Fibromyalgia Pain & Mindfulness

A mother dropping her daughter off to my home for a play date asked if she could come in and apply ice to her arms and hands. She explained that she suffered from fibromyalgia pain, and that grasping the steering wheel for the half hour drive had caused pain and numbness. At my kitchen table, holding ice on her forearms, she recounted her frustration . . . with doctors, drugs, the pain, failed treatments, people who didn’t understand, etc.  She was in distress. My time with her reminded me of this parable: Buddha once asked a student, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?” The student answered, “It is.” The Buddha then asked, “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?” The student replied again, “It is.” The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.” As long as we’re alive we can expect painful experiences – the first arrow. But often we shoot a second arrow into ourselves, by ruminating, judging, denying, and struggling with, adding more pain to the original ache. When we’re hurting, from fibromyalgia or from other physical pain, we do what we can to feel better. But sometimes we still ache despite our best effort. This is where mindfulness practice comes in. It changes our relationship to pain and discomfort, and helps us avoid being shot by the second arrow. The first randomize controlled trial to evaluate the effectiveness of a mindfulness based intervention (that acknowledged the spiritual aspect of mindfulness) found that study participants demonstrated significant and sustained improvements over control group participants in fibromyalgia symptomatology, pain perception, sleep quality, psychological distress, non-attachment (to self, symptoms and environment), and civic engagement. Average daily time spent in meditation was found to be a significant predictor of changes in all outcome variables. If you’re suffering from fibromyalgia or other chronic pain, you may want to give mindfulness practice a try. It can’t hurt. You can start by checking out the free guided meditations on the Resources page.