In Buddhist terms there’s neither good nor bad back pain: “pain just is.” Not a comforting thing to say to someone in acute pain, annoying and callous-sounding in fact, but there it is. If, as in my case, a soft disc between vertebrae slips its moorings (herniation), it can push against a nerve running nearby, causing protective muscle cramping which in turn exacerbates the pain. Nothing to do with “me,” not something I’m responsible for or can undo. It happens and there it is: pain as a phenomenon of the physical body.
Along comes the ego, the me, the so-called small self. O no, it exclaims, that’s not good. Poor me, I don’t like pain. This is unfair and inconvenient; not what I desire, like, want, deserve, how I envisage the good life. I won’t be able to do this and that; now I’m getting old and decrepid for sure. In short, it enters a mind state of what in Buddhism is called dukkha (from Sanskrit), translated as suffering, discontent, unsatisfactoriness, unhappiness, sorrow, anguish, misery, and frustration. The Buddha is said to have taught that–
Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are dukkha; association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha.
I’m writing all this with … a grin on my face. I’ve already had to cancel a day-long retreat for today (with apologies to all who’ve had to change their weekend plans). The grin is about the experiment before me: how to live with something for which there’s no medical remedy (other than ameliorating treatments) and to observe how my mind will handle suffering as it comes and goes.
source: Thanissaro Bhikku. (1993-2001). (trans). Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: setting the wheel of dhamma in motion. Retrieved today. image: laserspineinstitute.com (top)