Stoic Advice For Pain

I am experiencing pain at the moment, physical that is. For the second time, I have a lump in the roof of my mouth that will need another biopsy and some home-kit blood tests required some serious stabbing with planchets. Laughable I know, I can deal with it. In this time of pandemic, I am grateful just for what I have. Yet a true application of stoicism took place today. While this is not so notable, it’s worth mentioning: while I was building myself up to jab my finger tips with this needle there was a moment of hesitation. The dreaded what if. I said to myself, like a stoic: “You are fearing pain rather than experiencing pain. Pain is inevitable, get on with it.

While you can call me chicken-shit for even needing to build up the nerve to do something that diabetics do on a daily basis – that would be fair – it’s a minor example of stoicism in action. It doesn’t need to be this grand monologue about ethics on biblical proportions. It’s the little things everyday that keep us moving along the path properly and with dignity. I am not harmed by feeling pain, in reality, neither are you. It’s a sensation of the body to tell you that the vehicle has been damaged in some way.

“Whenever you suffer pain, heave ready to hand the thought that pain is not a moral evil and does not harm your governing intelligence: pain can do no damage either to its rational or to its social nature. In most cases of pain you should be helped too by the saying of Epicurus: ‘Pain is neither unendurable nor unending, as long as you remember its limits and do not exaggerate it in your imagination.’ Remember too that many things we find disagreeable are the unrecognized analogues of pain – drowsiness, for example, oppressive heat, loss of appetite. So when you find yourself complaining of any of these, say to yourself, ‘You are giving in to pain.’Meditations 7.64

I’ll refer to Batman comics here. In the stories, Batman is often under attack and his Batmobile is damaged and it gives him an alert – our analogue for pain in this analogy. Sure, he’s often disgruntled but he works around this, he adapts and still manages to get on with what he needs to do. This, in this case, is often beating seven shades of shit out of someone with a mental illness.

Back to the real world, this lump in the roof of my mouth: either normal mucosa or perhaps a salivary or glandular issue, or perhaps a tumour. It hurts but so what? I’m not worried about the what if’s of it, and with a bit of Bonjela its soothed enough for me to not notice it for hours. I have taken steps to call my GP to arrange a consultation because that would be self-destructive laziness not to. It’s like knowing you have a sort of flat tire on your car and ignoring it – or Batmobile to carry on the analogy.

Fearing pain is like fearing change, fearing change is like fearing breath entering and leaving the body. Yet in those moments where we allow our unnational thoughts to obscure the truth we falter. Allow yourself to have these moments, it’s only natural, but also allow yourself to access the rational mind. Let these moments be just that: moments. Not long drawn out panics nor worries that lay heavier than the sensation of the planchet itself.

“If you remove the judgement of anything that seems painful, you yourself stand quite immune to pain. ‘What self?’ Reason. ‘But I am not just reason.’ Granted. So let your reason cause itself no pain, and if some other part of you is in trouble, it can form it’s own judgement for itself.” Meditations 8.40

There’s a phenomena I experienced as a child that many other may also have experienced. I was clumsy and fell over a lot and got in all sorts of scrapes. Yet there was this one occasion in Bordeaux on a camping holiday when I was in a quadbike crash. Long story short: it was on top of me. I wasn’t too bothered, I was confused more than anything, bemused even. Yet when others told me how dangerous it was and how bad it looked, I suddenly felt a wash of pain and wailed and complained. My own rational mind thought it was amusing yet something happened. Was it shock or was it one of those moments where the expectation of pain was worse? In any case I got back on and finished the fucking lap – finished last, of course.

The Buddhists hold a core belief that pain and suffering in some form or another is inescapable in the human condition. The Taoists believe that where there is pleasure, there will also be pain (at different times -unless you’re into that, no judgement here). Both are true. I get colds in the winter so naturally, it’s a dispreffered time of year yet I don’t panic when the leaves start to brown. Accept pain like you accept the days of the week transitioning into the next. Accept it and adapt whether that be in mind, body or spirit.

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