Handling Pain

[Listen to Asha read this story]

One day, when he was living in Italy, Swamiji bit down on a hard piece of bread and broke off a front tooth. The dentist in Gualdo Tadino said, “The break is right at the gum line. It won’t do to just glue it back on. I’ll have to dig into the jawbone above the gum, kill the nerve, then drill a hole into which I can insert a post, and then glue the tooth onto that post. You’ll have to come back four times.”

“I don’t have that much time,” Swamiji said. “Just do the whole job now, without anesthesia.”

“It will be very painful!” warned the dentist. “The nerve is alive, and the front teeth are very sensitive.”

“I know,” Swamiji said. “I've had lots of dental work done this way.”

“The dentist,” Swamiji told us later, “seemed to want to prove he’d been right. He went at it rather more roughly, I think, than was necessary. When he cut the live nerve and pulled it out, he waved it above me so that two friends of mine, who were in the same room, could see what he’d done and appreciate the full extent of my ‘ordeal.’”

Throughout it all, Swamiji remained calm and unmoving. The dentist was astounded.

“Once the procedure started, I thought you would have to take anesthesia,” he said afterwards. “How were you able to bear the pain?”

“I thought about God,” Swamiji replied.

Later, Swamiji said, “I didn’t want to explain it to the dentist. He wouldn’t have understood. But what I did was simply broaden my reality base. I saw that fleeting pain as just a passing phase in a long life. The chair I was sitting in, and the operation itself, were like mere dots on the panorama of that life. In that way, I didn't focus my reality on what was happening at that moment, but on a longer time span.

“This is the other side of the teaching to ‘be here now’: Be in the unchanging here, and in the unchanging now. Live in, but not for, the moment.”

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