Vanity thought #1546. Pain management

I’ve got an appointment with the dentist but in the meantime I have to manage the pain by myself. So far I’ve tried aspirin and ibuprofen, it’s not bad, I think I’ll survive. What I want to talk about, however, is pain management from a spiritual perspective. Mayo clinic’s online advice isn’t of much help here. Neither are our books, for that matter, that’s why I think I have to do it on my own.

First is the question of karma – we can’t avoid it with pills. It doesn’t matter whether I take the ibuprofen or not, I have to live through the allotted amount of pain regardless. It’s rather that when the pain taps out ibuprofen becomes available. Another issue is that we don’t know how much pain we should be in, it’s quite possible that our condition normally produces this much pain but by our karma we get to suffer only half of it, so ibuprofen is supplied to restore justice in the universe.

Typically, it’s not how people think of drugs. They see themselves as a cause and believe they can manipulate effects. They think they are free to either take ibuprofen or continue suffering and thus exercise their free will. I don’t think it’s how it works. We live under the illusion that we are doers in this world, we accept movements of material elements as ours, as controlled by us. We insert ourselves into this “pain to medicine to relief” chain and take the credit but in reality it all goes on according to universal plan, we are just here to observe and enjoy.

Just think how many people take credit for pain relief in this case – I take the credit because I take the pill, the person who brought the pill to me takes some credit, too. The person who typed up advice on webmd takes the credit, the person who maintains that site takes the credit, google takes the credit for finding it for me, people who invent ibuprofen take the credit, people who taught them take the credit, people who invested in its development and managed trials take credit, people who make ibuprofen now take the credit, government that might control the prices (not sure in this case) take the credit, insurance companies take the credit – it’s a large collective effort and it comes as a part of overall practice of medicine by the society over hundreds and thousands of years and by now covering the entire planet.

As for me – I don’t really have a choice here. I might think about tolerating the pain instead but this is not what is prescribed by our authorities so I must take the medicine as soon as it becomes available. If I hold out it would be out of stubbornness or false pride – qualities that I have been nurturing and then fought against my entire life. Whether I succeed this time or not depends on the entire history of this struggle, it’s not really a choice. The idea of taking ibuprofen wasn’t my choice too, I learned about it from others in response to the growing pain, which I didn’t choose either.

The reality is that I’m pretty helpless here, tossed around by forces I don’t control, if I examine their sources closely. It all comes down to one stupid decision to seek pleasure in this world, and I can’t even remember how that happened. No one does, even Vedas themselves are quiet on the subject. In all His appearances here the Lord chose not to disclose the exact process by which we turn our backs on Him, it was probably ugly and uncomfortable for everyone involved. Past is past, the Lord is ready to forget it, there’s no benefit in us digging it up – what if the Lord remembers what happened and, on the second thought, decides that He is not in the mood to take us back yet?

Speaking of Kṛṣṇa – what’s His role in administering our pain? Theoretically, He can wave it away with even half a wish. Practically, His involvement deserves special consideration.

We are taught that we should see our pain as already greatly reduced. Instead of a minor, almost unnoticeable pain after taking ibuprofen, I should have suffered my tooth being pulled out by a burly gangster with Russian accent, but by Kṛṣṇa’s grace I was relieved of that heavy karma. It’s a nice attitude to develop but it’s not easy to do so without evidence. Sometimes in the end we get some knowledge of what could have happened and realize that we were saved from much greater danger by Kṛṣṇa but it’s hardly ever the case in the beginning, when misfortunes only start piling up. I can’t see any other source but faith in the words of our ācāryas here, that somehow they are correct even against the available evidence.

What happens instead is that I find it hard not to blame Kṛṣṇa for inflicting pain on me. Who else am I going to blame? My karma is in His hands now even if it was originally created by me. The only solution is not to blame anyone but embrace pain as mercy, as a test, as an opportunity to serve. It’s not as hard as it sounds – we get tests and difficulties all the time, this one is just a little bigger than the others, which is also a sign that we are ready to take it on, otherwise Kṛṣṇa wouldn’t put us in this situation.

So, this toothache is the next challenge posed by the Lord and I should approach it as such. What am I supposed to do? Control myself, keep steady, do the needful. Relief will be provided whenever I can’t go on without it, like that first time I couldn’t fall asleep and suddenly realized that I still have a couple of aspirins that could help, and they did. It was on day two or three of trying to ignore the pain and the thought simply didn’t occur to me before then. And now I have ibuprofen – it’s not all bad, Kṛṣṇa still keeps watching over me, so I’ll probably survive.

On that note, there’s a lot more to be said about mentally controlling the pain and the role of the Holy Name in the process, but I would rather leave it for another day, I hope my memories do not fade by then.

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