In any medical system pain is considered a warning sign that there is a problem in the body. Pain can be sufficiently extreme and chronic to result in suicidal thoughts. I am thinking of female patients who have endometriosis their whole lives that rivals the pain of natural labour. Chronic psoriasis from childhood into adulthood can itch enough to cause agony. Pain can be significant. Western medicine sees a person as a collection of individual parts rather than the seamlessly functioning whole envisioned by Eastern philosophers. Today there is a specialist for every part of the body, including our mental health. Eastern medicine regards the mind and body as the same. The ancient medical texts identify physical symptoms rather than mental because it is not Confucian to intimate someone is ‘crazy’. According to this ancient tradition, someone who has physical symptoms has mental ones as well, whether they manifest them or not.
It is an individual’s free choice to face the psychological issues related to their pain or set them aside. Stagnation and pain increase as we repress our feelings. Pain is telling us to change something about ourselves and its emotions provide clues. Sometimes it is very difficult to acknowledge the sweeping adjustments that need to be made in one’s life. Unexpressed emotion sits like a compost pile in our interior, growing hotter and hotter the way organic material ferments. As old age approaches, the heat and inflammation can reach a crescendo. A healthy day-to-day life involves constant processing of outer stimulation and the exploration of our inner being’s reaction to it.
Some people somatize their symptoms, feeling them as physical pain. Some experience emotional upheaval rather than body aches and some allow a combination of the two. Generally sufferers of severe pain have a history of extensive trauma in their lives, whether it is physical or mental. If you choose to work with a therapist, find one who understands that the more you experience the emotion behind pain, the more it decreases. Pain is the result of anything unresolved. It could develop from eating large amounts of ice cream because it tends to obstruct areas from its dampness. It can begin with the chronic use of OTC medications for colds and flus because you choose not to take time off for trivial illness. In the Eastern tradition, these minor maladies provide an opportunity for cleansing. Drugs that suppress symptoms also prevent the toxins from expression and discharge. An acupuncturist familiar with the Shāng Hán Lùn School (Injury Caused By Cold) will know how to help you express rather than suppress illness. The course of a cold will shorten and you will recover more easily while understanding its importance to your general health.
Many of us have obstructions created by trauma, which bruises the blood and can create stagnation that is deep and persistent. Swollen purple veins under the tongue reveal this situation. I am reminded of a massage therapist who complained that she could not help a client who had been trampled in a bar. I suggested she scrape the area with a clean coin and some oil. Acupuncturists call it Guā Shā because it brings old blood and heat to the surface in the form of red spots resembling hickies (they resolve in a few days). What emerged from this woman’s back was the perfect print of a man’s shoe. This is an excellent illustration of how our bodies tend to retain trauma unless it is treated. Needless to say the massage client felt much better.
By the time pain has reached the low back or shoulders, we are reaching the limit of places to store suppressed material, emotional or pathogenic. We see the body like a house with cupboards, an attic and a basement. These are the places where we store experiences we feel we have no time to process. This is the idea of making something latent or putting it into dormancy. The repositories get full in older people because they have experienced more. Ask anyone who has emptied an ancestral home, even if it has housed only one generation: there is a lot of unwanted stuff!