Sunday, October 25, 2009

Stephen Levine - Pain meditation

Below is a meditation by the wonderful writer, teacher and poet Stephen Levine. 

Stephen, along with his wife Ondrea, are from the USA and have devoted much of their life to working with people with terminal illness or chronic pain.  His many books and meditations focus on death, dying, illness, grief, and the spiritual journey.  If you'd like a quick and warm-hearted introduction to Stephen and Ondrea's life check out this interview on You Tube.

This is a link to Stephen's personal site, where he sells CD's and tapes of his many wonderful guided meditations. This is a link to his books. Meetings at the Edge is my favorite book of his, because each chapter is the story of a person who is dealing with some kind of loss. It's a very intimate book, and would be a great introduction to his writings (although unfortunately, it doesn't have many written meditations in it.)

The meditation below, titled 'Healing Meditation,' is from the book 'Healing into Life and Death.'  This book is chock-full of written meditations.  I've picked one I've used a lot which is specifically for physical pain, although it could also easily be used for emotional pain as well.

The meditation is quite long, but if you didn't have the energy to do it all you could read through it and break it up into chunks.  In the introduction to this meditation Stephen writes:

 "In the beginning of this practice it may be difficult to make contact with an area so long isolated by the armor of our aversions.  But it is not advisable to rush healing.  As when working with pain one approaches a step at a time, work with the meditation for ten or fifteen minutes and then take a break and go fully back to the breath for a while, softening the belly and watching breath from that softness.  Not attacking the area even in the slightest we swing back to the healing or pain meditation for whatever period feels appropriate."
In other words: take it easy! 

You can do this meditation either by reading each line to yourself, or having someone read it to you.  You could also put it on tape and play it back to yourself (or, just buy a copy from Stephen's website if you are cashed up!) 

A Healing Meditation

[To be read slowly to a friend or silently to oneself.)

Come to a sitting position or whatever posture the body is a maintain for a period of time. And feel what sits here. Allow the attention to come into the body and feel the breath breathe itself in soft belly.

Let the body be soft and open. Let the awareness be gentle and allowing. Notice any area of the body which is in discomfort. Attend to the body, notice whatever distinct sensation draws the attention. Gently allow awareness to move toward the place that wants attending.

In this gentle approach toward discomfort, notice any resistance, any stiffness or numbness or coldness, any tension that denies entrance into this area. Notice whatever denial or fear limits access. Notice any fear or doubt that attempts to distract direct entrance into the discomfort.

Slowly, without the least force, gently allow awareness to approach the sensations generated in this area.

And begin to soften all around the sensations.
Letting the flesh soften to allow awareness within.
Let space begin to open all about the edge of this area.
Gradually opening.
Softening all about sensation.
Softening the muscles.
Softening the tissue in which sensation arises.
Softening the muscles.
Skin soft. Flesh loosening, opening.
Allowing sensation to be as it is in soft flesh.

Feel the fibers in the muscles softening.  Letting go of pain. Tendons softening. Flesh softening. Skin softening.
Allowing sensation to float in soft flesh.
Letting go all around sensation.
In soft body, in soft mind, just letting it be there.
Meeting the moment-to-moment sensations that arise there with moment-to.rnoment softening.
Softening the bone.
Softening to the very marrow.
Any tension that momentarily asserts itself allowed to float free.
Let it come. Let it go.
Moment-to-moment sensation arising in soft awareness.
Softness spreading all about sensation.
Gently, without force, gradually opening the tissue to let sensation float.
Letting go all around.
Softening to the very center of the cells.
That softening to the very center of the cells of the muscles, of the tissue in which sensation floats.
Awareness cradling sensation in soft open space.
Sensations floating in awareness.
The skin, the tissue, the muscles, the tendons soft and pliant.
Bone soft, allowing, willing.
Sensations arising like bubbles into space.
Space floating in space.
Awareness meeting moment-to-moment sensation with merciful softness.
Moment-to-moment sensation rising, floating in awareness.
Awareness receiving the subtlest flutter, the subtlest motion of sensation.
Softly. Clearly.
Awareness entering to the very heart of sensation.
Awareness exploring sensation floating in space.

Do the sensations stay still or do they move?
Does the area of sensation have a single shape or is it constantly changing?
What is that shape?
Moment-to-moment sensation floating in soft merciful awareness that explores tenderly the moment.
Do these sensations have density?
Are they thin or thick?
Are they round? Are they flat?
Moment-to-moment sensation received in moment-to-moment awareness.
Discovering the nature of sensation.
Do these sensations have a texture?
Are they rough? Are they smooth?
Do they stay the same or are they constantly changing?
Sensations floating in awareness.
Softening all about sensation Flesh soft muscles relaxed, open, tissue allowing and merciful.

