I started studying Buddhism shortly after learning about meditation, which I researched in an effort to help deal with migraine headaches. I think I had the notion that, through meditation, I could somehow make the headaches go away. Sadly, I have not learned how that can work, and from what I've experienced and read, meditation is not a cure for headaches. However, I have learned, as I pointed out in my last post, meditating can help stave off the consequences of stress, and can in fact help reduce stress. There is a lot of stress associated with chronic pain.
For the last few months I was the volunteer "Big Brother" in a pain management program. I saw there what I experienced myself when I took the program in 2001. Such programs do not cure you of pain, though I think it is common for people who enter such programs to think they will get a cure. Often, by the time the chronic pain sufferer is referred to the program, the tried and true techniques for eliminating pain have all been tried with (at best) mixed results. The aim of such programs is not to provide a cure, but to provide skills that will help the patient deal effectively with the pain.
Such programs struggle like a fish swimming upstream. Since pain is your body's way of telling you something is wrong, the natural reaction is to try to eliminate the pain in any way possible. But in trying to manage the pain, you are attempting to live your life while experiencing the pain. Management techniques tend to involve coming face to face with the pain, and reducing aspects of the pain that make you suffer. Along with the physical pain, there are psychological side-effects (such as stress) which, if left unchecked, will increase your pain and suffering in a positive feedback loop, until eventually you become unable to function. It is said that, "The way out of the pain is through it," which I guess applies to other problems as well.
One of the meditation techniques I have used successfully (which, in fact, has served to reduce the pain on many occasions) is a guided meditation taught by Shinzen Young. He takes an approach that it is possible to experience pain without suffering from it. In fact, pain can serve as a kind of spiritual cleansing, through which you can further your own spiritual practice and beliefs. The meditations have you concentrate on the pain and notice the way the pain changes in intensity and location. You also notice the other effects of the pain, affecting other parts of the body not in pain. Your own mental state is also scrutinized. At the beginning, such activity feels very unnatural, and your pain can actually seem to increase. However, after awhile, I have found that by becoming more aware of the pain, rather than expending mental energy in an effort to eliminate the pain, the pain "shrinks" and becomes more tolerable. I still feel the pain, and it still hurts, but the fear, anger, and frustration that goes along with chronic pain disappear, and I become more at ease. I can't say this always works, and I'm still trying to practice the technique, but I have experienced enough success that I stick with it.