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The Nature and Uses of Pain

The world has waged an unceasing warfare with pain. It has been regarded as the monster who despoils us of our pleasure, robs us of our repose, and whose dart is ever poised to strike us down. Its unwelcome presence has embittered every cup, and rendered life—otherwise so desirable—hardly worth the living. Sages and seers have occasionally divined its significance, but their interpretations have fallen upon deaf ears. Can it be possible that the vast majority of conventional judgments which have pronounced pain as a great adversary—evil and only evil—have been incorrect?

If the almost universal consensus of opinion has been at fault, how can such a widespread misapprehension be accounted for? Is the established order of nature wrong, or is the mistake in us, and in our point of view?

We shall assume that natural law, which is only another name for divine method, has not miscarried, and that in itself it is good, and only good. It, however, seems beneficent or baneful—to us—just according to our attitude toward it. Pain appears to be an enemy because of the common occupation of false standpoints which afford but a limited and distorted view of the human economy. They are mainly included in two great groups, which may be designated as those of materialistic science on the one hand, and traditional theological dogma on the other. Though greatly differing in other respects, they both regard man as a material being; that is, on this plane of development he is primarily and practically body. Much of the prevailing materialism is held unconsciously, but that fact does not mitigate its penalties.

But many intelligent observers would plausibly affirm that, from the standpoint of body, pain comes into the arena as a formidable and unrelenting antagonist. We shall try to show, however, that even such a statement is an error, or, at least, only a half truth. The body, as the normal, outward expression of man, is a cooperative adjunct, and not at cross purposes with him.

Materia medica, venerable with age, and eminently respectable, is one of the great departments of scientific materialism. It organizes its forces for the purpose of combating and obliterating pain, upon the theory that it is an intrinsic evil. An important subdivision of its agencies produces a partial paralysis of the sensory nerves, and thus destroys, not the cause of pain, but the perception of it. The patient wishes to be relieved of penalty, or, in other words, to have the link severed which binds effect to cause. It is possible to do this—temporarily or apparently—even though such "relief" may be a positive obstacle to a real cure. But if pain truly interpreted be only symptomatic, and not an evil per se, all logic and scientific method would indicate that treatment for its healing should be directed, not to itself, or even to its immediate occasion, but to underlying and primary causation.

Dogmatic theology, having recognized two great ubiquitous principles in the world, known as good and evil, closely matched and each striving for the mastery, enthrones Pain as a Prince among hostile forces. It is reputed to be one of the results of "the Fall;" but it may be incidentally suggested that if that event were regarded as subjective, instead of objective and historic, it would have a deep element of truth. It is, however, made to appear that God sends pain without any good reason, and even when uninvited by man. How and why the Infinite Goodness should do this has always been an unsolvable problem to theology. It has been either a great "mystery," or else relegated in its origin to the action of the "Prince of Evil." Many well-meaning and conscientious souls regard it as a "visitation of Providence"—an evil, but yet in some way necessary, and to be heroically endured. They look upon it as belonging to the established human economy—in its "fallen estate."

Discomfort, therefore, instead of being an educational negative or background, is, to human consciousness, made to appear as a positive entity. With suffering uninterpreted or misinterpreted, seeming adverse forces become so overwhelming that many are driven into pessimism and atheism. The universe becomes a seeming contradiction or a riddle. Law, or the operation of the cosmic order, appears implacably hostile; and humanity is bruised and broken in the grind of its ponderous machinery. The earth is filled with sighs, groans, and tears, as the consequence of such an unequal and hopeless contest.

But pain, so deep and universal in its phenomena, must possess a meaning of vital import to mankind. To judge it superficially is an error of such proportion that it distorts—to our view—the whole human economy.

We have habitually looked upon the divine, primal energy, in its operations upon man, as coming from without instead of from within. If suffering breaks in arbitrarily from the outside, whether from the Deity or any lesser source, we may well despair. In the attempt to solve its problems, the materialist is logically forced to agnosticism, or worse; and the theologian only succeeds in extenuating its fierceness by the assumption that after the event called death an abnormal amount of happiness will be bestowed in the nature of a compensation.

