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Inner approach to health

Expanding through pain

James Anderson


This article, based largely on personal experience, looks at the problem and nature of pain, suggesting some ways of expanding in consciousness beyond it. Pain is a schooling and the process of expansion accompanies us over its entire course until it reaches its ultimate stage of transformation.

The problem of pain

No one escapes pain: it is an intrinsic part of living. However, as one grows in consciousness, one is usually faced with the task of bearing more and more of it.There is a hierarchy of consciousness and the higher one climbs, the greater the load one is usually asked to carry. It may well be possible to soar above the gravitational pull of pain but in the context of Integral Health, the issue has to be squarely addressed. Although pain should never be invited, if it comes, one has to go through it.

Pain, when viewed with the right attitude, gives us important lessons in life. These are markers and stepping-stones in our growth. Each of us can muse on the lessons that pain gives us. For me, it seems always to herald an urgent reminder to shift back into the body. Whatever the lesson, we find our capacity enlarging as we pass through. Each time a pain is surmounted and conquered, we reach a new milestone in our individual progress. So whenever we are called upon to process pain we have the opportunity to expand beyond it. We can become larger than the pain that we carry. It is the only way if one wants to derive any benefit from the experience. We can only grow if we find a way of dealing with pain. We lapse into victimhood if we allow it to engulf us. Often however, one might find the onslaught too great for our capacity to absorb. In such circumstances, medical intervention will become imperative. One has to be realistic about accepting it. It need not be a defeat. The interlude may offer a valuable breathing space; it may help us to assimilate and re-gather our strength for the journey ahead.

Pain is like an alarm bell; it signals something that needs to be addressed. Erosion will only set in if it becomes too chronic. We do need to trust our bodies: the body is our anchor in life; it is also our docile servant. I find that pain, when it becomes more persistent, can easily erode this natural trust. Each of us relies on our body but this intrusion threatens the very connection itself. The mind may even come to regard the body as its chief tormentor and everything will then go awry. The different sides of our nature will start sparring and colliding; all inner harmony will then be lost. A schism will set in, bringing ill-health and misery in its wake.

Nature of pain

I find that pain proliferates in closed spaces. This applies as much to psychological pain as bodily pain. When facing it, the being shrinks. On a physical level the nerves shrink; indeed every part of our frame shrinks. If it persists long enough, one invariably loses weight.Everything becomes as tight as a drum. The nerves need to unclench and expand. The whole being needs to relax.

The prospect arises when our nature gets too congested inside. When its different parts get entangled it provides a seed for pain to sprout and eventually come forward. If its circuitry becomes overloaded with inrushes from outside, pain ensues. The same thing can bring pleasure or pain. Indeed both these two features are also the ‘same thing’: they are only deformations and conceal the true foundation of Ānanda, the essential backdrop of all existence (1). So the fate just lies in the manner of our reception:

“It is the incompleteness and weakness of the Consciousness-Force manifested in the mental, vital and physical being, its inability to receive or refuse at will, or, receiving, to assimilate or harmonise the contacts of the universal Energy cast upon it, that is the cause of pain and suffering (2).”

If there is already a physical flaw, it will only augment this inherent weakness and the onset of pain will multiply. Pain is always a reminder that our inner and outer work is not yet finished. Outside intrusions will always knock on our doors but, as long as the surface nature presides, this improper reception to them will persist and lead to pain. This is why the discovery of something still more subliminal than these parts, namely our soul, provides the key that unlocks all the doors, not least to pain. If one lives in the consciousness of the soul, pain becomes the sweetest ecstasy. The soul has the ability to master and expand our entire being to limitless dimensions.There can be no greater panacea to pain. We should be realistic though. This realisation may take many years to arrive. However, in the meantime, we have always the opportunity to expand.

