Pain (teisho 972, 2005)

When I wrote that Albert’s death was an opportunity, I realized that this applied to me as much as any one else. When I just wanted to sit down and wail, I looked at my life and asked myself: What more do I want? Albert and I had had 65 good years together. I thought about the physical pain Albert had dealt with without any complaint, and decided I would try to deal with this pain in the same way. After all, he tells us how to deal with it in his teishos. I followed what he said about pain and, as he says, it doesn’t take the pain away, but one has a different reaction to it. It is no good just listening to what he says, we have to apply it to our lives.

I met one of our neighbors in the street and he commiserated with me on Albert’s death. We talked a bit, and as he was going, he said, “you look good”. It was almost an accusation… but I am sure Albert is only too pleased that I am at last listening and really working on myself. They say it takes pain and suffering to push you to it.


The question of pain always comes up during a sesshin. First of all, there is the physical pain of sitting. We are not used to the position, or to sitting for long periods of time. In addition, we are told not to move. Then there is another kind of pain, which is the pain of nothing happening. The mind rushes around, but nothing happens. It is a feeling of intense spiritual pain. There is then another pain: during sesshin we have little personal space, either in the zendo or in the bedroom and, in addition the discipline, this can after a while become irritating. We feel humiliated.

We identify ourselves with the pain. We say, ‘I hurt’. I am something, and that something is pain. We have separated ourselves from ourselves, and the pain therefore increases.

Nisargadatta says, “Do not pursue pleasure and shun pain. Accept both as they come, enjoy both while they last; let them go as they must.”

Enjoy pain? How can one enjoy pain?

Nisargadatta: “The bliss is in the awareness of it, of not shrinking or turning from it. All happiness comes from awareness.” But there are different ways of being aware. The normal way we are aware of pain is that we are identified with it. In other words, the pain is uppermost. ‘I hurt’ is what is most evident. It is useful in so far as one believes one has to be something, because it intensifies the sense of self. It is essential to get beyond the belief “I am something”.

It is the pain of ‘I hurt’ with which we must come to terms. The way to do this is just to be aware of the pain. It is no longer ‘I hurt’, or ‘my being is hurt’, or ‘I am something and that something is pain’. Now, it is just the feeling ‘there is pain’. This does not relieve the pain, but now one is no longer trying to get rid of the pain. The pain may increase or decrease, but this is no longer the center of interest. The main condition is one of peace, of the correctness of what is. There is a dissolving and melting, a yielding. If we remain with it, there is a letting go of the identification and, instead of the pain being uppermost, it is now seen against a background of awareness. Awareness is now predominant. The sense of ‘I hurt’ is very constrictive and tense, but when awareness is predominant there is a sense of space, of openness. As Nisargadatta says, “All happiness comes from awareness. Your true nature is happiness, awareness is peace and happiness. Acceptance of pain, non-resistance, courage and endurance, these open deep and perennial sources of true happiness and bliss. The happiness of being, the bliss of being. Not being yourself, just being.”

By being present to yourself in your daily life, with alert interest – with the intention to understand rather than to judge, in full acceptance of whatever may emerge, you encourage the deep to come to the surface and enrich your life and consciousness with its captive energy.

“Dharma gates without number, I vow to penetrate” – this is what we are vowing: that we will be present, we will be there, we will be open. And whatever comes, we will see that as another opportunity, another challenge, another way by which we can open up to the light of purity and strength which is our true nature.

Note: Albert had plenty of opportunity to work with pain in the last years of his life. The last bout started when he decided he would have to get a second hip replacement. When he saw the surgeon and she saw the ‘photos’ of his hip, she exclaimed that she could not understand how he had lived with the pain – the femur was almost completely worn away. She put him near the head of her list for an immediate operation. This was a success, even though it left him with one leg half an inch shorter than the other because of the worn away femur. However, a few days later, all the attention left his hip to go to his lungs, which were collapsing. So, there were none of the usual post hip operation exercises. All attention was on his lungs. He was moved to the lung ward, put on oxygen while they tried to discover what had caused this collapse. He had never had trouble with his lungs before – I can confirm this, from having tried to keep up with him while walking on our holidays in Cornwall and cycling in France. It seemed to have been caused by one of the medications he was on for his heart. After six weeks he was allowed to come home, with oxygen.
In addition to his hip he had slipped discs in the spine and spinal stenosis, which also gave a great deal of pain. He could no longer walk around, but had to rely on an electric wheelchair for movement. Finally, when he was able to come off the oxygen and off the cortisone which had cleared up his lungs, I was overjoyed. But then, he fell and hit his head and was back in hospital.
He was not to come home again.
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3 Responses to Pain (teisho 972, 2005)

  1. Jean-Pierre Lefebvre says:

    My spouse and I met M.Low in dokusan. Thank you so much for Thoughts Along The Way.
    You lived both twice the number of years we’ve been together. and your comments really help us

  2. Gervais Asselin says:

    I remember that the second conversation I had with Albert something happened and it was made clear to me that pain was the great motivator in our lives. I saw that every tear that I had ever shed was a blessing, and how they all led me like a chain to that very moment. Pain isn’t fun, but it is a gift.

    • Janine Lévesque says:

      Thanks Gervais for your contribution. Whenever we meet, I always feel great admiration for your smiling face and beaming expression of happiness.

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