Pain: Our Most Precious Guide

Precious pain is a term that often brings reactions of outrage and doubt from people. Our society generally views pain as something terrible that must be escaped at all costs. Those who view pain as something useful are thought of as masochists or psychotics. Pain and suffering are thought to be inseparable. Pain is a simple sensory input that gives guidance and alerts us to areas of our lives that need our recognition. It is also the most reliable guide to moving through the life challenge that it heralds.

Carl remembers reading in his second grade Weekly Reader about an 8 year old boy who lay dying in a New England hospital in 1957. Cancer had produced a tumor the size of an orange in his small skull. His medical team had given up hope. The tumor was inoperable and all other medical interventions had failed. They had nothing left to offer. His family kept vigil at his bedside every day waiting for him to die. During the night when he was left alone, this child intuitively played a game with his tumor. He imagined white space ships flying around inside his head blasting away at the tumor. As the tumor shrank in his mind's eye, it also shrank in his skull. Modern medical theory and practice dictated this boy die, yet he got better. His baffled physicians, unable to explain his remission, asked him why he thought he was better. His explanation was rejected at first, but each night he continued to blast away at the tumor. He cured his own cancer using the pain as a guide and the intuitive knowledge that he could follow it to health.

This guidance is so primary that animals, lacking the intellectual models to negate it, follow it to healing. Spunky was a very dignified rag doll of a cat. Several times he came close to death because of crystal deposits in his urinary tract that prevented urination. He hated the pills the vet prescribed and fought with uncommon ferocity to avoid taking them. One evening, he jumped up on the counter and demanded a stalk of the asparagus being prepared. This was surprising to his owners because Spunky was a finicky eater, was well behaved, and his noble hauteur would never allow him to beg. This departure from his normal gentry suggested that asparagus was of utmost importance to him. After several weeks of consuming three stalks of asparagus per day, his urinary problems disappeared. Following the guidance of his pain, Spunky found a natural cure.

Spunky's process for healing is common in the animal world. Wild chimpanzees use a type of bush to treat themselves for intestinal parasites, and perhaps from watching them, humans in Tanzania use the same cure. The chimpanzees also use aspila that contains a red oil that laboratory tests indicate kills not only parasites but fungi, viruses and solid tumor cancer cells. Dr. Lineus Pauling's famous recommendation for treating a myriad of disorders with massive doses of Vitamin C was based on observing the diets of Guerrillas in the wild. There is a well-known cancer treatment that is administered in a clinic in Tijuana that comes from observation of a horse with a cancerous growth. The horse grazed daily on particular grasses and flowering wild plants until its tumor disappeared. The horse's owner added ingredients from traditional home remedies to a mixture containing the plants the horse intuitively selected. Many people have benefited from this mixture. A 1990 report on unconventional cancer treatments issued by the US. Office of Technical Assistance stated, "Many of the herbs used in this tonic have anti-tumor activity or cytotoxic effects in animal test systems."

Lacking the intellectual ability to suffer with pain, perhaps animals use pain similarly to the way they use hunger. As humans when we're hungry, we know what we're hungry for or what our body is guiding us to eat. When we're hungry for broccoli, we seldom mistake it as a hunger for chocolate cake. An animal in pain recognizes what the pain is guiding them to do or consume. A dog will instinctively lick its wounds with an unconscious knowing that its own saliva contains healing compounds. Wounded animals are known to seek out specific types of mud that contain microorganisms that promote healing. It would seem that to animals, pain is simply a guiding sensation like hunger, fear, or fatigue.

Children interpret pain as the most basic guidance. They touch something hot and instantly pull away; no one need teach this reaction. When children are hurt they cry, staying in the pain until they move through it. Well-meaning adults begin early to train children in the denial of pain. When the child cries, they offer something to distract them, rather than allowing them to complete the process of following the pain to its resolution. When the pain comes from hunger, thirst, or fever, adults do a great service by intervening and providing the proper action to relieve the discomfort. When the pain comes from wanting the return of a moment of pleasure that has past, they distract the child with the resolution that now is the moment we live in. As clinging to the past becomes a source of suffering, the lesson is that suffering is inseparable from pain.

