SRIRAM RAGHAVENDRAN remembers a childhood incident that helped him understand how we perceive pain and suffering, and how we can unlock our potential.
As a child, one activity I relished was to play with my friends on the street. This would typically occupy the entire evening, and I would return home well after dusk. The exact activities did not matter. That we did it together mattered.
One such evening, when I was about twelve years of age, I fell down while playing with my friends. I immediately got up, brushed the dust off my clothes and continued running around. When I returned home two hours later, my mother stared at my legs and asked, “What happened?” I looked down and saw that my knee was badly scraped, blood had oozed out of the wound reaching my feet and had dried up as well.
I recall clutching my leg to cry, for I could feel the throbbing pain in my knees. The injury seemed to come alive the moment I noticed it. The day passed, and I forgot all about this incident until a few years ago, when the memory popped up out of nowhere.
When I reflected on this small, insignificant incident, several questions came up:
Why did I not experience the pain while playing, after scraping my knee?
Why should I feel the throbbing pain the moment I realized I had scraped my knee?
Can there be pain without suffering? Can there be suffering without pain?
This reflection led me to appreciate the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is what is there; suffering is what we consciously experience. On that evening, the pain must have been there from the moment I scraped my knee, but there was no suffering because I was not conscious of the pain. It is in the consciousness of the pain that we suffer.
Physical pain, hardships, relationships, conflict: there are very many things that trouble us in life. There is no getting away from the pain these things cause. We need to pay attention to the issue causing the pain. But it seems that we can pay too much attention, or too little.
Too little attention delays the resolution of the problem, extending the pain. On the contrary, the more we brood and obsess over a problem, the bigger it seems to get, blowing up the suffering. I sometimes end up making a problem so big that I find myself left with no energy to do any work. By moderating our attention and swinging into surgical action, the problem is solved quickly.
Where attention goes, energy flows! Through our attention and attitude, we can make a mountain out of a mole hill or a mole hill out of a mountain.
When someone inquired of Babuji (one of the Heartfulness guides) about his stomach ache, he replied, “Now that you have reminded me of my stomach ache, I can feel the pain!” It helps to focus on things that inspire us, elevate us, motivate us, to work on things that deliver tangible results, and moderate the level of attention given to the things that trouble us.
One of my favorite quotes is, “Always look toward the light. For when we turn away from the light, we see our own shadow.”
The key to reducing our suffering and unlocking our potential is the way we manage ourselves on the mental and emotional plane. A greater level of awareness to understand what we are going through, the agility of the mind to redirect attention, a developed will to swing us into action rather than brood, all make us productive, effective, and happy. These are some of the attributes I have developed through a regular and systematic practice of Heartfulness.