The Philosophy of Pain

Hardship, I remember reading somewhere, is what steers man towards god. We turn to spirituality, not while being buoyed on the frothy bubbles of joy, but while clawing our way out of the deep pit of tragedy.

We pray for strength and fortitude, ask why me, why this, why now and believe that a higher power has the answers. We have to – the alternative is being sucked into an absurdist Universe of Beckett’s devising, where things happen for no reason and existence is as pointless as the blunt object that bludgeons a puppy to death. Atheists are a brave lot.

But once you’ve gone past the unanswered questioning, you reach a place where the mind takes over the emotion. I was in that space today and I realised that perhaps the point of pain is to make us think.

Remember thinking? That thing we did before Netflix and Chill and Big Billion Day To Go Bankrupt or whatever? We’re so immersed in our wants, so consumed by the next shiny thing that we’ve forgotten to think.

Like for instance, pain made me think about how joy is a hunger. It makes you frantic, full of plans, what to do, buy, plan next. In a good way, in the best way so you don’t notice your own frenzy, you’re oblivious to the fact that you’re oblivious to the present. Things are going well, great, what next? How can I get happier?

Pain is the opposite. It slows you down. You live in the present, in every excruciating moment of it. Pain forces you to be patient and celebrate small victories: being able to move a muscle you couldn’t yesterday, less agony than before. You become more mindful of your body, that wonderful machine you take for granted day after happy day.

Joy tells us to keep chasing it, because it’ll all turn alright in the end. Pain reminds us it may not. Trouble is, memory. It holds on only to the happy bits mostly. In time, you forget the spiky jab of pain – just one reason women agree to go through the horror of childbirth over and over again. Or I stop doing back exercises.

The mind’s defence mechanism, I suppose. If we held on to all the horrors of our lives, where would we be? History would stop repeating itself. Civilization would get on the fast track. World peace would be in poking distance because what people who have lost their children to war, terror, strife would inflict them on others? Or allow them to be inflicted?

Phew. That escalated quickly.

But it does make me wonder how different the world would be if we remembered pain, instead of trying to “get over it”. If we lived it and kept the memory of it safe within us. To remind us that things could always be worse. To help us cherish the present as the precious thing it is. And to teach us to be careful with ourselves and others.

Because we’re all breakable really. If nothing else, that’s the one thing you learn from pain.

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