The reflection in the physical body

By Paulo Coelho

In the days when I practised Zen meditation, there always came a moment when the teacher would go over to one corner of the dojo (the room where the students gathered) and return carrying a bamboo cane. Any student who had failed to concentrate properly was asked to put up his or her hand; the teacher would then come over and strike each one three times on each shoulder.

On the first day, that seemed to me absurd and medieval. Later, I understood that it is often necessary to place spiritual suffering on a physical plane in order for us to see the evil that it causes. On the road to Santiago, I learned an exercise which consisted of digging the nail of my index finger into my thumb whenever I had any harmful thoughts.

We only see the terrible consequences of negative thoughts much later, but by making them manifest on the physical plane – through pain – we soon come to realise the evil they cause and end up avoiding them.

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  1. Marie-Christine says:

    Ouch! it hurts.

  2. Yajna says:

    Dearest Paulo,

    I’ve been thinking about this particular story the entire day, trying to figure out what exactly i thought about this issue. I suppose my initial thoughts were somewhat appalled. I’m not one to believe on inflicting pain on one’s self for whatever reason, because i’ve seen the harm some people can do to themselves, but the more i thought about it the more i find an understanding in it. It was important to me to realise what the reason for it. Thoughts about anything seem to always manifest, in a variety of ways. There is immense power in one’s thought, so one should try to always keep them positive, so no more negativity will be created in the world. I think that it is important for you to train yourself to think in this way, because its very easy indulge in fear. One should say stop themselves from actually completing a negative thought, but at times we don’t realise what exactly we’re thinking, thats why i do understand now why in the slightest negativity, you’d pinch yourself simply to remind to stop it, and to focus on whats good in life. Its amazing how the brain works, because after a while, theoretically, you’d be so used to being punished for negativity, that positive thoughts will continuously flow through your mind. I think we could all use with positivity in the world.. Because if your positive, and truely believe in something, it will happen. Whatever you want, can be achieved. The irony of it all, is that you must believe it so much, you have no other options, simply because you’l know it will happen.. Regardless of whatever may stand in your way. But in order for you to do so, you must let go of any fear or negativity you have towards it. Although it might sound easy, at times we are so consumed with fear, helplessness, and plain down negativity, that’s created in this world, we do not have the courage to believe in ourselves and our dreams with all our hearts. That is one of the reasons why a simple pinch is so important. To remind you, that any sort of negativity will set you back. At times, you yourself can prevent obstacles and over come them just by the manner at which you think.

    This story is exceptional. Thank you Paulo.

    Thank you for being.

  3. fLUXman says:

    bo0om paulo,
    transcending pain is where we reach after all those attempts, it is like a gateway to another dimension, as douglas adams bhai(brother) puts it , to fly one should throw onself at the floor and then forget about it,;-),me i have broken both bones in my right arm when 9 years old , fortunately or unfortunately the bone doctor was out on a holiday, those days we had one specialist in a major town, and had to stay with that pain for three days. the third day my doctor a child specialist drugged me with morphine i guess, so i got to transcend two pains early on in my childhood. later all teachers blows were for me a feather of a feeling in my mind, when my lotus in my mind opened up i fele , why these people had even to beat me, obviously it led to nowhere. I guess i got the most caning from sister thaddeus our hindi sister. ( all for never doing my homework, hindi i simply remembered never felt the need to do any homework.
    when you need rapping to learn your zen meditation then its time to try maybe something like trance music on weed.

  4. Satya says:

    I found it so weird when I read it in the Pilgrimage…
    But I think I am beginning to get it….
    I thot spirituality is all about the mind and soul…and things beyond the body….
    but then the body is the medium…to re-focus, to discipline ourselves on the path towards realization….one needs to be tough with the body too….!!

  5. aditya says:

    how long ago did u do that Zen meditation, do u still pinch u’rself when negative thoughts come to your mind. all the ‘stuff’, wisdom is easy to come across, but regular practice of it is what defeats most of us, at least me. improving but not enough.

  6. Stefanie says:

    Si eso es muy cierto. Muchas veces no nos damos cuenta del daño que nos hacemos con nuestros propios pensamientos. Y la tecnica de enterrar la uña en el dedo hace q nos demos cuenta y dandose cuenta se puede controlar esos pensamientos negativos.

  7. Quennie© says:

    So true! A physical reminder helps us remember better.

  8. Leaf says:

    When I read this in the Pilgrimage, I understood the concept but was aggrieved that it may be misunderstood as an advocacy of ‘self-harm’ as defines certain people who habitually cut or inflict damage on themselves.
    I’d like to point out that there is a difference between wanting to hurt oneself, and refusing the pain of further/future manifestation of the negative thoughts mentioned.
    ie; If I have an argument (as IF!!?) and I have a bitterness arise toward a certain person, I could use the finger-nail technique to a) remind myself of the pain caused to all involved if I keep bitterness in my heart and b) using this method, is like to change the subject. Like one might with a crying child, offer a sweet, only opposite – the thought here turns from bitterness to Hey, my thumb hurts. ( and on a deeper level, i think, some quiet part of the brain says…yeah, well stop being so stupid with people you supposed to love. etc)

    My experience with negative thoughts producing real pain, not only spiritual, but physical is that after two and a half years spent semi silently grieving the death of one who meant a world to me, I was diagnosed having developed gallbladder disease/stones.
    Firstly assuming it was to do with diet, I stopped eating meat and dairy…but was puzzled one day, months later, after spending a good healthy half-hour crying my eyes out and shouting out loud at God (as you do)
    soon I became doubled up in pain….I hadn’t eaten yet…and as I lay on the floor to relax, believing full well to refuse the pain, like lights appearing, or a voice, or both said; Grief, emotion, negativity….and I could feel with my soul that it was true and the pain went, 3 minutes laying down. ( I lay there amazed for a further ten)

    The surgeon then tells me, contrary to popular belief, that it makes no difference what you eat or don’t eat…if you’re going to get them, you will, he said.
    (Here refusing to comment on the resurrection…)

    One last thing (hope am not boring you all x)
    When I was once in the psychiatric hospital, nine out of ten patients being treated for the self harm habit I mentioned…I was washing up the cups and cleaning the kitchen (as you do, on the NHS lol)
    waiting for the taps to fill the sink and a voice I knew was not mine nor had I heard it before, inside my head said, loud and clear – Go on, put your hand under the hot tap.
    I said. Eh? (to myself) That’s bleeding hot, you can see the steam!!
    The voice said – Go on, you’ll soon get used to it!
    I said something politely translated as ‘Blog Off!!
    and went in search of a helpful nurse.
    Couldn’t find one, but thats another story!!

    PS No, I don’t think I hear voices anymore but maybe I just gone deaf – It’s getting a bit boring – I want my Spaceman back!!! (my blog is total fiction…well, er, sometimes it is…..kind of…??!)