Zen meditators are famous for their equanimity in the face of physical discomfort. How do they do it? Well, according to a recent neuroimaging investigation, it may be because they do not “think” about pain. Rather, they just “experience” pain:
An ancient Eastern text describes two temporally distinct aspects of pain perception; the direct experience of the sensation and habitual, negative, mentation which follows. It was suggested that the so-called ‘second dart’ of pain could be removed via meditative training, obliterating the suffering associated with noxious stimulation.
It’s a subtle distinction … to just experience something in the moment vs. to ruminate on it and its causes, consequences, duration, etc. How many times have you heard the sage advice, just let it go? Is this what the brain imaging shows … that the meditators are not ruminating (they have decreased activity in parts of the brain involved in ruminating) … they have experienced the pain and then let it go? Experience and forget?
Reminded me of an interesting little protein named DREAM. Interesting because it modulates pain (when DREAM is inactivated in experimental mice the animals feel no pain) and interesting also because the gene plays a role in the formation of memories (mice show poor contextual fear memory when the gene is inactivated).
Experience and forget. A Zen teaching encoded in our DNA?