Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"a vision softly creeping…"

"Hello darkness,
my old friend.
I've come to talk with you, again..."

Something about Nouela's cover of Simon & Garfunkels' "Sound of Silence perfectly captures the tone of my most recent night-ponderings.

Last week, an encounter with persistent, acute pain afforded a wonderful opportunity to explore my beliefs - and what I thought I understood - about the nature of pain. I didn't back away from the lesson, nor did I try to just "get it over with." I walked right into the invitation to probe perplexing questions more thoughtfully.

Doubt tried to hijack many moments of genuine peace. "What if the pain really did have meaning, and I was foolishly ignoring it? What if it never ended, and I could never, ever think a truly peaceful thought again?" And most aggressively, "What if the pain was really part of me, and had taken up residence in my body -- like a noisy tenant?"

But as I was pondering these questions, another thought quietly invited me to consider its veracity. If pain actually has meaning -- if it means that there is something amiss at the site of the discomfort -- how do you reconcile that, with the concept of phantom pain?

Phantom pain, is pain that one feels at the site of a limb that has been amputated. Discomfort that seems to come from a body part that no longer exists. Many amputees report feeling sensations of movement, tingling, or pain in an arm or leg that was surgically removed.

I had never given this much thought until this recent injury left me in acute pain. Everything tried to say, "This pain means something about your body. Pain is a message, and you need to heed it's meaning. You should take it easy, or have it examined to find the root cause -- so that it can be addressed and treated."

But then I thought about phantom pain. When an amputee feels discomfort in a limb that no longer exists, he/she quickly dismisses it as "phantom pain," with no meaning. They know that there is no injured leg to be diagnosed or treated, and so there is no need for alarm. They don't need to go get the arm checked out. They aren't fearful or impressed.

Why then, do we think that pain has a direct correlation to the site where the sensation is seemingly occurring? Why do we think that pain is a reliable or infallible indicator of our state of health? Why, when we feel pain in our hand, do we go and have the hand checked for injury or disease? Why do we react to discomfort in any location by having an examination, to see if there is something wrong? All of these questions flooded my consciousness, sweeping away any concern -- I'd been harboring that pain had information for me -- like a coursing river of Truth.

I am starting to see that all pain, is phantom pain. Just as the pain in an amputated limb is not in the limb, any discomfort we feel is not localized. It has no cause, and therefore, one can't be found by examining the site to find the point of origin, in order to fix or treat it.

And it's the same with phantom anger, or phantom frustration. Phantom resentment, or phantom fear. We think we feel fear, frustration, anger, or doubt, and then we try to trace it back to a locus of origin. If I feel angry after a visit to the grocery store - where I had a long wait in line -- it must be that I am an impatient person. Then I go after my impatience as if it were the real cause, of my real anger. But it's not. That anger, is just a sensation. One that is trying to get me to look for a cause -- other than Love -- as the source, and condition, of my angry identity.

I don't have to fix the anger to become a patient person. I am a patient person because that is the way that God made me. I am not self-created, self-determinted, self-diagnosed, or self-fixed.

Here's what often seems to happen with physical discomfort. Perhaps I feel pain when touching a spot on my arm.  I wonder what caused it.  It's a subtle invitation to think back, and trace it to a recent time when I may have stumbled in the middle of the night, and put my arm in direct contact with the doorjamb. Well then, I conclude, I must be clumsy, vulnerable, and easily bruised -- arm, feelings, human history. Or perhaps I'm stumbling in the middle of the night because I'm getting older and losing a nimble sense of balance and recovery. Or, what if I am getting up in the middle of the night too often, what if…. Soon I am spiraling down a vast vortex of self cross-questioning.

But, all pain, is phantom pain.

Just as darkness cannot fully eradicate the presence of light, but only suggest its absence. So pain tries to convince us that there is an absence of peace -- of God, good. And that, perhaps, this absence is localized, and connected to a particular bodily location. Because we now believe that there could ever be a spot were good is absent, we are left feeling vulnerable, exposed to the possibility that we could even further capitulate into disease, doubt and despair.

But these suggestions of pain are phantoms. They have no location. They are causeless. Peace, however, (the opposite of pain) is a self-assertive power that cannot be limited, contained, or localized. It is All-in-all and therefore indicates the presence of all that is impartial and universal -- Spirit, God, good.

In her primary work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy states:

We are sometimes led to believe
that darkness is as real as light;
but Science affirms darkness
to be only a mortal sense
of the absence of light,
at the coming of which
darkness loses the appearance
of reality.

So sin and sorrow, disease and death,
are the suppositional absence of Life, God,
and flee as phantoms of error
before truth and love."

Something about this insight - into the phantom nature of pain, anger, frustration, and doubt - has left me feeling alive to our inalienable right to feel free from the lie that pain holds information or meaning about our lives, our bodies, and our hopes.

It's time to disconnect pain from having cause, location, meaning.  Refusing it any power to alarm us. Pain is phantom, disembodied -- without a body or a home. It throws its voice like a ventriloquist. But it doesn't have the power to take up residence or even gain entrance into the kingdom of God -- within us.
offered with Love,


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