Finding our soul is one matter and the search may prove elusive at times, but we can at least attend to our nature. Actually I feel that the two processes come hand in hand. The process of finding our soul will slowly but surely unfold if our sincerity is strong. The work is a little like keeping our garden in order. As the beds and flowers become more neatly arranged, it encourages the sun to shine forth over the entire space. But we can only put things in order if we expand first. By expanding, we build a wonderful immunity to pain. By becoming vast, there is nowhere for it to lurk and hide. In addition, by expanding, we can take a pro-active role in our healing. We become more conscious of the role that each part of our nature has to take in this wonderful play.These different facets become easier to distinguish and enhance our knowledge. Our inner condition becomes more transparent. Things become more harmonised inside and the circuitry becomes more coherent and fluid.

I believe that the faintest connection with our inner Truth can initiate this process. If the connection is properly nurtured, our consciousness will inevitably expand. I believe too that we can learn to expand in an integral way, in a way that includes every facet of the being. Such a process contributes to a greater wholeness and health. However, initially at least, I found it easier to cling to a lever to accelerate this process. I connect with the leading part of my nature, the ‘divine possibility’ (3) to bring about the transition. I find the shift to be largely spontaneous. As soon as the heart starts to sing, a new sense of well-being and freedom gradually begins to descend over the entire being. I find the connection can never be coerced by the artificiality of the mind. From my experience, nothing has the capacity to expand the being more than love.

Dealing with pain

Much is said about ‘management’and coping with pain, but dare we dream of annihilating it altogether? I find that coping and managing tend to deaden the very experience we need to go through. Everything has to be felt and experienced, including the pain. It is by going inside the pain and yet by ‘stepping back’ from it that the richness of life’s wholeness can be more tangibly embraced. By stepping back, one assumes a ‘witness’ poise and can more easily look upon pain as something which has come from outside and something which does not truly belong to us (4).

Nevertheless, as I claimed earlier, pain does have important lessons to impart. It increases our capacity to endure. As Sri Aurobindo writes, it is a ‘schooling’1. In the end, we have to understand that by bottling away the bad experiences one is depriving oneself of the totality of experience. There are no shortcuts around pain, one has to go through it. Once one has begun this path, if one runs away from it, the affliction will only become more acute.

Steps to expansion

Seeing the reality of pain always makes a good start. It gives the mind an understanding, which will ease away many of its surface anxieties. These kinds of tensions often plague the surface part of the mind. We find that we are able to bear so much more if fear and anxiety are eradicated. Those factors are largely brought about by the surface mind and if the mental factor is removed the body can then be left to find its own way forward (6). The body always fares better without the interference of the surface mind. So the first step towards expanding beyond pain is to try to quieten this part of the mind. There are many ways of doing this. I find it effective just to constantly ‘step back’ from it and dwell in a truer home, the heart.

The surface mind has a way of ‘fixing’ on pain: it identifies with it; ultimately it can even become it. This state of affairs only increases the damage that pain causes. So once one goes beyond the narrower corridors of the mind, we can then look toward expanding our consciousness a great deal more.

After this, as soon as one makes the decision to ‘bear’ the pain, one will find its acuteness gradually ease and stop (7). The body itself has the capacity to endure. At this stage, the body can then truly start to open and relax. As it relaxes, the tissues and muscles begin to unclench and as they open, they begin to absorb the Consciousness-Force from above. This Force aids the growth and expansion of the consciousness of our body. It sets to work on clearing away the knots and distortions that produce pain from inside. We begin to see how much of our body-pain has a deeper psychological base.

As the passage of our ‘schooling’ continues, an ‘inner calm’ starts to descend. The opposing duality of unpleasantness begins to disappear from the sensation experienced in the body. An almost ‘comfortable’ feeling emerges. The sensation, the Mother states, is entirely physical (8).

The process of expansion is endless and opens to a myriad of realisations. We only have to assiduously continue the schooling and wait and see what unfolds. The process of expansion accompanies us throughout its entire course. At the final stage, “when the cells have faith in the divine Presence and in the sovereign divine Will,” our body can then join with the soul to see pain for the illusion it truly is. On a cellular level, everything will become the sweetest ecstasy (9)!

