The doctor sat down in his armchair, legs crossed, his glass in one hand, wildly gesturing with the other.
“And in order to survive,” he continued, “we have to be strong. We cannot let trivial things such as pain pull us down. Thanks to ratio humans have defied the laws of nature many times. I say it’s about time we took evolution into our own hands and used our greatest strength to overcome our greatest weakness. Our mind enables and paralyzes us at the same time, it pushes us forward and holds us back, liberates us and ties us down, raises us above all things only to drop us into the darkest hole. Wouldn’t it be mankind’s greatest achievement to put an end to this arbitrariness? Of course we could wait for evolution to resolve this, but as we know it takes millions of years to grow a long enough neck to reach the green leafs at the tree top. I personally am not willing – not patient enough – to wait that long. I intend to enjoy as much pleasure in this lifetime as humanly possible. And the first and foremost step to achieve this is to eliminate, or rather to convert, pain.”
“And this is to be achieved through training our mind to forget pain, or rather to convince it that agony and grief will eventually turn into enjoyment?”
“Exactly, Burke, exactly.”
“So what would be the next step in your ‘training’?”
“Before we move on to the more complex forms of pain, such as grief, loss, anxiety, despair, melancholia and the likes, we will continue working on the physical sphere. You seem to have understood the concept of anticipation, memory and forgetting quite well. “
“It seemed easy enough.”
“So it did. And it is, really. But then, of course, the pain we experience from pulling out a hair does not actually constitute an obstacle that is in any way difficult to overcome.”
“What do you suggest then?”
“I suggest we slowly move on to more severe pain.”
He got up out of his armchair, moved over to the fireplace, picked up one of the iron tools and moved the coals around. The flames had almost gone out. He refuelled the fire with a couple of wood chunks until it was crackling lively again. The sitting room was immediately filled with a comfortable heat and the flickering light underlined the homeliness of the place. Then he suddenly turned around and smacked his guest with the iron rod.
“Ouch!” the young man screamed, “are you out of your mind? What in the world do you think you’re doing?”
“Ha! Burke, I got you there, didn’t I?” he laughed. “Do I rightly assume that the pain you just experienced is of a different sort than the one when you were pulling out your hair?”
“Why yes of course it is! You bloody beat me with an iron bar! You could have warned me!”
“Warned you? But my dear friend, pain does not always come with a warning now, does it?”
The young man rubbed his thigh, looking at his host in disbelief.
The doctor hit him again, harder this time.
“Ouch! What is wrong with you?”
“My dear Burke, how can you still be surprised?” He hit him again.
“Stop it now, Norton, you are insane!”
The older man laughed. “Ha! But Burke, my friend, no reason to get upset! I thought we agreed on doing this! Tell me how you are feeling.”
“I’m feeling very angry right now!”
“Now why would you feel angry? I must admit this is the last reaction I would have expected of you.”
“Why would I feel angry? Because you continue to beat me without my consent!”
“But Burke, this is part of the game! You don’t make the rules; you just have to go along with it! Pain comes and goes without our consent; it is out of our control. All we can do is learn to react to it adequately, and get the situation back under control. Do you get my meaning? Now describe to me, as before, how did it feel?”
“When did it hurt most?”
“The moment you slapped the iron rod across my leg, naturally!”
“Good, very good. How does it feel now?”
“It still stings.”
“Does it hurt as much as the moment I hit you?”
“Describe to me what it feels like now.”
He slightly stroked his leg. “It’s hot, and it tingles.”
“What about your muscles? Are your muscles tense?”
“No. No I think not. Actually, physically I am quite relaxed.”
“Very good, Burke, very good, I am delighted! Please continue: At this very moment, when you think about being beaten with an iron rod – which feeling do you associate with it?”
“A hot leg and a tingling sensation”
“Yes, Burke, exactly! Do you remember exactly what it felt like when the iron touched your leg?”
The younger man thought about it for a moment. “Mmhh. No. No not exactly. I know it was painful though.”
“Ok. But which feeling prevails at the moment? The pain, or the ceasing pain? The tenseness or the relaxation of your muscles?
“The relaxation, I guess, and the slight tingle, which probably indicates the pain is ceasing.”
“What you are experiencing right now is not pain, but it is vanishing pain. The pain itself is a blurred memory. On an intellectual level you still know that you experienced a sharp pain that you wish not to be repeated. On a physical level, however, you have already moved on. Your body focuses on what is important for you to survive. It relaxes, it radiates warmth – an overall pleasant sensation I might say.”
The younger man nodded agreeing.
“So, if I were to give you a warning this time that I will strike you again in just a moment, what would your reaction be?”
“To be frank, I would say please don’t hit me again, because it really hurt. And I mean it, Norton.”
“And that is quite a natural reaction, too, my friend. Your mind is not trained yet, we are still at the beginning. Focus on your body, on how relaxed you are. You can close your eyes too, if that helps.”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He stroked his leg and let his hand linger on the spot where the iron had left a mark on his trousers. He could feel the warmth through the fabric. To his own surprise, he did feel quite relaxed, even more than before. He felt as if he had just escaped some kind of danger, survived a vicious attack, and now appreciated – no, enjoyed – the quiet that was left behind. He felt strangely empowered by what he had just experienced.
The doctor silently picked up the rod again, tightly clasped it in his hands, took a big swing and struck again.
“Ahhh!” the young man screamed. “For fuck’s sake, will you stop that, Norton, I mean it!”
“Haha, but Burke, in order to build up a habit we need repetition! Repeat, learn, remember, internalize,” he laughed and struck again.