Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Emotional Pain


Hurt is a form of emotional pain. How does one deal with emotional pain?

To understand this let us examine what constitutes physical pain. You are slicing some onions and your finger comes in the way of the sharp blade and there is pain. “Ouch” you scream and you immediately withdraw your hand. You examine how bad the cut is and deal with it – put a antiseptic and dress it after applying pressure to stop the bleeding. There is no expectation from you that the pain not be there – you understand that if your finger got cut, it is quite natural for there to be pain. In a matter of minutes the pain has receded and in a few days the scar as well.

This pain has served its purpose. It is another of Ishwara’s vibhutis; it is another part of the Order that is Ishwara. Your body came into a situation that was inherently putting a portion of your body at risk, and hence there was “pain” – it made you withdraw, it forced you to avoid further contact with that situation and allowed you space to examine the situation a bit closely, and finally, hopefully learn from it – perhaps you were cutting too fast; perhaps you started cutting without paying any attention;

Now in reality emotional pain should also be similar. Emotional pain is also part of the very same Order. So if someone behaves with you in a particular way that is offensive, hurtful, crude, insensitive, them immediately there is bound to be an emotional pain.
So far so good. There really is no “problem” upto this point. If this was similar to physical pain what would your response be?

You would recognize that your mind is hurt, similar to your finger is cut. Just as the hand may bleed, your eyes may perhaps shed some tears. You would back-off from that situation if possible, give yourself space to examine your mind, and figure out the damage, and hopefully learn from that episode. Did you choose to be in that relationship with adequate care? Did you trust the person too soon? Was your expectation from that relationship or person realistic?

Instead what happens is we superimpose the pain on ourselves. While it is easy for us to objectively examine our finger – is it turning blue? has it stopped bleeding? Etc – because of the proximity of our mind to our I-sense – our identity with emotional pain is complete – not I see that my mind is disturbed, but I am hurt, I am angry, I am devastated, etc
So what? The problem is now, the intellect is unavailable for any decisive, dispassionate response. We allow the mind to freely get carried away in its ways. Furthermore, we resent the pain. We are unprepared to embrace it with the same acceptance that we apply to the physical pain. Not only that, the mind now decides to fortify its resources by invading the ghosts of the past. It reminisces on all that happened with that particular, and even other similar, situations, people, and relationships in the past. Now the boat has lost anchor, and is simply going to go wherever the raging waters will take it downstream. And as part of this we react, often without thought, and then beget the results thereof as well, creating a vicious vortex of hurt and further emotional pain.

What is the solution to this?

You do not ignore the pain. You do not suppress the pain. You do not resent the pain, nor do you wish it away. You simply become aware of the pain. Become aware of emotional pain at the very outset just like one becomes aware of physical pain. No sooner does this pain come into your field of awareness, you notice there is a space for you to retreat into, to take stock. This allows you to recluse yourself temporarily, if possible, from that situation. Now, as your mind, by its own perfunctory modes of functioning, starts to add on flavor to the situation, the very same awareness helps you to nip this process in the bud. Empower your intellect to force the mind into simply dealing with the moment, handling just the situation at hand. For the finger cut you may need some pressure or band-aid – what about for emotional pain – is there any firstaid that can help? – yes - it is called “expression” – talk to someone about it – articulate your emotions into words with someone you trust – a friend, a partner, a parent, a teacher, if none else is available, the ever-available, ever-attentive, ever-patient Ishwara!

After having now deliberately deliberated upon these issues, you act. And what the action is, if well thought out, has to be what is required of you as a member of the society – in other words – act you must. The action, in the false sense of ahimsa, does not necessarily mean “turning the other cheek” or “becoming a doormat for other(s) to trample upon” As long as the action you are taking is not an impulse-driven reaction, is not steeped under the spell of raga-dvesha, is in keeping with Dharma, then by all means even if it something unpleasant, it needs to be done.
To avoid a confrontation, or to shirk what needs to be done in that situation, because it is unpleasant, or unpalatable, or involves the potential to cause hurt, is itself an act of omission, and is by no means praiseworthy. This was precisely Arjuna’s response to an emotional pain or the potential for the same, and Krishna fortunately was able to guide him, and us in the process.

