Recovery from a Life of Pain

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In most of my early life I felt alone and in pain about feeling alone and alienated. Whether dwelling in myself or involved in the outside world there was no difference.

As the seventies merged into the eighties I went through several years of constant pain on top of the pain of depression I was usually in. I had tried everything to find a way out of that pain, meditation, psychotherapy, LSD sessions to explore its source, but nowhere could I find any relief. Then I had a dream in which I was walking along on the flat roof of a university building, and in my right hand I was carrying the head of a man stripped of flesh, and in my left hand a bag containing the dismembered body of that man. As I looked from the roof I saw a man draw up in a car park below and I threw the head to fall near him. He picked it up thinking it was plastic, but then dropped it in horror.

I was running dream groups at the time, and in one of them toward the end of the weekend, some of the group offered to listen while I explored the dream. I explored it much as I do when using the seed approach, opening to what arose within. Quickly I felt the depth of the dream. The man was myself. I had torn myself apart trying to deal with the constant pain. I had even put before other people the awful situation I was in, and they had pulled back.

But the greatest impact came as I went deeper into the dream. I realised with absolute certainty that there was no way out of my situation. It was quite terrible to realise I was forever trapped. But at the same time I realised that love was like breathing. I couldn’t, didn’t want to, stop loving either my children or my new wife Hyone. As long as I could, I would suffer the pain the conflict produced.

The realisation there was no escape had a profound effect on me. My whole inner being collapsed. What was the point of struggling and searching if there was no possible way out? So I completely gave up. There was no more point in carrying on, but that meant total giving up, even to ideas of suicide. I gave up everything. When I did that everything went quiet. Even my breathing slowed down, until it seemed I barely existed. Then suddenly, breakthrough.

Everything fell away and I entered a new relationship with myself that lasted for three days. I recognised it as what the Buddhists and Hindus call moksha or liberation. During those three days I experience total freedom from pain, total freedom in regard to every choice I could make, and I existed all the time in NOW.

During this time I recognised why there had been no apparent way out of that pain. It was because I, my awareness of self, had been enmeshed in a terrible net of attitudes, thoughts and beliefs that constantly created the misery.

Of course the enormous awareness of freedom disappeared after the three days. But I had seen clearly what was creating the pain, and what liberation consisted of. I, like most of us, had created a world, inside and out, made up of habitual responses to events, relationship and situations. These responses were like buttons that could be pressed again and again by events and circumstances. When pressed they would play the same feelings over and over again, as many times as the button was pressed.


Some of my buttons were to do with the culture in which I had been raised, a culture full of feelings about guilt, right and wrong, success and failure. It is a culture that is deeply attached to pain and suffering. One of its basic icons is a man tortured on a cross.


In leaving my children to go with Hyone I had been guilty of all of the things that are seen as failure and subject to guilt in my culture. I was guilty of being a bad father. I was a failure in my first marriage. I was wrong to do what I had done. I was being torn apart by all those feelings of guilt and wrongness.

But the experience had shown me that I was not actually those feelings. They were like alien circuits imprinted by parents, culture and others around me. I had seen that my real being was a sort of strange emptiness which was open to everything but held on to nothing. I was not even really a man or woman, or even the body. So, I just got down on my hands and knees, as it were, and started reclaiming the life the experience of emptiness had shown me I already had underneath what had been plastered on me.

It was quite hard work, but I have moved a long way into that freedom. Freedom to love, freedom to be loved, freedom to be with or without someone, freedom to not tear myself apart with guilt, with feelings of failure; freedom from patterns of response that could play for ever if I kept pressing the buttons. I wake each day now in an ocean of peace instead of anxiety and the tearing conflicts I was previously immersed in.

What sometimes puzzles me is how to communicate that to others. Different if I were some sort of enlightened hero. Then I could simply stand up and be recognised. Instead, what I find is that in my ordinary humanness I am able to love a little more fully, fail a little more easily, succeed with less pomp, and enjoy being in the arms and body of those who love me. Oh yes, and the wonder of being in my tiny garden.

But if I attempt to describe how I reclaimed the real me; how I gradually removed the slabs of cultural programming and childhood miseries that had held me prisoner – prisoner of pain and disillusionment, then it is quite simple.

Firstly I held on to the recognition that the me locked in pain and depression was the result of cultural conditioning and childhood events, not my fundamental self. As I have moved out of that I look around and see that people usually accept pain, grief, misery of loss and depression as natural. In fact they are frequently extremely defensive of these things, holding on to them for dear life.

