Zazen is a Buddhist form of meditation that helps the practitioner quiet the mind and be present in each moment. Headaches and migraines can be approached in that same way. In his classic book, Zen Mind, Beginnner’s Mind, beloved Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki wrote:
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.
After launching The Headache Coach last week, two former migraineurs wrote comments that intrigued me: migrainingjenny wrote that the “texture” of her headaches had changed over the years. I’m not exactly sure what she meant, but it indicated to me that she had followed them enough to know that they’d changed in quality somehow. She had a qualitative, sensation-based knowing about her pain.
Another friend wrote to me offline saying she’d noticed that her migraines had stopped after she retired from her career as a librarian. There could have been several factors at play, but I’d imagine that (to put it delicately) there were decades of spores and dead skin in “them thar stacks,” to which my friend was sensitive.
And you? What do you know about yourself and your headache or your migraine patterns? In bringing your life with headaches to mind, does something within you shift? What do you notice about your body, your mind, your mood, your emotions? Is it familiar?
Now take a few deep breaths, settle within yourself, and sit with what you know for a few minutes. Sit with an open mind, a beginner’s mind. Without judgment, sit with love for yourself and what you’ve been through. What bubbles up? What do you notice now—about your body, your mood, your emotions—when look at yourself and your life anew, as if each moment could be a new start? Does anything change?
Suzuki Roshi explores what happens when we practice something. At first it can be easy and joyful. But then, if we continue for months and years, our practice can become automatic, by rote, and lose its original meaning.
Our ‘original mind’ includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. You should not lose your self-sufficient state of mind. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it will always be ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.
What is that fine line or balance between being an expert about your headaches and your life, or anything for that matter, and looking at everything with fresh eyes in order to discover something new that you might have missed? Does already knowing something make it more difficult to see what you don’t yet know? Is it possible to honor what you know while still being open to what you don’t?