POSTCARD #254: Bangkok: The story of it is I went downtown to a government hospital to see a well-known anesthesiologist, about the 24/7 headache I’ve had since September 2015, in the hope that, aside from more needles and what-have-you, ablation? I’d discover the right way to switch it off. And to cut a long story short – getting through all the underground labyrinths and corridors, crowds and noise and waiting 5 hours with my headache being as it is, although for the most part, staying with mindful attention – I was finally in a white room with her, dressed in white, and three residents in white too.
Blinking in this dazzling clarity, I was asked all kinds of questions I’d never been asked before. Really it was just one question she was asking me and that was, how far do you want to go with this? Like a fairy godmother, she gave me new, stronger meds, saying try this before getting into these other procedures and treatments. So yes, I went home, took the meds and suddenly the headache got switched off. Hooray!
Wake up next morning and the headache is back. Oh no! Take the new meds and it gets switched off again. Hooray! There have been other times when it has switched off like this, but now there’s definitely a feeling that something else has changed too. I’m feeling more optimistic than I have done for a long time, why?
And I begin to focus and see it’s because of a new kind of acceptance I learned about (indirectly?) from the lady in the white room. She was saying, in so many words, okay I admire you for the effort you’ve gone to in coming to this place, but realize that we’re getting down to worst case scenario levels here; this where we DESTROY THE NERVE and it’s done in two procedures…
But I wasn’t listening, I’d just bounced right out of there thinking maybe I can live without this ‘procedure’. No needles or RFAs (radiofrequency ablation), ‘a minimally invasive procedure.’ There’s this electric needle and it goes in and precisely zaps the nerve. If that doesn’t work then we can put in another needle… but no-no-no, I was running away in my mind, ok, ok, what other options are there?
So I was back where I started and it was giving me a headache just thinking about it! Acceptance, looking more carefully into the Buddha’s Third Noble Truth (nirodha); the realization we don’t have to remain stuck in an unsatisfactory state. Finding the way out of Suffering begins when we let go of the craving that feeds it. An easing of the suffering of mind that takes place by seeing it is caused by holding on to… whatever, the longing for impossible things. Yep, what is causing this? To see what it is I need to accept that it’s there, the giving way to it the frank actuality of it. That was an eye-opener. Finding the way out of the Suffering in the mind means seeing the cause for what it is, a complex attachment/ resistance tied up with the suffering itself. Unravel the knot let go of the whole dang thing, and that’s the way out.
What to do? Train the mind to live with the Buddha’s Third Noble Truth, and I’m better equipped to accept the headache being there. Or go and see the lady in the white room and her worst case scenario ‘procedures’.
“… suffering smashes to pieces the complacency of our normal fictions about reality, and forces us to become alive in a special sense—to see carefully, to feel deeply, to touch ourselves and our worlds in ways we have heretofore avoided. It has been said, and truly I think, that suffering is the first grace. In a special sense, suffering is almost a time of rejoicing, for it marks the birth of creative insight. [Ken Wilbur]
I’m glad the new meds work, even if temporarily. It must be a comfort to know it is there to take if the pain becomes intolerable. Your comment about acceptance reminds me of this quotation from page 417 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous:
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
“Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”
The founders of AA weren’t Buddhists but the program is remarkably in harmony with the dhamma. I thought you might find this interesting. Namasté, Sunny
Yep, it’s quite a philosophy, I heard from somewhere that Carl Jung was part of the first members or he offered advice and there was always a trace of Buddhism in Jung. Acceptance is like the letting-go in Buddhism except that acceptance has more of a knowing quality – before you can let go completely you have to know everything about whatever it is you’re letting go of. And that’s not easy. It can be a person, place, thing or situation or something embedded from childhood. I was reading something in the Resting in Awareness site about “self-sabotage, about acting in ways subliminally contrived to confirm negative beliefs about yourself.” A link there to another site: “Most everything that’s psychologically dysfunctional has it origins in outdated childhood programs. These are programs keyed to your child self’s perception of how best to adjust to irrational family requirements or demands.”
I’m interested in how to explore these energies from childhood, as you say, nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
What if the way in were the way out?
Wilber nails it – “suffering is the first grace” – it’s a holy messenger pointing out the way in and inviting “creative insight”. The mind will never unravel its own convoluted concepts; it’s a tangle of past and future. Where to find peace, creativity and insight but in all-embracing inescapable Presence?
I salute your courage, humility and openness, dear T.