Having noted some of the aspects of pain as it appears from an average sensuous standpoint, we may advance toward a truer estimate. It always indicates life. Its sharpest pangs tell of a keen sensibility, and an intense, vital working-force, which is striving to correct our mistakes and straighten our crookedness. It is a developer, refiner, and polisher. With all its scowling features, it is more friendly to us than we, through ignorance, are to ourselves. Its horrors are only the friction produced by the quick rush of divine, vital energy to do its wholesome and purifying work. It is ever hurrying on to transform our disorder into order, and friction is thereby excited.

Disease is a disturbance, incited by a supreme effort of the intrinsic man to express himself through an external and grosser medium which is yet lagging behind. A fever is a quickened and desperate struggle of the immaterial self to expel and overcome obstructions in its instrument of manifestation. When accomplished, the outward medium is clearer and purer. Is, then, the fever a good thing? Abstractly and ideally, no; provisionally, useful just at the time it appears, because it never comes unnecessarily.

Disease, of whatever name, signifies the lack of ease, rather than a thing in itself. It is the designation of a negative condition, and not of a positive or divinely created entity. It is always simply a deficiency, even though appearing with differentiated external phenomena, which have been dignified and made realistic and "scientific" by formal diagnosis and classification.

Mental and physical pangs are one and the same. The distinction is only that of the plane upon which the inner lack, or misplacement, most prominently expresses itself. It either has, or has not yet, reached out into the ultimates of the material organism.

The body, while no part of the real man, is an outward index of the quality of his consciousness. The qualitative expression, however, comes so gradually that the interrelation of the two is generally overlooked. The original source of pain is always mental. It comes from the abuse, or misplacement, of the thought forces, which in themselves are good, and the result is disorder.

We conventionally attribute our physical ills to the influence of the weather, water, air, climate, dampness, work, cold, draughts, malaria, bacteria, and contagion. Granted all these may be occasions, but the primary cause lies deeper. We hunt for a "scapegoat" outside, and if none can be conveniently found we make one. Human pride contrives to shift the responsibility; that is, from its own standpoint. But unless receptivity carelessly opens the door, external negatives do not find an entrance. Subjective incubation must precede overt manifestation.

The thinking-faculty, with its untiring imagining power, is the active agent which gives tone and color to all human expression; and, if unregulated, it invites pain, which at length puts in a corrective appearance. The invitation may be given unconsciously; but the reprover never comes unbidden, and never until its presence is reformatory. Its mission is educational, but we are averse to its teaching.

The established order in itself is harmonious, and all human infelicity comes from non-conformity. This postulate receives abundant endorsement from universal analogy and experience, when they are intelligently interpreted. The clear understanding of this grand principle, of itself tends directly to palliate the bitterness of our distresses, and measurably to overcome them. The belief that the "courses of nature" are unfriendly to man adds a crushing weight to the seeming burden of human ills. But when, through the discipline of penalty, he is turned about, and brought into conformity with law, judgment is satisfied. True, its reformatory work may be gradual, but none the less certain. Correction, even though so universally misconstrued, is only the executive force of Love. All phenomena of the divine economy, which include the human, have positive use and purpose.

We are therefore led to recognize pain in every possible guise as negatively good, though never ideally excellent or desirable. Its thorough cure comes only from an intelligent correction of its primal cause. Even though it present a drawn sword, it is really a guardian angel to turn us away from the sensuous Eden of ignorance. But for such protection we should go on burning and bruising our bodies and indulging our appetites and passions to the length of self-destruction. We are well aware that "a burnt child dreads the fire," but have failed logically to carry forward such an educational method, in its application to deeper negatives like neuralgia, rheumatism, and fever. Such corrective conditions have been regarded as calamities, coming in some unexplained way, or as "visitations of Providence" that we would obliterate in order to escape from their physical sensations.

It is true that some progress has been made, so that physical distresses are often traced to violations of hygienic law, and the "visitation" hypothesis is becoming somewhat obsolete. The observance of objective sanitation is a step in advance, but far from a final one. Its limit of progress is confined to a narrow range, so long as man fails to study himself, and gives all his attention and research to things outside. He investigates the laws of everything, except the one thing most important—his own constitution. He carries his pursuit of hygienic science so far that he almost unconsciously falls into a worse bondage than that of the former state, when he regarded Providence or chance as the source of his woes. The deeper he peers into the complexity of external "laws of health," the more hopelessly involved does he become.

