- All of our actions this minute are determined by all of your past experiences up to this very second. Each of us has a unique perspective on life.
- Awareness involves seeing past your own personal biases and seeing the world more as it actually is.
- You cannot change anything until you know where you are starting from.
- You must allow yourself to feel your mental as well as physical pain before you can reprogram in new circuits.
- Without awareness, healing is impossible.
Awareness is a necessary step on your journey to health, as what you’re not aware of can and will control you. If you’re unaware of the impact of your circumstances/ stresses on your body’s neurochemical response, you will be ruled by feelings that you have no idea of where they are coming from.
Additionally, how can you solve a problem in any realm if you don’t understand the relevant aspects of it; especially if the problem is complex? Consider the complexity of building a skyscraper or launching a spaceship. There are endless details that have to not only be addressed but mastered. None are unimportant.
When the Challenger space shuttle exploded in 1986, killing the seven crew members, it was discovered that a small “O-ring” leak was the root cause of the explosion. What is disturbing was that there was knowledge of the potential problem from the beginning in 1971 that was repeatedly covered up. So, the people making the final decisions were not fully aware of it as the signal was given to launch the spacecraft. However, the complexity of the Challenger launch pales when compared to the intricacy of the human organism.
The human body
There are about 30 trillion cells in the human body and 80 billion brain cells. Each neuron is connected to 10,000 other neurons. This central control system maintains a precise balance of the body’s chemistry, organ function, acid base balance, metabolism, blood flow, temperature, heart rate, and this list is almost infinite. Every bodily function is balanced by opposing input that maintains these delicate reactions. The baseline state is called, “homeostasis.”
You, through various sensors, are in constant contact with the external and internal environment to monitor and control your responses in order to survive, regenerate, and thrive. Pain is just one of the many sources of sensory input. You cannot interpret or treat a patient’s symptoms (reactions to the environment) without understanding the world they live in and also their coping capacity.
But one step deeper is the need for the patient to become fully aware of all the factors that are affecting his or her’s bodily functions. The only person than can really figure this out is you. The way you process the world around you is based on your unique early childhood programming. It is the “filter” by which you interpret sensory input – whether it is physical or mental. If you were raised in a chaotic family without feeling nurtured and safe, you have been programmed to view the world from a hypervigilant perspective. So, your baseline existence is on “high alert.” This creates a chronically defensive neurochemical state in your body and the data shows the people become ill with serious diseases and don’t live as long.1
Awareness is seeing the world as it actually is – not just through your interpretation of it. Pure awareness is essentially impossible in the human experience; we all look at life through our pre-programmed perceptions of reality that starts to develop at birth. But the closer we can come to pure awareness, the more functional we can be as human beings.
Awareness is the key to developing meaningful relationships; in a one-on-one encounter, the greater your capacity to see a situation through the other person’s eyes, the greater chance of developing intimacy. As important awareness is seeing the effects of your behaviors on others. Intellectually, we understand the importance of awareness, and yet most of us continue to struggle with gaining true awareness. Why is that? Consider the following:
- Anxiety clouds awareness, but we are often not aware of our anxiety until it becomes disruptive.
- Awareness and anger cannot co-exist. When you are angry, the blood supply is shifted from the neocortex (thinking centers of your brain) to the lower survival centers. By definition, it is not possible to accurately assess all the variables of a situation and come up with a creative solution.
- We all know that nothing really is accomplished in a heated argument. Anger is destructive.
- This situation is worse when you are trapped by chronic mental or physical pain. The most challenging aspect of healing is breaking through this barrier and nurturing awareness.
There are several types of awareness that are necessary to learn for you to solve your chronic mental and physical pain.
- Understanding the nature of chronic pain. It is a neurochemical problem that is rarely amenable to structural interventions such as injections and surgery.
- Becoming aware of the principles underlying the solutions. They are centered around rewiring around the unpleasant (and permanent) circuits in your brain and also learning how to lower your body’s inflammatory response to threat.
- Awareness of how your environment is affecting your sense of well-being. For example, if you are in an abusive relationship, no medical interventions will counteract your body’s need to survive. The root cause must be addressed, and every situation is different
- What was your home life like during the first 12 years of your life? Was it loving, supportive, and nurturing or chaotic? It sets the stage for how your brain develops the rest of your life.
Awareness – the foundation for stimulating neuroplasticity
Using techniques and approaches that stimulate your brain to physically change structure is a core concept in solving chronic pain. All of our basic survival skills are memorized and are automatic. For example, you don’t think about which muscle to fire next when you walk or talk. How about learning an athletic or artistic skill? The same holds true for unpleasant experiences, such as disruptive thought patterns or pain. Just like riding a bicycle, they are permanently embedded in your nervous system. In order to reroute or create new and more enjoyable circuits, you have to be aware of what is already there. If you are continually doing battle with an unknown opponent, how effective are your efforts going to be?
Also, these survival circuits are hardwired in and not responsive to rational interventions. We spend a lifetime trying to solve or outrun these survival sensations, yet you might as well be talking to the engine of your car. The only approach (and it is effective) is reprogramming them with awareness and repetition.
So, one basic aspect of solving pain, is to allow yourself to feel it. You might say, “I am already in pain and feel terrible.” But what is usually happening is that we are suppressing emotional pain, which is processed in a similar area of the brain. If you don’t allow yourself to feel emotional pain (being vulnerable) then you will experience physical symptoms. There is no place to run.
The basic steps of stimulating neuroplasticity are:
You have to feel to heal.
Chronic pain is resolvable once you become aware of its nature, your reactions to it, the relevant variables that affect your perception of it, and learning your set of tools to drop it down and reprogram your nervous system.
You cannot solve any problem unless you understand it in detail. Chronic pain is a complex problem, and each person has a unique experience. Being aware of all of the factors that affect your pain is critical. You also cannot move forward until you understand where you are at right now.
Every living creature has to be continually aware of its circumstances to ensure survival. Humans have another layer added in the form of language and consciousness. To enjoy rich and fulfilling relationships requires being aware of another’s needs as well as your own. When you are trapped in pain, awareness cannot exist as the blood supply shifts away from the thinking centers of your brain to the lower survival centers. You attention is only on you.
Breaking through this barrier to awareness is a challenge, but once it occurs, life becomes an abundance of opportunities instead of an endless barrage of challenges.
Questions and considerations
- Many people are so used to being in a survival mode that they are not aware of the possibility of living a great life. Could this be you?
- Even though you might be miserable, somehow the idea of change is more threatening, and you may not try anything. How badly do you want to heal? Many people when confronted with that question, actually do not want to change.
- Pain and anger are addicting. They feel powerful and no one wants to give it up. Understanding this scenario is important.
- Awareness requires you to feel the pain and stop fighting it. Then healing can occur.
- It is easy to be aware of other’s “flaws.” Are you able to see your own?
- Keller A, et al. Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health Psychol (2012); 31:677-684. doi:10.1037/a0026743