The Greatest Teacher


Every once in awhile when I am teaching I puff out my chest and strut. I then say,

"Who Is The Greatest Teacher"

Most of the time I am answered with a nervous, "You are Shun Shifu"

And I reply, "No, pain is the greatest teacher"

This is ussually followed by an example.

It's been a running joke I have relied on for years in my teaching. But there is much more to it than I ever knew. Pain is far more complex than any of us realize. And indeed, it is a teacher.

Even with my own knowledge of the subject whenever I feel pain I first attribute it to injury. This is actually only occassionally the case. Pain can be due to the mechanical, an injury to flesh or bone. But even so it is still a nerve signal to and from the brain and that signal can be upregulated, downregulated, or completely eliminated. The signal can be a false signal and this false signal can also be regulated in either direction.

Pain can be psychosomatic. We don't like to think this because in our society psychosomatic pain can often be judged as weakness. It is often judged or percieved as shameful. Negative emotions upregulate pain and shame is the most negative of all emotions. So a downward spiral ensues.

This perception of psychosomatic pain being "all in the mind" is true but unhelpful. Psychosomatic pain is a protection mechanism. It is, in the right context, helpful. It protects us from ourselves. This protection can be physical. Preventing us from movement that might exacerbate injury. It can also be protection from our own negative emotions. The emotional pathways and the pain pathways actually share much of the same neural networks. And that phenomena can lead to some very unexpected human behavior.

This psychosomatic pain alone is complex. Has it run amuck or is it serving a purpose? Do we need to rest or push through? It's often very hard to tell. Often we can only guess.

There is also a psychosocial aspect. Our society is overrun with this on the negative side. You know the type. Mention something that hurts and they have something that hurts worse. If two are of like mind a competition ensues. Try not to play that game, it's a race to the bottom.

On the positive side of this we have heroes. Their love for others downregulates pain. The mother that picks up the car to save their child. As a society we look upon this as the ideal. Just watch any action movie.

I think there is much more to explore in the positive side of psychosocial downregulation of pain. Because I believe we can all learn to be heroes. Proper Shou' Shu' instruction does this and despite the fact that I have been observing and experiencing it in this venue for nearly 30 years I still feel I am just starting to understand.

I often joke to my students about their Shou' Shu' training being hero training. Truth is that I'm not joking.

As I mentioned, negative emotions upregulate pain. This leads to what is known as pain catastrophising. Another horrible downward spiral. It gets out of control very fast.

Because I was brought up in a very negative and traumatic environment I learned to pain catastrphise at a very young age. Now that I have learned to avoid pain catastrophising I look back on much of my life and see how badly it held me back. It saddens me to see how it reduced my potential in so many venues. But that also gives me motivation to help eliminate it even more in myself and to help others do the same. Like I said, we can all be heros.

I have learned to eliminate pain catastrophising through Shou' Shu' training. However the thing that really got me over the edge was Wim Hof training. When one can quietly meditate while siting in 35 F water something changes inside. Everything becomes much clearer. We can do much more than we think. Wim says the cold is his teacher. I understand. Wim Hof is a hero and he teaches others how to be heros. Go Wim!

Another form of pain is reffered pain. When our nerve pathways conducting the pain get so strongly developed and so easily triggered that the signals actually just jump track. Like a short circuit.

As an aside, cannabis, in it's raw, non-psychoactive form was very helpful for me for this form of pain. I experimented on myself with it and it eliminated reffered pain in under two weeks. That's a N of 1 so take it for what it is.

Cannabis in it's psychoactive form was helpful in figuring out some of the psychosomatic physical protection aspects.

That plant is truly God's gift. But like all powerful things, needs to be used wisely

I no longer think of pain as an adversary. It is here to protect us. However, more often than not it protects us like a helicopter parent. Not allowing us to explore the world and grow. Sometimes you have to talk it down. Just explain to it that your strong and although you respect what it is trying to do it can stand down for now. Thank it for it's vigilance and for being there when needed. It's just not needed now.

Despite knowing pain pretty well it's still very difficult to understand what workings of it are going on at any given moment. It is deceptive. We have to experiment with it and see. And the results of that can be truly surprising. That's not so fun but the good thing is that, in doing so we not only learn about pain but we learn about ourselves.

I'm not sure if pain is truly the greatest teacher. Perhaps in our present state it is.  I hope and I strive to learn just as quickly without it. 

I am certainly not asking for more but I am grateful for being able to push through what I have been given. Through that I am no longer what I once thought I was. 



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