As I said to a friend recently, do you think the Buddha’s smile would disappear if one of his family died, or a lover left him?

Next I began to rewire what I saw as the crazy circuits that had been created in my childhood and youth. For instance as a child I was taught that many things were bad and wrong, and I should feel really guilty or hang my head if I did them. This all seemed to be built around a presupposition that a child is innately bad if not trained to be ‘good’. Yet in my three days of liberation I had seen that there was a natural compassion in me for all beings. There was no need to beat it into me as had been done when young. If a child is ‘bad’ it is only because of the environment it has been raised in.

Also I was taught to blame and be blamed. Yet blaming things on others, and being blamed is a terrible trap that makes victims of us. Victims because we do not take responsibility for what we feel and do. Also, schooling had taught me that there were only a few winners, and if you were not in the top three in spite of all your efforts, you might as well give up because nobody was going to pay you any attention, and you could never get social rewards.

I noticed that when I was in certain environments – such as being with my ex-wife after the divorce – some of these circuits would be called into play. This is what I meant by buttons being pressed. So I would experience intense and devastating guilt.

Therefore as I observed this happening I would literally stop what I was doing and rewire that circuit. This was done by connecting it with a new set of responses, and it had to be done many times before it was really established. But each time it was done it got easier until there was no more effort involved.

What I reminded myself each time was what I had seen and experienced in my days of freedom. Namely that at each moment we are free to choose a direction or response. But beyond that, my core self is not a thought or an emotion. It is pure and naked awareness. So I re-established the choice not to be conditioned by fear, guilt, social pressure, or a sense of right or wrong or duty. Morality comes from insight into what is before you and an awareness of your own being in the here and now, and your relationship with the greater whole of which you are an intrinsic part. It comes from your core self.

Part of it all

In Christianity there is something called Practising the Presence. This was described by Brother Lawrence who sustained a war wound that left him crippled and in constant physical pain, but he said the practice of remembering the presence of God had “perfectly set me free from the world.” In different words, this seems to me to be a similar practice. It is one that gradually removes from you the destructive and illusory connections your previous life built in you. So when I did find myself once more trapped in pains and worries; again trying to possess another person, or feel desperately dependent upon them or hateful to them, I would remind myself of my own state of freedom and compassion. This has nothing to do with positive thinking in which you try to hypnotise yourself to believe something that all your old circuits deny. This is a process of slow and thorough recovery through re-creation of your ‘wiring’.

The secret oral teaching of Tibetan Buddhism explained it in a slightly different way. The intructions to what they called ‘going beyond’ were to stop “the disordered activity of the mind which unceasingly devotes itself to the work of the builder erecting ideas, creating an imaginary world in which it shuts itself like a chrysalis in a cocoon”. The aim in the Tibetan teachings is to recognise the attitudes, beliefs, emotions, thoughts and habits for what they are – mental and empotional creations that vanish like mist as the next image, feeling or thought arises.

Even the ideas and passionate beliefs we have about who and what we are should be seen in this way. We identify so strongly with the ever shifting changing body, and believe we are it, that this too constitutes an illusion that can lead to pain. When one manages to drop this ‘disordered activity of the mind’ then one experiences what the Tibetans call, Transcendent Insight, a state of liberation.

I have experienced this liberation again several times, but not because of the misery of the first one. Each time I experienced that amazing freedom and the gentle bliss it brings.

I recognise that not all of us have the blessing of meeting that, but we can all start rewiring those terrible circuits that may have been visited upon us as children and youths.

Remember, your fundamental self is free of social conditioning, and even of the limitations of your body. It stands beyond pain and conflict. It does not depend upon external circumstances for its existence, compassion and power. It is self-existent and an expression of the underlying cause of the universe.

Remember also, you do not need to repeat those things like affirmations. You move toward the reality of them by living them.

This was the sort of peace you were born with.

The fantastic and simple truth is that you already have what you seek. That is hard to believe sometimes, and the reason you may not at this moment be experiencing this ocean of peace is that you are holding yourself back.

Think about it for a moment. From birth onwards you have been trained, coerced, bribed or beaten to behave in a particular way. You are taught to obey certain codes of behaviour, or even venerate beliefs and disciplines that are really not natural to you – are not really YOU!

Gradually you learn to bury the magnificent truth that you are. You cannot allow much that is your heritage, and through depression, lonliness, emotional longing, you sense its loss.

Start moving toward who you are by recognising how you hold yourself back. Let the real you emer

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