Hi Miriam, it’s a play on words of course (what isn’t?) but I’m really glad you pointed out that the way in is the way out. The way out is the ‘escape’ from suffering, in the Buddhist sense but what it means, and here I’m grateful you got me thinking about it a bit more, what it’s referring to is an insight into how the mind functions in order to find freedom from Suffering, and not an escape from the mind. All too often I find I’m going along the path that is an escape from the mind, and I have to wake up and see I need to change course. ‘It’s a tangle of past and future’, and the mind will never unravel its own convoluted concepts. What it all seems to be pointing to is an invisible higher power behind everything. Again and again I keep returning to this place…
Sounds like a kind of watershed.
It certainly brings everything into present time for a moment, and the question is, where to from here?
We shall see. And hopefully with less extreme pain.
Perhaps a clearer understanding of what it actually is, where it comes from and what it’s connected with, the history of it…
I think so.
To me there are different types of suffering, possibly two main ones, and those are physical and mental. I think I’ve worked through a lot of pain in relationships. (mental). But dealing with an ongoing physical pain, like a bad headache, as you have been doing for years, I think would probably defeat me. A constant pain anywhere stresses other body parts, and is incredibly tiring. One would have to work enormously hard at ‘letting go’ in order to accept and live with it. I’m quite sure I’d take whatever medical option was on offer – depending on the negative sides of the treatment. Hugs.
I agree suffering can be divided into physical and mental, and it helps me to find a way through the pain if I attribute it to the pain itself or to what extent it’s the pain I feel about having pain. When the extreme physical stabbing pain is not there, of course it all merges into one kind of discomfort and despondency. I wake up in the morning roll over on the pillow and it’s like I drank too much red wine last night . That’s another thing, alcohol is a big no-no with the type of medication I’m taking 😦 So there seems to be no relief from it and that feeling is mental, broadly speaking. There are other situations, I’ve learned through experience where I have to consciously get a hold of the ‘mental’ pain and get it to settle down. Physical pain is bad enough without the mind making it worse.
After more than a year of it now, I suppose I don’t feel the pain as much as I did at the beginning. Reading the early posts and emails to friends, it was all really catastrophic, how to get it to go away! How can I get back to my non-pain state of mind (a fairy-tale feeling where everything is wonderful). Sadly it never did go away, and now I can’t afford to say to myself there’s a non-pain state of mind that used to be here, because I’ve just got to get on with things as they are. So I’d say mental pain is pushed out of the way really most of the time, and there’s a particular focus of mind that doesn’t allow reference to these kinds of mental states.
Often I feel this sadness as you describe as pain in relationships, and working through that is an ongoing story. Other times, the meds give me a space where there is no pain at all and it’s then that I can feel stability is just there, a particular mental state that’s overseeing all the other states and days and hours, etc., and keeping everything on the straight and narrow. Letting go isn’t it, anything I do has to have the crutch of meds. So it’s within these limitations I function, and still learning how to do that effectively. Thanks for your comforting words…
I think I understand what you mean about the pain you feel about having the pain. I don’t suffer with anything like you have, but i did start a neck pain (muscular) last summer which was very painful and wouldn’t go away. I tried all the usual things like ibuprofen and various rubs, to no avail, and lived daily with a kind of insistence in my mind that it must go away. It really got me down because it wouldn’t go, and my mind constantly returned to it and focused on it. I then went to a chiropractor for two sessions but it returned both times! I bought a special pillow that neck pain sufferers swore by. Pillow is great but the neck is no different. Now many months later I recently realised that I haven’t been focusing on not having the pain. The mind seems to have given up the battle, and the pain has become part of daily life. I do have to add here that my pain in the neck can’t be compared with what you are living with, but it’s interesting how your thoughts on mind pain and physical pain have made me suddenly aware of what’s happened within me. Thanks Tiramit 🙆🙂xx
Interesting for me to hear you referring to the neck pain with a kind of insistence in your mind that it had to go away. That’s the opposite of what I’m doing, nowadays. I have to let it get settled in, allow the resistance to ease back into an acceptance – letting it be there, giving way to it. The deep stabs of pain penetrate then they ease because there’s no resistance. There’s a few stabs like that then it stops. Saying that doesn’t cover the devastation of it sometimes, and coping with the urgency it triggers in the same way… just letting it be there. The pain meds I’m taking now allow me to see it that way, the previous meds just knocked me out. Now I’ve got an opportunity to know it better.
Interesting too that you are saying many months later you realised that you haven’t been focusing on not having the pain. The mind seems to have given up the battle, and the pain has become part of daily life. It’s this part about the mind having ‘given up the battle’, and that’s the allowing of it, rather than fighting against it. I don’t know though, if that’s it but there’s a perception of pain mostly ringing the urgency bell, and it may not be as bad as it seems.
