I can remember it like it was yesterday.
I was maybe 8 or 9 years old, climbing out of the family’s station wagon. Just as I was pulling my arm past the doorjam, someone pushed the door closed on my hand.
Three thoughts came immediately to mind. First, that I couldn’t see my hand. Second, that my mom was there to comfort me. Third, that within a matter of moments I didn’t feel any pain.
Fast-forward another 20 years. As I was riding my bike up a steep mountain road, I was sideswiped by a car traveling upwards of 50 miles an hour. Again, three thoughts came to mind. First, that I was grateful to have made it to the side of the road without being hit by another car. Second, that the best thing to do immediately would be to pray. Third, that within a matter of moments I didn’t feel any pain.
Ask anyone how this was possible and they’d be hard-pressed to give you a definitive answer since the nature of pain itself remains largely misunderstood.
Perhaps part of the problem is that we tend to look at pain in mostly physical terms, paying less attention to the mental factors involved. According to Dr. Sean Mackey, chief of Stanford University’s pain management division, “The reality is, all of our pain is in our head.”
While conventional medicine is by far the most popular method of dealing with pain, other approaches are proving to be effective. These include attention distraction (“hey, look over here!”), guided imagery (think “clouds in the sky” not “pain in my knee”), meditation (“ommmm”), and positive thinking or “cognitive behavioral therapy,” to use the scientific term.
There’s also the placebo effect. According to a study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, real acupuncture proved to be just as effective as simulated acupuncture, indicating that the mere anticipation of relief tends to make it happen.
And then there’s good old-fashioned love.
In a study Dr. Mackey conducted on a handful of Stanford undergrads, he found that those looking at a photo of their beloved boyfriend or girlfriend while receiving pain stimuli from a hot probe reported feeling 44% less pain than when they looked at a photo of just another friend.
Now that I think about it, maybe that’s why I didn’t feel any pain so many years ago. Whether it was when my hand got wedged inside a car door or my bike was nearly knocked over a cliff, there was something that I was able to focus on – that I loved – that I knew was loving me right back. When I was a kid that “something” was my mom. As I’ve grown older it’s felt more like the Divine. Perhaps, then, it’s our awareness and acceptance of love that just might hold the key to treating – and even beating – pain.