Is there a threshold for pain? How much pain can one bear with before they give up or succumb to it? The past few months, I have been living with these questions and trying to see if there's any answer that is universal and relatable.
It seems like there is no common threshold for pain anyway. What might feel like a pinch at the temples for someone, might feel like their skull pounding to someone else. A small hunger pang for one person might feel like a curse upon the stomach for another. If fevers and common cold are yet another bodily phenomena for some, it may seem like the end of the world for another. Imagine if physical pain itself can have varying measures, how would it be possible to measure emotional hurt?!
Despite these common observations, I'm also forced to believe that the advancement of science and specifically western medicine, has generally lowered our ability to bear with pain. On the other hand, repeated exposure to painful stimuli also lowers the threshold for pain. For example, blaring music might have been painful to the ears decades ago but now it is almost the norm at big events. We don't even notice the trauma inflicted upon us; why, it becomes enjoyable even! Strange is human evolution.
I have witnessed, at close quarters, near and dear ones fight terminal illnesses. I cannot fathom the pain they had to put up with. In their cases though, death came as a relief. What must be their forbearance to smile even when their body is giving away?! What gives one the strength to put up with pain and the faith to overcome it?
This essential quality of mental and physical forbearance is titiksha. It is enviable tolerance in the face of adversity. Seekers will have several tests on the path to realisation and titiksha makes way for their progress just as much as viveka or vairagya.
All of this reminded me of a simple doha (couplet) by Kabir:
Dukh mein sumiran sab kare, dukh mein kare na koi
Jo sukh mein sumiran kare, dukh kahe ko hoy?
Everyone prays during sorrow, nobody prays during happiness,
For those who pray during happiness, where is any sorrow?
When we know that our physical and mental limits are stretched, after we have dug deep into our spiritual reserves, we turn towards the Lord to give us strength and the wherewithal. For that seeker who remembers the Lord even during pleasant moments, pain too will seem like His prasad. What is not to accept when it comes with His seal of grace?
Developing mental grit gives us more than half the ammunition to put up with physical pain. And even if we are emotionally hurt, the intellect can reason that it is nothing but an elaborate play of the ego. An unwillingness to dissociate from the body, mind and intellect only reinforces the pain or adversity. It doesn't make it easier.
The ability to wait, endure, bear and overcome physical or emotional hardships is the true test of a seeker. The greatest of devotees have withstood this litmus test when it mattered the most. Drop your complaints and reverse your frown, cultivate patience and tread with hope. The Lord won't let you down. Let us learn to endure gracefully, cheerfully and powerfully.