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Pain, its Relief and Pleasure

express inner knowing

Just working stuff out...

Well, January whizzed by in the blink of an eye... could be something to do with living in the Southern Hemisphere - summer! I've spent a few winters here, and somehow they're different.

Up North is quite different... and I do quite like the idea of the Roman calendar - 10 months beginning March through to December with a meh, bleh time between. Oooo what would I have done - certainly filled that time with a slow reflection on the year past... a loooong meditational reconnection and reflection. Open as always to nature's saps rising, and strengthening for the year ahead - super! I doubt it would have been possible, but it's a nice thought.

Instead, we mostly live everything all at once with very little breathing space... occasional respite found in the weekly yoga class. Well, that was then...

Now, ever since I was catapulted into the world of health and wellbeing, I've been on the lookout for that crucial bit of information that would make sense of this human condition of ours. Of course, there isn't one, but many times along the way I think I've found 'it'. Saying that, our senses for pain, its relief along with pleasure and its depletion keep raring their heads as main protagonists in the human condition narrative - our health and wellbeing story. I then happened upon the Periaqueductal Gray (PAG).

Now initially my research had pointed me to believe one side of the PAG sensed pain and the other pleasure, but I've since found this is not the case.

The PAG receives pain signals only, and its activation stimulates pain relief. The critical point being that pain relief is pleasurable, and it begins in the brain. Whereas pleasure with the exception of pain relief triggered by the PAG begins with our interactions with the outside world. Whilst neuroscience has identified that the PAG receives pain signals, there isn't as of yet a specific pleasure receiver, rather a central receiving area.

So it appears that our preference for pleasure over pain makes sense all round. Not only to ensure we don't damage ourselves too much - the knocks, despite its relief does hurt with the potential for long-term damage, but also our brains are built to experience thriving as pleasurable experience; a stressful brain is an unpleasant experience whereas a happy brain is a pleasant one. No wonder we shy away from the discomfort change brings - yes, even that for the long-term better despite the mounting stress and distress of remaining the same.

This situation hasn't been helped by either the world of media or science. Recent science appears to have blurred the distinctions between pain, the pleasure of pain relief and other pleasure.

Picture this, there we are doing a bit of DIY, hammering a nail into a plank of wood when bham! We hit our thumb. We've all seen the cartoons of the thumb throbbing away, the poor stooge hopping about in pain. Well, when we do it for real it's far from funny - it hurts! Furthermore, not only does the PAG receive direct pain signals for when we do those stupid little things we all do so well, like banging our heads or stubbing our toes, but it also receives distress signals when we witness others do likewise. And we are meant to hear these distress signals, as distress signals - not laugh at them!

To live the distinction well, we should be ouching with the pain and ahhhing when the relief kicks in, but we mostly don't. Also, and understandably, we laugh at the cartoons, when in reality we should be empathising along with the poor stooge, and cringing, because we can't help!

Hey, whilst we continue to dumb down our innate senses folks, we're dumbing down ourselves. Furthermore, until such time as we experience our experiences more fully, our personal flourishing will fall short of the mark.

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