Marvels: Letters from an Elder, Part 8

Letter # 5, June 2nd, 1948 (continued)

‘Does pain have a purpose?’ you ask.

It is very easy to answer such questions intellectually when one sits, pain-free, able to pontificate upon suffering conceptually, at one’s leisure. In the midst of physical or emotional pain, the ability to think and any memory of leisure is absent and useless.

Some important points need to be recognised:

A great deal of pain, especially emotional or mental pain, is self-created, or at least, contributed to by the self. This does not mean that the pain is any less real or felt, only that it can be lessened more easily if the person is able to recognise how exactly he or she is contributing to it.

Some sensations are avoided by the physical body as a matter of biological hard-wiring: the body flinches and drops hot objects, for example, without requiring any thought or decision-making on our part. But there are other bodily systems which, while they work more slowly, are designed to have the same effect. Anxiety, for example, or fear, are composed of a range of physical sensations generated by the body’s nervous system in an attempt to control the individual’s behaviour: one’s heart beats faster, one begins to perspire and tremble, one feels an urge to flee, none of which are rationally controlled. As the system prompts us to drop a hot iron bar, so is the system guiding us into protective action, but less automatically, less reactively, more slowly.

Some physical pains are like this too: muscular development depends upon damaging a muscle under the controlled conditions of exercise. It is the body’s repair of the muscle which has been thus damaged which creates more muscle. Other physical pains train our bodies to move certain ways and not others, acting as built-in warning signs about the limits or advisabilities of particular actions or inactions. Heart attacks and strokes tell us of underlying conditions, albeit drastically and with potentially fatal consequences.

The point is that pain indicates limits. That