Pain. Where does it come from? In a nutshell, pain results from the conflict created when two creative forces go in opposing directions inside us. Naturally, everyone’s favorite direction is toward the light. Then our universal forces line up like soldiers and march toward freedom. With this, there’s the accompanying growth and affirmation, beauty and love, inclusion and unity, and pleasure supreme. What’s not to like about that?

We must see that negativity is only a temporary reality. It will eventually grind us to a halt as it takes us to our knees.
We must see that negativity is only a temporary reality. It will eventually grind us to a halt as it takes us to our knees.

But in reality, this is a world in which there are forces that oppose the light. And whenever such counterforces are present, it creates a disturbance. The disturbance itself, however, isn’t the source of our pain. Rather, pain comes from the special kind of tension that stems from the imbalance caused by the opposition; this is what causes us to suffer. Understanding this point is key to grasping the remainder of this teaching about the true origin of pain.

As we know, there are nesting levels of reality. These encompass everything we can realize from the macro-level all the way down to our individual experiences on the micro-level. And the principle at work regarding pain holds true on every level. Take, for instance, the physical level. The entire physical being is striving for health and wholeness. When there’s a disturbance that pulls the other way, we feel pain.

Here’s one way to confirm that this tension is the source of pain. Notice that when we stop struggling and instead give in to the pain, the pain subsides. So the basic principle is this. The pain will stop as soon as we relinquish our straining. Instead, we need to accept the presence of the forces heading in the negative direction.

So we fight, ineffectively, against any disturbance because we want health. But we are avoiding the truth that in some way, we also want non-health. In effect, we are turning a blind eye toward this reality that some part of us is striving away from health. We’re repressing and ignoring this aspect of what’s true for us. And so our struggle to become healthy must become more tense. Cracker Jacks—we’ve just found the prize. We’ve located the origin of our pain.

In other words, if we become aware that in addition to our desire for health, we also have a hidden desire for non-health, then our struggle goes away. For we’d be hard pressed to hang onto a desire to be unhealthy if we were consciously aware of it. But if we’re—lah, lah, lah—covering our ears and talking loudly to avoid seeing our negative wish, we’ll keep it going.

So what’s really clogging up the works is the stuff in our unconscious; this is what creates the seeming gap between cause and effect. The cause, then, is the hidden negative wish; the effect is that there’s a disturbance in our system. The end result? Pain, which comes into being from these two pulls. The way out? Accepting the consequences of the negative wish and letting go into the pain that has resulted.

This way of letting go is not the same thing as destructively embracing pain, or harshly punishing the self. Such acts, in themselves, bear signs of a negative wish. No, what we’re talking about here is an acceptance of what is. If we can do that, the pain will cease. This principle of non-struggle is what’s behind the possibility of a painless birth. And it’s what Jesus Christ was talking about when he said “resist not evil.”

When the struggle becomes too fierce on every level, death comes about; although death could also be what results from giving up the struggle. Either way, on the physical plane, when death occurs the tension stops and the physical pain also ceases. And there is something similar that happens on the emotional and mental levels.

When we understand that the struggle is an effect—that it’s a consequence of having a hidden opposing wish—we will be able to accept the struggle as being a temporary thing. Then the mental and emotional pain we have created will die down. But this can’t happen as long we still are keeping the negative direction in hiding.

Also, the pain won’t cease by giving up the positive direction. What needs to happen is that we come to understand what’s really going on in the present moment with our reverse thrusters. It’s possible to verify this through own experiences.

There is another plane of existence, the spiritual plane, and here things work a little differently. For this is the plane of consciousness that is the cause. The other planes—the physical, mental and emotional levels—are the effect. Since the spiritual plane is where the positive direction originates, this plane doesn’t contain a negative direction. It simply cannot. This is the plane of unity, so conflict and opposing directions and pain are unthinkable here.

When we are free from conflict and pain, we are in unity. We are following an unbroken line of positive forces that lead us in a positive direction. Does this mean it’s possible to follow an unbroken line of negative forces? And that this too would cause pain to cease? Actually, no. Because it’s not possible for us to fully attune to a negative pursuit.

At our core essence—on the spiritual level of our being—our real self is already attuned to the very real world of positive, constructive forces. This is our true final reality. So it’s illogical to think that one could be wholly in unity about any negative aim in life. And since life, in its truest essence, can’t be negatively oriented, all negativity can never be anything but a distortion.

