September 10, 2012
The moment we left our mothers’ wombs, a doctor or midwife smacked our bottom and made us cry. Welcome to the world. We are born in pain, we die in pain and in between we experience both physical and emotional pain throughout our lives. Why? Is there any benefit to it?
I once read about a rare medical condition where a child had an inability to suffer physical pain (Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis (CIPA)). The parents had to monitor the toddler 24/7. He constantly had new bruises because he’d either put his hand in the fire and leave it there, or he’d poke his leg with a knife. You see he had no pain reflex. The parents even bandaged his hands to stop him from biting them off. Clearly, physical pain is nature’s way of alerting us to danger. It compels us to withdraw from harm. Also the memory of past pain keeps us away from similar situations. But what about emotional pain, the aching grief of losing a loved one, does that have any use?
I know when I lost my mother the grief was unbearable. I was only young, and did not have the skills to cope with it, and neither did anyone else I knew. Lots of people offered platitudes: Time heals. She is still with you as long as you remember her. None of those hit the mark.
The thing about pain (physical or emotional) is that it changes. For example, the morning after my throat operation I had a sharp, stabbing sensation each time I moved my neck. If compelled me to keep it still, which aided its healing. In the days and weeks following, the pain changed daily. Sometimes it was a throbbing pain, sometimes it felt as though there were strings stuck in my throat, then finally there was only a small tickle. Pain can never remain constant. Could this fact perhaps be the key to understanding the function of emotional pain?
Emotional pain, just like physical pain, draws attention to a problem area. Be careful, take special care of this, it says. You need to make changes in this area in your life. In the the example of my throat surgery, there were certain foods that were too irritating and had to be avoided. Similarly, might the experience of emotional pain be drawing attention to something I need to modify in my behavior? Perhaps the intense pain of grief indicates I loved too selfishly, perhaps I should become less dependent on others? Possibly.
If that is true, then is there anything I can do now to avoid being hurt emotionally in the future? If the pain is situational )for example, getting involved with the wrong sort of partners) then yes, that type of situation can be avoided. Desires can be modified. Through reflection needs can be untangled. We can prevent some pain in the future by better defining what we need in our relationships, by sorting out the clutter of wants and desires. But I don’t believe emotional can ever be totally bypassed. There is ‘no getting used to’ for emotional pain. No’weight training’ whereby you can acclimatize to endure greater and greater quantities of pain. No philosophy, no amount of faith can build immunity to hurt. Maybe that is a good thing.
Because through pain we seem to grow. I know I have grown the most since my heart attack. It has motivated me to change many important habits. I am healthier now in some ways then before. The possibility of early death has focussed my priorities in a way nothing else ever could. And I am one who has read umpteen self-help books, attended a gazillion self-improvement lectures. Yet it was a near-death and the subsequent mental pain that forced me grow, to use the considerable theoretical know-how I had accumulated. There was an urgency to it. It was literally a case of grow or die.
I know there will be other painful events in my life. That knowledge does not make me a pessimist: it makes me a realist. It still does not mean I am looking forward them, whatever shape they might take. But when they do arrive, I hope to have the wisdom and the skills to use them as fuel for another spurt of growth. Perhaps that it is the whole point of emotional pain.
In my youth I was so desperate for wisdom, for inner peace, for self-acceptance that I used to say I was willing to trade my right arm for them. I now have those things to some measure, and I also still have my right arm. What I did give up was the left half of my heart instead. I have no regrets about the trade.
September 3, 2012
“Say baby, you must be tired. ‘Cause you’ve been running through my mind all day long.” Isn’t too much cheese unhealthy? Don’t most of us have a strong BS meter? We need one: marketers shamelessly flatter us into buying this product or that one, (“Because you’re worth it!”)
At its worst, flattery can be a weapon to make you feel obligated. ” Honey pie, I survived the operation because of your love and support.” Try walking away from that relationship after such flattery. I have become so suspicious of flattery that I rarely give it out myself.
Which is a pity really, because flattery is ubiquitous. We employ flattery when we can’t think of anything significant to say, but wish remain congenial–the modern equivalent of the handshake, it lets strangers know you come in peace.. When Neil Armstrong visited India, not long after his moonwalk, he was presented to then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Following the introductions, there was an awkward silence and so one of the PM’s staff commented: “Mrs. Gandhi stayed up till 4.00 a.m. so as not to miss your landing, Mr Armstrong.” To which a self-conscious Armstrong counter-complimented, “I’m sorry Madame Prime Minister. Next time we will be sure to land at a more earthly hour.” Flattery is a small talk, it is a pleasant way to fill silences. There is often no agenda, no hidden manipulation.
And Neil Armstrong was no stranger to clever use of flattery either. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” included all of us in his historic moment. He flattered the entire human race for the success of the NASA scientists. No wonder he was universally mourned when he died.
Perhaps it our very dependence upon flattery for confirmation of reality that leads us into trouble. Sometimes we desperately want something to be true. “Does my butt look big in this?” Well, if you need to ask, you probably know that it does but you so require it to be untrue that you’ll settle for even a coerced compliment. When we chat with friends or relations we repeat the same stories to confirm our interpretation of events, our version of sanity and goodness. For its role in confirmation of reality, flattery does get you everywhere.
It dose not require a genius to figure out the flattery should be sincere. But what constitutes sincere flattery? Well, the other day, one of patients at the hospital was showering me with compliments. I figured she just wanted to make sure I would keep visiting her and helping her. Then she said: “You have such lucidity in your eyes.” That remark threw me. I mean, who uses a word like lucidity in daily conversation? The compliment was so specific that I allowed it to penetrate my defenses. Perhaps she said it because she noticed this fact and thought it worth a mention. Perhaps she had no ulterior motive.
Thanks for reading this blog. I must say, of all my readers, YOU are the smartest. (Did you really believe I’d resist that.)