Managing the experience of pain

Danny Singley


 NOTE: This transcript may have been automatically generated using software and, as such, may not be completely accurate.

In this edition of Knowledge Nuggets from the Center for Men’s Excellence, licensed psychologist Dr. John Rettger guides you through a meditation practice. This specific session applies the two arrows approach described in the previous Knowledge Nugget in the form of an experiential meditation practice. As opposed to focusing solely on the breath, Dr. Rettger invites you to expand awareness into the nature of your thoughts.

Ideally, make sure you’re in a location that allows you to sit or stand quietly and mindfully. Welcome back to another episode of Psycho-spiritual reflections with John. I am your host, Dr. John Rector. This is a very basic meditation practice that’s a little bit more on what I would call the contemplative side of things. So rather than just being really focused on a particular anchor such as the breath, we’ll be sort of working with a little bit more of expanded awareness to extend beyond the anchor of the breath and kind of look at also the nature of our thoughts to have more of a contemplative inquiry.

So I encourage you to come into a comfortable posture for this practice, and it could be any posture that works for you—sitting down, standing up, lying down. I think if I had a particular suggestion for the physical posture, it is just one that balances the qualities of comfort and alertness. So if you’re sitting down, just as best as you can, sitting in a way that allows the breath to move freely through you. So think about lengthening the spine.

As you’re settling in, just take a moment to gather your breathing. At the beginning of the practice, just observe the nature of the breath. If you’re feeling a little bit uneasy on the practice today, see what it’s like to deepen your breathing a bit, slow it down. As you slow and deepen the breath, it really helps to connect you to a feeling of ease and relaxation. See if you can notice any physical sensations that are happening with the breath. For example, as you breathe in, perhaps you can attune to the expansion of the belly. As you breathe out, just a gentle, natural contraction of the belly. Just take about five to seven breaths on your own, just like that.

And then when you observe the next exhale, we’ll deliberately change the focus of our awareness onto mental objects. So what can be included here are thoughts passing through your mind, images that may form, memories. And so as any thoughts, images, or memories emerge in the mind’s eye, the practice here is to simply observe them. You see them like you see clouds in the sky, watching these mental objects slowly pass by, just like you watch the clouds drifting across the sky. See what this is like.

Now, as you’re sitting here in the practice with mental objects, just notice if a particular thought or event comes into awareness. And so rather than just watching this go by, we’ll do a little bit of work with it. So take notice of some mental object. We’ll inquire within as to how this particular mental object is affecting you. You can ask yourself, “What is my physical reaction here?” And so attune to the physical body and observe, for example, is my body tightening or contracting, or am I clenching somewhere? Just observe. As best as you can, notice then the effect of this mental object along with the physical reaction.

Observe the emotional reaction as well. So does the emotional body conjure up a particular feeling such as sadness, anger, frustration? Perhaps there is delight or gladdening. So observing here the connection between thinking, physical sensations, emotions. And along with this, try to as best as you can observe or attune to is there some desired behavior I wish to take here. Behavior in this context can mean some desire to get up and quit the practice. A behavior might be an almost more of a mental experience of wanting to cling, perhaps to a pleasant sensation or emotion or memory. On the other hand, it might be about pushing something away, desiring to run away from experience.

As best as you can, stay present, feeling, observing, witnessing, but always knowing that you are in control of this practice, so there’s always the option if things get to be too much to take a letting go and go back and release the practice with the exhale. And if you’re feeling okay, stay connected and observe if you’re getting caught in some dimension of the experience that might actually be generating more suffering. And this is that second arrow that we discussed in our earlier teaching. Just observe any narrative that you might be generating. If that’s happening, there are no judgments about that. Just see if you can take a breath and come back to the place of witness consciousness here.

And then you can either hit pause and choose to stay in this experience longer, or if you’re feeling ready to move or initiate a move out of this meditation, just take a moment here to observe whatever is in the field of awareness and intentionally cultivate a feeling of gratitude toward this experience and towards yourself. And recognize that taking a seat in meditation is a true act of self-kindness, of generosity, of love, knowing that as you move back into your day, your heart is more open and that will be felt by others.

And then we’ll release our practice with a nice letting go breath. So deep breath in through the nose and sigh with the exhale. And I thank you very much for taking the time to be in this practice today. Also, if you found this practice to have an ungrounding effect or if it stirred up a lot of emotion, I certainly would recommend working with an experienced guide. That could be a licensed mental health professional or a well-qualified, well-credentialed teacher of meditation or teacher in some spiritual tradition. So I thank you again for taking the time today to be here, and I look forward to being with you next time on our podcast. Have a wonderful rest of your day. (upbeat music)

This concludes this installment of Knowledge Nuggets by the Center for Men’s Excellence. The information here is covered in more detail in Dr. Rettger’s book titled “Applied Mindfulness: Approaches in Mental Health for Children and Adolescents.” You can access more resources, including the rest of our Knowledge Nuggets online at our website,, or on social media @MenExcel.

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