One of the true constants of human life is feeling the sensation that we call pain. Every human being has known pain at times—male and female, rich or poor, East and West, black and white, etc. And since pain is a sensation that most of us do not consider pleasant, one of our most commonly shared instincts has been to devise strategies for managing and eradicating it.
We feel pain when we are young, but our natural strength and busy active lives divert our attention to the degree that it is usually tolerable. Thus we have in the professional sports world the phenomenon of “playing with pain.” When we get older, however, this becomes more difficult to do. When we get older, many of us find ourselves playing with pain everyday, with no end or relief in sight.
The most common form of pain seems to have its source in bodily injury, dysfunction, or disease. It occurs when some facet of the body’s optimal functioning becomes upended. This assault on optimal bodily function ability can range in seriousness from cuts and bruises to terminal illnesses, and it can come from a veritable host of instigators and circumstances. But always it is the body that seems to be the source of our painful sensations. It is for this reason that people who experience pain on a regular basis tend to have a rather negative opinion of their body. They see their body as being more of an enemy than a friend, a hindrance instead of a facilitator. And the unfortunate thing is that in our day bodily pain has become so common and widespread that there is now probably a majority of people worldwide who view their bodies this way.
This ubiquitous attitude of resentment toward the body is one of the main impetuses behind our modern approach to medical treatment. It has become a culturally ingrained belief of the collective that the human body tends to be problematic, especially when it comes to causing us pain. Therefore from our childhood onward we are encouraged to “link up” with our local healthcare providers by submitting to regular checkups, testing, screening, etc. The unspoken idea here is that the human body will invariably end up causing you pain at some point, but through these preventative measures the doctors can see that point coming from a distance and take the necessary steps to try to fend it off.
This being said, as we embark upon the spiritual path, many of us find ourselves inclined to question this collective attitude about the body, as if something about it no longer rings true. It is not that we deny the problem of pain, but blaming our body and viewing it in a negative light seems somehow counterproductive. The more we learn about the true nature of the created universe, the less sense it makes that the body would be so persistently and intentionally antagonistic. We begin to get glimpses of the perfection of the created universe and must then reconcile the cultural idea that the human body is an exception to this rule.
But dare we question this, when even medical science has gotten behind and promoted this attitude? Yes, we dare. Why? Because there is more at stake here than just grappling with the sensation of pain. There is the broader truth that human culture not only perpetuates counterproductive ideas about the body; it does so about many other aspects of our lives. On the spiritual path we begin to learn truth from God’s perspective, and unfortunately this brings us into conflict with many of the beliefs issuing forth from man’s culture. But it is no easy task to recognize and reject long held cultural beliefs and attitudes, as many of us have found out. And sometimes we have to be hit over the head with the truth before we can let go of a certain cultural myth as being false.
One such truth is proclaimed in the opening pages of the Bible, when it states that God created man in his own image and likeness. From this it follows that man was created in and as the perfection of being—an overall state of being that most certainly includes our physical bodies. So how can our body be our enemy? How can it be thought of as a persistent troublemaker? Something does not jive here. How do we resolve this conflict? We have to be willing to see things God’s way. That is all. We have to, as the Bible also says, “Let God be true and every man a liar.” (Romans 3:4). This is a very radical approach, but at some point our own spiritual growth compels us to try it.
So let us apply this truth that God created us in his own image to the problem of pain and see where it leads us. Based on our cultural conditioning we have probably adopted the subconscious belief that the human body is a perpetual troublemaker, if for no other reason than it has at times caused us to have to endure the unpleasantness of pain. But there is probably another erroneous subconscious belief about the body that we have also adopted—that being that the body is more powerful than it really is.
There is no denying that pain can be an all-consuming element in our lives. It can consume our senses, our thoughts, our emotions, our time, our money, etc. And this quality gives it a kind of power in our sight. Then since we associate pain with our body we also end up viewing the body as a power. We see the doctors doing all they can to try to subdue this powerful enemy of ours and make it friendlier. But all of this is based on the misperception about where pain actually comes from.
What is the human body? It is an organic biological organism—one that functions involuntarily according to its created mandate. This involuntary functioning is
nothing short of amazing in all of its detail and chemical interaction. But this does not imply that the body has an intelligence and will of its own. The only intelligence it has is its involuntary function ability. Furthermore, the only willful intelligence inherent in any of our biological workings is the intelligence of mind. The problem is that mind, being closely connected to the body, tends to blur the boundaries between them. In other words, mind projects willful intelligence onto the body, and this causes us to believe that the body is more powerful than it actually is. It also has no qualms about letting body be the fall guy when it comes to the problem of pain.