Lastly never lose out on an opportunity to learn from the pain. After all in Ishwara’s order, everything happens for a reason, there is a lesson to be learnt from every knock; it is after-all Ishwara’s prasada – the fruits our own past actions- and their primary purpose is to help us mature, and evolve, and grow. They are certainly unpleasant, but would we pay enough attention to learn, were they not so? Learn to see how we can better equip ourselves to avoid a similar situation in the future or at the very least deal with a similar situation in the future. We can never expect to go through life without experiencing emotional pain. It is part and parcel of living in a world that is by default ever-changing – lives change, situations change, people change, people come and go, - we cannot escape getting emotional knocks – we can learn to learn from them by intelligently dealing with them.
Freedom from pain, eternally, once and for all, can only come Jnanam, from understanding Eternity to be non-different from me, the Atman.

11 comments:

meera said...

Very very nice Shyam...very 'careful' in attitude. Not careful as in cautious, but care-full. Careful of life, careful of being alert to the underlying fact that even the pain is prasaadam, pointing to the Lord's presence through every breath..

One thing that occurs to me is this: when we are in pain, as in a cut, between the bleeding and the pain, we want to first be rid of the pain. If there is going to be no pain, we don't mind the cut, the blood and the scar...what do you think is going on?

Hari Om,
Meera

thedq said...

This post is beautiful. I can now related to all my past emotional pains and now i realize why they have re-occurred! Because I did not step back and think about it or take action.
Thank you Shyam for your wonderful writeups!

Shyam S said...

Pranams,
Meera - "we want to first be rid of the pain. If there is going to be no pain, we don't mind the cut, the blood and the scar...what do you think is going on?"

Pain is extremely important tool of survival. It is built-in to the Order that is Ishwara. If there is no pain, there can be no survival. That is why in diabetics when they lose pain sensation even in a small portion of their feet, it creates tremendous problems - they may walk on a thorn and not even know it! - These feet can get infected, septic, and may even lead to the foot having to be cut off or worse, death by spread of the infection.
So pain is a vital physiologic function.
Now also, any state of pain, physical or emotional, is also not our natural state of equilibrium and is hence is anityam - it will not last, and there is always an urge on our part to get back to our natural simple state of equilibrium. Same is it with hunger - it is also a vital part of Ishwara's Order, his vibhuti to ensure survival of the species - but it is also appeased by the verisame Order in the form of annam.

thedq - thank you for your kind words. The challenge is inspite of knowing, we are often unable to pursue, unable to put into practice. It often times seems hopeless - the way we get carried away - that is where Krishna tells Arjuna - by practice (abhyasena) and by dispassionate detachment (vairagynea).

Hari OM
Shyam

meera said...

Hari Om Shyam!

This gives me an all-new window into understanding the dimensions of Grace. Pain is not punishment or penalty; it is an alarm system. A self-cleansing sytem, a disciplining system. Like the cry of an infant in his crib...mother cannot ignore. One way of looking at it.

Many thanks...many!

Anonymous said...

What a pleasure to read this post on 'emotional pain'. At every stage in life , there is 'pain' but some 'pain' also gives us pleasure. Paradoxical is it not ?

Poet and philosopher Khalil Gibran says "Much of your pain is self-chosen.It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.Therefore trust the physician, and drink
his remedy in silence and tranquillity:For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears. "

Anonymous said...

Namaste !

A question was asked whether the 'Atma' feels the 'pain'?

Here is a response from Shri Ananda Wood , Chief Moderator of the 'Advaitin' list and a disciple of Shri Atmananda, an advaitic Guru from Kerala. Reproduced here with shri Anandaji's permission :

"So far as I understand the advatin concept of 'atma', it refers to that knowing principle which remains entirely unaffected and unchanged by all the changing feelings that appear and disappear.

But 'feeling' is a changing act producing differing appearances like 'pain' and 'pleasure'. It's only mind that gets engaged in this changing act called 'feeling'.

In this sense -- of feeling as a changing act -- it is the mind that feels and gets affected by its acts of feeling. These changing acts arise from an atma that stays present always, completely unaffected by the changing acts of feelings which appear through mind.

Thus atma does not 'feel', in the sense that it does not get engaged or affected by the feelings that arise from it and express its unaffected happiness and peace. The mind acts out its feelings for the sake of that happiness, and in search of that happiness which only gets found by returning back to where the feelings have arisen. Returning there, all feelings are dissolved in unaffected happiness, which is no changing feeling but just atma itself.