Suffering is commonly defined as the experience of pain. This is a misconception. Suffering is the psychological denial of pain and its necessity. Suffering is the word we use to define pain as something that is punishment or as something that is inflicted on us making us victims of injustice. Pain is sensory, suffering is psychological. Choosing to suffer with pain handicaps growth and healing.

In body oriented psychotherapies, physical pain is used as the guide to healing. Emotional pain always has a physical component. While the intellect can block healing by justifying and rationalizing, the bodily pain associated with it is unencumbered by such mental gymnastics. Bringing awareness into the bodily pain evokes the emotions associated with it. In order to work through the emotional distress, the therapist simply keeps returning the client's awareness to the physical pain. Talking about the emotional pain evokes the physical pain. Experiencing the physical pain evokes the essence or the story of the emotional pain. When the client strays into ntellectualizing the emotions, his awareness is guided back to the physical pain. When the story associated with the emotional pain has been expressed, resolution usually follows. With resolution of the emotional pain, the bodily pain usually disappears.

It might be tempting to say that all physical pain has emotional pain associated with it as well. This is true in the sense that we've learned to suffer with and deny pain. If you hit your thumb with a hammer while hanging a picture, you might say that the unresolved emotion that is causing you turmoil at that moment, distracting your attention so that you miss the nail, is related to the physical pain. If you are in an accident, are injured and choose to simply feel the pain without emotional judgment to hinder its healing, it might still be said that your emotional imbalance synchronistically placed you in the exact time and place to be involved in the accident. Practically, it really makes no difference to your healing process. Experiencing and embracing your pain in whatever way it presents itself and recognizing it as guidance is what's important.

There is always an emotional aspect to the healing of any injury, disease or physical disorder. Peptides, the messenger cells that direct all bodily functions, carry a message encoded in emotional language that determine what each cell will do and when it will do it in an effort to heal. Our bodies are literally built and maintained according to emotional direction. Our emotions do affect our healing processes. Emotional pain as well as physical pain is a call for healing and a reliable guide to effective healing action.

Language is a metaphorical representation of our realities. What we consciously experience is greatly limited according to the concepts that our language represents. There is nothing in your experienced reality that has no counterpart in the metaphors of your language. Emotions similarly provide a metaphorical representation of your personal existence. The emotional content that is brought into awareness when bodily pain is focused on may be translated into verbal language. This imperfect translation may evoke stories with biographical content as we experienced it. In therapy to work through irrational fear, the fear may be discussed in order to bring to surface the physical pain associated with it. This pain may be of varying intensity. An itch is a small pain, a discomfort a larger pain, and an aching is an even larger pain. How it's translated or represented is not important.

When the focus is on the physical component of the fear, the fear itself may increase. The physical pain allows access to the fear unhindered by the learned denial response. As the intellectualization of the fear is bypassed, an emotional story emerges. If the origin of the fear presents itself as beginning during an automobile accident years earlier, it may become apparent that the pain was denied and the shock process interrupted. This process is important in healing because it naturally reorganizes the nervous system and discharges the fear. Experiencing the fear can then bring the process to its natural resolution. The pain and the fear then dissipate. It may be discovered that the underlying fear was actually a fear of being out-of-control.

At times, the metaphor that is presented may defy logic. In terms of healing it makes no difference. In even the wildest stories there is vibrant truth. If in the previous example the story evoked by the physical pain was one of alien abduction, or being tortured in a past life, the vibrant truth that the underlying fear is of loss-of-control is still metaphorically represented. Facing the fear in the form of the story presented still brings the same results. The shock process is completed and the fear dissipated along with the physical pain. The story makes no difference. It's the facing and claiming of the emotional charge that allows its discharge in whatever way it is presented.

Therese is a middle aged mother of two who had undergone a double mastectomy. She had breast cancer and was given a 35% chance of six weeks survival. She came into therapy at the insistence of her husband. Several weeks into therapy her husband brought her in, claiming she had decided she was going to die and there was nothing anyone could say to change her mind. Carl accepted her wishes at face value and worked with her to get things in order so she could die leaving nothing unresolved. His co-therapist worked with her sobbing husband to help him understand that he couldn't force her to live or want to live.

