Putting Pain into Perspective

by Karuna Poole, ARNP, MN

As a psychotherapist and as a consciously evolving human being, I have a strong interest in examining the emotional pain in my own and others' lives. This year, during my annual visit to the ashram of my spiritual teacher, Mata Amritanandamayi, also known as Amma, I had an experience that helped me put my own pain in perspective.

This year's trip was different from my previous trips in that most of my two month visit was spent traveling with Amma as she conducted programs throughout India. (Amma's public programs include lectures, devotional singing, and darshan, which means to be in the company of a great soul. Amma's style of darshan is to hug each individual who comes to her.) My time in India was to end with a program in Puna, a city southeast of Bombay.

Four days before I was to leave India, I found myself filled with grief. While I was excited to be returning to Caesar salads, Western toilets, hot showers, and American efficiency, I felt enormous grief about leaving my teacher, the devotional singing and the bliss of the divine energy that I access so easily when in Amma's presence. I noticed that my sadness was mixed with a measure of rage which I knew was rooted in my childhood. I sat close to Amma and allowed the sadness and rage to wash away and the peace and stillness to come.

Two days later, during an evening program, I was watching Amma give darshan to the large crowd who had assembled. While I was watching, a man came to her carrying a large teenage boy who had no use of his arms or legs. His legs appeared to be no larger than the diameter of a fifty-cent coin. I thought he might also suffer from cerebral palsy. Moments later, another man carried in a boy who was in a similar condition. Then another pair presented themselves to Amma, and then another, and another.

Soon it became obvious that a bus load of severely handicapped teenagers had been brought to receive Amma's touch. As the children kept coming, my body flooded with grief. Other images then started coming into my mind's eye, images of the pain and suffering I had witnessed during the last few weeks.

  • Miles and miles of shanty-town shacks built mostly of corrugated tin; tin in a country where the temperatures may be 90 degrees in the winter and 120 degrees in the summer. I had seen people preparing food in the huts over open fires. I had imagined the nightmare those huts would be at night when the rats roamed.

  • In the middle of busy railroad yards, wherever there was 20 feet between the crisscrossed tracks, families had erected tents. Children were growing up on the tracks. The tracks served as their playgrounds and their toilets.

  • A tall blind man had stepped into the railroad car in which I was traveling. The pupils of his eyes were shiny, bright silver. He was carrying a six-month-old baby. Once he had come to the center of the car, he started singing. People came forward and put money in his hand. When everyone had donated, he stepped down and found his way to the next car.

  • A woman, legs totally useless and crossed stiffly in front of her, inched her way down the sidewalk on her buttocks, moving so slowly that you couldn't even tell she was moving unless you watched her intently.

Each of these scenes had moved me to tears. As the memories flickered through my mind's eye, I imagined what it would be like to be trapped inside a body that I had no ability to operate; a body that even robbed me of my ability to communicate. I also imagined what it would be like to be born into extreme poverty, where I had little or no way to improve my situation. As I compared what I believed I would feel in those circumstances to the pain I was now feeling about leaving India, I was able to put my own pain into perspective.

I saw that the pain I was experiencing was temporary. Even though I hurt, I knew the grief would pass. Amma would be coming to the U.S. in a few months. In addition, I knew how to connect with the divine energy whether I was in India or in Seattle, I just needed to be willing to make the effort.

I remembered that a portion of my pain was energy I was still holding onto from my childhood. As I continued to access and release this old rage, I would experience more and more peace and freedom from pain.

Next, I reminded myself that I had consciously chosen to put myself into a situation that would cause me pain. I know it is difficult for me to leave India. Going to India is a choice I make freely and willingly knowing that pain will be one of the many feelings I will experience on the journey.

I wondered briefly if I should feel ashamed of myself for feeling grief about my situation. Almost immediately I let that go, realizing that self-criticism was not the purpose of the lesson I was receiving. My grief and pain were real. My job was not to deny the pain or to judge it but rather to be active in releasing it.

As I pondered this newest thought, yet another came. I noted that as I progress in my own healing, I experience my heart opening more and more to those around me. It is as if my eyes are opening and I can more clearly see the needs of others from a place of deep compassion as opposed to guilt-ridden caretaking. I then thought of the others in my life who are equally committed to their personal growth. I recognized they are undergoing a similar progression.

As these insights flooded into my mind, I experienced a renewal of my commitment to continue this process. In my mind's eye I could see the ripple effect that will occur as each one of us, completing our own healing, creating a world where there is enough food, shelter and love for everyone. A world where no one is left alone in their pain.

We cannot eliminate pain from the earth; that is part of the human experience. We can, however, significantly change the way we relate to pain. I hope that my experience will give you insights which will help you put your pain into perspective.

Originally published by The New Times, May 1995.