the meanings of pain

pain is inevitable, physically and psychologically. 2,500 years ago, the buddha said something similar – life is suffering.

having struggled with pain because of a herniated disc for the last year and a half, i find myself reflecting on what really to make of it. the first instinct is to do whatever i can to get rid of it. i don’t think i have taken a painkiller so far and don’t plan to either, but this does mean doing other things like exercising, seeing doctors, etc. having explored all that can be done about my problem, i only know that perhaps this will get better over time, and there is not anything i can do about it that i am not already doing (except the painkillers of course, which i don’t want to take). so these are the usual, spontaneous reaction of wanting to treat the pain whenever it comes, and there are other longings and frustrations about the difficult situation one finds oneself in while everyone else seems to go about their business without much pain.

of late, there is also a feeling of humility. i am not in control of my body. that i am not in control of the corrupt officers i have to deal with is something easier to accept, but the fact that my own body, perhaps one of the most intimate aspects of my being that i can share only with a rare few, acts in ways that hurt me and that i cannot control is a humbling experience. it tells me to stop considering my body, my mind, my surroundings things that i should manipulate to make my life happy. it will never happen for a sustained period of time. yes, pleasure i may receive from the same body, mind and surroundings, but sustained happiness is something i doubt.

one is reminded of a scene from a documentary on a carthusian monastery in the french alps. the carthusians are a christian monastic order who live their lives in silence, talking only once a week for a few hours to each other.  the rest of their time is left for prayer, meditation and writing. in this film, one of the monks gives a short interview to the filmmaker. he is blind and says that he thanks god for having made him blind, because it has made him appreciate life more.

i cannot really relate to the notion of “god”. what i know is that here is my life which has seemingly been handed over to me and over which i have little say. the causes that went into my herniated disc were not under my control. they just happened to come together to create my experience of pain, without me having willed them. put simply, my pain is fate and that makes it so meaningless. it just happened to me by chance and didn’t happen to others.

but the memory of the blind monk from the alps pushes me to think beyond this. i remember he also said that whatever god does to us is for our own good, so that we come closer to salvation. if i replace god with “the workings of nature”, considering my own body nature since its a product of material things and i don’t have complete control over it, the monk makes sense. not that my soul is saved, but i do think that i am a bit wiser because of the pain, but only a bit. the pain has taught me to realise that things are not really under my control and it is an arrogance to believe that i have a right to make my outer world the way I want it. if every human being wanted the same we would need 6 billion universes and not one universe (on a sidetrack, some scientists do think that we have many universes apart from our own :-)).

and then what’s the meaning of it all? if i am not in control of my own body and my own psyche, what the hell am i living for? surely, we all know moments when our psyche acts and feels in ways that we don’t want it to. but the river of life flows and we cannot pitch our tent in it and choose to live only the good moments.

so then comes the question of purpose. if happiness and minimisation of pain is fundamentally a futile endeavour, perhaps there is something one is meant to do which has more meaning than an ant working hard for hours and days to create a little nook in the woods for itself, only for it to be stepped on by a trekking human being when it is about to reach the goal. a purpose that would be at the centre of our being, which is beyond those ups and downs of fate that we have no control over, and even if we fail to succeed in it, it makes sense to have tried.

for the monk, the purpose is spending his time in silence and meditation all his life. for us, it is for each one to find out on his own what lies in the deepest cores of his being. it is not easy, but it is what takes us out of the state of being a leaf being blown around by the winds, a leaf who is foolish enough to believe that it blows the winds and not vice-versa.

The least of things with a meaning is worth more than the greatest of things without it.” – Carl Jung

What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.” – Victor Frankl

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~ by tdcatss on August 28, 2009.

2 Responses to “the meanings of pain”

  1. Kaif, why do you think of god as a person or personification? What if words cannot imagine god? what if god is the primordial intelligence that is part of all universe, matter, anti-matter, life, etc.?

  2. hi abhilash. i agree with your conception of god. this post was written two years ago. now, i can relate to god as a person as well :)

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