Pain blocks dialogue; faith restores it

The next and my favorite speaker at the conference“ To touch the pain from a place of faith” was Dr. Baruch Kahane (see previous blog posts about him).

He opened with the following statement: The concept “Just think good and it will be good” can make people so worried about how bad stress is that they get stressed over trying not to get stressed.

Although positive thinking does has an effect we have to know that it doesn’t always work.

Any anti-dialogic process is an indication of pain. Dialogue is the ability to hear something from the other or from myself that tells me something new, something different. Pain blocks dialogue in every form.

Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar (Avot 4:18) demonstrated his understanding of this aspect of human nature when he said: “Do not try to appease a person in the hour of his anger, do not try to comfort a person in the hour that his dead relative is lying in front of him, do not question him in the hour of his vow and do not try to see him in his hour of disgrace.”

All of these statements are an expression of pain. The message of all of them is the same: Do not try to enter into a dialogue with the person he’s in this state. If we tell him, at that moment of rage that there are other perspectives and other ways to see life, he won’t want to hear it.

Similarly grief blocks dialogue. At that moment he doesn’t want to be calmed. He’s afraid of losing his grief. If he doesn’t have his grief he’s going to be left empty. He has already lost a loved one. Grief is all he has right now.

The third example is questioning a person when he makes a vow. After a person has made a vow we can question him: “Had you known that such and such would happen as a result of your vow, would you have made it?” And then we can annul the vow retroactively. But that very moment when he is first taking the vow it is not the time to talk to him about it.

Sometimes he needs to be alone with his feelings. When the pain is intense he’s suspicious of dialogue. The pain has a value to it.

What is the meaning of pain? A person who suffers from pain cannot think about anything else. This is important. Something happened to me, and this event that took place is part of me. It didn’t go away. A person who is immersed in his pain cannot go forward, because he’s still back there.

This event that happened comes back over and over again. He can’t let go of it. What happens with traumatic events is that he goes back to it and he doesn’t move from there. He’s there.

Something broke his whole world view. He tells his story over and over again and at some point something small changes in the story. The pain has a task of rectification. I listen to his story and I bring him light in the concealment of the darkness.

There are certain things, like the stars for example that you only see in the darkness. Sometimes the way to healing is to see the little points of light within the darkness itself.

Someone comes along and says to a person in pain: “Look how nice the world is.” But as someone in pain, you don’t want him to light up the world for you now. Instead you want to contemplate. “I’m here in the darkness. Right now I’m here.

You are telling me I should look at how beautiful the world is? You’re telling me that in addition to being in the dark I’m also now not okay, because I’m supposed to be happy?!”

We have to be careful with this. We shouldn’t minimize their pain.

Dr. Kahane referred back to the previous speaker, saying that the idea of expanding the square that Yakir Kaufman spoke about can also be expressed as “rewriting the symphony.” The sound is not the composition. The composition is a combination of sounds that create meaning. Many people today are familiar with the idea of a narrative. – How do I tell my story? A musical composition can start out nice and sweet and then suddenly there is dissonance that comes and spoils what came before.

But has the dissonance really spoiled the music? There is something more dramatic, deeper, and more profound than what came before.

I live my life and then something happens. What does it mean? This does not have to be about saying “My life’s mission is…” but rather a simple matter of the way I get the feeling of meaning.

All of a sudden something gets spoiled. There is a dissonance. My life is not playing the music the same way. It’s gone.

Now a question enters my reality. Will it be left there like a rock stuck in place or can I take this “something” and be part of it? I can play it anew; I can integrate it into a new symphony.

Pregnancy means there will be pain yet women who are pregnant are happy. When the pain has meaning the person can tolerate it. When someone has to do something that they think is for some purpose and the purpose is taken away then there’s no longer a meaning.

When there is no meaning to their pain they can’t tolerate it. (I will interject Dr. Kahane’s words here with Frankl: Despair = Suffering – Meaning)

Faith restores meaning. When rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was dying each of his students tried to comfort him by telling him the story of someone else who suffered. He replied to them: Is it not enough I have to suffer my pain but I also have to hear about Adam’s pain in the Garden of Eden?!

Rabbi Elazar ben Arach was the one student who said something different. He said the following: If the king entrusts you with something of value, uppermost in your mind will be the question: In what condition did you return the pledge? Rabbi Elazar was saying to Rabbi Yochanan, “The meaning has not been lost.”

We have to say this message according to each person’s ability to understand. We have to use that person’s concepts. If a child scrapes his knee and his mother kisses it he stops crying. He knows the meaning of it is that his mother is here. He believes in her. It wouldn’t be the same if someone else would kiss it.

We can live a world where we have faith in reality. Faith means that we don’t understand what the meaning is but we know that there is some kind of meaning. (I will interject again: Unlike many existentialist philosophers, Frankl bases logotherapy on the premise that there is a meaning and we have to discover it.) It’s a natural power. Job said “I don’t know the explanation but I know there is one.”

In conclusion:

Listen.

Be there.

Don’t minimize the person’s pain.

Be assured that in the darkness there is a meaning.

Let things come out naturally for the person.

We want to create a dialogue with him and this process will bring him to his own dialogue with himself.

(To interject once more – The aim of logotherapy is to restore the person’s basic trust in life.)

Afternote: There is a saying that he who quotes someone by name brings redemption to the world. Let us quote Frankl when his theory is being expounded. Let us use logotherapy for all the benefits it accrues.

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