30 Oct What It Is
Dr. Eric Sherman discusses the role that fear plays in pain syndromes
I interviewed Ram Dass the other day for “All The Rage”. He told me that when he had a stroke, he was resting in the hospital room surrounded by people who were worried, thinking “the stroke was a bad thing”. He cleared the room of that negative energy and very quickly began to recover. “I thought, the stroke isn’t bad”, it just is. Most people I know would roll their eyes at this sentiment, but if you slow down to make sense of this idea, it contains deep levels of truth.
When we look at countries, people, illness, or feelings as enemies to be feared or fought, we set ourselves up for difficulty. There are no winners in a war, and the war on cancer is a good example. While some strides have been made in helping cure some cancers, I think it’s clear that we are nowhere near close to “winning”. In fact, turning cancer into an “enemy” to be feared and fought might well be a mistake. The biomedical model, which lies at the heart of this war, sees cancer as foe to fight, rather than something to observe and respect.
One simple problem with taking the position that we must “fight” disease is that it puts us in a state of fear and constant alert. From the beginning of time, we were designed to respond to threats, but those threats were more immediately physical than existential. When faced with a predator, or even another person, who wishes to do us harm, our bodies flood with stress hormones so that we are prepared to either fight or flee. This response is designed for short term activation; for racing, not cruising.
If you think of it like a car that needs to pass quickly, you might picture the driver dropping down to 3rd gear for extra acceleration. This taxes the motor but gets the car quickly past its obstacle. This speed provides for a safe pass in the short run. Most drivers will throw it back into fifth as it eases back into its lane. However, if the driver keeps it in 3rd, worried that he or she might have to accelerate again at a moment’s notice, then the car is going to overtax itself. If the driver feels safer with more punch available, he or she might even forget that they have a fifth gear. However, the engine isn’t built to run like this and it will fall apart much quicker if it never gets to cruise. It’s not a reasonable way to drive, but it is often the way we live our lives. When we walk around in an unconscious state of fight or flight we never get to cruise.
When we are told that we have an illness, we can see it as external threat that must be fought, or we can take a more balanced approach. We can avail ourselves of all the medical treatment that seems appropriate. At the same time, we can try to examine the patterns that exist in our lives that might be contributing to the disease in our body. If we fear the disease, rather than look at is as a message from our body, it is very likely that this will only contribute to the lack of balance. If we see it as a sign that we need to slow down, take stock of what we feel, and work towards finding balance in our lives we have a much better chance of activating the healing that we want to take place.