“Pain is not the same as suffering. Left to itself, the body discharges pain spontaneously, letting go of it the moment that the underlying cause is healed. Suffering is pain that we hold on to. It comes from the mind’s mysterious instinct to believe that pain is good, or that it cannot be escaped, or that the person deserves it.” – Deepak Chopra, The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life.
I’ve had nighttime pain – burning, tingling, numbness and severe stiffness – in both legs, causing me to lose sleep. Yes, we are all a work in progress because mind body or stress-related pain is the human condition.
I knew that my brain had a powerful voice of its own, but I thought it was my job to control it by giving it the correct instruction. Or by uncovering the zenith of emotional revelations that would turn everything around – you know, the big Aha. Then it would finally get the message, and I’d be pain-free.
Nighttime pain blew that theory away. I could not manage what I was thinking or feeling when I was sleeping so how was I to control this pain? I even tried sleeping with my phone for a week, playing positive, hypnotic YouTube meditations, hoping to reprogram my subconscious. Nothing worked.
Our brain will do whatever it wants, say Dr. Howard Schubiner, MD, MindBody physician at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Michigan. It controls the on and off button for pain, not us.
Remember, the brain’s primary responsibility is to keep us safe, and it takes the job seriously. Like a computer, it is an information processor. It makes decisions based on all our history from emotional experiences in childhood to physical injuries and illnesses throughout life. All this data is filed into the brain’s memory system and can be utilized to create stories … and trigger fear
When we are afraid of pain, the brain acts like a frightened child and triggers what Schubiner refers to as our “danger brain.” This fear tells the brain that we are unsafe so it will likely maintain or even increase the pain to protect us.
Retraining The Brain
We cannot control the brain but we can retrain it with new data, says Schubiner. It’s natural to feel afraid of pain but power lies in not reacting to the fear. Without a doubt that takes courage and persistence.
We can practice soothing the “danger brain” with tools, such as, knowledge (mind body pain can’t injure me), relaxed breathing, detachment, reverse psychology, or laughter to name a few techniques.
Little by little this tells the brain everything is OK, that we are not repeating the same traumatic experience we felt at age five or sixteen or forty-something. We are right here right now and safe. This calms the brain, influencing it to turn off the danger signals and pain sensations.
I like to think of the process as a fast-moving train, switching from one track to another. Traveling at lightning speed, the train cannot be stopped immediately, but it can be slowed and maneuvered to another rail to guide it in a new direction.
The same can be said about the brain and pain. We can’t stop the brain from working at breakneck speed but with our thoughts and reactions, we can navigate it elsewhere and create new or different neural pathways.
Our power lies in the feedback we give our brain. Will we respond in fear, anger, resentment, and worry all of which exacerbates pain? Or will we choose to respond with calmness, indifference, knowledge, and laughter? Our responses help to change the learned pathways in our brain and put it on a new track. A pain free destination so to speak.
Schubiner offers the Chinese finger torture trap as an analogy to understand how retraining and reverse psychology influence and redirect the brain.
The more we focus on trying to remove our fingers from this contraption, the more tension we build and the more impossible the task becomes. We’re stuck. The moment we relax and give up, the quicker we can remove our fingers.
The same goes for pain. The harder we try to get rid of the pain, the worse it gets. Fighting it intensifies it. Relaxing allows us to let it go.
We need to do the opposite of what seems natural.
For three weeks I suffered hyperalgesia (increased sensitivity to pain) in my legs. I almost had myself convinced (again) that the orthopedic surgeon had totally messed up my spine, and I would have to live with this nerve pain forever.
For three weeks I could not tolerate having my legs touch each other. Twelve hours after thinking about the Chinese finger torture trap and about changing my responses like a dispatcher who operates railroad track switches, I was able to rest my right leg on my left leg while sleeping on my side in bed — the hyperalgesia greatly reduced.
There was my evidence (again). If it were nerve damage, the pain could not improve within 12 hours, using knowledge and reverse psychology.
This weekend is Easter. Whether we celebrate it as a religious holiday or look to nature for the missive, it’s all about shedding the old so something new can be born or reborn.
What about you? Is it time to release and let go of the old, tired ways and spring into a new pain free life?
Is it time for your resurrection?