Have you ever contemplated the timing of physical symptoms? The mind likes to think, “I have” such and such symptom, “my” this or that. The mind creates a sense of continuous illness.
But notice the awareness of these symptoms. Even someone with chronic pain has at least brief respites, when the awareness shifts to something else. Perhaps the phone rings. Perhaps an emotion takes center stage for a while. Sometimes it is a strong desire that captures the attention. And where does the awareness go during sleep? It is only a belief in the continuity of the symptom that makes it seem so. Symptoms actually come and go.
Many physical symptoms are so distracting and awareness-catching that it may seem impossible to purposefully shift the attention elsewhere. But the attention does seem to shift at times anyway, if you pay attention.
So the mind creates the sense of continuity, filling in the gaps to make a complete story. That story becomes self-sustaining and self-fulfilling.
Have you ever clocked the moment that you decide that you have a cold? There is a palpable shift at the time that a little scratchiness in the throat or congestion in the back of the nose reaches the threshold to be labeled by the mind as a cold. The thought initially might be more like, “I hope I’m not getting a cold,” but deeper down you may have already decided that it’s a cold. You fight the thought for a while, knowing all along that you have given in already. Or, if your beliefs are strong enough, you engage the battle with the weapons of supplements, teas, acupuncture, warm clothes, or whatever suits you most. And if you belief in these weapons is strong enough, the immune system may kick in and win the battle.
Time as a linear, forward-moving, unstoppable force is only one interpretation of reality. Physicists can explain why time can be perceived as moving faster or slower, or even moving backwards. The only truth in this moment about the Past is the story that lingers, and it is that story that can torture us in this moment. And if the future truly has not yet happened, then the only way it can cause suffering now is from a story projected into Time.
If the perception of pain can disappear at the moment that your phone rings, then pain is a function of attention. The degree to which something hurts is directly related to the amount of attention that is paid to it. Energy flows to where attention goes, so can we intentionally shift our attention to other sensory inputs available in this moment?
We are programmed, for survival reasons, to pay attention to pain. But once we have assessed a pain and taken appropriate measures for our safety and health in relation to that pain, then does it serve a purpose to continue to feed attention to that pain?
Let’s say you have an intense pain in the left shoulder and you have assessed it and done what needs to be done in relation to it, at least for now. Then if you, say, place half of that attention on your left fourth toe (assuming it’s healthy), then you just have reduced your pain by 50%.
The brain is receiving thousands, perhaps millions, of pieces of information at any one time. We are only aware of a small fraction of that input, but still it is available for the attention if we so choose. With practice, the mind can be trained to attend to much more.
We forget that we have this choice in focus. We tend to feel at the mercy of what’s happening in our body or environment. This is a habit that can be changed. Our happiness no longer needs to be subject to anything outside of our witness consciousness and our will, be it outer environment or the body. By choice, we can practice finding the feelings of joy and gratitude, regardless of some of the other input that used to seem to control us.