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Facing pain

James Anderson


The article is a personal journey through pain. The author looks at pain from a purely yogic angle. Pain used to be faced as a reality from which there was no escape. The author discusses the various means he has used to face pain. The article explores some concepts of Integral Health in the light of the Integral Yoga.

An insight

My first step forward was to question its validity. A glimmer of knowledge came to me when I realised that pain didn’t actually belong to me. This is not exclusively a mental concept but something that can also be understood through experience. As soon as I began to look at it as something that comes from outside, my perception of pain began to change. I could look upon it as something intrusive and foreign, something that did not possess me. I have the wisdom of the Mother (1) to thank for this:

“For you are always under the illusion that pain belongs to you. This is not true. Pain is something thrust upon you. The same event could occur, exactly the same in all its details, without it inflicting the shadow of pain on you; on the contrary, sometimes it can fill you with ecstatic joy. It is exactly the same thing”(p. 84).

A major reason why pain persists is because one identifies with it when it comes. One becomes that pain. In truth though, from time to time, it is something I notice myself unconsciously doing, at least to a limited degree. That is why a watchful poise is so helpful. So I find myself repeatedly watching any inner movements which allow this state of affairs to arise. The mere act of observation has a cleansing effect.

On the surface, pain seems very real which is why I need also to realign myself from a more central poise in order to see what is true. For this, I try to position myself at a higher station as my mind simply cannot keep pace with the siege of impacts and forces that surround us. It is also incapable of harmonising the discords that inevitably crop up inside. But there is a part in each one of us that remains untouched by discord and pain. Once brought out of obscurity it is truly my best safeguard against pain entrenching itself in the body. 

When stationed there, an automatic protection ensues. But sometimes I find myself in a halfway-zone, where I allow the presence to get obscured and this permits a false sense of identity with pain to intrude. In such instances, a door is left ajar for it to enter.

I always find it important to quieten the mind and try to take refuge in this station because the mind has a way of fixing upon pain and this only makes matters worse.

Just observing the mind’s patterns usually draws the consciousness away from the surface agitation. Over time, I have developed a need to locate a more genuine habitat, at least as far as my nature is concerned.  The mind can be a source of great light and guidance but I find life becomes much freer when I live in the heart instead of the head. I recall the Mother’s maxim that the heart has wings! As I began to understand this, I then decided to always settle there. Once nestled, I can live in a beautiful bubble. But it is perplexing to see how frequently I abandon this cocoon of security because here, I always experience a stronger affinity to the Presence that radiates deep inside. This is where I can find the Mother. Ultimately, I now know that to love truly will melt every pain.


It is my understanding that if one truly wants to move forward, pain must be faced. I don’t believe that there are any convenient short-cuts. But the problem is, when pain comes, man’s knee-jerk reaction is simply to run away from it. Pain is a major cog in the world system. Not surprisingly, the other side of the duality (pleasure) is too. Pain provides billions to pharmaceutical companies so it is ironic that the only conclusive (though not easiest) way of confronting pain is totally free of charge. Not surprisingly though, huge chunks of society seem to have a vested interest in continuing pain’s iron rule. It is only by dwelling upon pain that it finds the nourishment to persist. In my experience, there is no conclusive panacea to the pain that visits me other than raising the level of consciousness. Furthermore, as I opined in the previous issue, the only way to entirely eradicate it is by getting to its roots to find out why it is there. I firmly believe that only when this fact is realised can the solution ultimately come. 

This urge to escape goes back a long way. Ancient Indian thought, Sri Aurobindo asserts, recognised the duality of pain and pleasure but viewed them as so inseparable that “the only possible escape from them was total indifference, a blank response to the excitations of the world-self” (2).

It is also firmly fixed in the thinking of modern medicine. The term ‘pain management’ is frequently found in such circles and a painkiller is the usual convenient solution. I myself have frequently contributed to this scenario. But gradually, I have come to the conclusion that if the affliction is ever to be totally overcome, a more radical approach has to be found.

However if pain comes, it is only natural that one wants to quickly get rid of it. Pain is not something one wants to face but that is precisely what must be done, particularly if one is sincere about expanding beyond our familiar comfort-zones.

One can certainly try to rise above pain altogether. But I believe the problem with this course is that its roots will always remain untouched. In my experience of the Integral Yoga, it is better to seek to go through it. Truly, it must be the only way of transforming it into that delight which secretly lies at the root of all things. If we leave the body alone, nothing will ever really change. Matter requires our attention and without it the earth will remain in the same old mess.

Work inside

If the roots of pain are ever going to be tackled, one must work inside: I don’t believe that there is any other way. When addressing something false like pain, I always access the single source inside which is true and work from that point. Deep inside the heart there is a Presence which is totally true. It emits a Force and a Light and it harmonises everything it touches. This work is inspired by a knowledge. It is a knowledge of the Truth in matter. It lies concealed in the body and the task of this work is to attempt to unlock it. My inclination is to go far beyond the instrumental nature to dissolve those roots of pain. So by calling Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and opening to their Force I can invoke something far more radical and dynamic.

