Q: I know I am not this identity or the body, yet I was in a lot of pain last night. How can one who knows this have so much pain?
A: Here's a favorite old limerick, which I've edited slightly: (The original was about a Christian Scientist, and didn't scan quite right for this old English major.)
A nondual sage from Caneel
Once said, "Although pain isn't real,
When I sit on a pin, and it punctures my skin,
I dislike what I fancy I feel!"
Step hard on Eckhart Tolle's toe and I guarantee you he'll at least wince. So what? It's not a dilemma unless you say it is. I think it's more important to look at what we're thinking and feeling around pain than to try and dissociate from the body.
If I experience fear around having pain, that's the problematical body-identification, not the experience of pain itself. I'm believing that if the body hurts or isn't functioning optimally then "I" am not okay now, or it's going to get worse, or it will never go away, or I'll be disabled and that would be terrible. To fear pain, and look to "enlightenment" in order to transcend it, is not present-moment awareness at all; it's a story of the past projected onto the story of a future. I can "know" intellectually that "I'm not the body," and I can have had glimpses of the truth of this...but any fear around what could happen if I experience being in the body means I still believe I am a "me." Any thought that this shouldn't be happening just grounds me in "me-ness."
For her part, Byron Katie, who doesn't call herself enlightened, says, "You don't wake up forever. It's now. Now. Now." If you buy that, then attachment to a belief, or non-attachment, is only momentary—which makes sense to me, because there isn't a future. Even "now" is always over; we always begin again.
I haven't heard that the end of suffering means the end of physical pain. Ramana Maharshi apparently experienced physical pain; he just didn't experience it as a problem; he said words to the effect of, "let the body do what it does." The stressful thoughts about the physical sensations are worse than the sensations and they can, as you've likely experience, even seem to exacerbate pain.
Katie has said, "Pain is a friend. It's nothing I want to get rid of, if I can't. I'm a lover of what is. It's a sweet visitor; it can stay as long as it wants to. (And this doesn't mean I won't take the Tylenol.)"
I've witnessed Katie in recent years having all kinds of physical ailments...most recently, painful spasms in her feet which left her unable to walk for some time. Nothing, not even spinal injections, relieved the pain for many months, and I heard from her that she was just fine through it all: in pain, not suffering...because each pain, whether physical or emotional, always comes to pass and not to stay.
If it serves, you might like to do The Work on "I shouldn't feel pain." Why, in a friendly universe, is it actually a good thing to experience pain? I invite anyone who feels that pain is a problem to go deeply into this inquiry and post your experience here in the comments.
©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.