Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Can Of Pain

Can of Pain Can Be Bought At The Pharmasave Price
Don't you love it?  A can of pain!  A large can of pain at that...  Tea and sugar and coffee come in small cans, but pain, it's always the giant sized one.  Why is that?  This photo opp was too good to pass by, honestly.  And you know how I love a cheap joke.  Loaf of pain, anyone?  White, whole wheat, gluten free perhaps?  How do you like your pain?  With butter, goat cheese? It has such a lovely rich feel then.   Sometimes we just slather it on.  Or perhaps sweetened with a little jam.   There are some of us who like our pain dry and crusty.  Is that our Puritan heritage peeking out?  We like to choke on it a little as it goes down.  But I digress foolishly.  What other way is there to digress, really?

I have had a number of occasions lately to ponder suffering, which in some sense is different from pain.  Pain is inevitable in this human life, suffering is optional, right?  Suffering, it's what we add on to the pain.  Do we all agree on that?  Twisted ankle = pain.  Ain't it awful = suffering.

And so it was suffering I pondered the other day as I brushed on my favourite chartreuse paint, rubbing it deep into the textured crannies of the canvas.  I was worrying about something, the usual.  We have our go-to's of suffering, don't you think?

Over and over this little nub, I went in my mind, rubbing and scratching at it.  I was so tired of myself and my way of chewing on this little bristle of fear by mid morning, that I knew I needed to do something different before my head exploded.  I was tired of being both victim and perpetrator.  A Dharma teacher had told me to comfort my fear, to befriend to it like I might a small child.  I was having a hard time doing this.  This child and I were just not feeling the love.

I thought, "so if I can't be friends with this furry little beast, maybe I could just spend a little time with it, quality time.  I had observed that what I do with my fear on a regular basis, is that I push it away.  I want to fix it, I want to banish it from the planet.  I want it to eat my dust.  Then everything will be okay, right?

But there it is running behind me.  Always this is the scene, me running, fear in hot pursuit.  We are both so friggin tired, I thought.  I've had enough.  Fear, how about you?  I have worn out so many pairs of fear drenched sneakers, it's ridiculous.  So I just stayed still.  Fear got up close and personal.  It had fangs and whiskers.  It was smelly.  And there I was feeling it's qualities, noticing it's ripples and roughness, it's warts and bad breath.  And I didn't self destruct.  I felt squirmy at first.  And then the longer I stayed, the quieter I got.  I got to feel my own strength for the staying.  It felt strangely good, like muscles waking up, flexing, seeing it was possible to just be still with fear.  Ha, fear I can be with your bad breath.  And then after a bit, it moved on without me.  No sneakers required.

Another visitation of "pain" came one day in the weekly qi gong class I take.  I realized at one point what a "struggler" I am, how this is a mode I go into when I am learning something new, doing something unknown.  Assumption number one of the struggler is: "this is going to be hard".  This thought is followed by physical tensing and tightening and the holding of breath.  "Remember to breathe" our qi gong teacher reminds us regularly.  (Apparently I am not the only struggler in the building.)  So first there is the thought,  followed by a body state that supports a depletion of energy and potential failure.  And off goes the little line of dominoes....  A way of being that makes new things seem daunting and unwelcome, a way of being that encourages a retreat, a shrinking from life.  Could this be anything but painful?  Could this be suffering come to life?

And that lovely little book "The Buddha's Brain" reminds us that the neuroplasticity of the brain allows us to change our response when we become aware of it's unhelpful nature.  We can choose to do things differently.  Sometimes we need to look those little demons in the eye a whole bunch of times before it occurs to us that we have a choice.  Sometimes we need to get so tired of ourselves that we are motivated to  get out there on the neural pathways with a big shovel and do a little path realignment .

So I ask you, how big is your can of pain?  And how do you usually serve it up?  And have you found any ways to take the lid off this can?  A bientot, mon ami.


  1. My pain is a baguette or a ficelle or pain de campagne. Hahaha!
    I've tried to befriend my pain/fear/whatever it is. It doesn't work because it's so, well, unfriendly. But I do believe in DSD (Do Something Different).
    Thank you for an excellent post.

  2. Ah, you make your pain sound so tasty! ha. It definitely feels unfriendly! Best I could do was hang out with it. And yes, love the acronym DSD, better than LSD:)

  3. This is a great post yet again Carole! I have discovered that my pain is actually worse when I eat flour! I'm now going through withdrawl and that is a big pain in the brain but not so much in the gut.

