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Pain Training

By Judith Brisman, PhD | September 1, 2013

We hope the summer was long enough for everyone to have had some quiet soulful moments, some wonderful adventures and enough of a lull to be ready to jump back in to a more normal rhythm of work and school.

Over this last month, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, the capacious, stunning Pulitzer Prize winning novel ostensibly about a North Korean spy, but also about identity, love, intimacy and the vacuous space between our two nations’ cultures. I was dragging my iPod and computer from car to apartment, room to room, so compelling (and beware, gritty) was the story.

Throughout the book, the author talks about the pain training that the young spy, Jun Do, has had to learn and endure. When you feel pain in one part of your body, Jun Do is taught, travel to another untortured part of your body. Focus on how that part of you feels, get lost in thoughts or memories that are evoked by the the parts of you that are not broken or in torturous pain. Jun Do wears the scars on his arm from the lit candle held to his skin during the arduous preparation for his life as a spy and kidnapper.

This is a book you live not read. And so throughout the multitude of thoughts it engendered, I found myself wondering if what we do at EDRC each day is “pain training”? Life is tough. Lit candles are held to our skin in endless ways. How do we hold on, be brave and remember that when the pain occurs in one place, there are safe havens to retreat to– other than food, starvation — or yes, even the intense focus of burning or cutting itself. I wondered what place in my body i could go to during “pain training”?

Years ago, when one of my daughters parted from me for her first foray into pre-school, she ran back to me and wordlessly grabbed my leg, right above my knee– and wouldn’t let go. Yes, we slowly pried her hands free; yes, i sat with her until she was quietly engaged in drawing; and yes, i was able to soon leave with the gift of a proudly drawn picture, a warm teacher and a quick-shot view of my daughter smiling, holding the hand of another child as she took her first steps into the world and I was guided out the door.

Maybe for me “pain training” would take me to my leg– a place initially associated with pain but soon lodged with images of connection, relief and love. Maybe if i were a spy in pain training, i would think of that part of my leg, right above the knee, where my daughter’s hands took hold.

What would “pain training” mean to you?

So much for sun and beach and travel and the time to wander while being read to for 20 hours.

Guess it’s time to get back to work…