Dealing with Physical and Emotional Pain



If physical pain persists after adjusting your posture and doing the relaxing body scan:Do the body scan until the rest of the body is comfortable.  Each time you come to the pain area, briefly send it some love, then move on to the next body area.

Once the rest of the body is comfy there are 2 methods to choose from:


1st: (Bhikkhu Thanissaro)  Focus on the comfy adjoining areas and start to expand that relaxed, comfortable sensation into the pain area.


2nd: (Thich Nhat Hanh and Bhante Gunaratana)  Do the Holding Technique (great for both physical and emotional pain).  There are 2 analogies.  First is the analogy of holding an upset child.  You hold them tenderly, lovingly.  They feel your love, they settle down and soon want to run off and play again.  The second analogy is of a fire.  When you throw logs of fuel on a fire, it burns hotter and gets bigger in size.  When you stop fuelling a fire, it dies out once all the fuel is used up.


When you are in physical or emotional pain, you are like the upset child and the pain is like a fire.  First you metaphorically scoop yourself up in your arms and send soothing love to yourself.  At the same time, you stop throwing logs of fuel on the fire.  The fuel is your thoughts eg.  I can't stand this pain, this is awful etc.  Distract yourself from these thoughts by focusing on the pain area.  This is your hurt child.  Send love to this area.  Stay out of your head.  No thoughts.  Just love.  Without fuel, the pain will settle....for sure the part of the pain that was added to by your agitated thoughts.  There may be some baseline pain that remains.  Once you have done step 2 for awhile, just accept this remaining baseline of pain and turn your attention to your breath.


This technique is excellent for anger and physical pain.  For anger, once you are calm enough, send metta to the person you feel anger towards (which may be yourself!)


Another technique for physical or emotional pain is the Tibetan practice of Tonglen.  I like the way it was taught by Dr. Aung.  In this technique it seems like we are initially doing something negative.....breathing in pain!  But, the pain is coming into our consciousness we aren't adding anything more.  But we don't want to keep this negative energy in our body, AND we don't want to send it out to anyone else!  Instead we transform it to love and light and send this to ourselves or others.


·       on an in breath, breathe in the pain (internal or external i.e. you are witnessing someone else in pain) through your left nostril, down to your lower belly (Dantian or Hara)

·       visualize its colour

·       hold your breath and transform the visual image to love and light.  I visualize the second half of an eclipse of the moon, with the help of Tinkerbell adding some wonderful sparkles of beautiful colours.  So the nasty coloured pain now emerges as a luminous, sparkly sea of love and light.

·       on the out breath, send the love and light to the pain area in your body or the painful situation you are witnessing.

·       repeat the in hold and out breaths until the pain is as settled as possible



As a supplement to the holding technique, Ajahn Brahm's method is to buy a brown ink pen, write down on toilet paper the situation that is causing you distress and flush it down the toilet.


For anxiety, the most effective method I have found is running or fast walking meditation, counting your steps while being aware of in and out breathing.  So, while breathing in, count how many times a foot hits the ground, then while breathing out, start from one and count how many times you foot hits the ground.  Once you start to settle you can start to slow down and eventually may be able to transition to sitting.


A more advanced technique for anxiety/agitation is to label it as not me or mine and just sit and watch the physical manifestation of it until it the Holding Technique.  Once it has dissipated, note that you survived!  You will be less frightened next time it arises.


Once we let go into a calm, peaceful state in meditation, that is the time to review difficult situations and decide if there is any action that needs to be taken or it's time to just let it go.  If action is needed, it is in this calm state that you will make the wisest decisions.  Don't try and make decisions when upset.  You are likely to make an unwise decision.


The Peace Treaty


(This is a method to have you begin a conversation, in a calm, constructive manner, with someone you feel anger towards.  If you don't feel you can have a conversation with the other person, you can at least go through the steps of the Treaty for yourself to help you calm down.  Once you start the conversation, having some conflict resolution skills would be very helpful.....the Treaty does not cover this....only getting you to start the conversation in a calm manner.)


In order that we may live long and happily together, we the undersigned, wishing to restore our deepest love and understanding, gratefully agree as follows to these terms and conditions:


I, ......................... (the one who is angry, sad, hurt, lonely etc), agree to:

1.    Refrain from saying or doing anything that might cause further damage or escalate our

1.    feelings .

2.    Not suppress my feelings.

3.    Practise breathing and taking refuge in the island of myself.

4.    Once calm, tell the one who triggered my feelings about my feelings and suffering. If it is taking a long time to calm down, I will let the other know about my feelings and suffering before 24 hours are up by delivering a Peace Note to him or her.

5.    Ask for an appointment for later in the week (eg Friday night) to discuss this matter more thoroughly, either verbally or by note.

6.    Not say: “1 am not angry. It’s okay. I am not suffering. There is nothing to be upset about – at least not enough to make me angry, sad, hurt etc.”

7.    Look deeply into my daily life while sitting, walking and breathing, in order to see the ways I have not been mindful or skillful enough:

a)   how, in the past, I have hurt the other person because of my own habit energy

b)   how the strong seed of anger, sadness etc planted in me from multiple previous woundings is the primary cause of my present feelings

c)    how the other person's behaviour watered the seeds of my feelings and this is the secondary cause of my present feelings OR how my negative assumptions about the other person watered the seeds of my feelings

d)   how the other person is suffering also and if they knowingly watered the seeds of my feelings, it is because they are only seeking relief from his or her own suffering

e)   that as long as the other person suffers, I cannot be truly happy.

8.    Apologize immediately, without waiting until the (Friday) meeting, as soon as I realize my unskillfulness and lack of mindfulness.

9.    Postpone the (Friday) meeting if I do not yet feel calm enough to do it.


I, ............................ ( the one who has done, or neglected to do, something that led to anger in the other person) agree to:

1.    Respect the other person’s feelings, not ridicule him or her, and allow enough time for him or her to calm down.

2.    Not press for an immediate discussion.

3.    Confirm the other person’s request for a meeting, either verbally or by note, and assure him or her that I will be there.

4.    Practise breathing and taking refuge in the island of myself to see how:

a)   I have the seeds of unkindness and anger as well as the habit energy to make the other person unhappy

b)   I have sought relief from my own suffering by making the other person suffer (if this was the case)

c)    By making him or her suffer, I make myself suffer

5.    Apologize as soon as I realize my unskillfulness and lack of mindfulness, without making any attempt to justify myself or waiting until the (Friday) meeting.


We vow to abide by these articles and to practice wholeheartedly.

Signed on this the year..............., in the presence of (each other, others?) in .........................................



If you are too angry to even just ask for an appointment later in the week, then within 24 hours, write a note to the other:





Dear _______,

          This morning/afternoon you did/said something that made me very angry.  I suffered very much.  I want you to know this.   You did/said:


Please let us both look at what you did/said and examine the matter together in a calm and open manner (time/date).

                              Yours, not very happy right now,



More details on the Peace Treaty are on the website under Teachings, Lesson 3.