Solving Chronic Pain through Meditation: Tingy's journey of healing

Tingy is a member of KMC Kent and a student of the KMC Kent’s Foundation Programme class in Canterbury. She maintains a consistent meditation routine and loves attending and volunteering at the weekend courses and retreats run by KMC Kent. Additionally, Tingy shares her knowledge and experience of meditation by teaching the Thursday morning classes in Ashford. Balancing her spiritual pursuits, Tingy is also a devoted mother of two and a successful owner of a PR agency.

What was your life like before? What were your particular struggles that then led you to finding meditation?

The particular period leading up when I discovered meditation, was a particularly horrible period in my life. It was very dark, and I had my relationship with my partner had ended. I suffer from a chronic pain condition that’s idiopathic, due to nerve damage, and it’s set off by stress. So, I had a period where I also had a slipped disc. Because of the chronic pain condition and the fact that I had a slipped disc, I was on an insane amount of medication—huge amounts of medication. I was on antidepressants, I was on pain meds, and then obviously, my personal life suffered quite badly at the time. There are points in your life where everything goes wrong, and that was kind of like everything was going wrong. I was having huge problems with my eldest son. We were practically estranged at the time. So, it was just a very, very dark period, and it led to me nearly having a breakdown, really, about sometime after that, and really not wanting to be alive.

Tingy at a meditation class

So, after several months of this horror, when I started to look for reasons to keep going and things to get me back out into the world, I started to force myself to go back to the gym, try to socialise, and take a creative writing class. So, I felt like I was finally starting to make some headway, and then lockdown happened. I was still in therapy, I was in therapy pretty much weekly for it, and sometimes twice a week for several years. Lockdown happened, and so we all went online, and we discovered Zoom, the wonder that is Zoom. I wasn’t completely unaware of meditation. My mom is quite spiritual, but I read a lot of books, but I wasn’t really hugely conversant with what takes place in meditation. Usually, it’s the sort of what we would term, just a breathing meditation to relax you, but that was the extent of my involvement.

I run a company. I’ve run a business for 22 years. Also, because I’m divorced, I’m basically the main breadwinner for me and my two sons. So, I didn’t really have an option. When I had this breakdown, I didn’t have an option to break down and just lay down and give up. I had to continue to find ways, even with the chronic pain, even with the medication that I was on. You know, it was extremely harrowing periods, truly.

I was taking all the meditation classes offered by KMC Kent while I was still doing therapy. I was still on a lot of medication for pain because the chronic pain condition is set off, in particular, by mood. I would have to take topical medication pills that I would have to take sometimes three times a day and let dissolve in my mouth. In addition, I was taking other stronger pain medication.

The transformation from meditating was subtle because, I didn’t even notice it at the beginning. During this time, my eldest son and I made up. He came back; he had been living with his dad. He moved back in, and my youngest was around a lot.

But I didn’t realise the extent of the transformation. I think a lot of people notice when they take up meditation, they become a little bit more patient. Less road rage.. about a year in of doing the Kadampa meditation classes, my kids even mentioned how much calmer I was. That was surprising.

Surprisingly, I just wasn’t in pain that much. I didn’t have to keep taking medication because I was only supposed to take the medication when I was in pain. I was doing all these meditation classes while I was still under the care of my consultant. My consultant had seen me at my worst, I lost a lot of weight. I was just a wreck. I was shaking all the time. It’s very difficult for me to express at this point in time how truly on my last legs I was. I did not want to be alive. I was in pain all the time. I felt abandoned. My partner simply disappeared just after 5 years, just ghosted us. It was incredibly… What it took for me to get through those weeks is very hard to convey because unless you saw me then, you wouldn’t recognise it now.

What were some of the feelings you were having then?

Oh gosh, well, overwhelmed more than anything, incredibly, you know, the feelings of worthlessness. It’s a very paralysing, the level of depression I had made it hard for me to sometimes even move.  I remember talking to my dad once and just saying, “I can’t move. I can’t lift my foot. It’s too much effort.” I stopped socialising completely. For about a year, I think, people didn’t know if I was dead or alive. I had a couple of friends that were really great that would come and check in on me. I was smoking, I was drinking, I mean, any kind of escape, you name it. It was a truly, truly dark.

Tingy at the Kadampa Centre in Boston

What happened with me was I happened to go on holiday to Boston, USA. I had enough antidepressants to last me till the last day, and I had had a brilliant time there. When, I came back, and I was so busy at work that I kept forgetting to go and refill the prescription. And all of a sudden, I realised nearly Christmas, so over a month had gone by, and I hadn’t taken any antidepressants and hadn’t been in pain once.

