[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
I have some mild but chronic physical pains that I dearly wish would go away. For various reasons, there doesn’t appear to be much I can do at the moment (at least from a strictly physical standpoint) to alleviate the physical conditions that lead to these pains. So, since it seems that I have to learn to live with this for the time being, I’ve devised a way to transform the pain from a burden into a catalyst for my progress on the Course’s path.
It feels important to me to do this, for normally, the ego uses physical pain as a way to thwart progress on the Course’s path. We can see this, for instance, in this passage from the Text:
Pain demonstrates the body must be real. It is a loud, obscuring voice whose shrieks would silence what the Holy Spirit says, and keep His words from your awareness. Pain compels attention, drawing it away from Him and focusing upon itself. (T-27.VI.1:1-3)
“Pain compels attention.” Does it ever! Everyone knows what this is talking about. When you’re in pain, especially if the pain is severe, that pain is probably the only thing you’ll be focused on, unless you’ve developed extraordinary mental discipline. And when you’re in pain, the body sure feels real. “I am not a body, I am free” sounds like a pipe dream at that point.
And that, according to this passage, is precisely the point of pain: To make the whole spiritual journey away from the body and toward God look like a pipe dream. Not only does pain provide seemingly compelling evidence that I am a body and I’m not free, but it also drowns out the Holy Spirit’s Voice. If I’m convinced that I’m a body and I can’t even hear the Voice for God Who tells me I’m not a body, how am I going to make any progress toward God? Score a point for the ego.
So, as I contemplated my situation, I was thinking: How can I turn the tables on my ego here? And I came up with an idea that seemed rather brilliant, so I’m sure it must have come from the Holy Spirit. The idea was this: What if, every time I experienced a bit of pain (which happens, for instance, when I move in certain ways), I immediately did a Course practice? What if I used the pain just as I use the beeper on my practice countdown timer, as a signal that it’s time for a practice? What if every time pain tempted me to believe that my body is real, I did a response-to-temptation practice to turn my attention away from the body and toward God?
Once I came up with this plan, I immediately tried it out. Whenever I’d feel one of my pains flare up, I’d do a practice. Sometimes it would be a practice that addresses pain directly, like “I choose the joy of God instead of pain” (Lesson 190). But other times, I’d do another practice, perhaps the practice I had been focusing on that day. I’ve become especially fond of practices that encourage me to extend love and helpfulness to others, since directing my attention toward helping others is itself another way to draw attention away from my own pain.
I’ve been doing this for a while now, and the results have been excellent. Not only have I been getting in a lot more practice because of this, but it has also enabled me to develop a new relationship with these chronic pains. Before, they were nothing but an annoyance and, as the above passage says, they tended to draw my attention away from the life the Holy Spirit would have me lead. But now, they serve to focus my attention exactly where it belongs: on the path to God. Now that my pains are serving a useful purpose, I don’t feel so troubled by them. They are less and less an annoyance, and more and more an opportunity. As the Manual says, “all things, events, encounters and circumstances are helpful” (M-4.I.A.4:5). I’ve managed to find a way to make even pain helpful.
Don’t get me wrong: I’d still like to be free of the pain – there are more pleasant practice reminders. Jesus and my Father want me to be free of pain too: “I will with God that none of His Sons should suffer” (T-6.I.11:7). The Course assures us, “There is no need to learn through pain” (T-21.I.3:1). This isn’t a matter of God inflicting pain on me to get me to practice more; this is the Holy Spirit making the best of pain I’ve given myself. And I really do believe that with the Holy Spirit’s help, freedom from all pain is possible; it is our destiny to feel only the joy of God instead of pain.
But while pain is still part of my experience, I’m grateful to have found a way to use it to push my mind in the direction of the joy of God. Now, as I do my daily work of study, practice, and extension to my brothers, even pain has become a means for taking “another step to Him, and to salvation of the world” (W-pI.193.13:1). Take that, ego!