Pain is the most direct form of communication that you will experience in your life. If you put your hand into a fire, the pain will bypass the thinking part of the mind. The pain and the hand will act together without bothering to consult any higher authority, they do not ask the ego whether it wants to carry on, they simply react and pull your hand away from danger. Your body is constantly reacting to information directly without you being aware of it. When we feel pain, it provides with our clearest example of this, though it is just the tip of iceberg, it is the proof that information can exist independently of a thinking consciousness, but it also rises the possibility that we can change our relationship with pain.
Stimulus are provoking unconscious response all the time and they do so in an entirely independent loop separate from any sense of you, whether that is breathing, digestion or blood circulation. Whilst it would be the most reckless kind of experiment and it is one which I would not advise you to seek out, when life next gives you a chance to witness this ordinary and simultaneously extraordinary event, do so with full awareness and from the point of view of an independent observer and you will witness something that is amazing, that pain exists both as a physical sensation and a thought at the same time, and that it is possible to change your thoughts about pain, even just by observing it.
That is the thing with human experience, it can be so normal to us if we were able to recognise it from an objective point of view, if we were witnessing it as something novel in another species, we would be blown away by how strange it is. We can marvel at how sensitive a dog's nose is in being able to smell cancer or drugs, how dolphins see with radar and fish can change the colour of their skin, if only we could bring the same sense of wonder to ourselves, we could be truly grateful for what we have, and extraordinary ability to communicate with language, to believe stories and think not just of ourselves that our larger communities.
And pain is one of those marvels, is not just that it is able to make the body react automatically, it is that it can communicate that pain to the thinking part. It seems so normal to us as that is what is happening and always has, though if it was not, it would be truly amazing that it is able to tell you about your pain. It gives the thinking mind the opportunity to solve and remove the source of pain rather than just its immediate effects. In the parable of the lion and the thorn, it is the thinking mind of the human that is able to see that the thorn in the foot of the lion is what is causing the pain and then the human part is able to act to stop the pain.
That is the everyday miracle of pain, it gears us up to be able to fight the pain, it gives us notice that we need to go pain solving mode. We all know the feeling that this is the last chance to go to the chemist to stock up on flu medicine and sweet high-energy foods, it gives us time to change our plans, cancel appointments and turn the heating up. We are able to warn other members of our tribe to avoid us for their own good, we protect the children and sometimes the adults from the children (especially if they have never had German measles which I mention out of total self-interest, I react in the same way you would react to a zombie plague).
Not that pain feels like a miracle whilst you are enduring it, a week of flu can be one of the most relentlessly boring experiences of your life which has moments that stretches your comprehension of time to absurd extremes. It can feel like time stops completely and others where the week seems to have just disappeared, and then there is the pain itself, a relentlessly nag that never ceases in its moaning and attention grabbing, it sits in the middle of your mind repeating its message and crowds out any other thought, the ability of the mind to have creative thoughts seems to disappear and any joy that you would normally get from company, reading or binge viewing, is muted and limited to mere moments where you are not thinking about the pain.
However there are also opportunities within that pain, as unappetising as this may seem to some people, meditation can help not just with giving you a few seconds of relief from thinking about the pain continuously, and the value of those few seconds should not be underestimated, the briefest of respites can be as refreshing as a good nights sleep in such circumstances. More than that it offer the chance to recognise that pain has two components, the physical sensations and the thought that you are having about the pain (the ouch part of it) which can be changed from the personal to the objective observation of the pain. Quite counter-intuitively pain can be one the most instructive teachers of meditation, normally when you meditate it can feel like you are fighting the whole of your thinking mind, which is a tricky little bugger, it has so many layers and sneaks in from so many corners, meditation can feel like you are just turning up the volume on the radio (though that in itself is progress).
The downside of pain, is that you can not think of anything else, which is also the upside for improving your experience of meditation, because it is such a physical experience that wholly resides within your body, it is able to provide a bridge, an anchor tying you to the physical experience of being in your body, of being fully aware of your body which in turn is leads to being in a state of full awareness. Pain gives you a strong object upon which to meditate, in the same way that focusing on breathing through the nose, expanding and contracting the diaphragm gives us a subject to concentrate our attention in a relaxed way that we call awareness. Whilst you only have the unspoken mantra of returning to your breath to guide you back to the subject when your mind is thinking freely during normal meditation, when you are meditating on pain it is just there continuously for you, it is difficult to think even when you want to such conditions.
It is also one the best tests for whether you are involved with the subject or witnessing it, when you are suffering from pain, you are constantly reacting to it, you are caught up in the expectations that arise, you fear they will never end, never go away despite your past experiences that flu always does pass or a sprained ankle heal, you get caught up in the drama, you are the one suffering, and when you are involved in the story, it is impossible not to believe that you are the story. When that changes, when you have moments where you are just witnessing the pain without the story, and that is the only promise of meditation, it will not stop the pain, but it will stop the story that you are the one in pain, you will get to witness the pain like you witness your hand being pulled away from the fire. It will be happening, there will be pain, it just will not be your pain.
And if you have never experienced meditation everything I just said will sound like nonsense, that is because I am describing experience, and there is no substitution for experience, you can not describe the experience of seeing blue, no matter how many words were invented, is just impossible to describe an experience that everyone of us shares, and that is why it makes sense to us when we say things like it feels cold or dreamy, the words only makes sense retrospectively and unfortunately meditation is not something that we can just point at and say there it is. It is entirely an internal experience, and one which has to be worked for, but it is also one of the most rewarding because it ends up changing every moment of your life, and if you can use pain as a point of access to such an experience. Whilst no one wants pain, at least take advantages of the situation if it happens to you, especially if the only other option is to suffer, as the only thing worse than suffering for a purpose is suffering for no meaning.