This was all happening while I was still in therapy, and I’m all this time when I’m going to therapy, I’m telling my therapists what I’m learning at the Kadampa meditation classes.  I was doing the morning meditations and then weekend meditation workshops and then the Monday class and Tuesday evening classes.  And then I joined Foundation Programme.

I had no idea what was going on for the first six months of Foundation Programme, the first half of year, because it’s obviously a much more in-depth Buddhist, but I was like, “I’m going to roll with it because so far, everything else has made sense.”

I am also having these check-ups with my pain, my pain consultant, and he just started seeing this difference in me. This would have been quite a few three or four months after I came off the antidepressants. He was in awe that I hadn’t needed any medication or anything. I said, “I’m taking all these meditation classes,” and he was… I mean, the letters he was writing by then were like… I mean, just… It was like black and white to where this person was to where they are now. And eventually, my therapist fired me because she said, I think it was the last six months of psychotherapy where she said, “I’m learning more.” She said she got more out of our sessions because I was talking about meditation. She said it made her a better therapist and a better person. And she eventually said, “For the last six months, I’ve been wondering, why are you still coming here? Because you seem in control of your emotions, just in control of your life. You’re not having problems, but you seem to be able to cope.” So by this point, I had come off medication, I didn’t need pain support, I no longer needed therapy every week or every other week.

Tingy with fellow meditator Jo

My consultant started asking if I would speak to other patients who have the same condition that I have, and he started referring, people that just don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and he kind of holds me up as this shining example of somebody that’s learned to live. And obviously, I don’t want to be flippant about pain because I’m not suffering pain. I still get flare-ups, but I don’t think in this entire year I’ve had to resort to medication at all because I think it’s been a combination of using a lot of the tools that I’ve learned in meditation. It doesn’t mean I sit there and meditate on my pain or anything like that. I’m in the middle of a meeting or something, and it flares up. The other day it was because I got lost, and it was really dark and it was raining, and my satnav wasn’t working, and I got really stressed, and that caused a massive flare-up.

Can you speak a bit more about your state of mind and the pain? Is there a relationship between the two?

Yes, from a purely physical perspective, it just has to do with nerve damage. So, from a Western Medical view, it simply has to do with my brain gets the wrong signals because of stress. But what happens is I don’t get distressed about the pain. The pain comes, I don’t have a mind of resistance about it. I accept that I’m in pain. I accept that I have this condition.

Also, one of the things I learnt from Kadampa Buddhism is the teachings on compassion. From having a cold to chronic pain is, I ask myself, ‘is there anyone else suffering more than me? Is there anyone else that might have this condition? Is there anyone else that’s suffering more than me?’ Well, the world is full of suffering. I mean, take your pick. So, sometimes I even do it when I’m in spin class. I’m taking on the pain of other people. Just use your imagination to other people that are suffering. I’m suffering for them, not in a martyr way, but just like help them because it must be awful.

You are moving your attention from your pain to you are broadening your mind, aren’t you?

Tingy receiving the blessings empowerment of Buddha of Compassion


I just wanted to ask a bit more about when your consultant asked you to come in and wanting you to share how you dealt with your pain. What would be the steps that you went through to work? You said the pain wasn’t distressing anymore.

I did talk him through similar to some of the things that I mentioned. And I said, “Well, obviously, there’s the meditation.” So just purely on a meditation being a science lab of watching your mind. So, you become more familiar with what is arising and what are the thoughts underneath. You can have the thought that, “Oh, there’s pain, I’m having pain,” without being like, “I wish my life was over. Oh my God, why me?” It’s those tackling these unrealistic thought of “This shouldn’t be happening or this isn’t fair.” So, I did talk about the mind of resistance and having more of a mind of acceptance, just accepting, “Well, I am in pain, we’re all in pain. We’re all in pain.” So, it’s kind of like accepting, “Okay, well, I’m in pain and not resisting that.” You can lean into it, you can sit with it. There are lots of different techniques. You can breathe into the unpleasant feelings.

Avalokiteshvara – the Buddha of compassion

Another is the meditation on compassion. Is there anyone else that is suffering just like me? I literally do it when I have a cold. “Is there anyone else out there that has a cold?” And then it’s like, “Is there anyone else that has something worse and is suffering more?” And then, “Oh, may they be happy. It’s like instant company. It’s like, “Oh, yay, there’s a whole bunch of us that are suffering.” So, in general, when we suffer, it feels like I’m the only one and it’s ‘why me’, and you feel very lonely in your suffering. So, I talked about acceptance, patience. I talked about gratitude, a mind of gratitude for the things that you do have.