So when I have centred myself, I just look inside. I don’t look for pain. It is better not to anticipate any negativity that might arise. Ridding oneself of pain is, after all, merely a happy consequence of this work! However, as the Force starts to descend, I might feel little pockets of pain as if certain parts of the body were being stirred from their slumber. Observing disinterestedly is very necessary and I don’t hanker for pleasant sensations. If I do, I can just watch that too. I only watch what is. It is in a state of immobility that the true perception comes. Detachment and balance are also very necessary. Very often though, I might find pain appearing in various locations so I enquire into the central cause that is upholding it. There is usually a nexus, a central knot, which gives these discordant parts their sustenance. My observation leads me to that location and I may decide to lay my hand at that point. Sometimes an answer comes, a word or two that captures the cause and essence of this pain. If that happens, the pain dissolves everywhere.

This consciousness has a way of dissolving all knots and distortions but it also opens the body to a new way. By systematically infusing the body with the divine Presence its true hidden nature gradually becomes revealed.

When this part of the inner work is done, I always seek to expand. I find that pain comes with constriction. Its roots feed off the tangles that hide inside. When I am closed and narrow, pain can proliferate. Living in the surface mind causes me pain. So whenever I am able to expand a little, relax and unwind, this affliction always loses its edge. So after working inside and when the peace has descended, I remember to expand my consciousness far beyond the limits of the physical frame. It is quite surprising how far one can go! It opens the door to huge vistas and places one’s ‘little being’ in a totally new context. It opens a door to the Oneness in everything, beyond all duality and division. There is just That and nothing else exists, least of all the ego which falls away like unwanted wrapping. I can see pain for the unreality it truly is.

Outer work  

After I have done this, I look to spread this expansion into the body itself. When I turn my attention onto the physical, I sometimes witness the adjustment onto the surface inducing pain. It is usually a very gross sensation and surely a reminder of what I am up against. No matter how vivid the presence inside, I find that pain can still arise. This is a sign that the body itself has not fully opened to the descending Force. But pain can always be addressed, as I have claimed, by going through it.  With simple exercise, I find I can then work through these momentary disruptions. Sometimes a gentle flexion of the knee will reduce tension in the leg; a lengthening of the spine might remove a sense of constriction, it all depends. But the movement is spontaneous and arises wherever it is called. If the presence is uninterrupted, the body benefits greatly from the higher guidance. This Force is always present and awakens the godhead which lies hidden in matter. To me, it is the hand of the Mother. By persistently opening to this Force, the body gradually starts to resonate with what it meets. When that process reaches a conclusion, how can pain persist?


This inner work helps me align: I find it very important to stay in that poise. Being aligned means that pain needn’t arise in the first place. I find pain emerging whenever there is a void of consciousness. To stay aligned is to be connected. It is a connection to our truth, so nothing false like pain can intrude. When this state comes, there is such spontaneity in the connection that I wonder why it doesn’t always arise naturally and without effort. However, the problem is there are parts in us that block and demean this innate joy and dissolving such blocks is the foundation of this beautiful process. 

The harmony it brings has an immense influence on the physical. As the inner being connects and harmonises with the outside, a new wholeness emerges. From personal experience, it somehow reduces the wall of difficulties that stands ahead. Materially, things start to change at a gross level. When one is in harmony inside, everything outside becomes harmonious too. The necessity for grinding effort lifts. For me, the secret is to make that link between the two: to allow spirit to saturate matter. The two must become one. But left unattended, they tend to fall back, so a persistent approach is very necessary.

Plea for Force

By and large, this body has muddled through whatever it has had to face so far in life. It has learnt to cope and endure. But I now find pain assuming a more urgent aspect. It is clearly a message! Whenever I distance myself from the body now, I feel absolutely exhausted. If I stay with it, my body will be able to progress and do whatever work the Mother puts before it.

So the body seems to be pleading more frequently and urgently for a newer consciousness. Once tasted, it wants nothing less; it has perhaps reached a point of no return. Whenever it feels starved of this Force, pain arrives. The choice is quite clear and I’m convinced that the challenge can be met. I believe that this is but the smallest sign of a terrestrial process happening everywhere. Now is surely the time for the body to assume the mantle of transformation and for bliss to take the place of pain:

“This delight, this wonderful laughter that dissolves every shadow, every pain, every suffering! You only have to go deep enough within yourself to find the inner Sun, to let yourself be flooded by it; and then there is nothing but a cascade of harmonious, luminous, sunlit laughter, which leaves no room for any shadow or pain”(3).


1. The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother. 2nd ed. Volume 8. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 2003.

2. Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library, Volume 18. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 1970, p.224.

3. The Mother. Collected Works, Volume 10. 2001, p.156.

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

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Modern medicine


Looking inside




The Mother