Tag Archives: consciousness

13Nov/17
Whole person to treat chronic pain

It’s not your mind, it’s not your body, it’s you!

Whole person to treat chronic pain

Its not your mind, it’s not your body, its you!

Mind and body — what do we mean?

In essence it is good news. Loud messages in the media about mind and body being connected (read article by Rachel Kelly here), thereby trying to update society’s thinking from dualism to what actually happens. To philosophers, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists though, this is familiar ground. Mind-body has been the subject of discussion and investigation for eons.

Today there is further reporting upon schizophrenia research, highlighting the limitations of a dualist perspective, which continues to predominate within our health system. The system and huge swathes of society persist in divvying up the so-called ‘mental’ and ‘physical’. We even have different buildings dedicated to each bit of us, and within those buildings, and rooms that divvy us up even more. We have a liver location, a heart hub, a bones bit, and other parts of the institution that focus on a mere piece of us. Where is the room that puts it all together and acknowledges a human being who thinks, feels, moves, and perceives in distinctly human ways? Let’s talk qualia, and here’s Dan Dennett talking about consciousness.

need states

There are reasons why this maybe convenient, however the separation is not how it works in reality. And try being an end user: ‘Hello, I’m the knee patient’. Within our language and thinking must be the start point of the whole, for it is the whole person who perceives a need via a variety of bodily sensations: thirst, hunger, pain, discomfort and anxiety as examples. What do I need to do here?

‘In the past, we’ve always thought of mind and the body being separate, but its just not like that’ said Oliver Howes, professor of molecular psychiatry. Too right! Its never been like that! He goes on to say that the mind and body ‘interact constantly and the immune system is no different’. I would propose a step further that there is no connection per se because they are one and the same: me and how I experience me and the world. If you are doing a maths puzzle for example, you could argue that this is a mental task. However, there is always the ‘you’ doing the puzzle and you are there, present and embodied. Your mind does not slip out and do the job and then slip back in.

The recent schizophrenia research findings suggest that treating the immune system could be a way forward. I think that society maybe surprised by this news in certain quarters, yet people will understand how this can work. I have great faith in society;s ability to learn, grow and evolve because that is what we have always done, naturally. There is much greater ‘attunement’ to the completeness of being human, although we still have a long way to go before the scientific and philosophical understanding is mainstream in society. Again, this is not news to people who have been studying and following the work of brain-body-person-immune interactions over the past 15 years. A notable example was Dantzer’s paper in 2008 on inflammation and the brain.

inflammation is a likely biological mechanism that links up many common problems: e.g./ pain, depression

It sounds simple to ‘treat the immune system’. Of course in reality this is not the case because our body systems work as a whole and interact in many, many ways. Modern society is very familiar and comfortable with the notion of taking medication to solve a problem. Indeed this is one case when a pharmacological agent is needed. However, this still fails to teach a person how to live or to live their best. This take understanding, practice, time and perseverance. In the rush-rush world we live in, people often want the quick fix that simply does not exist. Getting real means we pay attention to the data that now tells us that certain practices or skills each day are what we need to do to be well. This is non-negotiable. You make a choice.

I finish as I start — this is good news. It is another way in which society can see the changes in understanding afoot. Our thinking needs a drastic update, certainly in terms of chronic pain and chronic health. For years we have been led to believe that pills are the answer, yet they are not. They may have a role, but the main role is the person and the choices they make in how they ‘do life’. Their life-style if you like. We have so many known ways of building health, no matter where you start, no matter whether you have a condition or not, we can decide to live our best. And to do this needs recognition of the fact that we are whole. There is no mind-body separation, instead just ‘me’.


Pain Coach Programme to get the best of you, overcome pain and live well; t. 07518 445493
14Oct/17
Whole person to treat chronic pain

Pain is a very human experience

Pain is a very human experience

Pain is a very human experience

It is easy to take being human for granted. It is what and who we are but it is also why and how we ‘do’ life. We do it in a very human way, which is somewhat unique to each of us, yet there are patterns.

Part of being human is being conscious. Now, we don’t have to be conscious to be human, but we do have to be conscious to be having the experience of being human. We have many, many experiences, and one of the commonest is pain. There are a few exceptions, but on the whole most people will experience some pain each day. Many people will experience a lot of pain each day. This can be to the point that they feel it is continuous.

Despite pain being embodied, it is somewhat elusive. It is as complex as we are, because it is part of who we are and how we survive. To say that pain is embodied means that we experience it in our body, for where else could it happen? There has been a huge focus on the brain in recent years and this continues. However, pain is not ‘in my brain’ as some people believe and say, instead it is emergent in me, and I am a whole unique person (WUP).

What is the purpose of pain?

