In your book, you say that pain is a perception. Can you elaborate on what you mean by that?
Pain is a sensory and emotional experience. Our body gives us all this information through sight, smell, sound, skin receptors. All of those help formulate the experience, and we then determine what that output of pain is going to be. So pain is very contextual.
Let me explain what that means. If a violinist cuts her finger, it’s going to be a completely different experience than if a carpenter cuts his finger. He probably gets a splinter 5 times a week when he’s doing woodwork, so it’s not that big of a deal. The violinist, on the other hand, really needs a fine dexterity in order to perform. So it’s a completely different experience for each of them, even though it’s the same event. The outcome is based on the importance in their life.
What is the most obvious example you’ve seen of this in your own practice?
I was working with a woman who was having lower back pain for about 8 years. I had seen her for 3-4 sessions, and I knew there was something deeper underneath the surface going on. I had that sense that we weren’t really addressing the heart of the matter. So finally I got to the point where I was able to ask her what had happened in her life 8 years ago, around the time the pain started. It turns out that two months before she hurt her back lifting something, her husband was killed in a tragic skiing accident. Once she felt comfortable telling me that, we could explore the deeper meaning of what was going on with her pain.
Right now she is back to running, she is doing amazing. She had been having these sharp nerve pains going down her left leg for years, but to get rid of those, I think there had to be an acceptance piece of allowing that to occur. Letting go of that pain, in a sense, could have been letting go of the passing of her husband.