Mastering Pain Pathways – Shuhari

The foundation of the DOC project is understanding that pain circuits are permanently laid down in your brain quickly. It is unclear in a given person when acute pain becomes chronic, but we do know that it becomes a bigger problem after 12 months (1). Once that line is crossed the “pain switch” in your nervous system is stuck “on”. Although many treatments can temporarily decrease the symptoms, you are trapped in “managing” your pain. You eventually become worn down.

One Choice

Your have a choice is to retrain your brain to create alternative circuits around the old ones. With repetition, the threshold the pain can and will disappear. There are three steps in creating these new circuits:

  • Awareness
  • Detachment
  • Reprogramming


The harder you try to “fix” or suppress the old pain pathways the more active they will become.  This “rewiring” is not a major life philosophy. It is simply a learned skill that can be mastered. These are universal steps in reaching mastery.


A friend of mine pointed out to me that in the Japanese martial arts there is the concept of “Shuhari” that describes the sequence to mastery. These concepts are from Wikipedia.

The word is really three words.

  • “Shu” is “to learn”
  • “Ha” is “to detach or digress”
  • “Ri” implies “moving on” or “transcendence”

Mastery of your pain



“To learn” – awareness

This sequence is critical to dealing with chronic pain. You must first become aware of what “programs” in your head are running your life. You must understand and embrace them before you can be effective in creating the “detours”. Otherwise you will be just running into a solid wall.

Detach/ digress

You then have to separate from yourself to see what the options are to move forward. It might be similar to a football running back who has to see the hole in the line before he can progress up the field. I have one friend who visualizes himself sitting in a large theater. He “watches” himself on the big screen dealing with the situation in front of him. He feels like he can make better decisions. His ability to handle stress is unbelievable.  Chronic pain may be life’s biggest stress.


I have used the word reprogramming for the final step of creating new circuits. However, I like the word transcendence. It implies that not only have you moved through the obstacles you are far above them. Regaining your perspective on life is a critical step. I have often described the final phase of the DOC project as the spiritual journey.  It can be manifested in an infinite number of ways.

A Bunch of Balloons


The gift of mastery

Shuhari – the steps to mastery are universal. View your journey through chronic pain as a learned skill. What you probably cannot see at the moment is that when you have transcended your pain you will have been given the greatest gift that life has to offer – deep gratitude. Your appreciation of every second of life becomes profound.

  1. Hashmi, JA et al. “Shape shifting pain: Chronification of back pain shifts brain representation from nociceptive to emotional circuits.” Brain(2013); 136: 2751 – 2768.