I’m a firm believer that physical sensations on their own do not create suffering—that suffering arises when there’s some sort of internal conflict. The book Nonviolent Communication includes a story of a woman resolving a migraine by connecting with her underlying needs, which, to me, was one of the less believable parts of the book the first time I read it. Experiences I’ve had since then have made me considerably less skeptical.
I was experiencing a lot of nausea (presumably from eating lots of food not long after a long water fast) the other night, so, after sitting around being upset about it for a while, I decided to try to turn my attention to my experience and be curious about the internal conflict producing my suffering. Sure enough, there were two pretty distinct voices.
Voice 1: You really shouldn’t have eaten that second bowl of food. You were already feeling crappy, so you decided to eat more? That’s transparently stupid, you didn’t really even expect it to work, and you need to remember not to ever do that again.
Voice 2: You were feeling crappy, and you wanted to do something to help. That’s not so bad. What you were doing wasn’t working, so you wanted to try an experiment, and do something to make yourself feel better.
My plan was to recognize the positive intent behind each one and feel gratitude. So Voice 1′s concern mostly seemed to be with truth. Even while feeling crappy, it wanted me to remember to keep my beliefs truth-tracking, and recognize that I had been engaging in motivated reasoning when I decided to eat more, thinking that it might help me feel better. Voice 2 was concerned about self-care, and wanted me to keeping working to alleviate my discomfort. Both noble motives, it was easy to feel appreciation for them, and, once heard out, they were no longer in conflict.
And sure enough, the nausea pretty much went away. It seemed like there was some chance I might still vomit (I didn’t), so I made sure I was in prepared for that eventuality, but the above exercise nearly eliminated the relevant suffering. Powerful and practical stuff.