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Primary vs. Secondary Pain

Cory Muscara



Cory Muscara



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Primary vs. Secondary Pain

Personalized support for learning how to integrate mindfulness into your life. Delivered fresh everyday by our world renowned experts. Choose meditation duration:

Hey, welcome back to

your Daily Mindfulness.

Today, we're going to talk about

the difference between primary

pain versus secondary pain.

So a while back I spent six months

on a silent meditation retreat.

Although six months in silence

might sound like a vacation,

for me, it was far from it.

There was no reading, writing,

listening to music or contact

with the outside world.

We were sleeping only a few hours

per night, eating two small meals

before 11:00 AM and meditating

between 14 and 18 hours per day.

And the mattresses were, we were

sleeping on, were so thin, you could

squeeze them between your fingers

and feel the bone on the other side.

The austerity of the living conditions

combined with the very intense

meditation schedule created a sheet

of pain in my back that descended

from my neck to the base of my spine.

It was so bad that if I were to take

a deep breath, the movement in my back

would exacerbate the pain and cause it to

radiate around to the front of my body.

Each time feeling like I was

being cattle prodded in the gut.

I didn't think I could last six

months like this and was seriously

considering going home early.

But as I was meditating, I

saw something interesting.

Every time the pain arose my mind

would think, Ugh, this is so terrible.

What's wrong with my body.

Nobody else seems to be

struggling as much as I am.

There's no way I'm going to be

able to do this for six months.

And then something else

interesting happened.

As soon as those thoughts

would arise, they were quickly

accompanied by something else.

Painful emotions, doubt, anger,

sadness, anxiety, despair.

And then as soon as those negative

emotions would arise, I could feel

the physical pain getting worse.

So here I was caught in

this insidious mental loop.

There was physical pain, which triggered

negative thoughts, which triggered painful

emotions, which then made the pain worse.

And although I couldn't do anything

about the physical pain, which is the

primary pain, I could do something

about the thoughts that I was

caking on top of the secondary pain.

And so that's what I started to work on.

I practiced just being more present

with the physical pain itself.

Each time my mind would wander into

thoughts and judgments about the pain,

I would try to smile at it, let the

thoughts go by and then returned to

just being present with the pain itself.

And although it wasn't easy, as soon

as I stopped fueling those negative

thoughts, those thoughts stopped

fueling the emotions, which subsequently

stopped exacerbating the pain.

This was my first experience and

exposure to the difference between

primary pain versus secondary pain.

Did the primary pain go away entirely?

No, but it did reduce radically.

And I saw that I could turn up or down

the amount that I was suffering from it.

So what does this have to do with you?

Oh, maybe you're dealing with

physical pain, like chronic pain,

and this might have some relevance.

But even if you're not, is primary

pain just exclusive to physical pain?


Primary pain represents any sort

of pain that comes up as a part of

being human - a job loss, death of

a loved one, a relationship breakup.

These are natural and a part

of the human experience.

But we often get caught

up in the secondary pains.

The why me, why did God do this to me, how

am I going to be able to go on like this.

And it's often that secondary pain that

creates more suffering in our lives.

So my invitation to you today

is to explore where you might

be creating secondary suffering,

secondary pain in your life.

And what would it be like to just be

present with the experience itself?

Thank you for your practice.

I'll talk to you soon and take care.

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