One of the most difficult problems of living with one or more chronic illnesses is chronic pain. I personally have lived with chronic pain since 1975, and I’ve used a variety of treatments including over-the-counter and prescription pain medications, supplements, physical therapy, braces, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS unit), ElectroCorticosteroid and Hyaluronic acid injections, and several orthopedic surgeries in hope of relieving the pain – with minimal effect in most cases. One thing I have shied away from is mindfulness meditation for chronic pain.
Focus on the Family says of mindfulness meditation:
“Mindfulness (some use the word grounding) is characterized by meditation and relaxation techniques. The idea is to become more self-aware. You pay attention to thoughts, feelings, and sensations in that moment — without purposefully deciding whether they’re good or bad, and without becoming overwhelmed or overly reactive. In short, you tune in to what’s real right now.”
Many reputable universities (such as Harvard) and medical facilities (such as Mayo Clinic) now recommend mindfulness meditation for chronic pain. What is mindfulness meditation, and is it something I should try as a Christian for pain relief?
Mindfulness meditation can be individual mindfulness meditation, sitting alone in a quiet comfortable space, usually with your eyes closed and not focused on anything specific to begin with. It often includes concentrating on various areas of your body, one at a time.
Or it may be guided mindfulness meditation, which involves listening to someone either on a recording or in person, who will prompt you to relax into a meditative state and then guide you through the meditation.
Sometimes guided meditation uses imagery, asking you to picture specific things in your mind. Guided meditation may include Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), when you focus on relaxing each part of the body, one at a time, to take the tension away from each muscle.
All of these are recommended by some physicians and counselors, so it’s important to decide ahead of time what you will do if mindfulness meditation is recommended as a part of your pain relief.
Opinions about both individual and guided mindfulness vary within the Christian community. Focus on the Family mentioned the following cautions to those considering any secular kind of meditation therapy.
- Secular mindfulness is based on an unhealthy degree of self-focus.
- It supports emptying the mind, which can expose people to demonic influences.
- It encourages escape from reality.
- It sometimes promotes a one-with-the-cosmos worldview.
- The concept of “mindfulness” is rooted in Zen Buddhist meditation.
All of these concerns are valid. Secular mindfulness encourages you pay attention only to yourself. In contrast, Scripture teaches us to have the mind of Christ and to evaluate everything in light of our vertical relationship with God and Jesus.
Mindfulness meditation can be compatible with a biblical worldview if it is rooted in Scripture and has a vertical focus on connecting with the God who created us and loves us with an unfailing love. Some faith-based counselors use this form of mindfulness meditation as a therapy tool. If you are considering mindfulness meditation for pain relief, make sure you work with a genuine Christian therapist who will guide you to the truths of Scripture. For me, personally, the decision has been made. I don’t want to use any kind of mindfulness medication, because even when it is wrapped in biblical principles it’s still rooted in Zen Buddhist meditation.
Next week, we will be looking at Biblical Meditation, the kind of meditation the Lord clearly calls us to participate in.