This is becoming my main subject of interest, no choice. Thanks for your descriptions it helps…
Hi Tiramit, I’ve been away to England and only just got back and caught up with all my blogging mail. I spent a lot of time with my brother who is in hospital after a stroke in January. He’s much better but is now probably facing living in a care home after a life of being incredibly fit and independent. I see how painful it is for him to give up his little home and the life he knew. Pain comes in many ways it seems, but when i hear your story I think without doubt that living with physical pain must be the most wearing and tiring. Is there no other treatment somewhere else in the world that you can try? Hugs to you. xx
Sorry to hear about your brother. It reminds me of my uncles and aunts, my mother in Scotland and my father in Australia – all of them went into care and died. I came back from overseas, watched it happen and spent a fair bit of time at funerals here and there. Even so I can’t quite put myself into that same picture yet, there’s a resistance. I know denial, I know all the mind states but the thing is, this struggle with the pain is what’s destabilising. I’m working on being open to it. On the other hand, some doctors I’ve met and I’ve met six or seven so far, some of them say I should have the RFA, the electric spark which precisely zaps the nerve. But others say there are side effects etc., and it’s not a done deal. Also there’s an implant which does something and right now I’ve forgotten what exactly, but anyway that research I’ve started too. There’s also surgery to cut the nerve. That’s it, no other cures, treatments yes; acupuncture, I haven’t explored yet. At the same time as all that is going on, I’m looking for a way to balance the cocktail of meds and get on with life – on-going story, see how it goes…
I admire you for bearing with it as you do and finding a way through to some extent with Buddhist ways and letting go. But it must be hard, and dreadfully tiring. I shall keep asking the universe to help, and find a solution. 🙆😘
Thanks Jude. Yes it’s tiring and I can give way to outbursts of frustration with ordinary little things sometimes. Fortunately my wife is a Thai Buddhist and I’m drawn back into seeing the world from the Buddhist perspective
Acceptance and relief along the way is good T. 🙏 💛
Thanks Val, this is it exactly, and that Acceptance is the one, it opens up the whole picture of how all of this came to be the way it is. Yep, there’s a lot to be said for Acceptance…
Its the Big one for me too.
Yep, it’s the Big one Val. I find it’s this deep intention that’s remembered when all other options are gone – you have to go into the pain, not away from it… and for a split second everything eases, extraordinary and out-of-this-world experience. It’s here you learn how to apply acceptance; the deep stabs of pain are really destabilizing but the intention to accept, to allow space for the pain is still there. So, as the intensity of it peaks, acceptance opens up and resistance falls away.
So well said T. 🙏
I agree with you Sir on your conclusions I have had nerve pain issues from a lightning strike for 34 years now, pain is something that we have to learn to live with each day and the way one sees the world around them is by human nature, different then when you are not in pain.
I’m very glad to hear from you, and apologies for late reply. I know a few other sufferers of neuropathic pain but nerve pain having its origin in a lightning strike must be very rare. I’m in a place of understanding now, having the headache pain for more than a year, to understand how the nervous system can send the wrong pain messages to the brain, but I cannot imagine how it is for yourself having suffered this kind of pain for 34 years. I have heard from others who have it for 10 years and thereabouts and they say it gets easier to cope with as the years go by, have you found this to be the case? Thanks for your comment and I hope all is well with you…
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This is another great post. I haven’t read through the comments, so it’s quite possible that I will repeat what someone else–or you–has already said. But it seems to me this entire post, including the Wilbur quote, can be represented by an observation made by Longchenpa centuries ago.
He said if you throw a stick at a dog, the dog chases the stick. If you throw a stick at a lion, the lion comes for you. OK, perhaps there are multiple competing sources for that saying. But the point is, of course, that the mind is perpetually throwing sticks. We can either chase the stick or go after the source of the stick. Your headache is a perpetual stick. And it’s exhausting, no doubt, and you (we all) will just break down and chase the damn stick most of the time, but you are referring here to the more fruitful prospect of going after the source. Unfortunately, it’s an almighty challenge when it’s a physiological self-perpetuating stick and there’s no shame in just switching the damn thing off if it can be done–because the headache is already superimposed on all the other sticks that you might be missing, or which are simply overloading your capacity.
I have not followed the saga of the headache closely. I seem to recall it’s better. We will catch up about this soon.
What you say about the throwing the stick or not, when it comes down to the whatever state where everything stops. And it’s this one I’m interested in; the physiological self-perpetuating stick is seen through and that occurs when there’s a moment of acceptance. An opening-up to the pain. I discovered it when I got cornered and there was no way out other than going forward into the pain. It’s the kind of thing you cannot repeat at will unfortunately, but just knowing it’s there is enough. Depending on throwing the stick becomes less and less…
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