"If we take a more living and more Christian perspective we find in ourselves a simple affirmation which is not of ourselves. It simply is. In our being there is a primordial yes that is not our own; it is not at our own disposal; it is not accessible to our inspection and understanding; we do not even fully experience it as real (except in rare and unique ' is something they never advert to at all. It is in fact absolutely unconscious, totally forgotten. Basically, however, my being is not an of Being itself, irrespective of my own choices. "Where do 'I' come in? Simply in uniting the 'yes' of my own freedom with the 'yes' of Being that already is before I have chosen to choose." [Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Image Books, 1968/1989, 266]

Ordinary Pain

Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JPain

1. Pain can have its genesis and manifestation in any or all of three dimensions:

Physical – eg back pain, headache, toothache, arthritic pain etc
Psychological – loneliness, grief, feeling abandoned, depression, anxiety, fear etc
Spiritual – longing, despair, guilt, dark night etc

2. There are different appropriate ways of dealing with pain. We might, for example, deal with the physical pain of arthritis by taking a pain killer but this would hardly be appropriate for the pain of guilt. In these notes I am addressing specifically the psychological and spiritual pain.

3. Pain in one dimension might be masked by pain in another dimension. For example, physical back pain might in fact be more about my psychological loneliness or spiritual longing than my back as such.

4. There are two common reactions – as distinct from responses – to pain:

• We become more or less self-absorbed
• We ricochet off the pain and
*Seek consolation – eg in drugs, sex, gambling, alcohol, workaholism
*Project the pain on to others – eg we become cynical, chronically negative, aggressive, insensitive to the pain of others
*We turn on ourselves – we become depressed, self-sabotaging, full of self-doubt

5. Unacknowledged and undealt with pain is almost certainly the trigger for most of our inappropriate behaviours. The “problem of obesity”, for example, is in some measure at least a matter of unacknowledged or undealt with pain. To deal with it as if it were simply or even primarily a matter of diet is probably not going to be helpful in the long run. Similarly with our addictive behaviours and those behaviours that cause conflicts in relationships. Listen for the roots of it. The question, “What is happening?” is probably the most practical and constructive life-question we can ask anywhere, anytime.

6. The truth of our pain holds a key to our freedom:

LISTEN to what is happening within you
HEAR what is happening within you
FACE what is happening within you
SUBMIT to the truth of what is happening within you

7. Pain of some kind – especially spiritual pain – is an integral part of life. It is best viewed as promise rather than threat. The aim is not so much to get rid of it as it is to grow because of it. Pray: “Lord, deliver me not from it but in it and through it.”

8. The ANS process is useful to this end, as is Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing.

9. Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying: “If you feel like another drink, ask yourself if you are sad or lonely, anxious or angry.” In other words, they are saying to this person who is potential ruining his/her life with alcohol: “Actually, alcohol is not the real issue. It is a symptom of the real issue. You need to address the real issue.” There is great wisdom in this advice.

10. It might take professional therapy to address the pain.