I was working in the studio making a new type of work recently when something surprising happened. The work involved a body movement that required me to reach to a tool that was needed for the next step. I work with hot glass, and some steps involve very precise timing, and if a movement is not made correctly it can result in problems. In the case of this one step, I had to reach around a glowing red metal pipe in order to get at a tool. Since this movement was new, I was still learning it, putting it into “muscle memory” so that this movement could eventually go off without a hitch.

What happened was I wound up pressing the crook of my arm against the hot metal. And then something interesting happened, which is the reason for the post.

First, with my eyes on the tool, and not where my arm was, I realized what I had done. This had happened once before but without so much contact as was taking place at this moment. I continued to grab the tool, though, neither flinching or drawing back. This move took three seconds. I was aware of my skin on the hot metal all the way through this. I could hear and feel my skin sizzling. Then I could feel the nerve pain come barreling into my awareness. I had an odd calm through all of this…idd because for the first time ever, I just didnt react as I normally woukd have in the past.

I finished the movement, shaped the glass, turned around to get ready for the next step and found myself choosing a state of calm instead of a big reaction to the pain which was coming and which I knew would soon be so strong that I might need to stop my work because it would be too much. That’s when it happened.

A thought arose in my mind that I should try to not feel the pain, but instead to try and make it just go away. Up until this time I could feel an emotional and mental tension building like “steeling” myself for the inevitable rush of pain. Instead, something in me just relaxed a little and I felt myself aware that I might be able to change the outcome. Instead of feeling inner resistance, this felt more like surrender. This eliminated the tension, and it was immediately followed by a surprising change of events.

As I turned to make the next step in my work, I felt the pain being replaced by an entirely different sensation. This sensation was not pain at all. In fact, I experienced a coolness where the burn was. My arm exposed, I faced a furnace blasting heat at me. Normally this would have been like pouring salt on a wound. It would have made the burn howl with pain. But it didnt. I felt myself in a very calm detached state and I completed the piece I started in another five minutes without a hint of any pain whatsoever. This turned out to be one of the worst burns I have ever gotten in the studio.

The burn two weeks later and after the scab came off

I realized that what I was doing was controlling my autonomous nervous system, a kind of “brain hack” that enabled me to completely change my natural response to this burn. It wasn’t a moment of smugness, but I was pleasantly surprised that it was as easy as it was.

There was no pain at all until the following day when the burned skin began to dry and started to pinch and pull at my burned skin a round the edges. It oozed for several days after that. This was not a feeling of burning, but a different form of pain related to tender skin being covered in a crusty layer. After a few more days I put honey on the burn, which is known to have natural antibiotic qualities and the healing moved swiftly along.

Truth be told, I was always interested in these kinds of “feats” that seem to defy our normal understanding about how the body works. I read many years ago of Indian monks who could slow their heartrate incredibly slow, selectively lower blood flow to one arm or other extremity. And then I heard the story on the radio of the Tibetan monks who would go out on the coldest night in Winter (the full moon in February) with nothing more than a wet sheet, which they would dry with their body heat.

I always felt that there was more to ourselves than meets the eye, and I have begun to realize that at least in part, I knew this because in other lives, I had done things which were similar in nature. I was surprised at how effortless this turned out to be.

When I think about it, I began to realize that I had been practicing similar forms of deep control at the root level of my body. I had turned on and turned off all kinds of responses over the last few years. Just yesterday I found a pain in my abdomen wound up being energetic in nature, something our doctors might chalk up to as neuralgia or something similar, and as I sank into a meditative state, I reached a place where I could really feel the body response, look at it, and then just make a small effort at letting the tense energy lift away, which instantly addressed the pain. In this case, the pain was not even being induced by way of an injury or disease. My body was treating it like it was pain, or maybe it was my brain that interpreted this energy as pain and made it so. Whatever the exact case, the problem was no more.

You might be thinking, “Yeah, but pain is an important warning sign that helps alert you to trouble, Parker.” I would agree. Pain let’s you know something is wrong. But in the case of my burn, I knew I was being burned, could feel the pain crowding into my body like a freight train in flames. I just chose to reverse it. My stomach pain turned out not to be an injury at all, or disease, but instead a kind of persistent tension energetically that was being interpreted as pain (or as something wrong). If I hadn’t gotten to the bottom of my stomach pain, I might still be feeling something that might have only gotten worse and who knows…in time it could lead to physiological and chemical changes that could lead to a very real physical dysfunction.

I am passing this along because my sense is that the more we meditate, the more we spend time deep in the subconscious digging out stored emotional debris, the easier it is to begin brushing up against not just our emotional codes, but our physiological ones as well. I think that things like this may be a natural turn of events, much like how the Tibetans who were practicing g-tummo meditation were able to gain control over their body heat in order to dry sheets in zero degree temperatures. Not a boast or a brag, but to share with others interested in our own inner workings. If I can do it, so can you!

~Parker

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