The Spaciousness of Pain
Excerpt from the book 'Dissolving Pain':
"One day at work, I was seized by a sharp, sudden pain in my lower back caused by a kidney stone. It was the worst pain I had ever felt. Pain medications did nothing. In an act of desperation I decided to try something different, something that seemed counter-intuitive."
"Instead of reflexively fighting the pain, I surrendered to it. I stopped tensing muscles, and I allowed myself not only to fully feel the pain but to let it in and accept it, to merge with it. Almost immediately the pain ceased, and the world around me grew brighter. I realized that a major factor in how I experienced the pain was how I paid attention to it."
"Instead of fighting the pain by narrowing my awareness onto it, resisting it, and avoiding it, I had broadened my awareness by opening to all my senses, and to space, putting the feeling of kidney pain squarely in the centre of this expanded awareness. When I attended that way, the pain became a small part of my total awareness, and with the pain now a small part of my being, I could easily surrender into the pain and dissolve it.”
- Les Fehmi & Jim Robbins, Dissolving Pain
ALPHA BRAINWAVES AND BIOFEEDBACK
Dr. Les Fehmi, a pioneer in the field of biofeedback, undertook a scientific quest to voluntarily produce phase-synchronous alpha brainwaves, the hallmark of veteran meditators. He discovered that the key to cultivating alpha brainwaves on demand is by creating sustained awareness of the one thing that the brain is unable to focus upon – space.
Since his doctoral research in Physiological Psychology in the late 60s, Dr. Fehmi has developed biofeedback techniques which he uses as a private psychologist and public educator to help people with mood and attention disorders, physical and emotional pain, and to enhance physical performance in athletes.
In his books, The Open Focus Brain and Dissolving Pain he introduces exercises that guide you to sense the three-dimensional space between, around, and through objects. Since space is not an object and is by nature expansive, the brain must relax into a more diffuse and creative form of attention in order to perceive it, he calls this style of attention ‘Open Focus’. By imagining the space which permeates everything around us we can tap into the underlying silence and timelessness of our reality and the brain is able to take a little holiday – winding down into a more immersive, effortless and flexible state.
The pursuit of the alpha brainwave was so important to Dr. Fehmi because he observed that people suffering from stress and pain are chronically stuck in the high frequency of the Beta brainwave, which creates a narrow beam of focus on a very specific idea, object or feeling. This intensity of focus keeps the nervous system in overdrive and cuts us off from the wholeness of the present moment.
“How we pay attention is not something we often think about yet the act of attending is quite a vital function. Changes in how we pay attention can quickly cause widespread changes in our physiology, including the dissolution of physical and emotional stress. Many therapies or relaxation techniques, from massage to meditation to Tai Chi, produce positive results that succeed, at least in part, because they bring about a shift in attention. Attention is a primary and powerful factor in all types of relaxation.”
- Les Fehmi & Jim Robbins, Dissolving Pain
I was drawn to the book Dissolving Pain because the stories within had striking similarities to my experience with meditation and pain. I felt very encouraged to read about Dr.Fehmi’s decades of dedication and persistence in the face of criticism, in developing such simple but profoundly effective techniques. I highly recommend reading his writing if you have an interest in pain management, stress reduction or meditation.
ABOUT DR. LES FEHMI
Dr. Les Fehmi is the Director of the Princeton Biofeedback Centre, the author of The Open-Focus Brain and Dissolving Pain and creator of the Open Focus™ Attention Training techniques. After receiving his doctorate in Physiological Psychology at U.C.L.A in 1966, he pioneered research in the area of attention and EEG biofeedback training. For the last four decades Dr. