Mindfulness meditation and the experience of pain

Fabbro, F., & Crescentini, C. (2013). Facing the experience of pain: A neuropsychological perspective. Physics of life reviews.

Highlights

•  Pain is a complex experience involving nociception, emotional, and cognitive aspects.
•  Different neurotransmitters and neural systems are involved in pain processing.
•  Several forms of pain exist: physical, psychic, existential, empathy for othersʼ pain.
•  The pain components are connected with the dimensions of time, memory and personality.
•  With mindfulness meditation one learns to mindfully face the experience of pain.

Abstract

Pain is an experience that none of us would like to have but that each one of us is destined to experience in our lives. Despite its pervasiveness, the experience of pain remains problematic and complex in its depth. Pain is a multidimensional experience that involves nociception as well as emotional and cognitive aspects that can modulate its perception.

Following a brief discussion of the neurobiological mechanisms underlying pain, the purpose of this review is to discuss the main psychological, neuropsychological, cultural, and existential aspects which are the basis of diverse forms of pain, like the pain of separation from caregivers or from ourselves (e.g., connected to the thought of our death), the suffering that we experience observing other peopleʼs pain, the pain of change and the existential pain connected to the temporal dimension of the mind.

Finally, after a discussion of how the mind is able to not only create but also alleviate the pain, through mechanisms such as the expectation of the treatment and the hope of healing, we conclude by discussing neuropsychological research data and the attitude promoted by mindfulness meditation in relation to the pain. An attitude in which, instead to avoid and reject the pain, one learns to face mindfully the experience of pain.

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