One of the initial avenues where mindfulness started to gain recognition in the West was in medicine and psychology through working with chronic pain and illness. Today I have the honor of bringing you, Vidyamala Burch, one of the co-founders of Breathworks and author of Living Well with Pain and Illness: The Mindful Way to Free Yourself from Suffering. Vidyamala first came to the intersection of meditation and chronic pain 25 years ago after going to the hospital for spinal injury. She currently lives in Manchester and has been teaching mindfulness-based approaches to pain and illness for the past 10 years.
Today Vidyamala lets us in on how mindfulness works to alleviate suffering in chronic pain and illness.
Elisha: In the beginning of your newest book you quote 13th century Sufi Poet, Rumi saying:
Do not look back, my friend
No one knows how the world ever began.
Don not fear the future, nothing lasts forever.
If you dwell on the past or the future
You will miss the moment.
How have you applied the message of this poem in working with your own chronic pain?
Vidyamala: Living in the moment has been one of the most important ways I have reclaimed my life whilst living with chronic pain. It all began when I was in hospital when I was 25 and had a night of very intense physical pain and mental anxiety while in a neurosurgical intensive care unit. I thought I would not be able to survive the night and then, when I really felt I would go mad with the stress of it all, a quiet inner voice came to me that said “you don’t have to get through until the morning; you only have to do get through the present moment.” With that voice came a very deep shift in perception and my entire experience changed. I relaxed in the deep confidence that this knowledge brought: I knew very deeply that I could not only ‘get through’ the present moment, but I could live it to the fullest, even though I was experiencing pain.
I also realized that my previous …