19 June 2007

Some notes about pain

Copy of a letter

Since I was talking to you about your latest experience at the dentist I thought I should write it down so there is a record of it. I have said it a lot before but not written about it much.

You have to aim through the experience as a reaction against finiteness, so that in effect you are putting your drive into making it happen rather than trying to minimise your awareness of it. Any recoil, trying to get away from it, is actually your worst enemy as the conflict caused by that is what makes a sensation painful, in the sense of hurting.

Doing it is actually, I think, centralising and I think this is why a technique so potentially useful remains unknown. Centralisation provides a point of psychological ricochet; if you perceive that finiteness is intolerable, you get the drive of the animal that turns at bay and fights for its life against hopeless odds. This is an exceedingly strong drive; by the time I did the thing with the teeth, I called it the drive to infinity because clearly no conceivable goal could satisfy it. I did not yet have any idea that there might be an inconceivable goal at which it might arrive.

Anyway, what preceded my getting the thing about pain right was that I had been having a long series of dental appointments doing fillings, the result of my having had so bad a time at Somerville that quarrelling and arguing with my parents, and them shouting me down and asserting the social line, had prevented my mother paying any attention to making appointments for me, and she tended to give me very bad sweets which she liked herself (she had had false teeth for a long time herself).

I had a fairly highly evolved sort of centralisation and I experimented with ways of viewing the pain as abstract sensation, which worked moderately well but clearly had a breakdown point so that I knew I would not be able to apply them to the impending extractions.

I had a solution to most things by then and I found it quite intolerable that my consciousness could be invaded by things to which I could not be reconciled. So I set about trying to make my subconscious forthcome, which led to the despair of finiteness, as I call it, which was really breaking through the final resistance to getting a higher level. But I was not on a higher level yet, and I thought I had failed in getting a solution to pain.

There was a final session of fillings before the extractions and I was using my fairly adequate methods when the dentist suddenly stuck his drill on a nerve. Quite likely he had left the worst filling to last. This presented itself as absolutely intolerable, my system broke down completely, this was just impossible. But quite unpremeditatedly I reacted with a spurt of absolute anger at this intolerable sensation, a sort of, ‘Go on, damn you’, and the sensation became quite neutral.

I realised at once that I had got the solution to pain after all, and that the impending extractions would be a great opportunity to try it out.

Probably the despair of finiteness had provided me with a more absolute sort of centralisation which made the ricochet from intolerable sensation to a head-on drive against it possible.

Even if you are not centralised enough for that to happen, anger is a much better attitude to cultivate than fear or emotional recoil from the situation. Anger and drive are on your side, timidity and apprehension are not, although apprehension may precede anger.

As you know, the extractions worked perfectly and there was no sense of a breakdown point in the system. It seemed as if the pain automatically set up an adequately strong feedback reaction to neutralise it.

One should not lose sight of the fact that although this all seems, and was, very dramatic, the sort of centralisation that made it possible did not arise until I had, in the operative sense, rejected society or other people as a source of significance (which I had done when I was 19, about eighteen months earlier). This, as should always be emphasised, has nothing to do with giving up on having a drive to get out of society all that it should provide in the way of status and opportunity (Professorship, hotel environment, research departments to run, recognition and saleability for one’s books). However difficult society makes it to get any of these things out of it.