Episode 1: Mind Body Medicine and Persistent Pain
Mind Body Medicine and Ongoing Pain
Did you know: Many people experience ongoing pain when their bodies appear to have no physical damage?
We now know that the brain is issuing unnecessary predictions of pain and ignoring “prediction error” messages to the contrary. This is what allows us to genuinely experience pain for no discernable reason.
If you are unlucky enough to suffer from chronic pain, then you’ve probably faced skeptics who don’t understand what you’re going through. They may try to explain away your pain by saying, “It’s all in your head,” by which they mean, “You have no tissue damage, so go see a therapist.” implying that you are making it up. I’m telling you that you are not crazy. 100% of all pain is real. Even if there really is nothing “wrong” with you. Your predictive brain, which is indeed located “in your head,” is generating authentic pain that continues past the point when your body has already healed. It is like phantom limb syndrome, when an amputee can still feel his missing arm or leg because his brain keeps issuing predictions about it.
Our mind, conditioned from birth, thinks that when your body is harmed, information flows from the afflicted area to your brain, leading you to cry out, stop in your tracks and find some medical intervention for relief. It is true that sensory information is coming from your body via your nervous system to your brain when your muscles, tendons or joints are injured, or the tissues are damaged by excessive heat, inflammation, or a chemical irritation like a pinch of pepper does get in your eyes. In the past scientists believed that your brain simply received and represented these sensations, called nociception, and “presto” you experienced pain.
The newest neuroscience informs us that the brain is not reactive, as first thought, and that pain is much more complex, and we now know that the brain is predictive. Pain is an experience that occurs not only from physical damage but also when your brain predicts damage based on experiences from our past. We now know that nociception works by prediction, as does every other sensory system in the brain.
What does this mean?
It means the brain constructs instances of pain out of more basic parts using your concepts of pain.
Here is how current neuroscience sees it: Pain is a construct in the same way that emotions are a construct. Your concepts are primary tools for your brain to guess the meaning of incoming sensory inputs. For example, concepts give meaning to changes in sound pressure, so you hear them as words or music, instead of random noise. Concepts also give meaning to the chemicals that create tastes and smells. If I serve you pink ice cream, you might expect (simulate/predict) the taste to be strawberry, but if it tasted like fish, you would find it jarring, perhaps even disgusting.
The amazing realization here is that every moment that you are alive, your brain uses concepts to simulate the outside world. Without concepts, you are experientially blind. With concepts, your brain simulates so invisibly and automatically that vision, hearing, and all your other senses seem like reflexes rather than constructions.
Did you know that it is our thoughts that create our feelings?
So, to make this clearer and simpler, “pain” like “stress” is another concept with which you make meaning of physical sensations. You could characterize pain and stress as emotions or even emotion and stress as types of pain. It is completely plausible that we distinguish emotions and pain by concept. That is, via the concepts the brain applies to make sense of bodily sensations. Chronic pain is likely a misapplication of the concept “pain” by your brain, as it constructs the experience of pain without injury or threat to your tissue. Chronic pain seems to be a tragic case of predicting poorly and receiving misleading data from your body.
We can take this a step further, and for some this will be a stretch, but when you crack open your awareness a bit further, you discover something that may change your life that is revealed in how our experience of life works. Many of us are in varying degrees of upset, if not totally enraged at times, about our circumstances in life. Because our Mind Body interaction is so automatic, so subtle, we believe that our brain is a camera that is recording our personal reality as it is. This isn’t what is happening. Life is just happening, and Life is neutral, not bad, not good, not right, not wrong, it is just Life expressing itself. As our brain takes information in from our internal and external environment and then makes sense of this information, we make predictions based on concepts. But more importantly, we realize that it is not our circumstances that create our feelings, it is how we think about our circumstances that create our feelings. This one thing alone is a subtle but massive shift in your awareness. Knowing that it is our thoughts that create our feelings, allows us choice
The power to choose can give you so much freedom in your pain, life challenges and in your wellbeing. Throughout this series you will learn more about how this experience of being human works, and how our Mind Body interaction affects our personal reality.
Try these methods that are mentioned in my book, “The Health Code, Aligning Mind and Body for Optimal Wellness” or download the audios here on the website and begin to quiet your mind.
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