Thursday, January 8, 2009

How to Play Dead...Part 2...Mindfulness

In learning how to not feed the bears of pain, 'playing dead' or offering no resistance is important in being able to cope better. As Martial Artists pain can be our constant companion, especially as we get older. Many older Martial Artists begin to feel the cumulative effects of their early training years.

Zazen, as I mentioned earlier, is a great way to offer non-resistance to pain...and eliminate suffering. It is best to practice at least 30 minutes a day...twice a day if you have a lot of chronic pain. But what about the rest of the day when you are not sitting on your cushion watching your breath? This is when you practice Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is an active engagement of your mind in whatever activity you are engaged in. In Zazen your focus point is the breath. In Mindfulness it is what you are doing right now in the moment. It could be washing dishes, doing your homework, talking to your boss, sitting on the toilet or changing a diaper. Whatever it is, give your undivided attention to it.

Mindfulness practices have been scientifically proven to increase a sense of calmness and inner control, as well as decrease the psychological and physical aspects of chronic pain. It is also a core practice in Zen temples across the world and part of a Samurai's training. So here is a Mindfulness exercise that I teach people to use. I call it, "Talking to your Bears".

Let's say you are getting your Gi on to practice Karate. Your lower back throbs from a break fall that didn't go well two weeks ago and you can feel a burning sensation running down your right sciatic nerve. Your bears are here. So here is how to talk to them and play dead.

"Hi, lower back and leg discomfort, come watch me put on my Gi top." And then refocus your attention on the feel of the Gi and your arm sliding down the sleeve. Now this might sound a bit weird, but give it a try for a 21 day period and see what happens. Don't push for a result...just let the pain (bears) be there. Allow them room. As you do this your suffering will decrease as well as the actual pain. Couple this with Zazen practice and you are well on your way to being able to manage pain.

So, to repeat the process. First, know your purpose of the moment. Then, acknowledge the pain, whether it be physical, emotional or mental by welcoming them in. Then refocus on your purpose and give your full attention to it. Repeat throughout the day.

An important point to remember is that Mindfulness gives you a sense of inner control. How? Think about this. Can you control a Grizzly Bear with your bare hands? Obviously not. And you can't control pain by willpower. Willpower works for short term results but as I expressed earlier it does not work well in long distance work. So, when you focus your mind only on what you don't control you will feel out of control...but if you focus your mind on what you do control you will feel in control. Makes sense right?

So, give it spin around the block. Give it some time and I can't say this enough...don't try to get any results...allow the healing to happen. When you relax and offer no resistance your body/mind's inner wisdom takes over and will take care of you. You just have to have faith. But if you push for a result you will activate the Bears and the Law of Reversed Effect. You will get the exact opposite of what you want.

Be Well,

Shinzen Sensei

ps: One point to make...if you are experiencing pain and it is not getting better always seek the advice of a medical doctor to rule out serious injury. Pain is a sign something is wrong and you need to see if it can be fixed.


  1. Would you consider Sanchin "meditation in movement"? I've often wondered if you can take Sanchin to the everyday how different one would feel and act.

    Very helpful posts lately (the Bear series).

  2. Sanchin is Meditation in movement. To me, it is moving Zen. The same attitude we bring to the sitting cushion we bring to Sanchin. We can do this with any part of your life...and it will effect our lives in wonderful ways.

    Thank you for the comments Mr. Morales-Santo Domingo.

  3. Hi,

    You've got a very wonderful blog. Many people do not fully grasp what mind power can do to one's accomplishment.

  4. Thanks might like my book, Black Belt covers mind power and how your mind is a dojo with all the weapons you need to battle pain...and create the life you want.