your goal to see and hear the other person’s point of view. The closer you are to someone, the more likely it is you will have beliefs and expectations about what they will say, how they will be. Can you suspend your beliefs and allow the person to surprise you? 
Feed your sense of awe. Whatever it is for you. It might be mountains or rivers, music, literature, science. It’s anywhere and all around you, once you start to look. Build gratitude into your every day. Notice the things that make you smile and give thanks to them. And make them part of your everyday experience. 
Being open to new possibilities is often discomfiting. So be patient with yourself. There’s no quick fix for persistent pain, anyway, no magic bullet. Bringing your beginner’s mind can help you identify what you need, to reduce the danger signals and increase the sense of safety for you. 
If you are now feeling sufficiently open minded to know more about using mindfulness for pain, get in touch for a free consultation. 
First published by Alison Bale on Mind Insight
Tagged as: Mindfulness, Pain Relief
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