Notice whatever thoughts arise that might limit this softness.
Are there feelings that harden the area? Fear or doubt?
Do the sensations whisper words like tumor or cancer or pain? Do

they cause tension around sensation?
Allowing levels and levels of softening to deepen all about sensation, explore the moment as it is.
And let such thoughts, such feelings too, float in a vast boundless awareness.
Soft awareness meeting sensation as it is moment to moment.
Attend to even the least tension in the mind that tenses the body and soften all about it.
Deeper and deeper softening.
Noticing how even the least thought might limit softness softness, soften yet deeper.
Investigating the moment as sensation.

Did these sensations move, or did they stay in one area?
Are there tendrils that connect this area with other areas of sensation in the body?
Moment-to-moment awareness.
Moment-to-moment sensation.
Moment-to-moment softening, allowing, receiving.
Sensation arising and dissolving in vast space.
Are the sensations soft or hard?
Are they hot or cold? Or neither?
Is there a feeling of pressure? A vibration? A movement?
Soft awareness opening into a vast spaciousness which allows sensation to unfold moment to moment in the clear light of mercy and awareness.
Meeting sensation as it arises instant to instant.
Is there a sound there? Do these sensations have a voice?
Is the voice familiar? What does it have to say?
Noticing softly, caringly, these sensations that may have gone so long unattended to. Meet them with a soft allowing awareness.
Sensations arising and dissolving in a spacious merciful awareness.
Relating to this area, to sensation, as if it were your only child.
Meeting them with love. With kindness. With mercy.
Sensations floating in a soft open awareness met with mercy and caring.

Does some image arise there?
Is there color there?
Just noticing whatever is there, nothing to create.
Just receiving sensation in loving kindness and care.
Touching it with mercy. Touching it with forgiveness.
Is there a feeling there, an attitude that seems to surround that area?
Noticing any old-mind residue that holds even in the least to these sensations, just let them go, let them float in the new moment-to-moment spaciousness of awareness and kindness and care.

Gently allowing awareness to cradle each moment of sensation.

Each sensation absorbed in loving kindness and mercy.
Allow love to enter sensation, floating in the softness, in the spacious heart of being all about this area.
Floating in compassion.
Floating in mercy.
Let the healing in.
Let your heart touch sensation moment to moment.

Let this area become the heart we all share.
Let the mercy you feel for so much in the world touch your pain as well.
Each moment of sensation received so gently. Moment-to-moment sensation arising and dissolving in the vast spaciousness of a merciful awareness.
Each moment of sensation dissolving in compassion for all those in pain.

Each moment dissolving, dissolving in mercy and loving kindness.
Each moment melting into infinite compassion and kindness.
Sharing this healing with all sentient beings.
Melting the discomforts of the world in tender mercy.
Meeting these sensations with kindness, forgiveness, and compassion. Meeting the world we all share in healing awareness.
Each moment floating.
Moment-to-moment sensation arising and dissolving in the boundaryless luminescence of awareness.
Love healing the discomforts of the world.
The despair and helplessness of all the worlds met by the loving kindness that receives sensation in the heart of awareness.
This healing healing all.
Sending mercy and loving kindness in the the body we all share.
Each moment of sensation absorbed in infinite compassion and care.
Each moment dissolving into the heart of healing.


  1. Emma
    Joelle posted a link to your blog on the stillpoints forum & I just wanted to say how much I love it... I also put you as a link on my facebook wall so others can enjoy it...
    You write so well & share all the books links & teachers I love as well & who have been such incredible support through my own journey with this illness, thank you so much for all you are sharing here...
    Much healing & Metta to you
    Katy Bruce

  2. hi Katy,

    thanks so much for this feedback, and for putting me on your fb wall - cool! It's so helpful and encouraging for me to know that other people find the information on this blog useful.

    I agree, there are so many wonderful teachers out there who deal with illness/pain, especially the Levines. They're such an inspiration, becuase they really 'keep it real.'

    If you know of other books/teachers please let me know. I'm sure there are many I don't know about.


  3. Thank you so much for this blog entry! I see it is over 2 years old & I hope you are still writing. I am vacationing & have an ongoing back issue. In 2010, I suffered from a herniated disc & discovered Stephen Levine's meditations. Since I didn't bring his book, I am especially grateful to find this! Blessings!

  4. Hello Nan,

    I'm so glad this post was useful to you, thankyou for letting me know! I actually haven't written in this blog for a year because I've been too unwell, but, I'm hoping to ease my way back into it soon. I hope your meditation helps you, and that you are able to enjoy the rest of your vacation.


  5. I adore this softening meditation. I deal with chronic pain on a daily basis and this helps so so much.
    many thanks x x


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