Despite the complexity of pain in terms of biology and experience that together are a lived experience known only to the individual, there are simple reasons why we feel it. There is also the way that we do pain. This is our style and it typically resembles the style with which I ‘do’ my life. My life-style is the approach I take to life. This incorporates the way I face challenges and address my needs.

We are aware of our needs implicitly by the way we feel and the sensations we experience. These are our need states and we must attend to them to maintain homeostasis. Failing to do so results in a shift into a protect state. Basic need states include hunger, thirst, the urge for toileting and pain. When our basic needs are taken care of we can focus on what we are doing.

Of course there is a prioritising system, so if I am thirsty but a pack of hounds are chasing me, it would not be wise to stop for a drink. Also, we don’t always get it right and so needs may not be apparent or we may feel a need but not actually require any more. An example of the latter would be food when you may have the feeling of hunger, yet you have actually eaten enough.

Similarly with pain as a human need state, when this becomes a more persistent state, we can argue that the emergent experience does not fully represent the need. I would suggest that when someone is suffering chronic pain, this is normal and what is an experience that compels thinking and action to address certain factors in one’s life. However, the frequency, intensity and intrusion is not representative of the threat. Instead, it is a summating nagging that can become extremely intense at times as the evidence continues to suggest that something dangerous could, or is happening. This is basic biology at play, maintaining our survival.

Continuously we appraise our circumstances, our brains predicting what could be the best explanation for the sensory signals. This is what we experience consciously as the world around us as well as ourselves in the midst of this most vivid film. We are the actor, the director and the pundit all together somehow. There can be a flitting from one to the next but never wholly one nor tother.

Perfection is what you are striving for, but perfection is an impossibility

As well, we can often be the most critical of each, seeking the perfect performance, which of course rarely of ever exists. As John Wooden said, arguably the most successful coach ever and a wholly decent and insightful man, “Perfection is what you are striving for, but perfection is an impossibility. However, striving for perfection is not an impossibility. Do the best you can under the conditions that exist. That is what counts”.

Pain and the way we experience it, what we do with it, how we acknowledge it as part of us like any other experience or anatomical part makes us the very human that we are. Love and how we ‘do’ it is another fine example of a conscious experience that is so very human. The repertoire of descriptions, responses, narratives, poems, paintings and expressions pays homage to something that we need not fear, only address. For that is the purpose of pain.

How we address pain, how we approach something that is not just a feeling but an action and cognition, is as part of the experience as the experience itself. There is no separation. When people try to distance themselves from ‘it’, or fight ‘it’ or resist ‘it’, they only try to do this to pain with themselves. We cannot successfully fight ourselves. Instead, accepting and understanding the need state before taking action that proves our own safety. We have to actively generate that prediction, or actively infer by new understanding and new actions within a world that we, as Anil Seth describes ‘predict into existence’.

Let us never forget that we have remarkable potential because we are human. We can choose our approach to life once we have become aware of our existing style. If it does not work, if it does not bring health and happiness, you can choose another. And like anything that is important, we have to practice and take steps and learn along the way. This is what we are doing each moment as it unfolds and we are re-sculpting ourselves to make sense of the world and ourselves, where the two are interconnected. So why not feel a sense of control and practice skills of being well, each day, every day. This you can choose to do.

07Dec/15

Central sensitisation and higher centres

Important Message by Patrick Denker | https://flic.kr/p/a9iUAG

Important Message by Patrick Denker | https://flic.kr/p/a9iUAG

There is a difference between central sensitisation and higher centres. In recent months I have seen people confuse the two, so I thought it best to differentiate in brief.

Central sensitisation is actually a laboratory based phenomenon that describes changes in the nervous system that result in modulation of the signals from the periphery. In addition, the inhibitory processes are dulled with consequential increases in sensitivity. This can mean that things that hurt will hurt more, and things that would not normally hurt now do. This can be transient but in some people with these mechanisms at play, they experience on-going pain as there is a predicted on-going perception of threat.

The role of the higher centres in pain include interpresting the meaning of the signals from the body (all body tissues and systems) and the brain makes a best guess. This best guess is our perception of reality at any given moment. What translates biological activity within hierarhical systems (networks, processes etc) into what we perceive, we do not understand–this is consciousness. We need the higher centres to convert biology to a lived experience, and the two are different, much like a scan does not tell us about pain. The scan is obective, pain is subjective. It is the person who brign spain to life and flavours it with their experience that is made of bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings culminating in what is.

So, whilst there may not be central sensitisation at play in all cases of chronic tendon pain, if you are feeling pain in that location, the higher centres are doing a protective job that is your lived experience; it hurts in the area where the tendon occupies — we have established that pain occupies a space and not a tisse; e.g. phantom limb pain. And because any pain experience requires higher centre activity, we must address this as much as the health of the body, the tissues, the person.

Pain Coach Programme for persisting and chronic pain. t. 07518 445493

Science | Compassion | Sense