Pain as sensation
How physical is physical
Pain can be a very intense experience. While there are many types of pain (i.e. emotional, mental and spiritual), what I want to address here is pain that we feel physically in our body as sensation. If you have a body it is pretty much a given that you have experienced painful sensations. So what are painful sensations really about and why do some seem to bother us more than others?
Without any labels attached or meanings given to it pain is simply an uncomfortable sensation. Say for example you stub your toe on the couch. Nerves in your toe send messages up to brain that say “ouch” and with that a flood of information in the form of chemical messages gets sent back down from the brain to that part of your body to repair any damage that may have occurred. This is all coordinated by the wisdom of your body. You don’t have to think to make it happen. It simply occurs as a natural response.
So how is it that pain turns into massive distress? Pain turns into massive distress for us when we give meaning to it or resist its presence. Lets say for example you have pain in your neck and its been there for 6 weeks. You have a particular thought or judgment that the pain should not be there because its been 6 weeks now, you are tired of it and you start to get scared about why its there and that it may never go away. This is the first layer of distress. Often we feel powerless to the expression of pain when we go down this line of thinking and we mentally seek for reasons why the pain is there, search for a label for it and try to do and find things that will get rid of the pain. Secondly there is also often a belief that this pain is interfering with something you want to do, or will interfere with something you think you want to do in the future, so you equate that “pain=not being able to do something that I want to do.” You have now given meaning to your pain. The flurry of distress and resistance arises.
The tendency is to think that the pain is physical since its appearance seems to be coming from your body, so we think we must need something physical to fix it. However if you really read the paragraph above you will see that the distress isn’t actually in the physical body, but instead its in the mental and emotional factors that we have created about the pain, not the painful sensation itself. If we are really experiencing pain simply as the sensation it is, without content and story about it, there is relatively little thought about it at all. It is simply one of the thousand sensations we experience on a daily basis, and although it may still feel uncomfortable it won’t have any charge to it. Its more like noticing the sensation that you’re hungry or that you have to go to the bathroom, you still feel the sensation and move towards taking actions that those sensations impel you to do, but there isn’t any question, doubt or uncertainty about what must be done, you simply know as you are tuned to your body. Same thing occurs when you experience pain as sensation without meaning attached to it. You simply know what you must do because you are listening to your body. That may look like stopping and resting, holding the part that hurts, breathing into, etc. Again you don’t have to figure it out and go through all the mental content about what that sensation means and what you have to do differently, because you are simply listening to the sensation.
Most the time we are not listening but instead trying to “figure out” when pain arises. Listening is allowing and taking action from that listening. If we are trying to figure it out we are in resistance and fix it mode and never feel certain what the right action is. Having a conversation with your body is like having a conversation with another person. If you are really listening to them you don’t have to figure out what to say, it simply comes naturally because you are present and attuned to them.
This is really a life lesson which pain can be one teacher of. We are often trying to impart onto life what we think it should be and then we resist or try to manage and control everything so that life looks the way we think it should. While simultaneously we often feel lost and uncertain and beg for guidance and can’t receive it as we don’t recognize it occurring because we are so stuck in our particular perspective of how it should be.
To summarize here when we really listen we know and when we are not listening we always feel like we are searching for something we can’t find or don’t know. On a body level to really listen we need to stop our stories and thoughts about our sensations and simply be with the sensation. One of the best ways I have found to do this is to put my hands on the particular part of my body that’s expressing the sensation and simply bring my awareness there. I begin to acknowledge the sensations, without content or story, just sensation or feeling. This allows me to drop the story and simply experience the sensation for what it is. This often looks like really allowing myself to feel the discomfort rather than move away from it. Through this process acceptance of the sensation and energy association with the sensation occurs. Now nothing is interfering with the natural wisdom of the body to bring information in the form of those chemical messages to that part of the body to repair any damage that may need healed. The biggest interference to healing is the stories we create about what things mean. When those stories get suspended, even for a few moments, life flows in the way that life flows without us having to figure it out or do it.
Dr. Amanda Hessel, Chiropractor, Network Spinal Analysis & Somato-Respiratory Integration, Boulder, Colorado