Pain Don't Hurt

Pain don't hurt.  -Patrick Swazye (Road House)

My wife and I are taking a birthing class in preparation for our daughter's arrival. The class presents a wide variety of methods to cope with stress and pain, so that both the pregnant woman and her partner can have as comfortable an experience as possible. In order to practice the breathing and mindfulness techniques against actual discomfort, participants take part in an exercise that I'm thinking of adding to my Stoic practice.

In the class, participants are asked to take ice, hold it in their hands, and find ways to work through the building pain. I find this method brilliant in its simplicity. For the price of a few melting ice cubes, I get a truly distracting experience to test myself against.

When in pain remember that it brings no dishonor and that it does not weaken the governing intelligence. Pain is neither everlasting nor intolerable; it has its limits if you add nothing by imagination.
-Marcus Aurelius

In the class, the ice exercise is used with a variety of methods. Sometimes we concentrate on our breath. Sometimes we pay attention to the sensation itself. Sometimes we visualize a scene in our minds. I say we, because that's what the teachers ask us to do. I actually have been using the time to practice applicable Stoic techniques, primarily Recitation and The Discipline of Assent.

Recitation on Ice

Holding ice in my hand, I reflect on Stoic quotes that apply to pain.

For example, 

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment. -Aurelius

I hold the ice for at least one minute, then I rest the hand. I continue with the opposite hand. 

Assenting to Swazye-ism

Holding ice in my hand, I agree that pain does not, in fact, hurt. 

More seriously, I examine the impression that ice presents to my body. It is likely, as time goes on, that I will notice a judgement arising in my mind that pain is bad. Instead of assenting to this idea, I recognize that nothing outside of my volition is either good or bad, it is indifferent.

I hold the ice for at least one minute, then I rest the hand. I continue with the opposite hand. 

The Effect

I'm not looking to be a Spartan. In general, I feel we should pay attention to physical pain, it's there to let us know we need to respond to something. However, pain (neither physical nor emotional) should not distract us from our goal of a good flow of life. I've found that the addition of ice has a similar effect in my mental workouts that adding ankle weights when running would have on my physical ones. In our first birthing class session, I actual found the ice very painful. On the second session (with no practice in between) I thought the teacher had halved the practice time. Nope, one minute each time. It went faster the second time because I regarded the sensations as indifferent.

Sometimes it's helpful to add potential discomfort to our routine in order to better practice our disciplines. Seneca said, "treat yourself harshly at times." Ice is a simple and effective way to do that. If you're looking for a means of putting your judgement to the test, I recommend filling an ice cube tray and getting to it.