So, at the moment, he rang me actually, funnily enough, the other day saying he’s got a patient that’s just, she just cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. Her husband is really worried, her work is struggling, everything. And he was like, “I would never ask, but is there any way that I could put her in touch with you?” Her and her husband. But even apparently, even the thought of talking about it sets off her anxiety, but then sets off her pain. And I remember that. I remember sitting in meetings and I would almost cry because I was in so much pain. It’s horrible. But now, when it arises, it’s just something that is arising. I’m more cognisant of the concepts of karma. There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s already ripened. It’s already happened. So, just that patience. And I talked about patience not being through gritted teeth, but being more like, “This is what’s happening.”

Joyful volunteering at a KMC Kent event

My brother at the moment, he’s struggling with some anxiety issues, and I’ve been talking to him about the same thing, and it’s just… Anxiety is usually about things that haven’t happened. And I even talked a little bit about our identity. Obviously, it’s something when you become quite familiar with meditation that you eventually do realise that your identity, the sense of ‘me’ is more or less a thought. When you start to look for where is this ‘me’, the ‘me’ that was wronged, the me that was abandoned, the ‘me’ that feels worthless, it’s really hard to find, quite elusive.

I think ultimately, what has been completely the most transformational thing that’s ever happened to me in my life was discovering meditation and realising that my mind is a cesspit, and I don’t have to believe everything that crops up. I don’t have to believe every thought that comes up. I have the ability to, when unhelpful thoughts go, “Yeah, I’m not getting on that train.” Looking at my life, where I am now and where I was four years ago, is there’s no resemblance to it.

It’s very rare these days that I lose my temper. If you literally. If you were to see me four years ago and now, you wouldn’t even think it’s the same person in any shape or form. I mean, so many things came to an end. I think it was mainly, because meditation that allowed me to see that. That there’s nothing out there. Everything is inside your mind. There’s literally nothing out there. It’s appearances, but we are the ones imputing every meaning of everything that’s good or bad. Kadampa teachings, helped me with things like, , difficult people at work, people that I just didn’t like their attitude. And it’s also, I think, in a way, made me a much, I think, nobler person in that, like, I… I loved it if somebody did something dumb because I would just share it with everyone. Or somebody did something stupid. And I loved kind of amplifying that. And I think that I become a much better person because I don’t want to amplify the bad things because I wouldn’t want it done to myself.

But also, it’s just realising that there is nothing out there other than what our mind is telling us. We’re interpreting. It’s what I always say in my classes. It’s like everyone is wearing a virtual reality headset. If you go and have an experience, two people go to a concert or go to a restaurant, those two people aren’t going to have the same recollections. They will have had completely different experiences of the same situation. So, because the call is coming from inside the house. That’s why I found that it’s been so transformational for me.

What would you say to someone who is experiencing a lot of life trauma and maybe even chronic pain or they’ve just had a relationship that’s ended quite badly? What advice would you give them?

Well, I think it’s hard when somebody is in that much pain to talk to. So, I tend to only give advice if somebody obviously wants to know. But I think probably one of the more fundamental ones is that everyone has this.

We all have this delusion that ‘this shouldn’t be happening’ so I think the first thing that maybe I would raise, depending on the situation is to accept that this is happening. If you don’t accept what is happening, it is going to be very hard for to progress to anything else because we are in denial. Suffering comes from wishing things were different than they are and therefore, accepting that this what is happening whether it’s the chronic pain,  a diagnosis or a relationship breakdown is key. Life is slinging you arrows all the time, you don’t have to then add to those arrows by not accepting what is happening or hating yourself for suffering.

Tingy at the Kadampa Centre in Portugal

Meditation, meditation, and more meditation! It’s not to say that it’s the only way, but it’s the most effective means to truly understand oneself. You can devour countless books like my brother, or explore various self-help resources, inner peace is experientially is at your heart centre. The only way that you can observe your mind and experience the true nature of your mind is in meditation there’s no other way. Experiencing it first hand, at the core of your being, is indispensable. Through meditation, you delve into the depths of your mind, encountering its true essence like nothing else can offer. That’s the essence of it. Initially, it might revolve around practicing acceptance. Then, you progress to meditating on patience, gratitude, and other virtuous qualities that bring lasting peace. Reflecting on my own journey, if there’s one piece of advice I wish I had received earlier, it’s the importance of embracing what arises—both externally and internally. Cultivating patience and acceptance through meditation allows us to creating a space from our thoughts and experiences.