The Spiritual Aspects of Pain


I was reviewing some notes this evening about the treatment of pain in Chinese medicine from a seminar taught by Jeffery Yuen. Jeffrey Yuen comes from two Daoist lineages – 88th generation of the Yu Qing Huang Lao Pai (Jade Purity School, Yellow Emperor/Lao Tzu Sect) and 26th generation of the Quan Zhen Long Men Pai (Complete Reality School, Dragon Gate Sect). As a Taoist priest, he has some interesting perspectives on healing and Chinese medicine.

With regards to treating pain, Jeffery discusses the spiritual implications of pain.

In Chinese medicine there is an oft repeated adage: tong zi bu tong, zi tong, bu tong. Tong means pain, and the adage translates thus: where there is pain there is stagnation [or lack of free flow – of qi and blood] where there is stagnation there is pain. In other words, when qi and blood do not move freely, pain results. (Qi broadly refers to life energy.) In Chinese medicine, the practitioner then must determine where the stagnation is located in the body (this would usually refer to the site of pain: one must determine which acupuncture meridians or channels are involved) and what has caused the qi and blood to stagnate. Generally we are looking for a physical cause of the stagnation, although emotions can also cause stagnation.

As a Daoist priest, Jeffery interprets pain as indicating that a person is emotionally, mentally or spiritually stuck. This mental/emotional/spiritual stoppage causes a physical stagnation in the body, manifesting as somatic pain. Here we are referring more to a long-term or chronic pain, rather than an acute injury. So those suffering from chronic pain might want to look at their inner life and well being to find blockages. This could be marital strife, job dissatisfaction, inability to reach one’s life goals: any number of life issues where one is not moving forward in the desired direction.

Jeffery notes that the more one focuses on the pain, the more one enhances the illness: one focused on the terrible receives the terrible. This is the law of attraction: like attracts like. He further observes that it is painful to change our lives, and that it is painful to surrender.

He says pain likes to spread. Pain likes misery. Pain likes to refer (to other areas, such as sciatic pain that shoots down the leg or pain from a heart attack that presents as an achy sensation in the left arm). He says that pain does not like to be alone: it wants family to resolve the problem for you. He asks, ” Can one resolve the pain [or the emotional/spiritual source of the pain] themselves?”

He discusses the significance of different qualities of pain:

  1. Rigidity: Indicates withdrawal from life, moving away from life or the enthusiasm.
  2. Cold (pain that is worse in cold weather, feels better with a hot pad, shower or bath): indicates retreat, apathy.

He goes on to say that healing requires hope and perseverance to bring meaning into one’s life.

He says that it is not up to the practitioner to command change, but rather to be a catalyst to help the patient change.

You may have noticed the red Chinese character by my blog title: “Kath’s Musings on Health, Chinese Medicine & Spirituality”. This character is ying, which means guide. I chose it as a symbol of a couple of ideas that are relevant here:

  1. In Chinese medicine we use the term guide, as in guide out stagnation, or guide out phlegm fluids. By this we mean that we are helping the stagnation or phlegm to move out, showing the way, in a physical sense.
  2. In a more spiritual sense, the practitioner is guiding the patient on a course of healing, lighting the path out of the darkness.

These two ideas express how I see my role as a practitioner; both in treating the physical body and as an agent for emotional/spiritual growth, where ultimately all healing takes place. But it is not up to me to force it, my role is to point the way so that the body, mind and spirit can find it’s course. KB

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