But if the body has no intelligence of its own, it cannot very well be the source of what we call pain. True, the body may be impacted by injury, dysfunction, and disease, but it cannot be conscious of pain. That takes intelligence, and intelligence comes only from mind.
Pain is a sensation, and all human sensations are filtered through and interpreted by the mind in order for them to be consciously felt. For example, when I touch the hot stove burner with my finger, the only reason I feel pain is that my mind immediately processes that sensation and deduces that it should be painful. It does this with pleasurable sensations as well, only in those cases it makes the deduction that they should bring us pleasure. But the body knows nothing about any of this. It just is. If it weren’t for the mind interpreting a sensation as painful, the body would simply continue functioning involuntarily, like a chicken with its head cut off.
Another way to say this is that pain is not a physical sensation; it is a mental deduction or belief. And all such beliefs are subjective in the eye of the beholder. They are also shaped by social and cultural conditioning. Therefore the only way for us to effectively deal with the problem of pain is not through the body; it is through the mind.
Filtering and interpreting sensual messaging is one of the human mind’s foremost functions. It is occupied in this pursuit nearly non-stop, since some form of sensual input takes place just about every waking second of our lives. But the human mind, as it is at present, also specializes in making judgments. That is why it not only filters sensual input; it also interprets it as good or evil, pleasurable or painful, harmful or innocuous, etc. And there can be little doubt that this function of judging or interpreting sensual data has been greatly impacted by our social-cultural conditioning. This is where most of our judgments about good and bad, right and wrong, etc., come from. They are not really our own thought-out deductions. Rather we were taught such things before we were even able to think for ourselves.
As we all know, mind interprets bodily pain as an unpleasant sensation. But it also judges pain as evil, problematic, inconvenient, perhaps expensive, potentially life threatening, etc. Thus it not only defines pain; it also dredges up in us a host of fears and forebodings and sets in motion strategies for alleviating it, such as taking medication, going to the doctor, etc. In this way mind actually tends to complicate and exacerbate the problem of pain. And it is this complex conditioned mental response that can make the sensation of pain unbearable.
Consider a plant. Many bodily problems can beset a plant. It can get a disease, be wilted by extreme heat, be assailed by frost and ice, etc. It can be eaten up by pests and varmints. And sometimes these assaults can be life threatening. But plants experience neither pain nor fear. Why? Because plants do not have minds, and only creatures with minds are capable of such responses. Science has shown us that only mind is capable of interpreting and filtering sensual input. It has also made the case that our species has the most highly developed mind of all the species on earth. Therefore our minds not only process more sensual input than any other life form; they also feel pain more intensely. But like a plant, our bodies feel nothing.
We have all heard the expression “mind over matter,” but mind cannot stop pain. No amount of mental willpower can avail in this case. Why is this? Because mind is the source of pain. It functions as the interpreter of all sensual input. Therefore it cannot heal that which it perpetuates. There is only one way to alleviate pain without taking drugs or submitting to invasive medical procedures. And that way is to learn to control and harness mind for our own purposes. It is to reprogram mind to interpret pain in a different light. But who or what is it inside of us that can do such a thing? Most of us identify ourselves with mind. And logically speaking, mind cannot reprogram mind. But through spiritual practice we come to not only identify with a deeper part of our being; we also become capable of controlling and reprogramming our minds.
The more we develop our spiritual consciousness, the greater authority we have to be able to control our mind. And the greater control we gain over our mind, the more capable we become of impacting the way we process and interpret sensual data. In other words, once we have gained a degree of mastery over our mind we can actually choose how we want to interpret a certain sensual message. We are no longer compelled to react according to subconscious conditioned reflexes. Thus we have the power to disarm pain.
This explains the phenomenon of Eastern yogis and mystics being able to walk on fiery coals or sit and meditate outdoors in freezing weather without feeling any pain or discomfort. They are able to do such things through their mastery over mind and their ability to choose how to react to the sensual messaging of the body. The fiery coals may burn the skin on their feet, but they feel no pain. The freezing weather might make their hearts skip a beat, but they do not feel cold. Why? Because their spiritual consciousness overrides their mind and disengages the kind of sensual processing that we have all come to believe is normal and inviolable. They have learned the true source of pain and through this unmasking have proceeded to gain mastery over it.