By Rashida Jiwani
Two of my friends were discussing an issue which came up in one of our get-togethers. It was: “Who is experiencing more pain, you or me?”
One of my friends is a divorcee and the other was widowed some years back. The divorcee friend said, “You do not know how painful it is to be divorced. Being a widow is not as painful as being divorced.” The widowed friend said, “You have to be a widow to understand the pain of a widow. I have greater pain than you.”
I started thinking about this. Firstly, is it even possible to measure pain? Or compare experiences of it? Pain, sadness, depression, happiness are all emotions. We definitely cannot measure them. But can we even compare them?
I remembered an example which is often given by psychologists in which a teacher raises her hand in a class of little kids, as if she were going to beat them. One boy pees in his pants, another feels a bit afraid, and a third raises his head as though saying, “I care two hoots”.
Let’s take another related example. A pen gives more satisfaction to a student who uses it to write in his notebook, while a teacher gets more satisfaction from the piece of chalk that she uses to write on the blackboard. Now when the teacher leaves the classroom, the student may pick up the chalk, scribble on the board and get some satisfaction from this. Meanwhile, the teacher may go to the staff room, start writing notes with a pen and get satisfaction from this. So satisfaction varies from person to person, and time to time.
Whatever applies to one emotion applies to most others. In case of my two friends, I think their pain cannot be compared because they are going through different life situations. But I know two individuals who faced the same situation, that is, the death of their husbands. In one case, the woman could not get relief from her pain for many years, but finally it decreased and now, after about 20 years, she has pleasant memories of her husband. But the other woman’s husband died recently, after 50 years of marriage, and yet she was able to get hold of herself in a month or so. Now, she carries on with her life as usual.
Does this mean that the second woman loved her husband less than the first one? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has said, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” We all go through similar or different kinds of pain in our lives; they may be related to health, finance, broken relationships, and death of loved ones. How much we want to suffer depends on our capacity to face pain and our willingness to say “Yes” to the natural flow of life. If we say “No” to pain, we get mentally stuck to the situation, even though life moves on. The river of life flows on the mountains over pebbles, or big rocks, but it does not stop flowing. And with it, we must flow too.
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