Many of us have had the experience of acquiring a cut or scrape and not noticing it until someone says, “Hey, you’re bleeding.” Then, we look at the injury and start to feel pain. Chances are that before the wound was brought to our attention, we were very focused on catching a softball or sawing a piece of wood correctly. 

When our attention moves to the injury we feel the “ouch” immediately and simultaneously, we have an emotional reaction to the discomfort. Before awareness of the wound we felt nothing, but after awareness we are suffering. Anyone who has experienced this knows that pain requires conscious awareness. 

Virtual Pain Reduction 

Research at the University of Washington in Seattle shows that the use of virtual reality equipment eases pain in patients with intense discomfort (i.e., burn victims). The researchers think that entering a computer generated reality grabs the patient’s attention, reducing neural activity in the brain’s pain centers. 

Using virtual reality devices also reduces patients’ emotional discomfort. It lowers the anxiety and fear that accompany difficult medical procedures such as chemotherapy. The upshot of this, and similar studies, is that discomfort is minimized by taking our mind (attention) away from the problem and putting in on something distracting and enjoyable. 

From this research, some doctors and scientists postulate that humans have a limited amount of attention at their disposal at any given time. If you focus that attention on something pleasurable, there is little left over for awareness of pain. This is supported by the demonstrated ability of some people to block out all pain by moving their attention away from it. 

Pain: Four Legs to Stand On 

Clinical psychologist, Dr. Roderick Borrie, illustrates pain as being a table top supported by four legs (factors) involved in the pain experience. 

  1. The source of a person’s pain is the first table leg. We feel pain because the body reacts to damage, invasion, or imbalance. The awareness of the problem travels through our nervous system to the brain. 
  1. Leg number two is our muscles’ response to pain. Most of us tense up when in physical discomfort. Although this is a helpful short-term reaction, preventing us from moving around and increasing the damage, in the long run muscle tension intensifies our discomfort. 
  1. The third leg is our attention. When pain is first activated it is helpful information, telling us something is amiss. When pain continues beyond its initial message it commandeers our attention until the discomfort is a constant annoyance and interferes with daily functioning. 
  1. Our emotions, thoughts, and attitudes constitute the fourth table leg. This is where physical pain also becomes mental and emotional suffering; any negative, judgmental thoughts we have about the problem serve to increase our discomfort. 

Pain Management Techniques 

The table metaphor illustrates that three of the four legs, tension, attention, and emotional reactions cause most our suffering. It follows that relaxation exercises, and techniques that divert our attention will lessen emotional and mental suffering; techniques such as breathing rhythmically, mindfulness meditation, and visualization. 

The Silva Method provides several techniques that have proven effective in the management of pain. By using visualization and self-suggestion, you imprint your sub-conscious mind with life-affirming thoughts, positive emotions, and healing imagery. 

One example is the Silva Method’s Glove Anesthesia exercise. You place your hands in imaginary ice water and learn to develop a sense of numbness in your hands which you then can transfer to painful areas of the body. This mental anesthesia is enhanced using self-suggestion. 

With enough practice in pain management techniques, people begin to realize that pain is not “who they are” but an experience that they have some control over. It becomes apparent how much our thoughts affect our present experience, and with enough practice, the healthy images and commands become a habit of our subconscious mind. 

Putting It Poetically 

The poet W. H. Auden wrote, “Choice of attention – to pay attention to this and ignore that – is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences, whatever they may be.” 

Benjamin Norris is a journalist from Bristol, UK, who spends his days lecturing Indian Cultural History at one of Europe’s leading Architecture Universities. He is particularly fascinated by global spiritual cultures and practices, and by many subjects of an esoteric nature.

His writing often reflects these interests, and he enjoys little more than delving deeply into unknown worlds of research. Benjamin is a part time writer for and where he covers topics of healing, meditation, personal development and mind body connection. 

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