I need my pain!

by Bruce Wilson

One of my favorite movie scenes occurs in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. On a voyage to rescue hostages, the crew of the starship Enterprise encounters Spock’s half-brother, Sybok, who has the power to heal a person’s innermost pain through telepathy. Embracing emotion rather than logic, Sybok is obsessed with finding God who, he claims, lives in a mythical land called Sha Ra Kee at the center of the galaxy, beyond the Great Barrier. No probe that has gone beyond the barrier has ever returned. In an effort to hijack the Enterprise to carry him to the center of the galaxy, Sybok gains the cooperation of Spock and McCoy by healing their pain—or at least making them believe he had. But Kirk will have nothing to do with it.

To me, Sybok represents every religious guru and huckster who promises relief from suffering for eternal bliss and happiness. It’s the Maharishi, it’s Meher Baba (“don’t worry, be happy”), it’s Osho, the “sex guru” with his 93 Rolls Royces; it’s Jim Jones, it’s Adi Da, who lived on Fiji, surrounded by followers who treated him like a god; it’s a thousand other spiritual leaders who promise nirvana if only…if only… you “give up” your pain and follow them.

And Kirk? He’s the realist who asks, “What does God need with a starship?” He’s the hard-headed skeptic who tells McCoy that “pain and guilt can’t be taken away with the wave of a magic wand.” He’s the guy grounded in reality who knows that our pain is an essential part of us: “They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves.” He shouts at Sybok, “I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!”

I too need my pain, just as I need love, hope and reality. And having the access to feel one’s pain deeply and fully, is what paridoxically opens the door to the latter. No need for cosmic debris. As John Lennon sang in his tenderest song, “love is real, real is love; love is feeling, feeling love.”


“I’ll have a cup of enlightenment, please.” “Will that be with or without feelings, sir?”

by Bruce

If you follow Art Janov’s blog, you may have read his scathing essay on mindfulness therapy. While I agree with his basic argument—that mindfulness therapy is too often a form of mindLESSness therapy—I’d like to provide a broader perspective. In short, mindfulness is not all that bad if you use it to be mindful of feelings, rather than detach from them.

Mindfulness meditation is the current zeitgeist in psychotherapy. Not surprisingly, it fits hand-in-hand with the other dominant therapeutic modality: cognitive behavioral therapy. In fact, there is now a hybrid of the two called MBCT – mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Both techniques are based on the same mechanism—detachment from feelings and thoughts. The “how” of mindfulness meditation can be summed up simply: sit still for 30 or 40 minutes, keep your eyes slightly open, follow your breath, and pay attention to whatever is going on in your mind and body but don’t do anything about it. Just sit there. When you catch your thoughts drifting, get back to the breath. There are variations on this theme, such as walking meditation and meditation while doing yoga or manual work. In a word, meditation is about paying attention. Be here now! Nothing more, nothing less.

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