Aches and Pains

It snowed yesterday. But you’d only know it from the white pockets of shade. It’s been an odd year of light seasons. An uneasy mediocrity in the elements — like something is bound to blow through at any moment.

We ran a quick-ish 4K this morning without Leonard. Nice to find a rhythm, but my body felt heavy. It could be because of vacation – a post-breakfast run instead of the usual fasting run. It could also be the sore muscles around my knees and ankles from the half-marathon terrain run last weekend.

I finally got around to reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. He argues the probably of plants having the ability to learn. And because of the way of the world, the possibility of plants then experiencing pain.

It seems to be, in an informal way, that people have often measured the quality life by the experience of pain? In the 1800s, the people in charge of the asylums remarked to Dorothea Dix that the insane were just fine naked in the cellar all winter, since the insane don’t experience cold or pain.

And how often has pain been one of the “senses” some people will deny in other people(s). Historically. Even today.

Whole peoples.

And on an interpersonal level we justify our callousness continually. “They” aren’t really hurting.

It is interesting to remember that a callous grows to shield us from pain. As a shield. A distancing. The opposite of empathizing, of “feeling with”.

To deny someone’s experience of pain is to deny their humanity. But more than that – to deny something the possibility of experiencing pain it is to deny the possibility of sentience.

Maybe our concept of an anthropomorphic fallacy is all backwards.

It’s not a new thought, at any rate: that it is a mistake to assume we are special. Even in our pain.


747d61b1ac88b7df26b58b99c6bea730Leonard is curled on the floor beside my desk now. It is much more comfortable on the sofa in the other room, but here he is. I think he missed me.


I remember reading a book when I was younger. A character remarked on how much they longed to wake up in a pain-free body. Only now am I able to understand that. But now also finding it difficult to remember a sense of not having some kind of pain.

I remember growing pains. In my chest. Groin sometimes. Knees. “Growing pains”, my mother said. I said the same to my sons when they had them.

The sudden, unexpected pain of being alive.


In The Hidden Life of Trees, the author talks about how a woodpecker makes a wound in the bark of a tree, and then leaves to let fungus soften things before returning. The fungus keeps at it, even after the cavity is too large to serve the woodpecker. So another creature moves into the expanding space. Then another. And all the while, is the tree feeling this as pain? Like my reality of a tender hamstring and an arthritic toe joint?


I had a nightmare last night. I have them only rarely now. And not nearly as vividly as once. Though sometimes it takes me longer to reorient to the real world as I wake —

like turning over scattered puzzle pieces and fitting them together into a somewhat less frightening order.

It seems that, as I age, there is a shifting of the kind of pain I experience.

The cold hurts my bones more than it used to. But heartbreak hurts far less. I can only hope the latter is a matter of  it having already been cracked open once, and having adjusted to the openness, each new love moving into a growing spaciousness.


Can anyone recommend a good book on pain?




5 Replies to “Aches and Pains”

  1. “It seems that, as I age, there is a shifting of the kind of pain I experience.”

    Yes–definitely. I’ve read a bit on pain, searching for understanding, for not necessarily answers but a better grip on what pain is (subjective, yes; but genuine). From an intellectual point of view, Elaine Scarry.

    Insights but…I have looked for books on the bodymind (or mindbody) situation: does non-physical trauma show up in the body? (the answer seems to be a resounding yes). Reading about pain kept getting me into the territories of psychology, neurology, and philosophy.

    Oh, and how-to books.

    How to live with pain? You live, I guess. Buddha: life is suffering.

    How does suffering differ from pain?

    Anyway, back to my initial response to your writing. The kind of pain does shift and change with age. In my experience.

    1. Thank you so much for the Scarry recommendation. I read a Scandi book by Solveig Bøhle called When the Body Remembers what You Want to Forget. I don’t see an English translation, though.

      I really have found Buddhist philosophy life-changing in so many ways. Pain/suffering being of course the most significant. And my youngest kid – in the military talking about how to deal with the cold on exercises – a metaphor for life parallel to Buddhist wisdom,

      1. I’ve also read Melanie Thernstrom’s “The Pain Chronicles” and Patrick Wall’s “Pain: The Science of Suffering” as well as, of course–on an entirely different POV–C.S. Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain.” But each book has left me somewhat unsatisfied. If more informed.

  2. Beautiful post. I especially love this line: “The cold hurts my bones more than it used to. But heartbreak hurts far less.” I’m starting to slowly understand this shifting of pain that you describe.

    1. Thank you so much! I love it when what I am feeling resonates with other people – makes me feel more human. … (Love your blog – looking forward to digging in there).


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