A jetty leading to a calm lake lit by the full moon

Attending to the Messages of Pain: Part 3 – Pain of the Soul

In last week’s article, we looked at pain and the brain, and how we can calm and rebalance our thinking mind with our wisdom layer (vijyanamayakosha) and our intellect (buddhi). As discussed, yoga views the physical, mental and spiritual parts of being (panchamayakosha) as interwoven – they all affect each other. Having less stress and agitation within the mental layer of our being (manomayakosha) has the effect of reducing pain, and inflammation on the physical level (annamayakosha). 

In this article, we’ll delve into the little-explored territory of how our soul affects our experience of physical pain by looking at how the koshas are influenced by the soul’s energy. Next week, we’ll look at how our spirit affects our experience of physical pain. 

The terms spirit and soul are often used interchangeably. However, they can be used to denote different aspects of our spiritual being. Both soul and spirit are strongly associated with the life force energy, prana, a subtle essence associated with breath. 

Prana infuses all the panchamayakosha and indeed all of manifest reality (prakriti) However, within the context of the soul and physical pain, we are most interested in how prana works within our body – the annamayakosha. Modern technology now enables us to see the activity within our tissues at a cellular level in real-time. Even to the untrained eye, it becomes really obvious that prana (or some kind of life force energy) infuses every cell with life, intelligence and purpose. 

Studying the behaviour of a single living cell and its community of fellows … can surely throw light on the sense of living that so many philosophers have sought to address for thousands of years. 

When we observe within a living cell behaviour including the continual and carefully choreographed machinations of mitochondria, the endless migration of granules and voiding of vacuoles, the conduction of discrete particles in two-way streams of cytoplasm like traffic on a highway, the meticulous changes of position of the nucleus in diatoms during division, and the cautious inspection of prey by a predatory ciliate, then we can conceive that the cell may be a billion, or even a trillion times more complex than anyone has understood. 

The entire living cell is an incomprehensible miracle, and its multi-faceted ability to communicate, to take decisions, and to respond to unforeseeable situations with a degree of intelligence can account for many observed phenomena that are otherwise unexplained.

Brian J.Ford Cellular Intelligence: Microphenomenology and the realities of being, Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, Volume 131, December 2017, Pages 273-287

The intelligence of the cells, the driving force of the energy of prana, might be viewed as our life purpose, or dharma. Our life purpose is the cosmic blueprint held within the realm of purusha (the Universal Consciousness), which seeks to be birthed into the manifest reality of our lives (prakriti). Our dharma, is a blueprint of our highest potential, our reason for being on the planet at this time, in this place. The soul is connected intimately with expressing our dharma, with love, humanity and fulfilment of our destiny. Our heart guides our soul to become aware of and align with, our life purpose we are also guided by Life Itself. When we are on the right track our heart signals this by warming, glowing, singing or soaring. Or we might feel a simple feeling of settled contentment (santosa).

The first step is the realization that each of us has such a thing [a calling]. And then we must look back over our lives and look at some of the accidents and curiosities and oddities and troubles and sicknesses and begin to see more in those things than we saw before. It raises questions, so that when peculiar little accidents happen, you ask whether there is something else at work in your life. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve an out-of-body experience during surgery, or the sort of high-level magic that the new age hopes to press on us. It’s more a sensitivity, such as a person living in a tribal culture would have: the concept that there are other forces at work. A more reverential way of living.

James Hillman (interview by Scott London)

Unless we have been fortunate enough to have been mentored by elders who have an understanding of the soul, our understanding of our dharma is likely to be sub-conscious or unconscious until later on in our lives. In fact, our life purpose might be totally at odds with what our family, society or even our personality (ahamkara) deems to be acceptable within the prevailing culture. 

To give a simplistic example: our soul might be striving to realise a life purpose of connecting with the spiritual realms. Yet if we are brought up by an atheist family, within a society that values getting a “proper job” over a life of spiritual seeking, our personality is likely to attempt to suppress the needs of the soul. 

When our soul and our acculturated personality are at odds, the prana at a cellular level gets more disorganised and blocked. Our heart will signal that we are off course and our whole being (panchamayakosha) will sense the lack of alignment with the inherent flow of life. These imbalances, which are felt in the physical, mental and energetic layers of our being, can create physical inflammation, mental unrest and energy blocks. These can manifest in the physical body (annamayakosha) as pain and dis-ease. 

The process of relinquishing long-held cultural programming and bringing our whole being into more alignment with the soul’s blueprint (dharma) is humbling, messy, dark and challenging. It’s also an ongoing process we’re continually course correcting throughout our lives. James Hillman has called this process “growing down” 

“Until the culture recognizes the legitimacy of growing down, each person in the culture struggles blindly to make sense of the darkness that the soul requires to deepen into life.”

James Hillman, The Soul’s Code

Our modern culture has rejected many of the practices, ceremonies and initiations that enable us to listen to the wisdom of the heart, which guides us to embrace the journey of the soul. Instead of discovering what we are to give to Life, we are constantly encouraged to be concerned with what we can take. What desires can we indulge in? What new things must we have? What experiences should we seek?

Whilst these hedonistic pleasures might give us a fleeting sense of happiness or joy, they cannot provide the deep and lasting satisfaction of discovering and exploring the myriad potentials of our soul. In the absence of this connection to our soul, it is easy to fall prey to the capitalist narratives that are embedded in the very structure of our culture and society. If we allow ourselves to become so intent on consumption that we forget our soul’s yearning to give, our lives are inherently robbed of meaning and purpose. Our family, our community and even the planet itself all suffer if we lack this connection to our dharma, our life purpose

…at the end of the day, prosperity goes beyond material pleasures. It transcends material concerns. It resides in the health and happiness of our families. It is present in the strength of our relationships and our trust in the community. It is evidenced by our satisfaction at work and our sense of shared meaning and purpose. It hangs on our potential to participate fully in the life of society.

Prosperity consists in our ability to flourish as human beings – within the ecological limits of a finite planet. The challenge for our society is to create the conditions under which this is possible. It is the most urgent task of our times.”

Tim Jackson, Prosperity Without Growth

Perhaps if many of us discover (or reconnect with) and follow our soul’s guidance during these times, we’d be able to collectively solve many of the multiple ecological and humanitarian crises that we face. The blueprints of the many souls that are incarnated on our planet today contain an abundance of love, creativity, wisdom and know-how which we might enable us to transform or transcend many of our current difficulties. 

I wonder what would happen if we all chose to focus on what we can give to Life, instead of what we can get out of Life? I wonder if we turned towards our pain instead of fixing it, curing it or burying it, if we could find our way back to living our soul purpose? Perhaps then we’d discover that we can work in unity to co-create a more loving sustainable and just world, a better future for the planet and generations to come.

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