Inner and Outer Pain Coping Methods

Dr. Charles Tart


Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 5, Part 8 of 18 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

CTT: And that’s the problem with concentrative meditation. With concentrative meditation, some people can develop an enormous amount of concentration power, and they can get rid of pain because basically they’re focused here, and the pain’s there, so it’s gone. They’re all here.

But what else are they missing if they’re all focused here? That’s why the Buddha, who had mastered concentrative meditation, realized this was not a real end to suffering. When you were in these concentrative states – these jhana states – you got away from all ordinary pains, but eventually you had to pee, to come back from your abstracted, concentrated state to the ordinary, bodily world, and the same chronic problems were still there waiting for you. That’s what spurred him to develop Vipassana, the insight kind of meditation.

Student: I got food poisoning a few years ago, and I actually tried to go into it briefly. Instead I ended up whining like a baby for several hours. So with something really intense like that, I’m just curious. What if the pain is driving you to delirium; is that still handle-able?

CTT: I’d say head to the ER instantly so somebody can be checking you from the medical side, and meanwhile you can be doing your internal practicing. In the case of chronic pains, where you know it’s not a medical problem that needs external attention, then sure, the internal approach is fine. But I mean, common sense would suggest that when you get some sudden, strong pain, that says something is wrong! Maybe something is badly wrong. So, again, we’ve got a lot of experts around here in modern life, doctors, who can check that for us.

Student: This discussion has made me think about – I haven’t been through this experience, but I can imagine childbirth is incredibly intense, and there’s a –

CTT: My women friends told me my kidney stone was like childbirth.

Student: Oh, is that right?

CTT: It’s a much smaller baby, but it’s a much smaller “birth canal!”

Student: I can only imagine.

CTT: And they routinely give twice the analgesic Demerol for kidney stones that they do for childbirth.

Student: Yeah. Yeah. Okay –

CTT: But I’d just as soon leave these woman’s mysteries to you ladies!


Student: I can only imagine. But there’s a whole movement now around the mindfulness technique. Obviously a lot of women opt for natural childbirth, but now there’s this newer component of the mindfulness training – mindful birthing.

Apparently, if you are really present with it, the oxytocin rush after the contraction is just, like, really blissful. That is, you can actually feel how good it is after the contraction. Because if you’re resisting the pain the whole time – this is apparently the premise, and the people who have gone through it have said that it’s true – there’s resisting, resisting, and that’s your posture through the whole thing.

CTT: Yes.

Student: Whereas if you’re really mindful and get through the contraction, then you actually enjoy the – you know, your little gift after each one.


Apparently it’s the chemical part, which it’s really interesting how so many people go through it and the whole thing – three, four, or six hours, however long – is really painful and difficult. Whereas just the shift of being present with it allows your body to actually experience what the chemicals are trying to help your body experience.

CTT: Oh. Yes. In Buddhist cosmology – and don’t ask me to check this against Gurdjieff’s various levels in all this, because I don’t know if this is true; it’s just interesting – they talk about different realms of existence, which some Buddhists take them as literally existing: the god realm, the demigod realm, the hungry ghost, the hell realm, things like that. Other Buddhists talk about them as if these are really psychological analogies. You know, you can find the warring “demigods” on Wall Street, struggling desperately against each other to make more money and all that.

But Buddhism does teach that the human realm, here, where we are, has the right balance of happiness and pain to be the optimal place to seek enlightenment. There’s enough suffering here to motivate you to want to do something, but there’s enough opportunity here to be able to do something effectively about it.

Pain is one of those inevitable things, you know. You’ve got a body. You’re going to get some pains occasionally. We can’t really forget about it – not that we have any choice, since we’re all here in the human realm – so let’s make the most of it.

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