PAIN CAN BE A BLESSING IN DISGUISE. There. I said it. When it comes to pain, it isn’t merely the cloud with a silver lining; it can have a golden one too. Some of you may say: “How cruel of you to say that! You’ve obviously never had to deal with serious pain in your life. You are disrespecting all those who are in agony with serious illness”. I fully understand you saying that. But I want to put a different spin on pain which takes one out of the victim frame into the victor one. Thus, this is a message of encouragement for all those who have the gift of pain. “Gift of pain? Are you a friggin’ sadist?” come the cries from the wings of this theatre of life. No. I’m not a sadist. I’m an “aid-ist” wanting to help. So…
First, let me say that I do know pain intimately and have done for decades. Here’s a little history. Seemingly random events can have ripples in our lives which we never expected. When I was twenty-two years old and walking down a street in Salford, UK, without a care in the world (well, at least not a care in the world about my health), I came upon two guys who worked for the gas company who had been laying a pipe under the road. They’d just completed their job and wanted to hook their trailer onto the tow-bar at the back of their Landrover. They whistled to me and said: “Oy, mate, gis a hand with this will ya?” Being the obliging sort, I went over and then one of them said “One, two, three” and we all heaved at the metal chassis of the trailer (the larger closed type full of tools and machinery). We lifted it up and plonked it on the tow-bar. But I can’t begin to describe the pain which I felt in that moment. I’d never known anything like it before. So this normally stoic young man yelled out at the searing pain through my lower back and down my leg. It was so bad that I nearly fainted. Well, the trailer was safely on the back of the Landrover but I remained doubled-up in pain. The two guys laughed and told me I’d be alright in a bit then they drove off. That was the start of my slipped-disc-dogged life. 🙂 I did recover but it took a couple of weeks before I could walk without a limp. Then, every few years, some certain movement would set that pain off again and I’d be laid up for anything between days and weeks. Those episodes became less frequent the older I became. But about eighteen months ago, it began to dog me again when I did a lot of heavy lifting of luggage and musical instruments. Only this time, it was with a vengeance. It was as if my pelvis was saying to me: “Yeah, you thought you’d got away with it; but you’ve got another think coming! I’M BACK!” 😀
So for the last year or so I’ve been experiencing fluctuating degrees of big pain, referred pain, with the disk in my lower spine pressing onto the sciatic nerve and radiating down my right leg. As someone once put it: “It’s like having acute toothache in your hip and down your leg”. Sure, I can put an ice-pack on my lower back, or take pain killers and non-specific anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, etc. I also have a “TENS” unit to whack the area with an electric current. (See attached photo of my actual unit — though I’m not convinced of its efficacy). I can do all that when absolutely necessary. Pain takes you right to the wire of life. For some, it can even take them into a head-space where they begin to wonder if their life is worth living. Pain management is a whole schtick in the health world. But being a curious kind of guy, there is something about pain which makes me want to look into it, play with it, discover its mysteries, meet it head-on. So I’d like to make a few suggestions about one’s entire approach to pain in order to help make it more understandable and contextualised, enabling us to get into a mindset in which we can use the experience of pain, alchemically, as a transformative experience.
