Physical pain and suffering comes about through nervous impulses being sent to the brain and being received and interpreted there as signals of pain. There are various ways to disrupt the linkage between the occasion of the pain and the experience of pain internally by the conscious awareness. First, the pain receptors can be deadened. This is the effect of local anesthesia so that the pain signal simply does not get transmitted, or if transmitted, at a very reduced level. Certain disease conditions such as leprosy or diabetes can cause a similar deadening of the pain receptors. Second, the transmission through the nervous system can be weakened or deadened. Third, the transmission may get through but be disregarded, either through conscious effort and training, as we see in various practices of the adherents of stoicism, or through an overpowering hormonal response such as we see active in what is known as “fight or flight” reaction. Experience of yogic practitioners with the state of trance, or through use of techniques of Pranayama make it clear that the conscious awareness can be moved away and thus, not experience pain or suffering while in that state.
Next we come to the interpretation of the signal. Experience shows us that sometimes pleasurable sensations, at a certain level of intensity, can be turned into pain. It is also possible that the experience of pain at a certain point can be interpreted as intense joy. This implies that the intensity of the experience helps to regulate the way we interpret the sensation itself. To the extent that the ability to handle intensity is increased, either through habitual practice, training or through some intervening action that draws away the focus, the experience of pain can be reduced, minimized or even transformed..
In a new status of consciousness that seats itself in the universal awareness rather than the individual ego, we can expect that the experience of pain gets modified and attenuated through the redirection of focus, broadening of the consciousness and the influx of energy from the universal source. This new status would also have the effect of moving the individual in harmony with the universal energy, rather than against that flow, and thereby minimize the resultant pain that comes from the individual standing in opposition to the energy.
Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine: “Even, a power of willed physical insensibility can intervene or a power of mental separation from all shock and injury can be acquired which shows that the ordinary reactions and the debile submission of the bodily self to the normal habits of response of material Nature are not obligatory or unalterable. Still more significant is the power that comes on the level of spiritual mind or Overmind to change the vibrations of pain into vibrations of Ananda: even if this were to go only up to a certain point, it indicates the possibility of an entire reversal of the ordinary rule of the reacting consciousness; it can be associated too with a power of self-protection that turns away the shocks that are more difficult to transmute or to endure. The gnostic evolution at a certain stage must bring about a completeness of this reversal and of this power of self-protection which will fulfil the claim of the body for immunity and serenity of its being and for deliverance from suffering and build in it a power for the total delight of existence. A spiritual Ananda can flow into the body and inundate cell and tissue; a luminous materialisation of this higher Ananda could of itself bring about a total transformation of the deficient or adverse sensibilities of physical Nature.”