The Message of Pain

As we work on Story of Pain, we struggle to figure out how best to make use of the flood of amazing and inspirational materials that we are assembling. First and foremost, we want to make a film that tells the story of Dr. John Sarno. This will form the backbone and the heart of the film.

In the process of exploring the broader ideas of his work, we have interviewed a range of profound thinkers who, like Dr. Sarno, challenge overriding paradigms in subtle ways. We have made very short clips from a number of our interview subjects, including Dr. Gabor Mate and Ashok Gupta. We’ll start posting some of these with our thoughts on why the clips are relevant.

In the following clip from our discussion with Dr. Gabor Mate, author of “When The Body Says No”, he discusses the idea that if we change our perspective on disease and pain, we can often find a positive message. This is akin to Dr. Sarno’s exhortation to think emotionally rather than physically when dealing with chronic pain issues. In one of Ashok Gupta’s meditation tapes he refers to the idea that the pain is a message from one’s body. All of these ideas dovetail and point to a much larger truth. The way in which we have come to approach the scientific method in terms of health care is at odds with the way in which our bodies and minds interact.

We too often fail to recognize the complex interaction of mind and body, severely limiting the efficacy of our healing methods. Unfortunately, the very act of discussing emotional factors in relation to disease or pain marks the speaker as a radical. As such, it becomes simple to dismiss them. This is certainly the case with Dr. Sarno. However, Dr. Sarno in no way sees himself as a radical or a revolutionary. He came of age at a time when emotional factors were understood as causal factors in a whole host of illnesses. When Sarno examined his patients’ charts, he found that 80% of them had a history of more than one issue that was thought to be psychosomatic in nature: ulcers, migraines, colitis, excema, etc. Becoming aware of this correlation, he theorized that back pain, too, might be a physical disorder influenced by emotions. Coming from this perspective, over the next 40 years he developed and adapted his treatment methods with amazing success.

While Amazon reviews are not clear scientific data, they do tell a story. Of the 752 reviews his book “Healing Back Pain” now has, 563 are 5 star, 73 are 4 star, and 54 are 1 star.  There are no ratings in between. The book, and its acknowledgment of the importance of emotional factors influencing back pain, has had a profoundly positive effect on people. Yet he has been ostracized and ignored by his peers for the past 50 years.

Like Dr. Sarno, we don’t see ourselves as radicals or revolutionaries. The idea that emotions are deeply connected to our health is something that humans have known for millinea. However, as Dr. Mate points out, we’ve just forgotten it. We plan to make a film that calmly and cogently weaves together a variety of thinkers and healers who have challenged the basic precepts of modern medicine, precepts that have gained dominance only in the last 4 decades. We believe that emotions matter.

The scientific method is a wonderful tool, but it has limits, especially when it comes to the infinitely complex relationship between mind and body. One of the reasons that Dr. Sarno’s methods work so well for so many (yet not all), is that those methods give people a framework to look at themselves and their pain/illness differently. Sometimes all we need is a new perspective in order to get on the road to health.

Below is a clip of Anita Moorjani, who Dr. Mate mentions, talking about how through illness she came to accept her true self, and recovered from a cancer that almost killed her.

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