The kicker here is to remember that under every distortion, what’s real—what’s infinitely positive—still exists. And it sends forth its positive effects. It does this no matter how much negative distortion we overlay it with. And no matter how strong our temporary negative distortion is right now. In short, being a human means there is life. So a person can’t be fully negative—even if on the surface, to our human eyes, it might seem so.

So then any time we have something negative in our make-up, it’s never all of us. The negative can only be desired by a part of who we are, and never by our whole selves. There’s always another part of our psyche that stands in violent opposition to our negative desires. The part that sides with life is going in the direction of love. The anti-life side, on the other hand, is hell-bent on hating and isolating and staying in fear. And as already stated, the tension caused by the pull of these tendencies leads to pain.

We step across a major threshold on our spiritual journey when we make the discovery that some part of us wishes for a negative outcome. This awareness of our negative desires makes all the difference in the world. But of course there are degrees of awareness, and in the moment, our awareness might be fleeting. In general, the greater our awareness of our deliberate desire to go gothic, the more control we’ll have over our life and the less we’ll feel like a weak and helpless victim—a small forgotten tool in a vast universe of pain.

When we don’t know we have a deliberate dark streak, we suffer far greater. We feel singled out as a victim and don’t get that we have a stake in the pain we’ve created, not to mention the confusion, doubt and hopelessness. But once that light bulb clicks on and we see that we have a part—even before we are able to give up our negative desires because we don’t yet know why they exist—we’ll feel more free.

The next step will be to link up our negative desires with the unwelcome happenings in our lives. If we skip this step, and so often we do, we’ll go on struggling against life—despite our newfound knowledge of our destructive bent—and stay stuck in our pain. The pertinent question to be asking ourselves is, “What aspect of my life bothers me more than I care to admit?” Or, “Where am I keenly aware that I am suffering, but don’t have a clue how this connects to me?”

When we feel like we are a helpless straw in the wind, we are caught in what’s called a vicious circle. By contrast, when we feel autonomous, like we can govern ourselves, we are following the principles of a benevolent or benign circle. Both kinds of circles operate according to the laws of self-perpetuating motion, with autonomy creating positive cycles that are set into motion by living in reality.

This means that when we have a healthy positive attitude, we will be outgoing and open, constructive and inclusive; things will go easily. We won’t even have to expend energy on deliberately meditating. Our good thoughts and feelings will generate more good thoughts and feelings, which will lead to fulfillment and peace. We will be dynamic and productive.

On the flip side, this principle works exactly the same when the tables are turned and we’re mired in negativity. The only way to reverse the flow of negative self-perpetuating forces is through the kind of deliberate process we’re talking about here, which can then set something new and more positive into motion.

Of these two types of self-perpetuating motion—which, by the way, work exactly the same as people know from their study of chemistry and physics—only one is unlimited and leads to wholeness and a bottomless well of abundance. Any wagers as to which one that would be? Of course, it’s the positive, just like we find at our core.

On the level of our personality, it’s a different story. This part of ourselves wants to pursue negative directions, which creates a new psychic sphere that covers over the original positive one. This negative world is made up of our images—our mistaken conclusions about how life works—together with our bad attitudes and painful feelings. Everyone’s negative sphere has its own distinct atmosphere. It all depends on the strength of our negative desires, what they’re made up of, and our awareness of them.

The material world we each experience then is a direct reflection of the combination of our positive real self and our negative encrustations that cover this up. Where we’re relatively free from negative desires, it will be fairly easy to experience the world of truth—that world of self-perpetuating goodness. We won’t struggle or have doubts or fear or deprivation. We’ll be able to keep our hearts open in these parts of our lives, and unfold more and more happiness and inclusion.

And then there are the problem areas. In these parts of our lives, we fear the positive and end up in deprivation and suffering. This we must see and accept. We must move through our negativity and transcend it by transforming it, which we can only do by understanding its nature. We must see that negativity is only a temporary reality. It will eventually grind to a halt as it takes us to our knees. Underneath it—ever and always—lies the self-perpetuating world of the good, where we don’t have to grasp and reach; on that level, everything good is already ours, even before we’ve attained it.

Whenever we separate ourselves from others, we’re swimming in the sphere of negativity. So then regardless how much we want union and wholeness, there is another side doing the sidestroke of resistance. The more we deny this, the more it hurts. Don’t forget, it’s not possible to want 100% isolation and separation. If it were possible to fully want this, we could withdraw completely and be very happy, thank you. But we can’t. All we can do is want to disconnect to a very large degree. And the larger the percentage of us that wants to go that route, the greater the pull in the opposite direction towards health and union—and the more fierce will be the pain.

