When whatever we see or experience in life seems real to us, it can cause us pain. Non-attachment should be carried to the point where nothing in this world seems real. We should make it a definite point in our lives to dismiss the thought of pain, whenever our bodies experience it.
“I am not this body.”
Pains come in life. They are to a large degree mental. I have mentioned more than once the experience of going to a dentist. My reason for doing so is that the experience is familiar to most of us. Having someone drill your teeth can be painful and unsettling, even though most people take a pain-deadening medication such as Novocain. I have found it an excellent opportunity to practice non-attachment by not accepting any painkiller when I go to the dentist. It also strengthens the will power to accept uncringingly whatever pain we must experience.
What I do, quite simply, is tell myself, “There is no pain!” I remove my mind from the “events” happening in my mouth, and think one-pointedly about other things. Perhaps I will compose a song, or work mentally on its lyrics. Perhaps I will work out some problem with a book I’m writing. I think it is better to concentrate on something mental, so that my mind isn’t focused on the body at all.
One day in the dentist’s office, the pain was too great to allow me to think pleasantly about poetry. I came then upon another solution: I told myself, “I am not this body,” and allowed my mind to expand over the surrounding countryside. Thus, my body became just a tiny object in that much greater field of awareness. The pain, then, became insignificant.
Pain and suffering are universal.
Pain and suffering are part of everyone’s life, including the lives of saints and seekers all over the world. Yet there are some yoga enthusiasts who insist that “yoga should prevent you from having to endure pain.” Certainly it is true that hatha yoga can cure many ailments, but there is also the question of karma. If, in past lives, you caused people to suffer, the law of karma dictates that you must go through similar suffering in this, or in future lives. No amount of yoga practice will release you from this law.
Pain is a universal experience for all mankind. For some, the pain is intense; for others it is relatively minor. Whatever pain we endure is a karmic balance for the pains we have inflicted on others. The experience of pain, in itself, doesn’t bring much spiritual freedom. The important thing is to accept it calmly and willingly—even joyfully, as God’s will for us, and as an expression of His love.
When we can accept equably whatever suffering comes to us, we are able to remove ourselves from the sphere of pain altogether. Remember these words of my Guru: “Circumstances are neutral. They seem good or bad, happy or sad, depending entirely on our reaction to them.”
Divine protection against pain
I’m reminded of a story that Doctor Lewis used to tell. One time he had arrived at Mount Washington and was getting out of the car when he or somebody else slammed the car door against all four of the fingers on one hand, smashing them flat. The injury was exceedingly painful. Somebody ran and told Yogananda what had happened.
Doctor Lewis said that the moment Yogananda was apprised of this situation, he himself suddenly felt as if a sheet of ice had come down over his consciousness. He put his hand inside the lapel of his coat and left it there for two days. He couldn’t feel his hand at all and didn’t even look at it. After two days, he felt the burden had been lifted. He was then able to pull his hand out. It was perfectly fine. He could use his fingers. They should have been mashed forever but he could use them perfectly well.
I had a similar experience when I had a nasal operation for a deviated septum. Yogananda used to say that we should not operate on anything that makes a straight line through the center of the body. This point marks the division between the magnetism of the left and right sides of the body and should not be touched. But after I wrote him explaining that I was unable to breathe out of my left nostril, he agreed to the surgery because not being able to breathe out of my left nostril would also disturb the balance of the energy flow.
During the surgery, the doctor gave me a local anesthetic. Three hours after I came home, the anesthesia had worn off, and all the stuffing he had put in my nose came out. I called the doctor and had to go see him at once. Without using any anesthesia, he had to push all the stuffing back into this sensitive area. I could feel perfectly well what he was doing, yet there was no pain. It was not as if, as in the case of Doctor Lewis, there was a sheet of ice so that I couldn’t feel anything at all. When I asked the doctor if he could explain my lack of pain, he said it was totally beyond him.
The center of the pain
As mentioned above, while at the dentist’s I don’t like to take Novocain. A few months ago, I was sitting in the dentist’s chair, without taking Novocain, keeping my mind off the pain by thinking about other things. But then the pain got to the point where it was very hard to ignore it.
So what did I do? I concentrated on the pain. Instead of trying to ignore it, I looked at it very steadily until I actually got down into the center of the pain. At that point, suddenly the pain ceased to exist. And so you see, there are two approaches which can work. On the one hand, affirmation can help us get into a higher state of consciousness where the darkness of pain no longer exists. In other words, you turn the light on, and the problem vanishes.
On the other hand, sometimes the pain is too great and you just can’t shake loose from it. However, I’ve found that when people have that problem, all too often what they are thinking, is: “I’m practicing spiritual discipline and meditation and I shouldn’t feel this way, and therefore I don’t.” But they’re just kidding themselves. They can’t get rid of the pain merely by saying, “I don’t feel it.”
The purpose of affirmation is to put you in tune with a higher reality. Going deeper into affirmation we come to another principle: when you can put enough energy into an affirmation, you may be able to generate so much energy that everything else, negative and positive, gets drawn into its wake. But you may also find that there are times when affirmation simply doesn’t work; at those times you have to face honestly the fact that it’s not working.
The unreality of suffering
The more we move toward God, the more strongly He pulls us, with love. When one lives in the consciousness of God, all outer attachments fade away. It is well in these matters to study the lives of great saints in all religions. All of them have declared that divine love and divine joy are the only realities, and the only things worth seeking in life.
After twenty years of physical pain, the last words Sister Gyanamata uttered in her life were, “Such joy, too much joy.” And when Yogananda spoke of her, he said he saw her melting into that watchful state, completely liberated.
No one who has ever found God has said, “Well, I wish I’d been able to do it without pain.” They don’t even think of pain. The Muslim Sufi mystic, Rabi’a, said, “He is no true lover of God who does not forget his suffering in contemplating the Infinite Beloved.” In that divine contemplation, everything else becomes a dream, non-existent.
So don’t take your pains or triumphs in life very seriously; just watch them as if you were a spectator. You must learn to look at your body as the plate on which you are supposed to eat the wisdom dinner of life. When you finish that wisdom dinner, when you’ve learned all your lessons, you won’t need another plate. You can throw it away or break it. It doesn’t matter.
From the book, Demystifying Patanjali and the talk “The Unreality of Suffering” by Swami Kriyananda.
Listen to the talk: