Re-purpose the Pain

Re-reading Heaven’s Reach this week for the first time since late high school or early college, I ran across a character development that had such a huge impact on my own growth that I’d nearly forgotten its origin.

! Massive spoiler alert !

Emerson D’Anite’s brain has been purposefully damaged – basically, his left temporal lobe removed – for reasons he cannot remember, robbing him of speech.  For a while, he cannot communicate at all.  Slowly, he re-learns how to grunt, gesture, and eventually discovers that he can express himself musically, appropriating snatches of half-remembered song lyrics to communicate with the people around him.  When he tries to remember what his life was like before his injury, the events that led to his maiming, who did it to him, or why, he suffers awful pain.

That is, until he realizes that the pain was put into his brain by the same beings who injured him, specifically to discourage him from thinking about those memories and questions.  This insight fills Emerson with a healthy spitefulness and he learns to dive straight into the pain, taking it as a sign that he is on the right track and thereby turning it against the beings who inflicted it!  Bit by bit, he wrenches some of his memories and speaking ability back as the pain – which isn’t diminished in and of itself – is tempered with satisfaction and excitement and, yes, a constructive kind of revenge.

I have taken this lesson and incorporated it into my own self and my thinking habits.  When I notice psychological pain, whether through reflection or someone bringing it to my attention, I try to counter the instinct to avoid it by going straight into it, thinking about it, writing or talking about it, making sure I don’t forget it.  There’s still the problem of noticing the pain/avoidance response in the first place, but with lots of practice I may even be getting better at that.  Through a long and continuing slog across this territory, I’ve partially re-trained my internal reward mechanisms to better support my practice of Emerson’s insight.

In a way, vengeance plays a role for me, too; on my subconscious, on natural selection, on cultural conditioning, on anything other than my conscious self that determines my behavior and experience.

Too often I forget that this is an unusual habit of thought, and when others express some kind of psychological pain or discomfort I immediately start going after it (because that’s what I do in my own head) when they would rather not.

The Uplift series made a strong impact on me in at least one other way; the relationship between Tom Orley and Gillian Baskin as an example of a highly developed, equitable and caring life-partnership.  (Primarily in Startide Rising.)  As readers of MR|link and the blog know, the author, Dr. David Brin, has contributed a lot to my general worldview, though at the moment I can’t think of an example of a specific, direct impact on my jams.  -h