Pain Can be Like a Children’s Play…

Someone is having fun. Someone is not.

…but it is not child’s play.

An eccentric friend bought you tickets to a show for your birthday.  You never know what he will choose.  He’s dragged you to corny portrayals of Aesop’s Fables and compelling adaptations of Shakespeare’s work.  You wince at the thought of watching adult actors parade around the stage donning animal costumes.  You long to hear Shakespearean English.  (Full disclosure:  I personally would much rather watch the former than the latter — who doesn’t love a talking turtle?! — but this is you, not me).

Yet you also remember a time when you eagerly awaited a performance of Macbeth and then proceeded to look at but not “take in” the first act, doze through the second, and full-on snore through the third.  The play was there but you weren’t tuned into it.  Your ears were open, but your auditory cortex was no longer processing sound waves.  Maybe you were tired.  Maybe you were spacey.  Maybe you had an amazing song stuck in your head.

The opposite has happened:  on occasion, you’ve attended the cheesy children’s plays that you typically find to be beneath you and had a blast.  Or you’ve gone to a movie with a 24% critic/35% viewer approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and laughed nonstop.  And then you watched the movie a second time and were appalled that you initially enjoyed it.

So what gives?  Are you nuts?

Absolutely not!

Same movie.  Different reactions.

Each time you attend a performance — whether it be a movie, a play, a dance show, a choral concert — you bring to the venue a unique composition of perceptive aptitude.  When you saw that trashy movie the first time, you went to a late-night showing with a close friend and had low expectations.  You focused on the movie enough to catch the jokes but not so intently that your intellectual side stepped in and made you feel guilty that you weren’t watching a documentary or indie art film.  The second time, you were alone, fully alert, and ready to analyze each scene.

You were in a good mood in both instances, but the positive feeling disappeared by minute 20 the second time around because you were viewing the film through a different lens.  Your cognitive concentration was not distributed between thoughts about your friend, the yummy ice cream you had before the show, and the movie.  It was 100% on the movie.

The movie is like pain.  Once you enter the theater (the body, if you will), the show will go on regardless of your wishes, focus, and overall state of mind.  Likewise, if you have an inflammatory process occurring in your body, the inflammation will continue unless you turn to medication.

Have you ever walked into a movie theatre and thought, “hey, I’m really going to enjoy this movie.  Even if it’s awful, I’m going to love it.  I can make myself like this movie”?  Maybe you have.  But even if you jumped on the positive psychology bandwagon as you scarfed down your popcorn and chased it down with pop, did you actually end up liking the movie?  Or did you just deny the fact that you wasted ten bucks and two hours?

Have you ever attended a play that you thought you would love, everyone else in your party loves, but you just weren’t feeling it?

Pain, and lack of pain, occur in “heaven” and “hell” alike.


1 Comment

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One response to “Pain Can be Like a Children’s Play…

  1. I’ve been taught by a certain realist/optimist that life is suffering ; that once one accepts this simple truth, we can develop techniques to minimize or altogether avoid it. This, for me at least, has been very eye-opening, and provides me with much perspective : when I encounter obstacles, it allows me to take them in stride instead of dwelling on them ; when I feel real, physical pain, I naturally flinch and seek to remedy it, but I also recognize that this too shall pass, and that nurturing the pain by obsessing about it will only perepetuate it !

    I liked your comment on turning off the critical side of our brain, and although I think there is a right time and a wrong time to do this, I think it generally challenges us to be open to things we may have decided we don’t like. I consider it a more active form of curiosity.

    I also think every experience, whether an oft-repeated ritual, or something unfamiliar, is unique. The way we perceive things is informed by our past, be it ten years or ten minutes ago, and each time we do something, it is brand new. “No man steps into the same river twice” – Heraclitus. 🙂

    Looking forward to reading some of your other stuff ! 🙂

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