Surrounded by the beauty of nature and our natural inclination for a pleasant ride in this life, pain is a seeming paradox, an anomaly, a square peg in a round hole. The immediate reaction is to run from it, suppress it, negate it. But, as G.K. Chesterton rightly said: “A paradox is truth standing on its head to gain attention”. For this reason, paradoxes do not faze me or mystify me but, rather, they spur me on to discover the truth behind them — to find out what it is which is standing on its head. As with any seemingly negative experience, the first thing that I do when I feel pain is ask the questions: “Why is this happening to me? What am I supposed to learn from it?” Doing so throws up some interesting answers in my mind. Let me share some of those with you:
One big thing that I appreciate about pain is that it highlights the frailty of my humanity, my ephemerality (here today – gone tomorrow) and my mortality. We are not finished products, by any stretch of the imagination. We may want to see ourselves as “big boys” or “strong independent women” but those are just the externalised illusions we create as we try to fake-it-so-we’ll-make-it in the fucked-up theatre of warfare which is this world. I am constantly amazed that we are not in pain the whole time, given the frail nature of the physical constitution in this unstable fallen world of matter. Over the past century we’ve developed many ways of covering up pain and ameliorating it. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that pain is still an underlying reality which will eventually rear its ugly head. In fact, if one covers up pain, the unpaid bill will come back to whack you in one way or another. One cannot mask pain without consequences. It bubbles away under the surface like a volcano waiting to erupt in whatever way it can, out of whatever funnel it can. This is like a fundamental law of life. It is well-known that if one suppresses emotional pain, it has serious physiological and psychological repercussions. This is a proven fact. One vividly-revealing example occurred in the Aberfan Disaster in 1966 in the Welsh mining village, when a coalmine slag-heap fell onto a school killing 144 people (116 of them children), the parents of the village were understandably utterly traumatised. However, a few years later, it was noticed that the mothers had mostly come to terms with it as well as they could under the circumstances, whereas many of the fathers became ill with cardio-vascular disease, ulcers, cancers, nervous breakdowns, etc. It was realised that in the aftermath of the disaster the mothers regularly met in groups for mutual support where they could openly express their grief whereas the fathers had to return to work and “keep a stiff upper lip”. The suppression of their pain had huge somatic consequences in their lives. It comes out in one way or another if not met head on. As emotional, so physical, for the emotional and physical bodies are intimately linked. We are complex beings, way beyond what standard rationalistic physiology understands. Thus, just as suppressing emotional pain has psychological and physical consequences, so suppressing physical pain has both physical and emotional consequences. There will always be a pay-off. I have noticed that if I’ve used many painkillers during the day, I will often have vividly unpleasant dreams. Now I tend to allow my pain to burgeon naturally and kind of go into it, letting it overtake me in a wave of my acceptance as a welcome sign of my frailty and mortality. Resisting pain makes it worse. Riding with it makes us even. I actually sometimes converse with it. “Hi Pain. I’m ready for you. Do your thing and have done with it!” That’s the equivalent of the song-line, “Hello, darkness, my old friend”. I make friends with my pain. Only if I have to do something important in the outside world will I take an aspirin or two.
Another beneficial aspect of pain is that it is a great leveller. It casts us down from any pretentious ideas we may have about ourselves (and there are usually very many!). The experience of pain is the ultimate antidote to rampant Narcissism. One cannot imagine one is a perfect adonis if one is racked with migraine. Narcissus might not have been so quick to engage in the ludicrous act of self-love (all the rage these days) if he was doubled-up with chronic stomach cramps. Self-respect is hugely important (and there is far too little of that, as one can see in the way so many dress or comport themselves). But self-love is just another glaring sign of these narcissistic times. Pain is humbling. Learning humility through personal experience is a godsend. We are all so full of the bullshit of ourselves that we need a wake-up call. A couple of hundred years ago and earlier, when disease and food poisoning were rife, and life-expectancy meant most city-dwellers would die in their late-twenties/early-thirties, the narcissistic self-absorption we see emblazoned all over social media today was not really an option for the vast majority of people. Pain was an everyday reality and was experienced to the full. The reality of life in this base dimension of fallen nature is seen for what it really is when rampant “masking” is not indulged-in. For we exist in a low-dimension cyclic theatre of suffering and pain for which a real and everlasting solution needs to be found rather than temporary humanly-invented amelioration, which is merely a cover-up (more on this in the next section about how to have one’s karmic debt paid entirely in full). Most of us will not die quietly in our sleep. We will instead die in agony from some illness or “accident”. Our lives are a preparation for our death and the crucial experiences which lie beyond it. Pain is a timely reminder of our vulnerability in this world and an encouragement to find out what is our true place in it, without any cover-ups.
In fact, this life is one Big Cover-up. We spend our whole lives running away from the reality of pain in our hearts and bodies. We cover it up with varying levels of consumption of alcohol or drugs. We immerse ourselves in crappy and superficial entertainments. We “bliss-out” on various self-indulgent auto-hypnotic distractions such as typical modern meditation, massage, certain alternative therapies and other pseudo-spiritual activities. Many do not understand the difference between self-hypnosis and spirituality. They confuse feeling “floaty”, relaxed and “blissed-out” with being super-spiritual and the level of blissed-outness they experience as being a sign of the depth of their spirituality, or even as an indicator of their enlightenment! 🙂 This is the heart of illusion in the New Age scene, which I have explored extensively — both in the 70s and 80s and during the last twenty years. That is what lies behind all that New Age music (hippy muzak), with its pan-pipes, swooshing ocean waves, and synthesiser drones. It is purely manufactured relaxation and nothing more — masking techniques of an auto-hypnotic nature to avoid the pain of who we are. Or we indulge in serial (mostly doomed) relationships and desperate sexual fantasies to stave off the inner reality of our pain. Yet, pain is part of the darkness of our lives which we need to experience and spiritually overcome. We cannot circumvent the reality of our lives of suffering and pain (and the reasons for it) by trying to counterfeit the genuine experience of bliss before it has been earned. That would be like standing at the finish-line at the end of a race with our arms up in victory before we’ve even run the race! There is nothing more misplaced and delusional than an undeserved “victory”.