Work inside

Often I use a direct approach to pain. Its effect can be immediate but I find the process needs to be reinforced again and again. With every breath of expansion comes the reverse of contraction. This is the ‘dog’s tail’, to which Sri Aurobindo occasionally referred, the tail that refuses to be definitively straightened. Although the healing works very deeply, fresh shoots of distortion always tend to re-emerge, so persistence is always required.

Perhaps there might be a locality of the body producing intense pain. If so, the procedure I adopt is always the same. I call the Mother2 and gather Her Presence inside my heart. I scan the body disinterestedly from top to bottom. I don’t look for signs of pain: I just see what is there. If pain is present, the ‘searchlight’ will always eventually find it. It may appear with a colour; it may appear as a knot or something foreign and heavy like a stone. It all depends on the nature of the pain. So without losing my connection, I go inside the affliction and observe it with as much detachment as I can muster. I don’t allow myself to get ‘drawn’ into it and thus identify with it; I remain separate and ‘choose’ to go inside to find its very root.

When I reach contact with the ‘object’ I hold my gaze upon it and ask it why it has come. As I maintain my observation, usually, the context gets clearer and the picture expands. If the connection is strong, an answer will come back immediately and when the knowledge arrives, the pain is resolved. This is the power of Light, the hand of the Mother, and a feeling of solid Peace automatically descends over the entire being.

The consciousness of the body feels lighter and vaster and so, holding onto the connection, I usually get up and stand in order to experience this new sense of expansion more tangibly over the physical frame. I then do some gentle movement to allow the body to work through any residue of unease or disruption. The vibration of expansion then starts to coincide with my body’s natural rhythm.

There are many gentle means of expanding the physical consciousness. Each of us can find our unique way. It can be treated as ‘play’ but it truly helps to untie the knots of pain. I’m sure I’m not the first to appreciate the freedom of weightlessness in water. There is scope for a greater innovation and inventiveness as one looks at playful ways of freeing the body from its habitual constrictions and limitations. There is a simple joy in stretching these boundaries; there also comes a freedom from earthly pain. It’s as if the water offers immunity from it. We always expand when we’re playful, we might revert back to our childhood when we were less hemmed by cramping structures. We steadily grow when we explore liberating movements.

Liberation and Oneness

I find also that pain tends to breed when I become too embedded in habit. The routine makes the mind cloudy and dull; the body eventually suffers too. It is a matter of finding a balance between my outer activities and the richness of the inner life. A dichotomy will inevitably arise if the two don’t match. We must live our Truth too. If one lives like an island one only cuts oneself off from the vastness and richness of Creation. Thankfully, the Integral Yoga affords full scope for this rich interplay between these two aspects.

One should never lose touch with this essential Oneness. Once we realise this truth behind everything, there is no reason to feel narrow or restricted. This is true expansion. Armed with this knowledge, I believe that pain can be shed once and for all.


1. Sri Aurobindo. Birth Centenary Library, Volume 18. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 1970, p. 222.

2. Sri Aurobindo. SABCL, Volume 19. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 1970, p. 988.

3. Sri Aurobindo. SABCL,Volume 24. 1970, p. 1652.

4. The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 8. 2nd ed. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 2003, p. 84-5.

5. Sri Aurobindo. SABCL, Volume 17. 1972, p. 89.

6. The Mother. Collected Works, Volume 10. 2001, p. 16.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

1 “Pain is the touch of our Mother teaching us how to bear and grow in rapture. She has three stages of her schooling, endurance first, next equality of soul, last ecstasy. (5).”

2 Mirra Alfassa, born in Paris in 1878 and later known as the Mother, came to Pondicherry and developed the Integral Yoga with Sri Aurobindo.

James Anderson is a member of SAIIIHR and Coordinating Editor of NAMAH.

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