Anu gets intensive, painful bouts of migraine every now and then. He has some handle on what triggers the migraine – staying hungry for too long, exposure to cold, being out in the sun and heat for too long, etc. But no matter how it comes on, he knows when its coming and it wipes him out for more or less the whole day. He can not concentrate on anything as his head throbs with pain. Bright lights and loud sounds tend to make the headache worse. Often it is accompanied by nausea. He has put up with it all his adult life, and finds himself helpless in the face of it. His mother and sister both have the same problem, so he despairs that he will have to live with it lifelong, as will perhaps one or more of his children. He has been to see several different doctors about it at various times and they have sensibly suggested to simply avoid the situations that trigger the migraine, and take normal pain medication when it’s on. But he is conscious of the fact that whereas 20 years ago half a Paracetamol tablet did the trick in about half an hour, now it takes four tablets of strong painkillers over 4-6 hours for him to feel pain-free again.
You are Anu. You have just woken up, have a busy day ahead at work, and you can feel a migraine coming on.. what happens next?
The untrained mind’s response
You despair. You know exactly what’s going to happen – the pain will be mild at first and get progressively more pronounced as the day wears on. You don’t want to take the day off, so you decide to take the strong pain medication preemptively. With any luck, the effect of the two tablets will kick in within the hour, so you console yourself that you really only have to tough it out for that long. So you try to go back to sleep and wait it out. This may be your lucky day, and the pain medications work as desired so you turn up to work a little late but ready to face the day. However you do feel disappointed somewhere within, that you have to yet again rely on the medication.
If the two tablets haven’t worked by the end of the hour, then you know you are in the soup. You know you can’t take another dose for at least another 6 hours, so it’s going to be a tough day. Going to work is out of the question. You also brace yourself for the nausea and accompanying stomach ache that the pain medication itself usually triggers. Deep down you wonder, “Is this how it’s going to be for the rest of my life?”
A trained mind’s response (when you have been meditating for a little while, even if it’s only just practicing a meditation for beginners)
You have been preparing for this day. You had heard that meditation offers pain relief, and having heard many good things about the online Mindbody Mastery program that teaches meditation, you joined it some months ago. And so for now and for today, you make a strong determination that you will try all the things you have learnt to relax the body and mind before opting for pain relief medication.
You have noticed that whenever you have the migraine, your muscles feel constricted, and that is the case today too. So you start off with the Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise from the Mindbody Mastery program (week 2). You find that within ten minutes, the relief is palpable.
Encouraged, you move on to the Meditation exercise of the Mindbody Mastery program (week 6). The guided exercise encourages you to be mindful of the pain and discomfort, but not be judgmental about it. In the state in which you are, this somehow makes sense. After the 5 minutes of silence at the end of the track, you open your eyes and realize that you do indeed feel a lot lighter, a lot better.
So further encouraged, you decide to practice the Journey of Transformation (Week 7) as you remember that it is an exercise that is overtly designed for healing. You visualize the meadow, swimming in the lake, the waterfall with the magical water that cleanses you from within, the tunnel with the gentle light, the forest, the tree – and it all feels good! When you open your eyes at the end, you realise much to your delight and surprise, that the migraine has passed.
You feel so good, so inspired, that you decide to go all the way – you practice the Contemplation on gratitude (week 8), and REALLY mean it. You are truly grateful that today you have prevailed. You sit back thinking, “that could be sheer chance, but what if it does really work?” You get up with a quiet confidence that you have a Plan A for the next time the migraine rears up.
And finally let’s see what happens when you have mastered your mind and body through years of meditation practice and are well versed with the benefits of meditation.
We illustrate the point as usual, with a true story. A senior Tibetan, renowned as a master of his own mind, needed to be hospitalized to remove a skin lesion courtesy of a local anaesthetic.
He was readied for the procedure, but in one of those unfortunate combination of events, the surgeon arrived before the anaesthetist. The surgeon was rather taken by the gentle smile of the Tibetan and his calm demeanor, and thinking his patient had been readied, the surgeon took up his scalpel and cut deeply into his skin on his way to removing the affected area.
In a while he noticed that some of the muscles deeper in his patient’s tissues were twitching. Knowing that this would not have been the case if adequate local anaesthesia was in place, he inquired of the Tibetan who just smiled at him. Then he questioned his assistant more thoroughly and it was uncovered that indeed, no anaesthetic had been given!
As the story of a senior Tibetan being hospitalized for skin surgery unfolded, the common experience amongst the hospital staff was of how happy they felt around him. He seemed so at ease, so happy, so grateful to everyone that he made them all feel good.
When it came time for his procedure, he smiled and was happy to go along with whatever directions he was given; again, full of courtesy and gratitude. When his surgeon arrived, he greeted him with a smile and looked on with interest as he prepared his instruments and his own skin.
From all accounts as the scalpel cut deeply into his skin, he seemed to do no more than smile a little deeper. However, when the surgeon questioned if he had been given an anaesthetic, he went to great pains (pardon the pun) to say that everything was fine and he encouraged the surgeon to continue.
As it became clear that the anaesthetist had been delayed and the surgery begun without any anaesthetic, the Tibetan’s main concern was that no one get into any trouble. He insisted the surgeon continue, assuring him and re-assuring him that the experience was good for his practice and gave him the opportunity to deepen his meditation.
Once the procedure was successfully completed, the staff were in awe. There was no need to censure the anaesthetist or others of the staff because the story circulated in the hospital like wildfire, everyone knew a procedural problem had occurred and needed to never happen again, but the overwhelming feeling was of having been fortunate to be in the presence of a real Mindbody Master and to have witnessed something extra-ordinary.