Chapter Thirteen

What the Brain Does When It Is In Pain

    Within the mind nothing is as simple as it seems.

    And yet it is also true that often things are far more
    simple than psychiatry would have us believe.

In order to understand what we must do when we are working with the deepest levels of the mind, we must first understand in a simple way what the mind does when it suffers. We do not need complex physiological information. What we do need is a simple straightforward sense of what is going on.

The expressing and healing of psychological pain depend upon the following truths of brain function:

1. The brain hates pain.

2. The brain hates knowing precisely how its pain arose in the first place.

3. When faced with either pain itself or knowledge of how that pain was created, the brain will try to bury it completely by pushing both the pain and the knowledge connected to it down and away from conscious awareness. Feeling discomforted and not wanting to know directly why, the brain struggles to solve the problem in a disguised and unfruitful way in later life. It will reorder the past and the present, changing the meaning of anything inside or outside itself in order to keep itself safe, and to attempt to solve its problems.

It has been pointed out to me by Dr. Aletha Solter that when babies and young children are permitted to feel their feelings, they do not avoid pain. Please see both her book "Tears and Tantrums", and her website: Aware Parenting Institute (

You can contact Dr. Aletha Solter at:
P.O Box 206, Goleta, CA 93116, U.S.A.
Phone & Fax: (805) 968-1868

4. The brain is anaesthetic. It cannot feel directly. In surgery, after it is laid bare, it can be cut or burned and it feels nothing. Therefore the brain, when in difficulty, struggles to alert us but can only do so indirectly.

Given the restrictions in its function that we have just mentioned, the brain arrives at the following solutions:

Like a movie projector, the mind takes what is happening inside itself and projects it outward so that we can become aware that something is wrong. Living in a vault of absolute silence, the mind must find a way to signal us. These signals must impinge upon our senses, otherwise we would not become aware of them.

For example, the shipwrecked sailor might throw a bottle with a message into the sea but we would only perceive his distress when we discovered the bottle on the beach. A man lost on the highway at night would have to find a phone before we could hear his distress. In every example we could give you of this kind, we remain ignorant of distress until it triggers our senses.

The brain functions in just this way. It sends messages to us, through our senses and feelings which trigger our awareness. For example, we may be warned of anxiety by our heart beginning to race, or perhaps through having 'butterflies in our stomach'. The bottle has arrived on the beach of our awareness; the telephone has rung.

To complicate matters even further, sensations which come to us from deep within the body are non-specific. If something pricks us on our finger we can localize the area of disturbance and even usually know exactly what is causing it. This is because our external senses usually have a high degree of ability to discriminate. They usually know exactly what is going on.

Senses deep within the body do not have a high level of discrimination. Messages from within are often extremely diffuse. For example, most of us at some time in our life have had a stomach-ache, yet we could not tell exactly where it was located.

A brain unwilling to know exactly why it hurts, and unable to feel directly within itself, must now cast its pain outward and broadcast it back to our consciousness by giving very diffuse and non-specific messages.

Our entire journey in this manual will be to devise techniques which will render these confusing messages transparent. You can now see why we will always begin with sensory phenomena. Our inward journey will always begin with what we sense and feel inside our bodies.

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