Pain is one of the keys to unlock man's innermost being as well as the world. Whenever one approaches the points where pain proves himself to be equal or superior to pain, one gains access to the sources of his power and the secret hidden behind his dominion....Through examination of this new kind of relation to pain, we now intend to secure an elevated point of surveillance, from which we may be able to catch sight of things still imperceptible on the ground. - E. Juenger, On Pain
If one were to characterize with a single word the type of human being taking shape today, one might say that the one of its most salient features lies in its possession of a 'second' consciousness. This second and colder consciousness reveals itself in the ever-increasing ability to see oneself as an object. This is not to be confused with the act of self-reflection associated with traditional psychology. Psychology differs from the second consciousness. Psychology takes the sensitive human being as its object of inquiry, whereas the second consciousness is focused on the person standing outside the zone of pain....[D]etachment is even clearer in the transmission of images....This is most evident where we confront our own reflection, whether by watching our movements on film or hearing our voice as if it belonged to a stranger.
- E. Juenger, On Pain
Several days ago the left part of my body went numb for roughly thirty seconds. This was preceded by about two to three hours where my nervous system wasn't allowing my lungs to take in enough air.
Neurological problems and corresponding pain, due to definitely one, but possibly two, mini-strokes last year, as well as a related surgery gone wrong that was intended to correct tearing in my hip due to an inflammation process, are nothing new to me. I am in physical therapy at least three days per week, suffer muscle atrophy, still suffer some memory loss, have problems with my eyes, heart, and have an altered sense of taste (because the nerve damage, in addition to having affected my left side, especially the lower part of my body, affected my olefactory nerve which controls my sense of taste).
Whether this damage is permanent no one knows. The damage caused due to my surgery seems to be healing, albeit slowly.
In order to cope with this pain, Buddhist forms of mediation and Hindu spiritual insights - that I am not my body - have proven useful. Whoever said, "It's just pain, lad" knows nothing of bodily torture. I haven't slept in months, I haven't been comfortable - that is, below a 4 on a level of 0-10 on the pain scale - in months, haven't walked normally, talked normally, remembered normally, and thus had a normal life, in months. "It's just pain, lad."
Your body is here, but you're not
That thing that screamed with me
And dreamed with me
That thing that laughed with me
And cried with me
That same thing lies before me
On this deathbed
But where are you?
You're not on your deathbed
108, "Deathbed" Songs of Separation (1995)
Disidentifying with my body took time, and I still haven't completely mastered it. To say that the spiritual plays too small a role in this life is an understatement. Detachment, disassociation, is a process - one that reveals a deeper spiritual nature, perhaps the reality and presence of soul, which is not the body. There is anger, I am not anger. There is the sensation of pain, I am not pain. There is a body breathing, I am not my body.
It's odd, because I have struggled with questions concerning the soul ever since I nearly died in the hospital - that happened about three times in the past two years years. The nurse was so uplifting and sensitive, as she said, "Wow, we almost lost you last night" - this after finding out that my heart was dropping below 30 beats per minute then shooting up to 180 beats per minute, while at rest in my sleep. In other words, I would have just died in my sleep.
The reality of the spiritual also recently pressed itself against me when my childhood friend, Mike Meyers (not the Halloween character), died of pancreatic cancer three years ago to the day tomorrow. Mike was my childhood friend, a best friend, from age 5 until about age 21 or so. He was 31 years old - he is my age - when he died. He had five months to live once they knew that he was ill.
So, again, questions about life and death, the soul, the afterlife, are things that I have been thinking about.
Mike has visited me in my dreams often. My conclusions are of a Hindu nature: "it never ends" I was told. Repetition and a cosmic cycle of birth, life, death and re-birth. With this new knowledge I have discovered "joyful delight" - a Mindfulness, one that quells fear. "Letting go" is a sort of peace that has relinquished one's attachment not only to this body, but this life. Again, I haven't mastered this and admit that there is still fear. Pain is a reminder that I have a body and am chained to it. I try to live Mindfully. I am acutely aware of my finitude through my daily pain.
Were I to die, and when my lungs choose not to take in air, or when my heart decides to go haywire, or when my brain decides just to temporarily "shut off," I am reminded of this very real and near possibility. I've instructed my loved ones to cremate my body and spread some of my ashes near Mike's grave, a place that I have visited dozens and dozens of times in the past three years. The rest of my ashes are to be kept in a Buddhist shrine in our home.
I feel that cosmic reincarnation, to be reinvigorated, is perhaps more quickly enacted if the ashes, the material, is reabsorbed directly back into the wind, into the dirt, into the forests nearby. Although, "time" here is irrelevant. Going to sleep means that time disappears. We only know that moment when we awake again. Mike has long ago reawakened, and he is far from here in a far off distant place.
When I feel my pain I am reminded that I am mortal, finite. Tillich said that "awareness of finitude is anxiety." Sometimes I do feel anxious that the nerve damage is permanent, that I will be partially disabled my entire life. Sometimes I do feel that my next trip to the hospital won't turn out so lucky. I have not yet processed how any of this has affected my "career" (which has now been tragically cut short, due to the fact that the pain and debilitation seems to be getting worse). I still have not yet come to terms with Mike's death.