Animals are great teachers – so many things about humanity can be learnt from them. Take the water buffalo, for example. Water buffaloes are impressively powerful animals. They grow to nearly 10 feet in height and can weigh up to 2,650 pounds. They are often called the ‘Tractors of the East’ and are used for transportation of heavy loads and people. They also provide meat, leather and nutritious milk in addition to carrying out their pivotal domestic farming roles.

The water buffalo’s horns are magnificent symbols of strength, reaching up to five feet in length. Occasionally, though rarely, their horns twirl backwards and grow towards their ears. If left unattended the horns eventually enter an animal’s ear and cause unbearable amounts of pain as the growing horn presses on and then penetrates the skull. I find it fascinating that the symbol of this animal’s own strength, something that allows it to fight off tigers and lions, can also become an unintentional cause of so much pain. Luckily for the animal the cure for this condition is immediate and permanent. A farmer simply cuts off the impinging horns and ends the animal’s suffering, enabling it to stay alive.

What strikes me the most about this discovery is that the animal has no way of knowing why it is in so much pain. It’s not as though it did anything wrong. The pain and suffering has been caused by its own natural growth. The concept of being in constant, undeniable and unbearable pain because of one’s unconscious growth intrigued me.

When I graduated from university I got employed into the financial sector. I had not chosen this field from a passion or calling, I was simply ‘unconsciously fulfilling my social duty’. Being a very physically inclined person by nature, someone who learns from physical movement and delights in undertaking physical challenges, sitting by a desk in front of a computer all day wasn’t the best fit for me. Of course, I had no way of knowing this at the time; I was simply ‘growing’ my professional career. Although I was very well compensated financially, I was in pain physiologically and emotionally, with no idea why.

In life much of the pain we feel is not from a physical outer growth but from a malign ‘growth’ of some kind inside. In my case, it was because I was in the wrong job. For others, it might be something different. For example, many of us suffer because we have developed and nurtured bad habits that have twirled inwards and are now penetrating the skull of our existence as healthy human beings. Smoking, excessive alcohol, bad diet and drug abuse can be socially acceptable and momentarily pleasing, but the habit can quickly become a damaging addiction which grows into a serpent that has the aim of finishing you off.

You may be the one choosing what you consume, but the painful truth is what you consume is in control of you. The pain caused by lung cancer and liver damage can be unbearable for the victim and the loved ones attached to them. These negative habits, with the care of professional help, family or community support, need to be severed before it’s too late.

Others have allowed a negative internal dialogue to develop too far. Telling yourself you are not good enough, old enough, young enough, white enough, black enough or whatever enough, if not ‘cut’, leads to a bad place. We get so used to the negative dialogue that it becomes part of who we are; it’s now an extension of ourselves. This leads to us making decisions that do not serve us. You keep yourself glued to a bad job because you don’t believe you are good enough for anything better. You are in an abusive relationship because you don’t think you can find anyone else and you don’t want to be alone. You stop writing, drawing, creating original work because no one will care and art can’t feed you. Unconscious persistent thoughts like that become incredibly damaging.

Unfortunately, humans make the problem even more complex by denying the pain altogether and often attacking anyone who tries to help them heal. Try telling an alcoholic he has had too much to drink. Or advise a heavy smoker not to smoke close to his own children after he or she has had a bad day at work. You will often be sharply rebuffed.

What part of your growth as a human being has turned inwards and is penetrating your life negatively? What pain do you feel that is persistent and not going away despite everything you have tried? What behaviour do you need to cut out of your life? What inner dialogue, story, relationship needs to be severed for you to instantly start to get long-term relief? This could be the time to examine yourself and find out.

Have a pain-free Friday everyone.