Thus atma is said to animate all feelings which arise from its unaffected value. Each feeling, whether positive like pleasure or negative like pain, must arise from atma's underlying happiness. And that happiness is the true being of atma, as expressed by every feeling whether positive or negative.

In order to feel truly, there has to be a reflection back into the happiness of atma, where all changing acts of feeling are found utterly dissolved. What then is meant by speaking of atma as 'feeling pain'? Atma alone can feel truly, but when one returns to atma for that truth of feeling, no changing feelings there remain. All pain produced by act of mind is shown in atma to be nothing else but happiness, although appearing through the mind's confusion to be somehow alienated.

The only way out of this mess is to be truthful, to keep on asking for what's true. To do that effectively, it is one's own mistakes that have to be uncovered and clarified. Throwing blame at others only adds to the confusion."

Makes a lot of sense , is it not ?

Srinivas said...

Beautiful and reflective writeup on "emotional pain". Even at physical level, why do we cut a finger while cutting onions? Cutting finger was neither the intention nor the goal. How come finger got cut when it was only about onion-cutting? Simply, lack of alertness. So too, it seems for emotional pain. Nothing wrong with the cutting knife, but the wielding hand and the guiding mind alone need alertness and vigilance. Nothing wrong with the world outside, but our interaction with it causes pain or joy. All so called accidents are merely those whose causes are ignored or not seen clearly by lack of alertness. How to stay alert then? Watching both inside and outside. Merely watching outside and ignoring our actions,words and thoughts is like cutting onion ignoring where holding fingers are resting. Merely watching within, our own actions, words, thoughts but ignoring outside is like watching only hand fingers, but ignoring where onion is! What cutting can that do! Skillful in watching inside and outside - samatvam yoga ucyate. No wonder spirituality is compared to walking on razor's edge!

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Shyam :

Anandji's explanation of 'atma and pain' appeals to my advaitic persona a lot . When you are in pain ( both physical and emotional ) . Tasy way out to be to cry our hearts out to Ishwera and say " Trahi ! Trahi " ... ( save me! save me ! ) . When Jesus Christ was CRucified on the cross , he only cried out " Forgive them ! They know not what they are doing ." This is a powerful message - a jnani does not feel any kind of pain , be it emotional or physical .

Sri Ramana Bhagwan was asked this question maNy times by his devotees specially during the period when he was afflicted with 'cancer' - Sri Ramana's standard response was " though a Jnani has attained Liberation already and for him there can be no such thing as suffering, some may appear to feel pain, but this is only a reaction of the body. For the body continues to have its reactions. it still eats and carries out all its natural workings. All its sufering is apparent only to the onlooker and does not affect the Jnani, for he not longer identifies the Self with the body, he lives in a transcendent state above all such."

Does this mean Sri Ramana did not groan or moan When the Cancer was spreading through his body ? Sure , he did ! but he always said ' it hurts' but never 'i am hurting' Parama Jnani like Sri Ramana bhagawan sees the body always as something apart from himself pain is only an experience outside the REALITY OF 'I AM THE SELF' There is pain but ONLY OTHERS see it but not the jnani !

On another note , a bhakta views 'pain' in another light ! Kunti Devi , mother of Pandavas and Karna , always prayed to Lord Krishna thus " Hey Murari !Let the miseries that i have experienced in my life come again and again " - and the reason she prayed in this 'queer' fashion is She was always in the presence of Krishna during those miserable times and HE was there always to comfort her . " Krishna's prsnce was the perfect 'antidote ' for her pain!

here is the verse that captures this essence of Ananya Krishna prema !

vipadaḥ santu tāḥ śaśvat
tatra tatra jagad-guro
bhavato darśanaḿ yat syād
apunar bhava-darśanam

I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.

HAPPY HOLI TO ALL FELLOW BLOGGERS ! lET US DROWN IN THE COLOR OF SRI PKRISHNA PREMA BHAKTI !


__________________

Shyam S said...

Pranams Srinivas-ji
Thank you for your kind words.
Your very incisive comments, have beautifully enhanced the analogy of my metaphor, and have provided further points for contemplation.

Hari OM/
Shyam

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