What if I were to tell you pain was all in the mind?
Would you believe me.
Because new evidence suggests that it is. That what goes on in our mind influences our response to pain.
These studies overturn centuries of thinking that sees the mind and body as separate. Increasingly the view is that they are both intelligent entities that regulate themselves. And both heavily link to each other.
But what has this to do with pain?
Well the research suggest that we can use our minds awareness of painful feelings and choose how we respond. We can be aware of painful feelings as they rise up in us. And we can choose to accept them rather than fight them off.
As a result we can bypass our usual reaction to pain. We can choose not to struggle with it. On receipt of the pain signal we can choose not to label it as unwanted or as something to get rid of. In these situations we usually decide just to grimace and bear it. By and large, we spend our time wishing it would go away.
How a Mindful approach can give you a new perspective on pain
The Mindful approach starts with the general observation of the painful sensation and attempts to accept it as it is. So there’s no need to label or fight it.
It takes practice and effort, but with time a change begins to take place.
Many people see it as miraculous.
The pain may well dissolve. It’s like magic.
And while it’s not guaranteed to work for everyone, thousands of cases document the process in action. Those who experience it for the first time express amazement at how this different approach can change there whole experience of pain.
Mostly the reason this works is because pain is not one singular thing. There are actually two types, primary and secondary. Moreover both have different origins.
Primary pain arises from injury, illness and medical treatments such as surgery. It is the body’s reaction to a physical incident. Secondary pain, follows shortly after primary pain. It is our reaction to the pain. Quite often we call this secondary pain suffering.
Pain is the body’s signal that something is wrong. It is unlikely that we could ever completely remove it as long as that problem exists. Nor should we want to. As a message to ourselves that something needs fixing, pain serves an important purpose. Our goal should be to reduce the pain, to give ourselves a degree of control over the pains intensity.
The exact ways in which pain acts are still under investigation. One theory is the ‘Gate Control Theory.’
This is based upon the principle of nerve cell stimulation. When injury or disease stimulate these cells a message makes its way to the brain as ‘pain.’ At certain points along the spinal column and in different areas of the brain, the information is interpreted and acted upon.
In some cases, for example, if you put your hand in a fire, the action comes before the signal reaches the brain. You automatically pull your hand out of the fire. If you burnt your hand, however, the pain signal continues, albeit now at a lower intensity. The brain receives the signal and we experience it as a sharp twinge, or dull ache, or something similar.
Various methods can be used to access this area of the brain that does the ‘interpreting’. Clinical hypnosis, visualisation, and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) all help to reduce pain.
By establishing a pain scale in your mind, with 1 being pain free and 10 being the worse possible pain imaginable those who undertake these experiences are able to reduce their pain on the scale. From 6 to 3 for example. It’s usually preferable to leave some kind of signal remaining as a reminder of the underlying condition.
Pain, alas, is a part of life. Whatever it is: aging, sickness, separation, loss, rejection etc. These usually cause us comfortable physical responses. This could be a tight stomach, dizziness, or tension. Or it could be hollowness in the chest or the feeling of the wind being knocked out of us.
But there’s the second type of distress to. The one that arises from our thoughts. They are our reaction to these events. “Why me?”, “This is unfair”, “How can I change this?”, “What will happen now?”. We take events that happen to millions of people personally. And we desperately wish it wasn’t us.
Thus we end up blaming God or the universe. Or we blame ourselves, for mistakes, for being weak, human and vulnerable. Finally we end up chasing distractions. Usually petty pleasures. Hiding our suffering through food, shopping or work. Or TV, alcohol, sex and drugs.
These distractions work for a while. Yet eventually they let us down. No matter how much we blame ourselves or others. No matter whether we are a high flying business financier or a heroin addict. One day our busyness will wear thin. One day we’ll have to accept our underlying emotional condition. Of vulnerability, loss and emptiness.
Eventually there’ll be nowhere to hide.
The Mindful Solution is to avoid distractions. It means we must accept the uncomfortable. Whatever we feel after being dumped, fired, rejected or abandoned we must hold the sensation in our awareness.
In doing so we’ll find these feelings are not as overwhelming as we thought. If we just let them be. If we experience them as they are. And if we are compassionate to ourselves, we’ll find our body will accept them. Our mind will clam down. The feelings will dampen and pass.
That’s why awareness is key.
It turns out we are more durable than we thought. The pain is not as bad or intolerable as it once seemed. As long as we don’t amplify it or make it worse in our head. As long as we are kind and compassionate with ourselves.
We may never free ourselves of pain, but we can free ourselves of suffering.
Pain is in the mind.
With the right approach situations can be painless.
Freeing you up to enjoy the beauty of the world.
Matt is a trained and licenced Mindfulness teacher and Stress and Anxiety Reduction Counsellor operating in and around the Peterborough area. After overcoming his own stress and anxiety he's found his purpose teaching others to do the same.
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