Pain is subjective

I’m currently reading Angry White Pajamas by Robert Twigger. While I haven’t read too far into the book, I feel I have picked up one thing: pain is subjective. Twigger mentions that while one person may never need pain relief when suffering a headache, the same person may find a papercut unbearable. On the surface, both pains could be considered small and bearable. It’s not like breaking a leg. Yet, the same person can consider one more painful than another.

Not only is pain subjective, but it’s felt at different levels for different people. That’s why talking about a high pain threshold might not be worth it.

I have a tattoo. It’s on my shoulder blade. To me, the process didn’t hurt. It felt like a constant deep scratch. The only noteworthy moment was when the needle got closer to the bone on top of your shoulder. Other than that, it felt fine.

But I did need to stop halfway through the 15 minutes it took to apply. While the pain itself was bearable, my mind told me it wasn’t. I started to feel dizzy and needed a breather. The tattoo artist told me I had to finish a can of coke before going on. Apparently, my sugar levels were low and it was causing some form of an adrenaline rush. The pain was fine, but my body was still reacting to the uncommon sensation occurring.

Other people tell me their experience was painful. It hurt for them. But they never once felt dizzy like I did. Pain, therefore, is felt differently and at different levels. Comparing one’s pain to another’s is a waste of energy.

“If I show pain, I feel a different kind of pain, a kind of pain that tells me to stop. But if I keep a clear face then the pain is not so bad. We called it ‘the face of Kannon,’ a face like the Buddha.” Sato in Twigger (1997), page 88.

I need to practise the face of Kannon.


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