And as if that’s not bad enough, our pain is going to be aggravated by the struggle of the other person. It’s painful enough that we alternately want and do not want—that we love on the one hand and then hate and withdraw and reject on the other—but our conflict will always be multiplied by the same fluctuating parameters of the other person who is waging a similar fight inside themselves.

What makes all this infinitely more complicated is the fact that everyone in a relationship has attached both their positive feel-good directions and their negative hurtful directions to the pleasure principle. And this is the real nut. This is what makes it so hard to change and give up the negative direction, so that our pain keeps on tearing us apart.

If we were free from this inner struggle, living in a high degree of awareness and in harmony with the universal forces, we would be protected from the tension fields in other people. But since that’s generally not the case, our struggle gets compounded by all the mathematical possibilities of how our hurts and misjudgments and misunderstandings can interlock with another’s.

Imagine two people, person A and person B, are in a relationship. Person A expresses a positive movement toward union, which frightens B who withdraws and rejects person A. (Sounding at all familiar?) This makes Person A conclude that movement toward union is just too risky and painful, so they revert to rejecting B, and then deny that they have a role to play in this struggle.

Since this is all so painful, the “negative pleasure principle” hitches its wagon to this interaction, and suddenly the pain seems more bearable. Now Person A can feel safe in this negative situation. Meanwhile, Person B now finds the pain of isolation to be bearable, inspiring B to venture out, especially now that A has retreated into a dark hole.

At times, then, the positive direction of Person A will crop up to meet B’s negative one. At other times, Person B’s positive direction will move toward A’s negative one. And at still other times, both A and B may venture into positive territory for a short time, or both may withdraw at the same time, or both may antagonize each other.

Whatever happens, since the negative direction is still alive and well, the positive direction can only be tentative, fearful, divided and defensive. Sooner or later, the apprehension and uncertainly associated with any positive movement is bound to produce negative results. And when that happens, the problems will be attributed to the positive efforts, rather than to the problematic emotions. And so inevitably, the negative direction will commandeer any movement in the positive direction, until this negative destructive side is surfaced, no longer denied, fully understood, and finally eliminated, once and for all.

The part of this drama that makes it so compelling is that we get a precarious pleasure from indulging in our destructive ways. This is what is we mean when say we have ‘attached our pleasure principle to our negative direction.’ Had we not done this, our negativity wouldn’t hang on with such tenacity. Bottom line: we don’t want to give up our pleasure. And it doesn’t matter that we have come to this place through a slow, insidious and inadvertent process, having started out with the only the best of intentions.

Let’s look at this example that might help clarify how negativity gets perpetuated. Suppose we’ve made great progress on our spiritual path, gaining new self-confidence and an inner calm and resilience we hadn’t known before. In the past, we might have been submissive as a way to mask our guilt, or we might have been hostile and aggressive to overcome our contempt for ourselves and how uncertain we always felt. We used to get a lot of negative pleasure from our misguided means of covering up our self-doubt; we enjoyed our woes.

But now we’ve moved past that and experience ourselves in a whole new way. We don’t align with nagging self-doubt any more, and we now have insight into what makes others tick. Understanding why others behave the way they do makes us feel strong and helps us see ourselves with more insight. We’ve set the self-perpetuating wheels of insight and understanding into motion.

Unfortunately, there are still a few crumbs of negativity in us we haven’t yet recognized, and so our negative pleasure principle attaches itself to our newfound understanding of the negative directions that remain in the other person. We start dwelling more and more on their faults, and we begin to enjoy seeing their blindness. We don’t realize that our pleasurable feelings have shifted into a different kind of joy.

The first kind of joy arose from seeing, with detachment, what exists in the other; this set us free. But then we shifted to indulging in the pleasure of the others wrongs; and this blinded us. The old negative forces have just taken on a new disguise. At this point, we lose our delicate balance of inner harmony. This shows how insidiously destructive impulses can creep in if we allow any old roots to remain, unobserved.

With this deeper awareness of the origin of pain and how negative destructive forces operate, we now hold the tools in our hands to make different choices. Perhaps we can now see a way forward to living a life that is free from pain.

Bones: A Building-Block Collection of 19 Fundamental Spiritual Teachings

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Read Original Pathwork® Lecture: #140 Conflict of Positive versus Negative Oriented Pleasure as the Origin of Pain