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where all things are undone into nothingness

Updated: Jul 9, 2023

According to the software I use to check grammar, I use the word pain too often in this piece. It's repetitive. Redundant. But I will not use the suggested words. Synonyms like agony, suffering, torment are all imbued with personal meaning. Pain suggests something like a symptom, an affliction with more separation from personal stories, and it additionally suggests something done with care.

I can feel pain in my dreams. Although some theorists suggest that pain cannot be part of the dreaming world, research has shown that pain occurs in about 1% of the dreams in healthy people and 30% of patients with acute or severe pain. Sometimes pain is so sour, so twisted, it makes me **laugh. Sometimes it's not so much pain as it is a fall of sensation, shivers down my body, from the crown of my head down my spine, arms, and the backs of my hands, and I smile.

Pain is muscular, like the beat of a heart. But pain eludes dissection, slips the knife of definition, and ripples away like smoke. At best, ideas and meaning are abstractions, experiences drifting into an epistemological fog. How one defines pain begs the question: how do you define the self, and where do we put pain in relation to it, in relation to pleasure, in relation to joy. My efforts to describe pain confront me with a myriad of problems. Sometimes pain makes me tired. It comes with bone-weary exhaustion. My fingers hurt. My skin feels heavy, and it hurts to hold my eyes open. Often pain drifts around me moves around like clouds. Pain lives in my body like a lucid dream.

According to neurobiology, the dreamer recognizes they are dreaming when areas of the brain that are usually dormant during sleep become activated. The recognition of dreaming occurs, and the dreamer must be careful to let the dream delusion continue but be conscious enough to recognize them. It's a process some people theorize as consciousness exploring the space between reason and emotion. Pain is a splinter there. The pain in my dreams feels more pure, a cleaner, brighter sensation than the one that greets me when I open my eyes. Often when I feel pain in dreams, it is there waiting for me when I wake. Dreaming of wildflowers and finding petals and grass in your sheets.

Pain is a mediation on this space between reason and emotion. Ask any *'high functional' person with chronic pain or a zen practitioner - and they will tell you right away that life is a waking dream. An illusion our mind offers as a narrative as it tumbles toward wakefulness. Though for most, pain is not Nirvana but a nightmare beyond language.

In a general sense, for me, it's cool. I have made my peace. I can sit most of the day and watch as pain moves around my body like light changing on a wall, sunlight through leaves, with absolute fascination, until nightfall. Obviously, there are times when the light is menacing and threatens to consume me. It breaks like waves and will begin again, uneven tides pulling in and out. The sun and moon rising.


O b v i o u s l y . . .

There are days I do the simple arithmetic of frustration plus nihilism, adding up the sum of every kind of pain and multiplying it by every day forever… but patients who face their pain with optimism and acceptance have statistically better outcomes. Patients who have people around them who acknowledge their pain is real express more positive results in pain management. And even so, one can not think their way to healed.

Is healed even possible? Necessary? I lose the definitions of words.

When I was a child, I learned about heaven and that god would know the difference between someone being good because they wanted to get into heaven and someone who truly wanted to be good. Perhaps there are days to me when healed and heaven don't sound all the different. Equally impossible, little tricks of light and logic. My mouth moves in the same way when I say the words.

In meditation, you shift your awareness from the physical world and enter the different world of the continuous happening. This makes your regular body go numb. Neither chronic pain patients or people in mediation or lucid dreams are disturbed by this. When you are so disembodied you go somewhere important in the mind. Down and deep into the world of no things, where all things are undone into nothingness.

For me, one of the most challenging parts of pain, besides the feeling of it, is experiencing the dynamic and delirious dimension of dreams in the waking world. The shifting and warping of space, the way the boundaries of my body move around, the way they change and grow and warp so I can feel everything. My awareness of my body shifts and changes to match the maps pain draws. The first time I remember being aware of the pain that would come to live in me like moss residing in a forest was a sudden lashing of pain along my right shoulder blade. A sudden vicious brightness. I cried out, flinched, and went to look in a mirror, half expecting to somehow find long lacerations on my skin - wounds appearing from nowhere.

The warping of the landscape of my body is simply conceptual modifications needed to allow me to follow where pain is going, like growing wings or gills. Or maybe in those moments, I see my body for what it really is, a changeable bundle of stories and memories, shifting and variable.

* 'high functioning’ is a really problematic concept in its own right, but maybe that's another thing

** someone wonderful who edited this said I have many pain laughs. Upon reflection, this is true


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