Sometimes it’s better to turn towards the pain

This morning, I had a blood draw. I’m not a fan. I tried to give blood once and almost passed out. They unhooked me and fed me cookies.

It’s an irrational response. It’s not that much blood. But it has evolutionary origins. If your blood pressure drops when you’re cut, you bleed less. So you live longer, and reproduce more. My ancestors were slow bleeders. As a result, I feel faint when I see blood leaving my body.

In the past, I fought this with distraction. I tried to think of something exciting. Today I tried a different approach.

I’ve learned from mentors the value of being mindful of discomfort without trying to change it. (Because you can’t always change it.) I used today’s blood draw to practice. I focused on my breath and my body. I didn’t try to escape. As a result, I felt less anxious.

It strikes me that turning towards pain can be growth-inducing. (Within reason, of course. Not if it will kill you, for example.) Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind details the importance of this for psychedelic drug trips. Trip coaches encourage psychonauts to face their scary hallucinations. When they do, they often have breakthroughs.

I’m not sure I have the strength yet to be mindful during blood donation. It’s hard to fight evolutionary hardwiring. But I should be good for my next blood draw.

(I should note that my wife, who I’ve compelled to read these once-per-day posts, does blood draws like a champ. During her two pregnancies she was often a pincushion at the obstetrician. Her primary blood draw-related discomfort is likely me whining about it.)

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