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Lions Roar : January 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2011 55 strategies, for instance, staring into their partner's eyes or sing- ing or having their partner massage their back. "The point of the exercise," says Tower Ewers, "was to see how much the mind affects our physical level of pain. Most people finished this exercise saying something to the effect of, 'When I focused on Om, it only seemed like we had our hands in water for three seconds, but when I yelled and screamed and went on about it being uncomfortable, it felt like five minutes.' After doing the ice water exercise, we became aware that we have the ability to change how we experience physical pain. There are tools that the mind can use to either have pain be excruciating or bearable." The mothers-to-be in the class were then able to take what they'd learned and apply it to labor. The Ewers opted for a natural childbirth at home. "We had an exceptional birth experience," says Patrick Ewers. It was a relatively easy labor, and complication free. "We can't say that just our mindful practice caused that to happen," he continues. But when people are tense or have a lot of expectations about how they want things to unfold, complications can arise and sometimes one complication can lead to another. "We feel that because of the approach we took, we increased the likelihood of a positive experience." too difficult to do. "As a result," she says, "I felt like a failure as a Buddhist, and it took several years for me to return to the dharma. Slowly, though, I came to realize the Buddha's path is not a one-fold path. It's eightfold. There are many other prac- tices besides formal meditation." In fact, Bernhard has discovered that many non-formal medi- tation practices have a more profound effect on her now than they did when she was well. Before her illness, for instance, she'd learned an altruism-cultivating meditation called tonglen, which involves visualizing taking in others' pain on the in-breath and sending out relief on the out-breathe. As a healthy person, Bern- hard had rarely practiced this, but now she does so regularly. She says, "When I breathe in the suffering of everyone unable to so- cialize with family and friends because of health problems and I breathe out compassion, I feel a powerful connection to the mil- lions of people suffering from chronic conditions." That connection has not only eased her own suffering; it has also inspired her to help others by sharing with them the prac- tices that have helped her. Lying in bed, her laptop pressing into her stomach, she wrote the practices down, both the traditional Buddhist ones and those of her own inspiration. Sometimes, months went by and she was too ill to write, but finally she com- pleted a manuscript. Now it's a book, How to Be Sick: A Buddhist- Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers, which was released in September by Wisdom Publications. Bernhard can't pinpoint which practice has been most use- ful to her; in the course of a week, she uses them all. But one that many people gravitate to is cultivating compassion for their body by repeating a particular phrase. She says, "I often use these words: My sweet body, working so hard to feel better. This phrase resonates strongly with people because it allows them to see that the aversion they've had toward their innocent body has been a great source of mental suffering." "Mindfulness practice helps loosen the tight-fisted grip of stress- ful emotions and thoughts," Bernhard continues. "By bringing these painful mental states into mindful awareness, we can then see them for what they are---impermanent and not a fixed part of our iden- tity. We are not just this illness. We are not just this bodily pain." ♦