To begin, remember that we are different from other groups in that we emphasize staying relaxed over performing. We do exercises as well as meditation and I think it’s very easy, especially in a group setting, to slip into the idea that you have to stretch a certain amount; sit really quietly while meditating compared to other people; it would be better if you are sitting straighter; having a deeper experience or something. We are really trying to get away from that idea. First of all, there’s no competition involved. You’re not doing this for any other reason except to help yourself. And just as you as an individual cannot compare your pain to another person’s pain, neither can you compare your pain relief or the effects of what you do with what another person tells you. It makes no sense.
If George and I are talking and I say, “Well, I’ve got this pain in my shoulder.” and George says, “Well ya, I’ve got a pain in my shoulder too”. So I say ” Well, my visual-analog pain scale is a 7.” and he responds “Oh ya? Well mine is an 8!”. Well, what the heck does that mean? Pain is a subjective phenomenon. No matter how you cut it, the only thing that anyone can do in terms of measuring pain is to ask the person how much pain they have. And you can come up with all kinds of scales which are pretty reliable and seem to be valid. But in the end they rely on your report. I ask you, “How is your pain today?”, but I can’t determine how much pain you have in some kind of objective fashion. So I have to ask you. Now maybe I know you really well and can tell from your facial expression etc. that you are not feeling well today. But I can’t know what you feel.
The reason that I’m saying all this is to make sure that everyone understands that you’re not here for any other reason than to learn stuff that you can take home that will help you feel better. That’s it. You’re not here to be able to sit in a perfect meditation posture. That, and a subway token will get Eric on the subway. The person who derives anything positive from that posture is Eric. Not me, not you. Nor does it mean that Eric is somehow superior to you because he can sit like that. That’s not the point when it comes to pain.
When you’re doing things here today, or at home, please relax about it. If you can be patient with yourself and avoid the self-criticism and gritting your teeth, take the attitude that you’re going to stay as relaxed as possible. Whether it’s practicing our methods, or vacuuming or dusting, or going into the next room to make a cup of tea, remember to move in a relaxed way while holding the body in the best way possible to avoid pain. And remind yourself to do this all the time as much as possible.
So here, when we ask you to turn your head and look over your left shoulder, please remember that there’s no measurement of your ability and there’s no bonus to be had for turning your head further than the person beside you. For you personally, you might to turn your head a bit more in order to gain more mobility. This would be useful for example when driving, since it’s better to be able to turn your head to look behind than having to turn the whole body. But that is something you do for you, no one else.
Please be selfish in this group. I want you focus on yourself without feeling superior or inferior as these are 2 sides of the same coin. In other words, simply focus on your reactions, emotions and pain without judging whether you are succeeding or failing. When you add the pressure to perform or feel frustrated and inferior when you think you are not doing well, I’m convinced you are doing something to your central nervous system that can increase your pain.
We are not like other programs in which you are pushed to work harder. I’ve talked with many people who report being in an 8 or 12 week program in which they were being pushed to “try harder” and have said that they come away feeling worse than when they started.
If you are one of the people who tried these things and feel like a failure, not to worry. Because we don’t care about how you perform. We only care that you learn to relax physically and mentally even though you can never be perfect at this. You can be better, but never perfect.
So don’t do anything that hurts. Teach yourself that you are not going to increase your pain, even though pain is inevitable. If I could get rid of your pain I would. But I can’t do that and this is the next best thing. Namely, teach you what we know and help you practice the skills.
These skills include learning to relax, to avoid hurting yourself, how to pay attention to pain, emotions etc. as clearly as possible. This starts with our meditation practice.