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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Pain, Mindfulness, Imagination

All squinched up. Photo by Kyla
I've been in some pain recently, some of it pretty bad. This is dental pain, and so it affects other things as well, like eating. I have a broken tooth, which broke about five years ago, when a large metal filling finally overcame the tooth itself. I had no pain with this until recently but I also had no way to have it seen to.

At around the same time as the broken tooth began to twinge, on the other side of my mouth something mysterious started flaring; I suspect a late wisdom tooth is trying to come in sideways. This pain was quite fierce initially, and I can feel the teeth that are present have gotten misaligned from the pressure of the latecomer (if in fact that's what is happening.)

Along with trying to discover some way to get this attended to, for free since I have zero money and zero income, I have been learning how to eat. I have managed to get the inflammation under control, so the pain is a very low rumble most days, by means of regular doses of ibuprofen. I can drink soup, of course, but the day I managed to chew scrambled eggs was an occasion to celebrate.

However, eating is now always an occasion of enforced mindfulness. If I forget and let myself chew in the habitual way, I immediately pay a price for it. I must be gentle, and I must pay attention to each sensation as I eat each bite.

Pain is an amazing teacher.

At first I found this experience took all my attention in a way that was keeping me from any creative work. It still is capable of interfering, if I make a mistake in my attention to the moment. But once I had overcome the initial intensity I started to find my imagination was more active than it had been, and also changed in a way difficult to describe.

Some of this may have to do with eating less, as I am forced to limit my intake right now. It's not really a fast but it does seem to be offering some of the benefits of one, in that my attention can slip free of the tight hold of the ordinary, and explore just outside that frame, with a sensation of freedom I'm not used to.

Maybe this has nothing to do with the pain or with the limited food intake, but they are both happening in this time in this body, so in that way they are part of my every day and my every moment.

Pain itself does something to my imagination; I've known that for a while. And it isn't the kind of escaping you might guess, where a person zones out and forgets about being in pain. No, it's much more like holding the pain very carefully, very attentively, and letting there be a lot of space around it, and then finding that things can begin to happen, within that space. Experiences of peace, that might be the best way to describe this effect.

So what this brings me to wonder is about the relationship between mindfulness and imagination. I find both states are essential to me if I am to have any quality of living these days. Yet in a way it would almost seem they are opposite to one another. Mindfulness starts with a very focused and yet very relaxed attention to what is immediately present. Imagination goes elsewhere.

I'm finding, I believe, that mindfulness really provides a foundation for the imagination. I have the image of a child who has a secure, safe, loving home, feeling awesome bounding out the door into the day to explore what may come, knowing she always has that solid place to go back to, knowing it will receive her, ground her, welcome her.

Pain doesn't seem to fit that picture at all. Pain, the unwelcome visitor to everyone's life.

But pain can dig out space around itself; pain is almost always larger than the available space in attention, and requires more, and yet more. More attention, more room for its insistence.

I think that room stays. I think it makes some kind of bigger space for all the other events and states of being that we can have.

We can want to make that space, in the absence of the force of pain, but I wonder if we don't sometimes need that force, in order to shove aside the too-small bounds and get some full breaths.


I invite you to visit my new blog, Walk Into the Mystery. I hope to post imaginative writings there about once a week. You might enjoy them. I'll be keeping this blog, Everybody Try Flying, updated also, at least once a month.


  1. Kylabelle, I am so sorry that you are living in pain. I'm guessing you don't live in California? Because if you did, you would qualify for dental benefits through Medi-Cal. I hope that you can find a way to get your work done sooner rather than later. It sucks not to have the funds for basics like that.

    Without the pain, I suppose, we wouldn't appreciate the wellness. Still, I'd rather you didn't have to live with this constant reminder. *hugs*

    1. Thank you; fortunately it isn't constant pain, only recurring, and I can manage to keep it down. I moved here to North Carolina from the west coast where, yes, the assistance for those in need is much more easily available. Here, it doesn't exist at that same level. NC is one of the states which refused the federal increase to its Medicare, for instance. It is a surreal experience in many ways, living here. Some say there are no mistakes; I do wonder if moving here was a mistake. The jury is still out on that question. :D

  2. Well, I hear NC is beautiful...

    Refused the federal increase to Medicare? *shakes head*

    I'm sure you will learn many things with this experience, but the West Coast will be here waiting for you. :)

    1. Ah, I got that wrong; it's MedicAid that some states, NC among them, refused the federal increase for. And, thank you. I'd really love to go back. Except, I don't want to have to move! LOL!