But the limitations that we have set up—or, rather, that the race in general has imposed—must be gradually moved along, rather than at once pulled down. Until subjective quarantine has been intelligently erected, that which is objective cannot be entirely disregarded. So long as our own doors are open to foes from without, we will be obliged to meet them at a great disadvantage in the fields outside.

All pain is mental; but we designate that part physical which has ultimated itself into the external degree. The inner mind or life is constantly trying to remove obstructions and cast out intruders. It is a light striving to penetrate a dull, murky medium. The discomfort and inflammation which result from a sliver in the finger come not from the sliver, but from the effort to cast out the intruder. The principle is still more evident with pains of a general or interior character.

From the premises and conclusions already noted, and others which cannot be presented in a brief paper, we are led to affirm both the rationality and scientific adaptability of metaphysics for the healing of human disease, upon whatever plane manifested. However, owing to ages of self-imposed limitation, we cannot at once assert complete material emancipation, but may easily discover the road which leads toward the goal, and press on in that direction.

The host of external things which we and our ancestors have dreaded, expected, taken for granted, and bowed the knee to, cannot immediately be subdued; but as we grow in the understanding of mental and spiritual law, and its application, they may be gradually transmuted from reigning despots into docile servitors.

Physical discomforts are the sequential attendants of so-called physical transgressions; but never has one appeared that did not have its ultimate source in negative mental conditions. Erroneous thinking is always back of violated physical hygiene. The overt suffering only expresses that which has been previously installed and made subjectively at home. If the fountain be pure, such purity will gradually extend to physical ultimates, and the reverse holds equally true.

When Paul in his letter to the Philippians enumerated things that are "true," "honorable," "just," "pure," "lovely," and " of good report," as being profitable to think upon, he wrote not only as the apostle of a living faith, but as a metaphysician having a scientific understanding of the laws of the mental constitution of man. If we would render a visit of the Pain-Missionary unnecessary, we must take the helm of the thought-craft and intelligently direct its course. If we have been floating among rubbish, we must man the oars and pull for clear water. The sensitive, living consciousness must be steered away from the shoals of inharmonies, negatives, and forebodings, into the invigorating deeps of a positive spiritual optimism.

As ideals and affirmations of wholeness, purity, strength, and spirituality are held with a firm grasp, despair, disease, and a host of other related negative beliefs, are displaced; and when they depart they take all their train of possible pain-sequences with them. Whatever is internal and immaterial is always reaching out to embody itself; and this law is universal.

If the ego has been dwelling in the basement of its nature, where the furnishings are sensual, disorderly, and pessimistic, and where the atmosphere is heavy with abnormity, the pain-messenger comes with his goads to drive the consciousness higher. But it would never disturb us if we would go of our own choice. Its visit is that of an Angel of Light, even though outwardly disguised, to save us from ourselves and our self-made specters. No enemy, other than those harbored within, from any possible realm can harm us.

"A man's foes shall be they of his own household." His invited guests, in the shape of his own morbid thoughts, at length turn traitors. The character of his mental picture gallery determines the tone of his living subjective world, and sooner or later the objective universe dissolves into vibratory correspondence. To our consciousness this law is slow in its fruition—often so slow that we are unaware of its operation; but the legislation of the "Medes and Persians" was not surer.

The world tries to parry pain, but refuses to learn its merciful lesson. The sensualist would fain dismiss it, but it guards his true and deeper selfhood from his false and mistaken personality. Through a humane but misunderstood discipline he finally "comes to himself," or to a consciousness of his real Being. He clings to the Egypt of physical sensation until he is forcibly driven out from its degrading servitude.

Pain is a savior; for without its divine redemption sin would increase until it fruited in spiritual death. In so far as materia mediea drowns its voice, and paralyzes or intercepts its benignant messages, it tends to degrade man toward the animal plane of mere physical sensation. Only by overcoming and rising above the control of a sense consciousness can he attain to his true ideal,—a "living soul." The inner Christ draws upward; but the "old man" struggles, resists, and beseeches to be let alone. But the Divine Law will continue its educational and evolutionary work until material limitations are finally outgrown.

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Henry Wood

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