Pain is Not Something to Defeat

New tagline, huh?

So what’s that all about?

I’ve been talking about this concept for awhile now, with colleagues, coaches, clients, and now in my new website. But really, pain sucks, why not just try to get rid of it?

Well, practicing Rolfing in Austin, I’ve studied myself and my clients for a decade now and most of the time, barring an actual medical condition, the conditions that bring people in my door are the result of wired-in habit patterns. The algorithm is running, and if you don’t understand the math, you’ll never solve it.

As adults we have a lot of personal history, and some very well-trodden paths for dealing with the challenges we face. Those paths create the often-subconscious “stories” of our lives — the “why?” behind what we do — and they usually create predictable (and often narrow) sets of outcomes. That’s why we use them a lot — they’re reliable! But after being used over and over, maybe for decades, they can actually create the pain we experience.

So you’ve got to get into the subconscious “story” of what’s happening in the body to solve the pain, especially if you’re interested in doing something new or paradigm-shifting in your life.

True Story

Here’s a great example of “story” creating a painful experience.

Ten years ago, my wife and I were expecting our son, so we did the Austin parents-to-be thing and took a Conscious Birthing class. It was awesome and I highly recommend it. In one of the classes, our teacher had us all hold a single ice cube in our bare hands for two minutes so we could practice what it was like to “be with” discomfort and stay present to the experience.

Two. Whole. Minutes.

Holding an ice cube.jpg

You want to see some adults being dramatic? Hand out ice cubes and have everyone hold them for two minutes and try to maintain their composure. Ten adults were in that room completely freaking out at the experience of holding a melting ice cube in their hands (us too) for the two-minute eternity.

Fast forward about two years and I’ve got a precocious (and amazing) toddler who loves to get into everything he can, just like they all do. One day he discovers the ice maker on the refrigerator and proceeds to let loose a bunch of ice cubes onto the floor and into his hands. He grabs a hold of one of them and walks off with it, satisfied at the discovery.

A few minutes later I notice him casually looking at his hand, which is now soaking wet with ice-melt and red from the cold. He has the look of absolute curiosity at the experience, as if in his mind he were saying to himself, “Huh, check that out. My hand is red, and wet, and there’s this crazy new sensation I’m experiencing here that I haven’t before. Neat!” No crying, no screaming, no freaking out at the cold burning sensation of the ice cube.

He had no frame of reference for that to be “painful.” It was simply a curious, new experience. And one of the coolest things I’ve ever witnessed.

So those adults in the birthing class? Freaked out because they learned to be freaked out at the sensation they were experiencing. Their stories created the impact — the pain — of the experience.

The Neuroscience of Pain

Now let’s be clear. This is perfectly normal. It’s not bad, nor indicative of some weakness. It’s what naturally happens to us humans.

But why would it happen? Why the wildly different response between grown adults and a toddler having the exact same experience? The answer lies in the complex web of meaning that our brains create around pain.

I’ve posted this video before, but I think it’s a great — and entertaining! — description of how we put together a very complex meaning-scape around our experiences. And the pain experience is often inter-woven with memories, emotion, experience, and context. I’ll let the expert here give us the details, but as a teaser I’ll quote Lorimer here:

“I want to try and convince you that pain is an illusion, 100% of the time.”

Powerful stuff (from a funny guy). He goes on to pose this challenge:

“How do we convince people in pain that we understand they’re in pain but it’s not just about the tissues in their body? And a key conceptual shift that we think is really important is that pain is the end result; pain is an output of the brain, designed to protect you.

It’s not something that comes from the tissues of your body; there’s nothing there….100% of the time pain is a construct of the brain.

Bottom line? Pain arises from a complex web of experience and meaning. If you don’t understand that web, the pain can easily persist despite your efforts to conquer it.

It’s the beginning of your journey

So, circling back. It is a journey to understanding the “story” behind your pain; how the web of thoughts, emotions, meaning AND body tie together to create symptoms. Just like Lorimer’s post-snakebite scratch on his leg. He was just fortunate enough to be a neuroscientist studying pain, so he nailed it down quickly.

If you’re not a neuroscientist (well, even if you are), and you’re considering Rolfing in Austin, consider the big picture. Get engaged with the inner workings of you and where you’re at with your body, mind, and emotions. When you dig in to an exploration of your story, you get to untangle the sticky webs that keep you from moving forward into something new. There’s freedom on the other side!

Are you ready to begin your journey? Let’s do this — Schedule an Exploratory Call with me today!

Mike Williams is a Certified Rolfer and Certified Hakomi Practitioner in Austin, Texas. He is the creator of the Soma Sapien Expedition, a proprietary combination of Rolfing, Hakomi, and Mindful Movement designed to help you figure out how you operate, and where your barriers to higher-functioning evolutionary growth are. Find out more at