To read in more detail about Ethan’s 7-Point Plan: http://www.ethannichtern.com/7-point-practice-plan-for-engaged-mindfulness-in-2017/
Yesterday was a long day of LOTS of sitting on a meditation cushion at our local mindfulness center, with very little active movement, which my physical body is not a huge fan of. And it was also lovely, too, as not only was I able to partake in an OI Day of Mindfulness (OI: Order of Interbeing), but it meant I was able to see our out of town sangha friends, of whom I only gather with 3-4 times a year.
Our Day of Mindfulness included: sitting meditation, indoor walking meditation, reciting the 14 Mindfulness Trainings, listening to short talks from three of our Montana and Wyoming area OI members, silent lunch, a dharma/personal check-in round, and closing remarks from our local Dharma teacher Rowan. It went from 9:30am-5:00pm. My husband and I left at 5:00pm, in order to return home to our son, while others stayed to have dinner together at the center. My nerve condition, and associating chronic pain, had been so aggravated by the hours spent mostly sitting that I darted out to our car quite rapidly after the final sound of the bell – whoosh, I was gone! What I’ve been appreciating reflecting on, since getting home last night, is how strong my practice of self-care is – which took me years of honing in, I might add, and is a continual practice. Now, when my pain levels rise and my mental energy plummets in unison, I know what I need to do and I do it.
A big part of my self-care routine is in understanding how physical pain, just like everything else, is of the nature to change. When my pain level rises, I practice to remember that by prioritizing rest, using a few simple aids (such as using a heating blanket and soaking my legs in a hot bath), and being attentive to my body mechanics, my pain will subside to a large degree, after a certain length of time. I no longer fight against the pain or my body, wishing they were other then they are. I’ve learned a different way of engaging with myself when pain arises, and it makes such an immense difference in my experience.
As Thay says: “The Buddha said that you shouldn’t amplify your pain by exaggerating the situation. He used the image of someone who has just been hit by an arrow. A few minutes later, a second arrow strikes him in exactly the same spot. When the second arrow hits, the pain is not just doubled; it is many times more painful and intense.
So when you experience pain, whether is physical or mental, you have to recognize it just as it is and not exaggerate it. You can say to yourself, “Breathing in, I know this is only a minor physical pain. I can very well make friends and peace with it. I can still smile to it.”
If you recognize the pain as it is and don’t exaggerate it, then you can make peace with it, and you won’t suffer as much. But if you get angry and revolt against it, if you worry too much and imagine that you’re going to die very quickly, then the pain will be multiplied one hundred times. That is the second arrow, the extra suffering that comes from exaggeration. You should not allow it to arise. This is very important. It was recommended by the Buddha: Don’t exaggerate and amplify the pain.”
– From Shambhala Sun magazine (now known as Lion’s Roar), January 2012
Another large component of self-care for me also involves the practice of “gladdening the mind”, as it’s sometimes phrased in Buddhism. This involves cultivating a joyful, grateful, and contented mindscape when I’m not in a heightened state of physical pain. As I strengthen this ability, my gladdened state of mind has the capacity to support me in times of increased pain and physical discomfort. It used to be that when my pain levels rose, my attitude became sour and embittered. But since I’ve taken up the cultivation of joy as a diligent and continual practice, I’ve experienced many benefits from its affects in regards to my health.
When my husband and I were on retreat at Deer Park Monastery last month, as part of the Dharma talk Brother Phap Hai gave two days after the Presidential Inauguration, he shared with us Ethan Nichtern’s 7-Point Plan for 2017 (seen above). It delighted me to hear the very first one: Be stubborn about taking care of your body.
It’s 5:45am right now as I’m typing here in the lovely darkness of Sunday morning. And I have another long day of sitting ahead. Our statewide annual sangha board meeting convenes today, which I currently serve as secretary for, which means I need to be alert and ready to scribe. So I’m tending well to myself this morning, just as I did last night, and I will continue doing so throughout the day, and days that follow. And I’ll likely leave the center later on this afternoon weary and exhausted, with legs and feet and mind aching, and I’ll continue my self-tending ever still.