  4. Wonderful post! So many good morsels to chew on, and sit with here! I can feel my brain waking up again. Love your humor - and that picture is priceless! And congratulations on just sitting with your fear! I think that's how the lid comes off :)

    My number one assumption is that "this is going to be stressful." And then of course it usually is...

    Thank you for bringing the patterns of suffering to light! What you write here helps bring awareness to this bear of a big mind that causes so much "pain." I bought (into) a big can too... :)

  5. Thanks, Carole. Well good for you to find out one of the pain culprits. Is it gluten intolerance? There are tons of good gluten free products out there. I went this root at one point. But it is hard to change diets, I know this. We find out the comfort factor in what we eat (and drink)!

  6. Mystic- Love that " I bought a big can too"! Our minds get up to so much, banging around inside that family sized can (in fact, family is usual in there with us)!

  7. Can of pain... that is hilarious! It puts me in mind of all the Catholic guilt I carried around in my teens/early 20's before I left that faith. So that was my can once-upon-a-time. When I began the study of Buddhism, I soon felt very relieved and guilt-less... LOL... These days my pain takes up a much smaller can. ;o)

  8. That's funny Tracy. Yay for the tiny tin of pain!

  9. Pain and suffering...pain and suffering. Once again, we are traveling down a similar road. I was just thinking about both these words this week and laughing at the "drama queen in my brain" who is constantly suffering. She is such a dork sometimes. Now to ponder the flavor of my pain....hmmmm?

  10. ah, yes the drama queen who lives inside us all, each of us sporting a weirdly different tiara! hmm flavour, now based on your paintings it's gotta be cherry or lime?? :)

  11. Over the many years I've learned that...

    when in pain...
    I tend to p a i n t.

    p a i n t
    makes the pain show it's face...then it dissolves without a trace.

  12. As this is Thanksgiving week, I wanted to stop by and say I am thankful for you work here on your blog. It helps me to remember things as they really are and that frees my mind to explore the potential of things instead of gazing at my navel. My pain? It's in a 50 gallon drum. Way too big to bring into the has me trained to go out into the cold and wet and visit with it. Time to change things quite a bit!

  13. Amit - glad for the chuckle you got !!

    Donna - what a wonderful adaptive response to pain.

    Holly - thank-you for your kind words. Hah, the 50 gallon drum! I hear you wanting to downsize that:) Happy Thanksgiving. We Canucks did that a while back but I am really conscious of American Thanksgiving this year as my daughter is traveling in the California. Have a good one!

  14. What a wonderful play on a word.. word play..
    and then you always weave in your Buddhist wisdom.

  15. thanks, Donna, just couldn't resist it when I saw that can sitting in the window of a local drugstore!

  16. Wow! Carole, another wonderful post. So beautifully written and oozing with deep practice.

    Thank you.

    Walking, yesterday, I could feel the self-induced unpleasantness amidst each step. A big bag of it, with so much stuff stored inside. It was not the time to explore, I had to watch where I was going. Only noticing what clearly did not belong in this moment. A general malaise, the effect of layers and layers of unskillful thoughts added over time. And I thought, this is what being human is. And what practice is about. Dismantling all the extra-suffering from our habitual brain.

  17. "the effect of layers and layers of unskillful thoughts added over time", love this line, Marguerite. It does describe our human lives so accurately and why we practice,

  18. so carole, i've been thinking off and on about this post since the day you posted it. one day i think my response is one thing, and the next, another!

    rereading what you've written (and none of the comments because i often feel like everything's already been said after i do!), i think it comes down to the choice thing. we seem to be so awfully fond of the drama that we push that button repeatedly. lately i keep thinking how all it takes is *not* pushing it. just allowing whatever to be.

    i also keep thinking/feeling that the veil between this 'reality' and the great Isness is so very, very thin. we make it heavy and dense with our thoughts...

    always bowing,


  19. "we are awfully fond of the drama" yes, yes, Lynne, I think somehow it makes us feel alive and important combined with the habit factor. And I love that: "how thin the veil is", there is such a delicious mystical feeling in describing it that way. Reminds of "The Mists of Avalon" which we all devoured so long ago! And yes we are so heavy handed (headed??) bowing in your direction.

  20. This photo is classic!
    I think I'd want a canister with a changeable sign. And then I could fill it with what I needed to or wanted to and the physical act would be my awakening.

    Cool note on the "neuroplasticity of the brain." I want to look into this some more.

    Sending you a warm hello.