Precious Pain – A Guide for Health and Healing

The way we develop our early relationship with pain is easy to see. If you have ever seen a toddler fall and bump his head while his mother is watching, assuming the fall wasn't traumatic enough to cause terror, you have seen him get up and look to his mother to see how she was reacting. If she doesn't pay attention to him, he gets up and continues as if nothing much happened. If he sees his mother gasp and hold her breath, he will gasp and hold his breath and begin to cry. Until he learns otherwise, pain is just a sensation of the moment and won't be given much notice unless it's extreme or accompanied by fear.

I remember learning about pain and suffering as a child. At age six, I smashed my finger in a mountain climbing accident. I had to wear a cast on my finger for what seemed like months. The cast was a nuisance, but overall it was not something that held my awareness. The tumble down the mountain, the falling rock and multiple cuts were terrifying to me, but the only real pain I remember was the shot in the rear given by the doctor. Even that was a strange sensation which made one buttock feel heavier than the other.

Not long after the accident I was playing in the yard and an older neighbor boy came up to me and said, "I'll bet you're in a lot of pain."

"Pain?", I replied puzzled. "What's pain?"

I knew hurt, but this pain was a little different somehow. The neighbor boy, who normally wouldn't talk to me because I was so much younger, explained pain to me and acted like my friend since I had so much of this pain stuff. He taught me that there was virtue in suffering. This changed my relationship with pain completely from a simple signal that something needed attending to something of value that could be exploited. During early childhood is the period of brain development when that portion of the brain which associates with the ability to suffer with pain is becoming fully activated. This portion is called the neomammalian complex.

Pain can guide us to maximum health and healing. Pain is precious guidance and you should not try to take pain away completely. It may be desirable to reduce pain to a level of comfort that allows you to be open to its guidance. If you break your leg, some pain is useful to remind you that you have a serious injury and need to allow ample time for healing before playing sports again. If you had no pain, you would probably not take care of yourself or allow yourself to heal properly. Your leg might even deteriorate to the point where you would never be able to walk normally again. Even small, subtle pain can tell you something. We often confuse pain and suffering. Although they often occur at the same time, one has little to do with the other. Pain is a simple sensory signal of the state of your body or emotions. The part of your brain that processes physical pain is the same part that processes emotional pain. To the brain the two are the same. Awareness must be brought to the pain to be able to isolate the two. Suffering is the verbal and emotional process we go through when we are in pain. Suffering depends on belief.

If you simply keep your awareness with any pain sensations, the larger aspects of the sensation will begin to present themselves. It's as if you see through the eyes of another person. You step into that part of your personality causing the sensations. These sensations might be pain, itching, muscle tightness or any other body signals. This is the basis behind body-centered psychotherapies such as Integral Therapy. Thus, a most effective route to healing or changing, is to intend the change and bring the awareness to your body. Your body has many potential healing talents not yet known to modern science. We know instinctively, if not consciously, how to operate our bodies. Our increasing awareness results in increasing ability to direct and control our world.

Because of the construction of the human brain, we can begin to understand why emotional and physical pain are inseparable. The human brain is made up of three main levels or brains. The job of the brain stem or reptilian complex is to maintain basic life support, sexual drive and to tell us to run from danger. The awareness of the reptilian brain is limited to the physical world of daily survival and yet all nerve circuitry to higher brain levels passes through the brain stem. If the emotional affairs of the old mammalian brain cause pain, that pain is detected by the brain stem and represented in the only way possible as physical pain. Any physical pain you feel has a counterpart in emotions and reason. Even if the wound is purely physical, such as a broken leg, there is also an emotional charge. You may feel stupid for having followed the ski patrol through terrain you weren't skilled enough to be on and humiliated when they had to bring you down the mountain on a stretcher. This is certainly emotional pain. To soothe the emotional pain that compounds the physical pain, you may tell yourself that it's all the fault of the snow groomers on the other side of the mogul who neglected to cover the rock which you hit, consequently, breaking your leg. This compounds the pain again by adding the psychological pain of blaming someone else and thereby choosing to be a victim.

You might react to the psychological pain by choosing the belief that you are inadequate, and it is therefore God's fault that you broke your leg. God must not love you, so you react in anger; now adding another source of pain to the injury. There really is no separation in this process. All occur at the same time. The different ways the layers of your brain are able to represent the world are some of the different ways that you naturally represent your worlds to yourselves. The pain in your body serves to make you aware that you need to stop the emotional reactions and focus on how to do to deal with the broken leg. You have the ability to bring your awareness to your leg and see what unfulfilled need it is alerting you to. As with hunger, you check with the feeling and you know what you are hungry for, at least on a physical level. If there is an emotional hunger that you are trying to fill, food won't fulfill the need. You will have to keep your awareness with the hunger sensation a little longer to discover the emotional hunger. If you keep trying to feed this hunger with food, it will keep coming back and you may never be satisfied.

With the emotional charge there will be a belief system that supports it. If the emotional charge is the need for love, the accompanying belief would be, "I am not lovable or there is no love available for me." Pain works the same way. If you are going to discover the emotional, physical and spiritual aspect of pain, you will have to keep your awareness with the pain long enough to allow it to reveal itself. If you have judgments about the pain or yourself for having the pain, you will probably block yourself from having the clarity to discover more about it. In most cases, the pain represents a part of yourself you don't accept. By itself, nonjudgmental acceptance of the pain will take you far in your healing. It's very important to note that acceptance is not the same as giving up. Acceptance is the practical action of honestly assessing where you are right now and what you need to do to get where you want to be. Giving up is quitting the path of knowing oneself.

Excerpt from,Healing On the Edge of Now, by Carl Brahe, SunShine Press Publications, 1992


One Response to “Precious Pain – A Guide for Health and Healing”

  1. Emotional Expression and Its Importance in Healing | Healing Base on December 18th, 2011 12:27

    […] Another healing aspect of connecting is that emotional charges can be discharged through my body taking away the emotional edge. This allows easier processing for verbal and non-verbal clients. It lessens the intensity of the emotion making it easier to concentrate on the underlying pain. The pain itself is the guidance for healing. Bringing awareness to it with the intent to stay in the pain is in itself healing. Your body tells you what it needs if you listen. Toning the pain down makes it easier to listen. (See except on Precious Pain). […]

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