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How mindfulness can help one cope with painful times

In Part 6 of a seven-part series on mindfulness, Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars discusses three things to remember when we’re in pain.

Being mindful will help you deal with many aspects of daily life, including times of grief and pain, says Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars.

“Like the highs in our lives, the lows are only moments in time that will pass. Being mindful of this will ensure you don’t become stuck in negative emotions,” she tells

Kopping-Pavars recounts the story of a woman overcome by grief at the death of her husband and who can only focus on her loss. She seeks counsel from a monk who asks if she thinks about her husband when she’s really thirsty or has to use the washroom.

When the woman says no, the monk explains that there are many moments throughout the day when she is not grieving, says Kopping-Pavars, principal of NKP Law and Lotus-Law.

 “What we need to start doing is realizing that life is made up of many moments,” she says. “Even in very painful times, there are other good moments and we need to open the door to them. Don’t identify or attach to just one emotion.”

Kopping-Pavars says when we are caught up in painful emotions, there are three mindful approaches to ease our sorrow.

First, we need to recognize that life is full of “unsatisfactoriness,” which Buddhists refer to as dukkha, she says.

“We can accept that life often brings suffering, but it’s our choice not to get stuck in it so that in the next moment, we aren’t in pain anymore. It makes it easier if we just realize that life isn’t perfect and that’s OK.”

Second, life is also impermanent, says Kopping-Pavars.

“We are never only in one emotion or one space,” she says. “If we can remember that nothing is constant, then we can understand that this terrible moment will come to an end. Then be alert when that change comes and to the shifting of your awareness.”

And third, think about the concept of non-self, Kopping-Pavars suggests.

“Non-self means not identifying with just 'me' and 'I.' In other words, there is so much more to us than just this body. There are so many aspects to us — what our body is made up of, the various roles we play in life, our genetics or history, our heredity. We should never just identify with this body as 'me,'” she says.

"The concept of 'non-self' is a difficult one to grasp. In fact, Ajahn Chah said, 'If you try to understand it intellectually, your head will probably explode,'" says Kopping-Pavars.

"What is important to remember is that just knowing that this body, or the emotions that flow through the body, do not define us — that itself can bring a sense of freedom," she says.

Kopping-Pavars says life is a cycle of change and we must remember that.

“We shouldn’t identify with the pain or depression or anger that we’re feeling. The moment we start attaching to those thoughts, we allow our ego to grow.”

She uses the analogy of the cooking show Chopped, which challenges chefs to prepare a meal with a basket of mystery items, and some of them may not be pleasant.

“If we are a skilful chef, we have the choice and the ability to make something good and wholesome out of the ingredients given to us,” she says.

“In mindfulness, we are the chefs. Sometimes we’re given a bunch of awful ingredients, but we don’t identify with them and think they’re part of us.”

We shouldn’t identify with horrible emotions or situations either because they are temporary and don’t define us, Kopping-Pavars explains.

Meditation and mindfulness will help us become disciplined so that when negative emotions come up, we know how to deal with them in a more resourceful and wholesome way, she says.

“Discipline comes from the word ‘disciple,’ which is a master and a person we want to learn from.”

Kopping-Pavars says in mindfulness and meditation, a person tries to become the disciple and not allow the mind to take the lead.

“We try to discipline our mind, rather than our mind disciplining us. Meditation allows us to be the disciple of our mind.”

Stay tuned for the final instalment of the series, where Kopping-Pavars will discuss the definition of life in mindfulness terms.

To read Part 1 — an overview of mindfulness and how lawyers can benefit — click here

To read Part 2 — the four foundations of mindfulness — click here

To read Part 3 — the five hindrances to being focused — click here

To read Part 4 — the five rules, or precepts, of mindfulness — click here.

To read Part 5 — how to follow a mindful path in eight simple steps — click here.

To Read More Nicolle Kopping-Pavars Posts Click Here
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