Touch and Go: Meditation for Pain

Posted by on Nov 7, 2016

2 horses bright sky background

Aubie and Ellie

It’s 7:50am and I see I have 2 voice mail messages on my phone as I drive down the canyon from my mountain home.  I don’t think much of it, other than I don’t recognize the numbers.  My office is off a main, somewhat rural, highway on a horse ranch that is a 40-acre sanctuary in the midst of what is becoming suburban sprawl.  I get to my office and play the first voice mail, which is from a concerned passerby who saw my horse on the wrong side of the fence- the highway side.   I check the time he left the message- 6:45am.  Emotional overwhelm kicks in.  I start to panic.  It’s now 7:50am, and my first client of the day will be arriving at 8:00am.  There isn’t a person in sight, or a horse for that matter.  I lace up my boots, heart pounding, and head outside.

Dealing With Pain:  Option 3

The previous day I had taught a meditation technique, touch and go, to a group of teachers at my son’s school, so the instruction is fresh in my mind.  Touch and go is a way to work with pain- either physical or emotional, that feels overwhelming.  We often tend to do 1 of 2 things when we are in pain: 1) avoid what we feel, or 2) really sink our teeth into it and hold on, ruminating and clinging. Both generate an extra layer of suffering.  The first strategy results in the suppression of emotion which leads to all kinds of problems, (lashing out at others, irritability, depression, anxiety, physical illness, etc.) and the second strategy creates a perpetual state that feels solid which is contrary to the ever changing reality we actually inhabit.  As a result of holding on, we resist our present moment experience, which creates more pain.  Touch and go offers a third option:  Don’t suppress and don’t solidify the experience- rather flow between feeling the experience and letting it go.

Touch and Go

Touch and go was originally taught by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and taught to me by Dale Asrael, a student of Trungpa Rinpoche’s.  In his well-known Dathun letter (a Dathun is a one-month meditation retreat) Trungpa Rinpoche wrote to the participants, “To describe meditation we could use the phrase touch and go. You are in contact, you’re touching the experience of being there, actually being there-—and then you let go.”  Because it’s there, beckoning me as I rush out to investigate what happened, I start to practice.

Touch:  I feel a sinking feeling in my stomach, like I’ve just begun to go over the largest hill on the roller coaster.  My jaw is tight.  I feel anxious and frantic.  I stumble.  My thoughts are running wild.  What happened?  Is he ok? Did they take him away?  Did he get hit by a car?  Did anyone get hurt?  Where is he?  I also notice my mind wants to blame.  Anger arises, and the surge of energy is fast, a lightning bolt through my chest.  Touch.

Go:  I look at the sky.  I see the grass moving in the wind, and feel the sun, appreciating the warm day for this time of year.  I feel my feet on the Earth as I walk.  I follow my exhale and notice it dissolve.   Go.

Touch:  Back to my body- adrenaline surging, the hook of the mind and the seductive belief that blame will make this better.  Self-righteousness pops up:  A tightness in my forehead, and the feeling of something stuck in my throat, an urge to lash out and discharge my discomfort – but there’s no one there except me.  Fear and a flash of loneliness arise, a hollow mix in my stomach.

Go:  The traffic whizzes by, a breeze skims my skin, my feet crunch the rocks as they touch the ground, and then, out of the corner of my eye, Aubie!  There he is, tucked just out of sight behind the barn, calmly munching on some grass.  He stops eating and lifts his head to look at me.  He senses my anxiety and replies with a calm, “Everything is fine.”  Back to eating.  I am immediately relieved, however, the hangover of the experience continues.  I feel like I’ve had 5 cups of coffee.

The other message on my phone is from a state trooper who I find out later managed to get him back on the right side of the fence and to fix the fence.  I return his call and leave a message of deep gratitude.  I also call Paul, the man who originally spotted Aubie on the side of the highway and called 911.  My words of thanks are heartfelt.

Steps for Touch and Go Meditation

If you are struggling with emotional or physical pain in your own life, adding touch and go to your meditation practice could help.  The essence of the practice is to touch what is vulnerable, and to do so with kindness and gentleness, and then to let the experience go by widening the view of attention.  Here are the steps:

  1. Find a comfortable, upright sitting posture.  Or if life throws you a curve ball, like it did me when Aubie got out, you can practice on the spot.
  2. Practice touch.  Turn toward your experience.  Locate where you feel the pain in your body.  Place your awareness where you feel it most.
  3. Bring an attitude of curiosity to what you feel.  What are the sensations you are labeling as pain?  Some questions you can ask yourself:  Does what I feel have a shape? If it had a color what would it be?  Is it still or does it move?  If I stay with it does it change, or stay the same?
  4. Notice your thoughts.  Pay attention to repetitive thoughts, self-criticism, the urge to dissociate (check out).  Label them thinking.  Your awareness of your body and your thoughts may alternate, as mine did when I was trying to find Aubie.
  5. Practice go. Make your world larger than the pain. Allow other things into your awareness such as sound, light, shadow, and your exhale.
  6. Alternate between touch and go at your own pace.  Sometimes I have a quicker pace- touch on the inhale and go on the exhale- and sometimes I practice touch for several breaths and go for several breaths.

*Touch and go is not meant to replace medical care or mental health support.  Many thing we struggle with, especially trauma or serious medical conditions, are best healed with the support of another person.

Embracing Change

My story has a happy ending, and many don’t.  Sometimes there is no quick fix to whatever distress we are feeling.  You may be in the middle of a divorce, mourning a loss, overwhelmed with work stress or parenting, or struggling with chronic pain.  Practicing touch and go is a way of honoring our experience, of really feeling it, and of not clutching on to it.  It is a practice of embracing change.  One breath at a time we show up, and we let go, acknowledging that our lives are one transition after another, and that we are in a constant state of change. This is instruction for how to live, and ultimately, for how to die.


A few hours after posting this article, I am driving home from work on Hwy 93, the same highway that Aubie was dangerously close to.  As I drive by another horse property just north of my office, I notice that their gate is open, and just to the north of that gate are 2 horses.  As I speed by at 55 mph, I can’t help but wonder if my eyes have deceived me somehow- but no- I know that gate was open.  Then I start thinking silently,  Maybe someone left it open on purpose.  Maybe someone is right there that you didn’t see.  Someone will notice.   Then I realize, that someone is me.  I turn around and head back to the property.  Sure enough, the gate is open.  The horses stop eating and watch me as I walk up to the gate and pull it shut, making sure the latches are in place.  I look around.  No one seems to be home.  I feel peaceful.  Some karmic energy has resolved itself.






1 Comment

  1. Super helpful, Jacey! Reminds me of an analogy I learned…acknowledging my traumatic memory like leaves floating down the river…here they come, there they are, and off they go.

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