The Vitality of Pain?
There are three (four depending on who you ask) vital signs:
Respiration rate (rate of breathing)
Blood pressure (Blood pressure is not considered a vital sign, but is often measured along with the vital signs.)
These are the basic signs we are alive and still living. When things get close to the margin, these are the indicia of living.
It occurred to me the other day that perhaps there is a fifth vital sign...pain.
When I think about a person lying prone in the street, mangled from life’s latest catastrophe, whomever comes upon them to help is going to check to see if they are cold or warm, if they have a pulse and at what rate, if they are breathing and how shallow, maybe if you are a paramedic, you will take their blood pressure, as most normal people don’t carry blood pressure cuffs around with us. But you would also be able to see if they are in pain, if they are, they are still with us.
Now I am not advocating that we hurt people to ensure that they are still living. That would be sadistic. But what did occur to me is that perhaps pain is this other sign of life.
Think about it:
We have to maintain a certain temperature to stay alive. Too cold or too hot, we are outta here.
Our blood has to pump in our veins. Again too much or too little and we are done for.
We have to breathe, in and out, all day, every day. If we breathe too much or too little, the seemingly flimsy reed of life shatters.
Blood pressure - same deal. Too much or too little, we are goners.
Isn’t pain just like the four above?
If we are feeling pain, we are at least conscious. No one really knows how much pain we feel when unconscious or perhaps even if we do. So much of what happens to us when our minds are out of commission remains a mystery. It does appear that when the mind disengages, then the pain subsides. Isn’t that interesting?
When my mind is removed from living my life, the pain subsides! This is information I could have used a long, long time ago!
Wait, I think I knew this a long, long time ago. This is why I drank. To relieve the pain of living. That was my soul-ution. Drink to escape the pain, this fifth vital sign of life.
Pain is a part of living, whether I like it or not. Physical, Emotional, and perhaps Sexual and Spiritual pain is part and parcel to every single life. At least for humans. I am sure that animals experiencing pain. I have seen it. And I believe that they likely experience spiritual pain also. I believe they have souls anyway...but perhaps that is a blog for another day.
Back to pain...
I have always had this fucked up relationship to pain. I wanted to avoid it at all costs...like somehow my life, lived in just such a way, could avoid it. But what really happened, was that the more I attempted to avoid or escape it, the more I seemed to produce and find. It became a way of life: seeking to avoid pain and find pleasure. And as you all are aware, this landed me in a bad place on every level. My physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual health were all in peril because of my seeking to eradicate pain from my experience.
Pain is part of life. I have written about it before. But this idea that our experience of pain is actually a sign that we are alive and living, kind of turned things on its head for me...
Perhaps when we are in pain (any kind really) instead of writing this whole big script about how this isn’t how it should be, we could do something else instead? Perhaps when we find ourselves in pain, we could take it as a sign that we are alive. Perhaps next, we could use it to assess whether it is just the normal pain of living...or if it is the kind of pain that has risen to life threatening.
I don’t know about you, but I have never really thought my own personal pain was a vital sign. Evidence that I am here, living this life and because of just that simple fact, I have a chance...I have a chance to be happy, to be scared, to be productive, to earn money, to love and be loved, to be a friend, to be a parent. I mean when you really break it all down, isn't it all about being here for life’s amazing ride, right?
First thing to living is to not die.
I have had an interesting relationship with pain...trying everything I can to avoid it, only to usually, create situations that created a fuckton more of it. Perhaps, now, instead, I can just view pain as a vital sign. If I am in pain, perhaps the better thing to do is to assess how much of it I have and what kind. And before I even do that, perhaps I can just see that pain is evidence on a most basic level that I am alive. I am here. Living. And perhaps sometimes, the sheer acknowledgement that I feel pain can be something I can use to bring me back to the present moment which is the only moment I know of that really contains life. I cannot stay sober on yesterday’s sobriety. I cannot live today’s life on yesterday’s living. I cannot stay sober tomorrow if I do not do the basic things that I do today. I cannot live tomorrow if I have not done the basic tenants of living today.
This whole thing of pain as a vital sign, normalizes pain and living for me. I get so existential so quickly. Being a deep and over thinker, this is just how I roll. I need things like vital signs to show me that life is really way more basic than I give it credit for...and when I step away or forget that life is so fundamentally basic, I get swept away in so very many things that are really unimportant. And this leads me away from the fundamental purpose of life: to love and be loved. To share the intimacy of the present moment with myself, some power greater than me and you. All of the many yous that come and go in my life.
And like all good yard sticks, it seems fairly imperative for me to first take notice of my vital signs. I am warm, I have a pulse, I am breathing, my blood is moving through my veins and I feel pain. Perhaps these vital signs could also be used as a spiritual day starter?
Am I warm enough to still be alive? Good.
Do I have a pulse that supports living? Uh huh, great!
Am I breathing in and out? Yep. Check!
Am I in pain? Um, yes well maybe just a little, or a fucking lot. Well all-righty then, welcome to your life.
I want life to be about the instagram followers, the ultimate daily dose of a popularity contest that allows us all to believe that this is what matters in life. How much other people allow us to be valued. I think that my life feels a great deal better to me when I am much more grounded and basic than that...I see. I hear. I smell. I notice. I feel. That is where I really feel alive.
And all of the vital signs show me just that, I am alive. And because of that, pain is going to be there. Sometimes in small doses that barely garner my attention, and sometimes in epic proportions that seem I won’t survive. Regardless of how much I have, pain is always an indicator that I am still here, living, so I have a chance...
And my life goes really quite well when I start my day thinking of all the possibilities this new day brings: people and animals to love and care for, acts of kindness to perform, duties to attend to, and if I am really lucky, a fundamental gratitude that I am here, breathing in and out, living. And just by that fact alone, I have a chance to live this most amazing and wonderful life. Pain teaches me a lot of things. Often shit that I really didn’t want to know, but today, I think pain can be viewed as just another vital sign that I am human and here and living. And maybe, just maybe, today pain need be nothing more or less.