Now, about those cluster headaches. They're back. I should say, they never really left. It's just that they have been far less intense, far shorter, and far less regular in their arrival times than the usual clusters. I have been worrying about them precisely because they felt so UNfamiliar. If I had been able to write them off as simple clusters, they would have worried me less. But then, last night and the night before, they came back with familiar, excruciating intensity--and right on time. The first, the most intense, arrived at 2:15 in the morning; the second at 5:30. They both lasted one half to three quarters of an hour.
The first night, the night before last, the pain became such that I could no longer lie in bed. It was that bang-your-head-against the wall kind of pain that makes it impossible to lie still. So rather that lie there suffering, I chose to go to the sitting room and try sitting in meditation instead. I have found some strategies to be... I won't say successful, because they won't drive away the pain, but useful in being able to tolerate it while it's there.
The first is to breathe directly into it, allowing the breath to expand at the center of the pain and dissipate from the point outwards. The attempt is to allow the pain to dissipate a little bit more with each breath.
When that one fails to "work", I move on to the second strategy: to direct the breath to some other place in the body. It could be the most distant place, the fingertips or the toes. I actually find it most beneficial to create an imaginary line from the base of the torso to the base of the throat, moving through the navel, the sternum and the heart space, creating--as it were--an opening the whole length of the torso through which breath enters and leaves the body. If the mind wanders, I add a mantra I learned years ago from one of Ram Dass's books: it goes, on the out-breath, "I am love"; and on the in-breath, "I am loved." It's surprisingly comforting, when in pain.
So here's the third strategy, the one I resort to when all else fails. I first pay careful attention to the pain, and then step away from it. Hard to describe, really. It's a matter of allowing myself to become the observer rather than the participant in the clusters. I suppose, in Buddhist terms, it's a way of stepping away from the attachment that turns simple pain into complex suffering. I watch my self having a headache, and it becomes as though this self is someone else, someone for whom I can feel compassion and empathy. I can't drive away the pain. No point in trying to deny it. It will persist for as long as it persists. But in this way, if I'm both skillful and attentive as I breathe, I do find it possible to step gradually further and further from the pain, and suffer from it less and less.
The great thing about the Buddhist teachings, for me, is that they're so darn practical. If I put them into practice in my life, they actually work. That, after all, is what the Buddha sought to stress: don't take my Word for it, try it out for yourself. Give it a test run. So here's one place in my life where I have found meditation to be an invaluable tool--one that spares me the worst effects of pain. At some point in my life, I realize, the challenge may be greater; but for now, I'll gratefully accept what I have been given thus far.