All through my life, I’ve wished that I could reduce or eliminate the suffering that others go through. I guess this is built into the basic pre-programming that comes with being human. Most of the time this desire is in relative abeyance and I’m distracted from it, as I’m busy coping with my life. There are people in my life with a lot of pain, but I don’t think about it often as there’s nothing practical that can be done about it — and I hate problems I want to help with but can’t do anything about! And, like all of us, I have (too) many defenses which blunt my perception of others’ suffering – that’s something I’ve needed to work with all my life.
This issue of pain and suffering naturally becomes far more real and important to me when I’m ill and in pain myself. While I tend to get absorbed in being unhappy with my own suffering and wishing I could do something about it, wishing my doctor could do something about it, etc., sometimes I remember that my level of suffering is usually trivial compared to the amount of painful suffering too many people go through, and I remember to pray for their healing and welfare. No, I don’t know or have any guarantees that my prayer really makes a difference, but prayer expresses a deep desire in me.
Now that I’ve gotten older, pain is much more familiar to me. I’ve had daily headaches for many years now, many of which can be controlled by medication, some of which keep right on hurting and distracting in spite of the medication I take. Throw in some arthritis and bursitis that comes with getting older, and the prevalence and reality of pain is much more experientially real to me!
The last few years I’ve increasingly had the thought that if reincarnation is real (and I think there’s a good chance of it), one of the best things I could hope for in a future life would be to be born with the talent and motivation to become a researcher who helps develop more effective treatments for pain.
Now, the odd thing about this that struck me today. Sometimes I am amazed at how long it takes me to grasp something that, in retrospect, is obvious.
I have actually devoted most of my working life to decreasing suffering in others! Not their physical pains, I’m not a physician or a chemist who can discover new drugs, but psychological suffering. As I discussed in my last book, The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together, I have talked to and heard from innumerable people who have experienced a lot of suffering in life because they had spiritual experiences or spiritual desires, but believed that Science (I capitalize Science so we remember the Authority it can carry) has somehow proven that all spirituality is total nonsense, and therefore they were stupid, neurotic, or both to care anything about the spiritual.
Psychological pain can be just as real as physical pain.
The primary point of my last book though, was to say that when you look at what scientific evidence we actually have, it’s foolish to say that real science, essential science, has proven that there’s absolutely nothing to spirituality. Sure, there’s lots of superstition, foolishness, neuroticism, politics, power plays, and the like mixed into various spiritual systems and religions – just as there are in all areas of human life. But that doesn’t mean there is no reality to the spiritual. I remember an old Sufi saying that counterfeit money can only exist because there is real money.
When you actually study the results of experiments in scientific parapsychology, you find that human beings occasionally manifest abilities which cannot be explained adequately in terms of contemporary physical science or straightforward extensions of it, and which are the sort of properties we would expect genuinely spiritual beings to have. As just one example: telepathy. From the point of view of materialism, physicalism, prayer, so central in spirituality and religion, is nothing but talking to yourself. Even if you do it out loud, the message doesn’t get beyond a very limited range of who’s in earshot. Perhaps it does us some psychological good to get our desires off our chests in the form of prayer, but that’s the end of the story. Your mind is nothing but the workings of your physical brain, brains don’t emit or receive physical energies that can send prayers anywhere beyond earshot if you pray aloud and nowhere beyond your skull if you pray silently.
Once you look at the extensive evidence that human beings sometimes manifest telepathy, though, it’s clear that the idea of mental thoughts and desires sometimes transcending ordinary spatial barriers is not an inherently nonsensical idea. It happens sometimes. Well, what is prayer, but the hope that your wishes and desires will transcend the limits of physical space? Hopefully with some sort of compassionate and powerful spiritual being on the receiving end of that prayer. We don’t know much about the latter possibility from a scientific point of view — parapsychology is still such a tiny and young science — and I don’t know how much we will ever know scientifically — but we certainly know that the message can be sent!
So, the point I constantly emphasize that The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together was about is that rather than thinking that Science has somehow shown all spirituality is nonsense, it is reasonable to be both scientific and spiritual in your orientation toward life. Lots of intelligent discrimination and refinement of understanding is still required, of course, but it’s simply not all nonsense. So when I can’t do anything else to help someone, or even when I can, I usually say a prayer hoping the best possible result will come from this situation.
It’s satisfying to realize that I have been able to do something which can reduce the suffering of at least a few others, Many people have told me that when they realize what the results of scientific parapsychology are, they then are more open to their psychic and spiritual side, and feel like they haven’t been dismissed as stupid and neurotic. And, of course, my own attitude toward life, which puts a high value on the spiritual, is personally reinforced by knowing that there is so much high quality scientific evidence pointing toward a reality to the spiritual.
I still wish I could help more with physical pain, though….