Finally, we have to acknowledge the part played by pain in the process popularly known as karma — by which we reap in our lives that which we have sown in this life or another, either for good or for bad. (Hence, there is both good karma and bad karma, depending on our comportment). This is one of the reasons that I would rather face my pain, insofar as that is possible, than immediately try to avoid it. If I could put it in somewhat controversial terms: Painkilling undermines karmic payback — though I state this to stimulate thought. Whether emotional or physical, one must go into one’s pain — find out what lies behind it and fully experience it. That doesn’t mean one has to become a masochist or deliberately seek out painful circumstances in order to manipulate one’s karmic debt! 🙂 I’m thinking here, for example, of all those monks who whip themselves in order to “do penance”. One cannot manipulate karma or “sown seed” like that. Justice is too big for that. God is not mocked! We have a mission in this life which is the culmination of our soul-experience so far. When one understands this, one has a matrix by which to appreciate where painful experiences fit into our lives. This is hard for most to grasp or even accept. For example, I read recently about a little girl who died at eight years old after a brief life peppered with painful illness (making my mere sciatica by comparison seem like a pleasant walk in the park). The people around her — nursing staff, relatives and fellow hospital patients — spoke of her as being “a wise and stoic little thing”. They learned so much from her whole attitude and radiance. Plus, she was wrapped up in her own karmic debt (if that was what it was, for pain is not always necessarily karmic, as we live in a vulnerable body in a fallen world), which she met with a maturity and acceptance which belied her years in that body. An old soul if ever there was one. That was her mission — and her sharp lesson — in the short life she was given. Her brief life was truly in service of others. It doesn’t matter how long a soul is clothed in a body. It may be brief; it may be long. It is how we use that time, short or long. And… let me tell you… angels are watching. If we are open to it, they will assist us too (as they plainly did with that little girl). A welcome aspect of pain is that it should make us pray for divine assistance. And so it should, for we have infinite divine and angelic resources available to us in time of need, if we are aligning ourselves with the Light. Death and suffering are not part of the reality in the exalted dimension of the angels. But they are fascinated by our experience, are able to enter this world visibly or in disguise and are the helpers of those who adhere to the Light and who see through this fallen world and seek an exalted existence beyond it. It should also be noted here that demonic forces can have a hand in exacerbating or causing pain in our lives if they are permitted to do so by the divine. But, as I can never assert enough, dark forces are used by divine power to bring us closer to God. In other words, whatever the reason behind our pain — whether simple physical frailty, karmic payback or demonic interference — it should always drive us into the presence of the divine. A recurrent theme in this little book (and the essence behind the creation) is that without God we can do nothing, despite our rampant delusions otherwise!
So what is your given mission in this life? What is mine? Why have painful circumstances befallen us? What are we supposed to be learning from them? Understanding such things and handling them with dignity and an elegant spiritual depth is the essence of our existence. Most of what we do in life is designed as a mask to cover up truth and reality. But we have not come here to get “stoned”, or “blissed-out”, or “party”, or mindlessly anaesthetise ourselves, or whatever other masking method we use to avoid the painful truth of our existence. We are here to awaken from our slumber in a hailstorm of epiphanies. Life is a journey to the centre of pain and an acceptance of the role it plays in the unfolding nature of our soul-experience in the cosmic theatre of this specially-manufactured universe. The sooner we realise why suffering and pain exist and the part they play in our soul-experience in this lower-dimensional world (to be enlarged on in the next section), the sooner we will seek to rise above and beyond that into another future world filled with Light where “there will no longer be death, nor will there be mourning nor crying nor pain any longer, because the former things will have ceased to exist” (Book of Revelation, chapter 21, verse 4). The preparation for that glorious time begins now, in the midst of our temporary pain and suffering.
[Extracted from my upcoming 60,000-word eBook, “Narrow Gate ~ Pathway Strait: The Road I have Chosen. A Spiritual Autobiography & Presentation”. So far 80% complete!].
© Alan Morrison, 2018