Therese, surprised by Carl's acceptance of her decision, discovered that she had only one reason for wanting to die and many for wanting to live. She revealed that she felt she was the heart of her family. She felt that if they didn't survive as a family unit, she had failed and no longer had a reason to live.

Her husband, Jim, was domineering. Therese and their children described him as a tyrant. He had been in therapy many times before, often dragging the whole family into various therapists' offices. They believed that he had manipulated each therapist to believe that he was faultless in the family's difficulties. Jim agreed that this time he would listen to each of the family member's charges against him without retaliating. The family was frightened and dubious of his promise, but agreed with reluctance to try one more time to vent their issues. They realized Therese would indeed die if they failed to come together. Jim resolutely listened tearfully as he was charged with tyranny, incest, adultery, manipulation, brutality and emotional abuse. He kept his word to listen. He apologized to each family member and resolved to change. He kept his word that there would be no retaliation. When the family was convinced of his sincerity, they began to heal as a unit. As the family healed, so did Therese. Six months later, she was in complete remission.

Therese's story is an emotional metaphor for her cancer. By healing the story and bringing it to a harmonious resolution, her body returned to a harmonious state. This is not a statement that all disease can be healed by experiencing the pain and resolving the emotional disharmony. Sometimes healing is disease. The final healing of all life is dying.

Translating the emotions into metaphors is not always necessary. Non-verbal intent to heal delivered with the guidance of the pain is a powerful healing technique. The little boy with the brain tumor followed the pain to instinctively create a visual metaphor for healing. While the language, visualization and intellectual abilities of cats are ultimately speculation, it is likely Spunky used nothing but the natural, non-verbal, non-visual, tactile guidance of his pain to find healing. This is probably the most effective yet most allusive healing technique -- simply following the pain to deliver the intent or direction to heal, and finding the action or agent of healing that is most appropriate.

If you cut yourself, you might bring your awareness to the cut with the intent that it stop bleeding. Just experiencing the pain of the cut and choosing that the bleeding stop may be sufficient to hasten the clotting process. You may find it more effective to visualize the clotting process as you experience the pain. A person may find that projecting a sound into the cut will be more effective. The intent to heal may be delivered to the pain in various ways. The method that's most natural to you in each specific instance is probably the most effective.

The same process is effective in relieving emotional pain. At times the story associated with the pain may provide an effective healing process. Simply staying in the pain with your awareness and the intent to heal, allowing the emotions to complete their process may be more efficient. Judgment must be withheld. Judgment is a source of suffering. The pain must be met with mercy, the opposite of judgment.

Experiencing pain may result in intuitive urges to move your awareness to different parts of your body and deliver the intent to heal there. A person with a degenerative nerve disorder may experience pain in the hands or feet. When the focus is on the pain, it may be felt that there is an associated dysfunction in the brain. Here the immune system might be attacking the myelin that insulates the nerves causing the neural impulses to short circuit. Autoimmune diseases result when the immune system attacks the body, apparently confusing it as an enemy. A loving intent delivered to the area of demyelination might result in curtailing the attack. The loving, self-accepting intent may be delivered without the cumbersome process of translating it into words or images. An adoring mother embracing her infant in her love has no need to define the love; words or images would only diminish the expression.

Our society encourages attacking and struggling with things that we perceive as threats. This is often the approach taken by allopathic medicine. We are taught to fight pain and deny its effects, to suffer in silence. In fact, "patient" is defined in Webster's Dictionary as "to suffer in silence". Deeper healing of ourselves, as well as society, results more from seeking harmony, embracing the pain and difficulty as a guidance for growth and healing, and approaching life with a loving intent. Pain is our most reliable and available guide to the disharmony of mind, body, and spirit that results in disease and dysfunction. Pain truly is precious.

Written by Carl Brahe, MA and Victoria Hall, RN


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