Pain is not something you feel in your body.
Pain is not the tearing of a muscle, the sharp piercing of a nail or burning of fingers. Nor is pleasure felt in your body. Pleasure is not the taste of salsa, the aroma of coffee, the sight of a rainbow or breathtaking caress. Each excruciating pain and each exquisite pleasure is constructed by your brain. It is, admittedly, anticlimactic to learn that each is the summation and interpretation of data collected by information retrieval systems throughout the body.
Data-collectors constantly monitor pressure, stretch, heat and cold, position, chemical stability, structural integrity, shades of light, the nuance of vibration – all these things. And the brain aggregates the data and determines its significance. Most of it, being more of the same, is filtered off into nothingness – unimportant, ignored like the columns on a screen in The Matrix. But when something changes, the brain notices. And interprets. And labels with an implied meaning – pain to cause you to withdraw your hand from the fire, or pleasure, so you continue to drink and slake your thirst.
Most of it, being more of the same, is filtered off into nothingness – unimportant, ignored like the columns on a screen in The Matrix. But when something changes, the brain notices. And interprets. And labels with an implied meaning – pain to cause you to withdraw your hand from the fire, or pleasure, so you continue to drink and slake your thirst.
And so we have crossed a line – from the physical world to the non-physical. From simple flesh to the integrated soul. The line is meaning.
The light, mobile pressure of a loving caress – interpreted as pleasure, then made the subject of poems, songs and sweet smiling ruminations. Without love, a violation, yielding torment.
Is it fair to say this? That it is the challenge of established meanings by incoming data that is noticed, assigned significance and perhaps experienced as soul-pain or soul-pleasure.
Take the Anglican prayer book. Chanted to oblivion, its exquisite beauty is worn away by constant dripping; sweet soul-food tasted no longer for overeating. Those same words are life, beauty and sweet nourishment, though, to the newly initiated. Data, filtered for change, assigned significance, and given meaning.
A promise was held dear, everything staked upon it. New data says it’s been broken. The brain notices the discrepancy – it cannot be, there was a covenant, a word given, souls exposed. It could not be – that would be a betrayal. Labels flail about. Meanings claw at throats and gasp for air. Data filtered and interpreted, excruciating pain alerts to the clash. Disbelief, excuses, anger might prolong the pain. But what does it mean?
Unlike the involuntary pain you get from a double-gee in your foot, soul-pain and soul-pleasure can be tempered by meaning. And amazingly, we can deliberately filter the data, decide it’s significance and assign it meaning.
Hardship can come like a great weight. While we may want to catastrophise it, go to war against it, self-flagellate, blame, rant, sulk or minimise it, the scriptures give us another alternative as followers of Jesus. Assign it a new meaning so that you can lift it and move forward toward bold joy:
My heavenly father is so committed to me as his much-loved child that he is deeply and purposefully at work through my pain. He is training and shaping, strengthening and broadening my soul. He is forming in me his own uniquely good character. Granted, it’s not comfortable – but then training usually isn’t. Even so, because of my Father’s love, I anticipate deep goodness and the joy of fruitfulness on the other side of hardship – that helps me take that teaspoon of concrete, and lift again. (A pretty loose paraphrase of Hebrews 12)