Greg Goode and the Experience of Pain

[ The following will be added to the page “Looking Into the Experience of Pain”. Thanks to Greg Goode for the entirety of this page, extracted from his book  THE DIRECT PATH :  A User Guide ]


Purpose – Discovering whether pain establishes the body as objectively feeling something.

Let’s do a thought experiment about pain. Have you ever barked your shin on a table, stubbed your toe or bashed your knee into the computer under your desk ? Most people have. So think back on one of those times …

Cautionary note: If you suspect that you may have any medical or psychological issues involving pain, then consult your physician or therapist before conducting the following exercise.

1. Remember the direct experience of the pain. Close your eyes and attend to the direct experience of the pain itself. You may have experienced a flare of gnawing, aching discomfort. It may have come and gone in waves. Even when that discomfort was at its highest, did the feeling come pre-packaged with a label saying tat the pain was happening in the shin, the toe or in the body ? Is there any body attached to the pain ? Actually, many people have the experience that in very deep pain there seems to be nothing arising other than the pain itself.

2. The thought about the pain is not the pain. There might have been a thought that said, ” I couldn’t be possibly be feeling this unless it were happening to my body.” but notice that this was a thought about the pain and not the pain itself. A thought about the pain is not the direct experience of pain – it is more like the direct experience of a thought. Similarly, if the pain seems intense, surprising, worse than 90 % of the other pains you have experienced, etc. , notice that these are also thoughts that are not included in the pain itself.

3. Can you really see the pain ? So now (in memory) look at the area on the body that seems affected by the pain. In memory, lets say that a red or blue color arises in/as the seeing. In the direct experience of vision, what makes this color equal to pain ? What color IS pain ? Poetically it is depicted with red to symbolize blood or green to symbolize envy or other emotional distress. But in the direct experience of the color itself, what is your direct visual experience that amounts to pain ? Does the color carry the label that says ” pain ” ? Do you see the color feeling pain ? There may be thoughts arising that say, ” This redness is the same as the unpleasant feeling. That is how I am seeing the pain. But notice that this is a series of thoughts about the pain, and not included in the pain itself. If the direct experience of pain does not include the experience of a body feeling the pain, vision does not include it, and a thought does not include it either, then when you combine all three modes of experience together, you still get no experience of a body as a feeler. zero + zero + zero = zero.

4. After all, what makes it pain in the first place ? Even the pain doesn’t come self-identified. It doesn’t announce itself as “pain”. The label comes from a thought, which, again, is not direct experience of the pain. So even the “pain” is not “pain” in direct experience. It surely seems like something, but any particular thing always depends on an attribution by thought.

5. Is the pain separate from witnessing awareness ? This is more subtle. Is the pain something you experience as apart from pure awareness ? Is it something pre-existing that awareness just happens to discover ? Do you have some way of experiencing the pain that does not involve witnessing awareness at all ? That is how you would be able to apprehend the pain in-it-self to prove that witnessing awareness grasps it.

Another way to think about this is by analogy. You know how we normally think about physical objects. Before we began our inquiry, we probably thought that physical objects are completely independent of perception and awareness. They seem not to need our perception in order to exist. So, is the pain like this ? For example, let’s consider a house cat that you see in one room and then another. The cat ( we usually think ) can be present sometimes and absent sometimes ( because it is present somewhere else). We normally think the cat exists even if it is not presently experienced.

But is the pain like this? Is the pain ever experienced as existing outside awareness ? In other words, is the pain ever experienced as a separate, independent
thing that experience discovers ? In other words, do you ever have direct experience of pain when witnessing awareness is absent ?

6. Is it really true that pain should not occur ? The subjunctive form ” should” is used in evaluations and normative statements. ” You should call your mother.” or ” I should have a better life.” But other than an evaluative claim and its attendant concepts and standards, where does this ” should ” come from ? Is there anything in the pain itself that communicates an evaluation ? Even though we may prefer to have our dentistry with anesthesia rather than without, and believe a painless procedure better than a painful one, is it the pain itself that communicates this preferentiality ? Or is the preferentiality a belief ?
Another way to look at it is this – it’s not always the case that we want to be pain-free. Consider being a cyclist trying to climb hills faster. The muscles and lungs seem to burn ! Athletes use the information from this pain as an indication that more training is needed. Pain can be a valuable signal, and not everyone wants to wish it out of existence. SO is there anything in the direct experience of this burning sensation that establishes that, right here, right now, it should not occur ?

7. Is the pain anything other than awareness ? This is a continuation of (5). Try as much as you can – can you come up with any experience in which pain is present, but witnessing awareness is not present for the pain to appear to ? Whenever pain is, awareness is there. Whenever pain is not, awareness is still there. Awareness is the only experienced common factor, whether the pain is arising or not. This means that there is nothing in the direct experience of pain other than awareness.

Edited to fit blog format.

Many thanks to Greg Goode for this excerpt from his book THE DIRECT PATH : A User Guide, ps. 89 – 91 The book may be found here:

The photo is from here : Thanks to FRed Bluefox for this excellent photo !

About dominic724

A former seeker starts blogging.
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3 Responses to Greg Goode and the Experience of Pain

  1. Bobbi Lurie says:

    I am in so much pain now: this is painful for me to read. Who says “spirit” isn’t physical? Stop chopping things up. Disassociation is a very dangerous game. Nothing is more real than pain.

    • dominic724 says: ” Dissociation is a term in psychology describing a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional reality. It is commonly displayed on a continuum.[1] The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality – rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis.[2][3][4][5] In mild cases, dissociation can be regarded as a coping mechanism or defense mechanisms in seeking to master, minimize or tolerate stress – including boredom or conflict.[6][7][8] At the nonpathological end of the continuum, dissociation describes common events such as daydreaming while driving a vehicle. Further along the continuum are non-pathological altered states of consciousness.[1][9][10]”

      Is this what you mean, Bobbi ? That’s not what I get from what Greg Good wrote. I see it as an extension of the links and other references on the page, which point to using the intensity of the pain as a meditation object. In particular, please see Shinzen Young’s contribution: and another example of the use of pain as a meditation object here : . The intent of this page is to point to a different relationship to pain than the initial, reflexive one. The reflexive relationship to pain which immediately takes pain as an object, commandeers attention and cripples people’s lives is the path too many of us follow. I have seen this happen, more than once, in my own house. If pain were not actually perceived, there would be no point to this page. If this is not a helpful approach for you, I sincerely wish that you succeed in finding an approach that does help. Thank you for your heartfelt comment.

  2. Bobbi Lurie says:

    Thank you for your kind and generous response. I am not looking for an “approach”–there is no “reflexive relationship”–it is ALL there is-the mind goes first. Pain is all there is. the mind which seeks to control is the first thing to go. All these exercises are useless. Disassociation=me on path of advaita vedanta-not only performing recommended exercises but teaching them to others. I wonder why anyone would examine “pain” when not in pain (a flu cannot compare to real pain–all this control, while saying “no ego”–it is all based on fear. I can say this because I fear very much. Because I know I have absolutely no control over any of this (life). The story keeps pouring out and I must hope to weather the storm, meaning: I must hope not to lose my “sense” of “I” in it.

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