On Pain

My left lower molar has no damage, said my dentist-friend, though it was sensitive to too much cold and heat. She tapped it lightly with her dental instrument. There are cases that the damage might be inside the tooth, she added. But the molar is OK from the outside.

I asked her this a few years ago, at the time this molar ached once. It never ached until earlier today as I write this. It felt like a pin slowly bored down through the nerve. Two minutes of agony. One grand experience zeroed in on this molar alone.

I pressed the flesh where my right thumb and right index finger meet. It is said to be an acupressure point to lessen the pain, whether it’s a toothache or a headache. It always works for me. But in this case, the pain lessened only a bit. I did the same pressure on my left hand. Same result. Then the pain maxed out again.

I felt out of control. I hated the feeling of wanting to remove the pain. It seemed to taunt me as it got stronger. I thought of removing the tooth forever, manual and violent. But my sanity still speaks. Yet there is no way to escape. How can you escape pain if it comes from inside out?

I cupped my right hand and held my left jaw. I closed my eyes and sat quietly. My thoughts shut down slowly as I focused on the pain. The word “focus” zoomed in. I saw the redness of the pain in my mind’s eye. All dark red, rhythmically throbbing. But feeling it is more like visualizing a viscous brimstone lake bubbling in hell.

I was quiet. My mind was quiet. I heard in my memory the voice of Goenkaji. He was a teacher of meditation focusing on the experience of the body. I remembered his instructions to notice the pain. This is my molar, aching, throbbing. I had no way to escape. I was here sitting, paying attention to the pain I didn’t want.

I continued observing the pain. Perhaps 3 to 4 minutes have passed. With such pain, minutes can be stretched to eternity. There was even no way to measure time. All I had was a moment, sitting, helplessly resisting, then feeling, accepting.

Then the pain slowly went away. A wave that recedes back to the sea. Not too quick, not even slow, but the speed is quite palpable. The pain stopped drumming. I opened my eyes.

After 5 minutes, the pain drummed again, much stronger. As if the bass knob in a sound speaker was turned to maximum, bass loudly pounding. So again I did my routine. I put again the pressure on the pain-relieving point in each hand. Helpless, I rolled over the bed, then sat down again legs crossed, trying to feel the pain. I held my left jaw. I stopped and waited. After a while, the pain decreased as swiftly as it did the first time.

Two rounds more of that suffering came. Much later, the pain was completely gone.

By this time, this molar feels quite heavy. It is not anymore painful, but it might break out again anytime later. And I am now writing, reminded of that pain.

How can we escape pain if it is built in the very core of our nature?

Most of us believe that there are only 5 human senses. But human physiology says there are more. Vibration, temperature, movement, balance. And of course, pain.

Somewhere we might have read: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

There is a very thin line, a membrane that separates between pain and suffering. Maybe we must begin from there, from the middle. That clear boundary that divide those 2 unpleasant experiences.

This thin boundary is what I tried doing – to sit, to pay attention, to seek solace by facing the monster squarely. By looking into it eyes closed. By seeing its raw nature, by diving into its crudeness.

I don’t say I can free myself of pain. Neither any of us can. But we can seem to measure pain, both  in body and mind. So as suffering. It can take place in both dimensions. There is no way to escape, except to be still and be present.

This is one way to Love yourself. To embrace fully this inevitable phenomenon of being human. It’s hard and rough and tough, and there is no way to escape. To escape this fierce truth is to suffer. We know this on many levels. We once resisted and the agony pursued. We surrendered and the agony vanished.

Awareness comes rushing toward pain. It is almost always an organic result of painful experience. Pain is pain, without any definition saved what we ascribe on it. Nevertheless, when we are willing to be before any pain might lead us into discovery of something more human, and perhaps more divine.

Gibran wrote: “Pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”

The shell may repeatedly break as we live. So understanding, and thus Love, can always fly free.

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