Pain : The Gift Nobody Wants

Tonight I can’t rest on either shoulder. Up and out of bed to sit. But to what end? Tonight I am going have a chat with myself, to ask the pain why it’s there, what is it’s purpose.

Strangest conversation I think I have ever had. Indeed I also think Jackson the cat could hear something going on, he hopped off the bed to sit in my lap. And started purring. So armed with candle, incense, cushion and one black cat…

Some thoughts that came to my consciousess :-
– to teach me sympathy and understanding of others
– to make me softer and more loving
– to be grateful for having what really matters in life
– to need to ask for help, to challenge my self-sufficiency
– therefore to bless others when they respond
– to truly understand what pain is – a symptom, a physical warning system that is key to freedom within
– that doing is not living
– that my physical abilities are not needed to define me but my attitudes, inner self, definitions, choice of words, values are
– more understanding of my father who experienced physical pain all his life
– that my experiences have given my mother opportunities to change her belief that feeling pain is a sign of weakness

Some late night reading…
One of my favourite books is “Pain:The Gift That Nobody Wants” by a doctor named Paul Brand. He was a British surgeon who worked closely with lepers in the Kollai Hills, India. He also revolutionised modern understanding of leprosy and human interaction with pain.

Leprosy is a condition where the nerve endings die. And it was long thought that part of the condition was the loss of fingers and toes.

But it is actually the inability to feel pain, that leads to the loss of extremities, not the bacteria that causes the leprosy itself. If you cannot feel pain in your foot, you will walk a mile with a stick or stone digging in. Infection sets in, and again you have no idea, and eventually the foot will rot.

Dr Brand witnessed lepers putting their hands into fires to retrieve food, because it did not hurt at all. They had no warning system to protect them. Most of the missing toes and fingers were due to rats, eating them at night, because the patients, feeling no pain, would sleep on through the banquet.

He taught the villagers to check their hands and feet everyday for scratches or embedded objects and to have the first signs treated immediately. Bigger knobs for oil lamps to avoid resting their hands against them, and one cat for each patient. He gave up trying to make the natives wear shoes.

Pain is a result of physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual trauma. It is our bodies most powerful tool to get our attention. Without it, we cannot survive. Dr Brand states “Medical training had attuned me to patient’s complaints about pain, but nothing prepared me for the unique plight of people who do not feel pain”

This constant vigilance of self protection for these patients was a daily ritual. Because parts of the body could no longer communicate, they had to take on the role themselves. When one patient went back to visit his family, cured from leprosy, but still without pain sensors in his hands and feet, he forgot his cat. Staying up all night to keep the rats away, he eventually fell asleep and received two nasty injuries, one from rats and one from his hand falling on the oil lamp. His tearful words upon return to the clinic were

“Dr Brand, how can I ever be free without pain?”

– – – – – –

“My sensations are my servants, not my masters”

I suppose I should apologise because when I read the last quote, this popped into my headspace “When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the Master”. Which is of course what Vader said to ObiWan just before he ‘released’ him to the Jedi spirit world.

All sensations enter the brain as neutral dot-dash-dot transmissions from nerves around our body. Subsequent definitions of the transmission such as, “it hurts”, come from the mind. Pain seems like something that is done to us, in reality we not only cause our own pain, we manufacture the label that defines it as pain. Pain does not exist until we feel it. Until the message invokes a response, we are unaware of the problem, and indeed that response plays a big role in defining the ‘problem’ as good or bad.

The sensations I receive and have the opportunity to define, present a constant opportunity to master my default thoughts and reactions, and therefore the definition of all incoming sensations are completely up to me. They are, what I truly believe they are. Interestingly there are no pleasure receptors in the human body. The divide between pleasure and pain is controlled by our perceptions. A feather across the forearm is pleasureable, a scorpion’s tail, applying the same pressure (without stinging) is interpreted as painful, due to the fear in the mind of possibly being stung. A kiss from a lover vs a kiss from your mother in law….. Same transmission, same nerve endings – hopefully a different interpretation in the mind 😉

The point is we control our sensations because they do not exist before we define them.

– – – – – –

“To be or not to be in pain

Today I am working on changing my interpretation of “pain” both before I feel it (preventative inner work), and when I feel it (default response). The word carries such negativity in western society, and we spend millions of dollars, therapy and lifetimes trying to avoid and alleviate it because it is seen as the ‘enemy’.

Yet we cannot live without it. It is crucial to our survival physically. Pain precipitates response and it is in that process we acknowledge and shape it’s reality.

The type of response is the key as to whether we are suddenly a victim of pain, or receiving a call to action to live more fulfilling lives.

It can be something that we decide is hurtful, attacks us, punishes us and we can use it to ‘do’ the same to others. We make money from it, make people more sick by treating it and generally live like slaves either by succumbing or avoiding.

Or it can be a gift, presenting a reflection of changes we need to make inside (and outside). Personally, to love, live and enjoy what I have been given. To relish that I have a constant reminder that all is not as it should be within. And to embrace that reminder with thankfulness. To feel lucky that I am conscious of my warning system. It empowers me, offers me freedom from the slavery of feeling the scorpion instead of the feather.

Another quote from the book – “Silencing pain without considering it’s message is like disconnecting a ringing fire alarm, to avoid receiving bad news” Either way, your house is burning down.

2 comments on “Pain : The Gift Nobody Wants

  1. Jane says:

    Truly fascinating and thought provoking reading, look forward to more insights.

  2. George CIA Ilkowiec says:

    I wonder if Pain is our compass. Pleasure leads to pain. Why not be the Master of this great tool to enhance our experiences.

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