In his book Supercoach, Michael Neill tells us “the worst thing that can happen to us, is a thought about the worst thing that could happen too us”. How many times have you thought about an event or a difficult situation and in reality your thoughts turned out to be far worse than the reality?
Mindfulness awareness can help us to watch our thoughts and become slightly detached from them, giving us space to respond to events rather than react. Vidyamala Birch is the founder of Breathworks mindful-based programmes. In her book Mindfulness for health she explores how our thoughts affect our experience of pain and illness. She talks about primary and secondary suffering.
When a person is living with chronic pain or disease – primary suffering is the person’s direct experience of the unpleasant sensation relating to the disease such as pain or chronic fatigue. Secondary suffering occurs when the individual is pre-occupied by thoughts or ideas about the pain or fatigue. Let me give you an example; John suffers from chronic severe pain in his lower back following an accident. The pain he feels is his primary suffering. When the pain is present John starts to think “I can’t live with this pain, I will never be happy while I have to cope with this pain, I will never work again because of this pain”. These thoughts are secondary suffering. Birch suggests that secondary suffering is the cause of the majority of distress in those with chronic pain or disease.
Neuroscientists have found that what we resist persists and so mindfulness based approaches help us to explore our bodily sensations, thoughts and emotions without becoming embroiled in them or trying to resist them. Once there is a sense of allowing and non-resistance the struggle is replaced by a sense of peace and secondary suffering diminishes. Birch’s book guides those with chronic pain and stress through a mindfulness based programme to restore wellbeing.
I will end the post with some of my favourite tips from the book;
Don’t become trapped in the past or future.
All thoughts are transient. Let them pass.
Make a commitment to life as it is, rather than how you want it to be.
Take a break before you need it.
If you are interested in learning mindfulness techniques please contact me at via the blog.