The Headache of Enlightenment

William B. Turner
2 min readDec 11, 2020

Esteemed Buddhist teacher Joseph Goldstein tells of being in an Indian chai shop with his teacher, the famous Munindra Ji, and telling the teacher that he had a splitting headache. Munindra Ji replied, “I hope you are enjoying it.” Goldstein doesn’t talk about enlightenment much at all, certainly not his own, and he does not in any way connect this headache to any putative enlightenment he may have achieved, but it is still an interesting sign post on the path.

Lots of Buddhism is, um, counterintuitive. Whether you get to the point of enjoying them, you may experience headaches, or intense pressure inside your head as you mediatate. Learning changes the structure as well as the content of the brain. The brain feels no pain, but the basic changes to your perspective on the world that meditation will bring about can still be uncomfortable, if not painful. Awakening is an experience, not an intellectual exercise, but it still involves learning necessarily.

We hear incessantly about “leaving your comfort zone.” Doing so can be painful, but the message in our culture is always that the benefits of the movement outweigh any discomfort or pain.

Certainly complete awakening is well worth the occasional headache. Fully absorbing not self means that you will not even experience the pain as your own.

So, keep on meditating, through the headache as necessary.

We have a book.

Please help spread the word.