A Handful of Pain, by Diana St Ruth

Fudo-myoo Photo © @KyotoDailyPhotoAnguishing about what we have or have not got can often be a far greater suffering than physical pain. The anguishing might be related to physical pain ― we don’t want it ― but the dread and despair we suffer are not themselves physical pain. We pile anguish on top of pain by longing for it to go. Desire first, then the impatience and anguishing . . . and then desire again, going round and round ― cause and effect.

Richard was installing a lathe in an engineering factory some years ago and got his hand caught between two parts. He managed to free it quite quickly, but still he felt this excruciating pain. Tucking the damaged hand beneath his armpit he hopped frantically around the workshop, moaning, groaning, cursing, pulling faces and generally making a great deal of noise and fuss. No one was surprised at the performance ― they would have done the same.

During those antics, however, Richard suddenly realised that the pain was in the hand, only in the hand, and there was no need to prance around and make faces. And he thought: And I don’t need to suffer, either; the hand can suffer on its own.

He said, ‘It was a revelation! One minute I was involved in pain, and the next there was only pain and somehow I wasn’t involved in it!’ He told me that this insight into the nature of pain was certainly the result of his Buddhist practice and that his perspective on life had completely changed as a result of it.

To allow the body to be painful when it needs to be, without regarding it as a bad thing, can be a liberating experience, a relief even, because there is no further conflict in the mind. Of course it is difficult when pain is severe, but there is a way of separating oneself from it and changing one’s relationship to it.

We reject pain and seek pleasure, all in the interest of happiness. Many people believe that pleasure itself is happiness, but if that were really the case, we would be happy every time the body experienced pleasure, which of course is not the way it is. Lonely, grieving people are not suddenly transported into states of bliss just because they munch on their favourite chocolate bar!

An extract from Understanding Karma and Rebirth
A Buddhist Perspective, by Diana St Ruth

 Published in the February 1991 Buddhism Now.

Categories: Beginners, Biography, Buddhist meditation, Diana St Ruth, Karma & Rebirth

Tags: , , , ,

11 replies

  1. Through meditation you can learn to accept some pain as just another sensation but not dwell on it or
    react to it.
    You can gradually build up your tolerance to pain probably over many meditation sessions.

  2. One becomes attached to pain as much as they may be to their Ferrari. The pain felt after your Ferrari is crashed may be excruciating. It is easier to imagine that one may become detached from the Ferrari and the resulting pain experienced after it is crashed ; but less easy to detach from the body and experienced physical pain. Our attachment to body is very strong.

  3. I don’t think our practice is meant to involve some sadistic “acceptance” of pain for it’s own sake. We’re certainly not spiritual failures if pain hurts. To be sure, we all experience pain but having the proper perspective can sometimes lessen its severity. When we experience pain, there is pain, that’s the truth of the moment. To deny or block or try to push the pain away through some type of mental/meditative exercise is at it’s heart a denial of the truth of moment. To deny the truth causes pain. This denial is the first link of dependent origination. It’s an attempt to ignore the First Noble Truth. This causes pain. What I take away from this article is that Richard had an Aha! moment where he saw that the pain was not something that was happening TO him…it was just happening. It was impersonal. The whole process of dependent origination is impersonal. No I, no me, no mine….just a process that happens time and again when the sense doors meet their respective formations. The pain that arises is real but by making it our “own” and trying to push it away generally makes it works. A pain is just a pain. A smell is just a smell. A sight it just a sight. A taste is just a taste. A thought is just a though. They’re all impersonal and part of an impersonal process. The pain increases when we try to turn this process into “me”. Nice article!

  4. Thank you for posting this article. Whether I’m successful at doing this in all physically painful situations, some or none, it’s helpful to know that the possibility exists and that this is something I can practice.

  5. I forgot to add the comment that we can’t all be brave Buddhists. Giving into pain is not a failure of spirituality in my book.

  6. Much as I appreciate the jist of this article “allowing the body to be painful” can be difficult for those in severe or intractable pain brought on by chronic illnesses or something like cancer. Well, that’s my experience anyway.

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