Why is pain painful?

Why do we find painful things painful?


Now this seems like a silly question but it really isn’t. A reformulation of it that may make more sense would be “Why do we not like pain?”


Now there are answers which aren’t really answers to what I’m attempting to get at. One of these would be “We do not like pain because not liking pain causes us to avoid that which causes pain. Over time natural selection has selected those that avoid pain because pain is a consequence of damage and those that do no avoid pain tend to die sooner and produce less off-spring.” All well and good.


Maybe to make getting to my point a bit easier I should be explicit about my agenda here. I am attempting to communicate a realization I had while walking my dogs today. The realization is that nothing is really painful in the really painful sense. By pain here I am not talking about the physical sensations we call pain but I’m talking about that which causes us to react in the way we do to pain. The psychological phenomena that characterizes all phenomena we label as un-desirable.


So maybe the question would be better articulated as “Why do we find pain undesirable?” (or maybe even “Why do we find undesirableness undesirable?”) See we can sit and watch the pain, we can even sit and watch the undesirableness of the pain and we can reach a state where the pain is neither desirable or undesirable. A state where the pain is just stuff happening. From this state it becomes clear that for pain to become undesirable – indeed for anything to become undesirable – there has to be an action taken on our part which we can not take if we choose.


OK evolution has conditioned how we react to things in a certain. Whether or not we label particular sensations as pleasurable or not. But now it seems that we can wrest control over this “system” from natural selection and reshape it as we see fit. The “Why” of what we feel is irrelevant in looking at this. Or rather yes it is wise to take into account the why. But having such powerful motivations – that are subconscious – determining our actions seems to be… undesirable!

Now I’m not saying that such a state of affairs – one in which we transcend desirable and undesirable is easy to attain. I am yet to find a simple on off switch for it. But it is desirable non-the-less and I believe attainable through a dedicated application of mindfulness. It’s not about avoiding pain and pleasure… in fact it’s not about changing any outward circumstance in your life… the practice is one where whenever you experience anything instead of reacting to it in terms of desire just watch it and slowly you will grow (well I hope you will I’ve noticed I have – in peaks and troughs) to transcend the demons of your life!


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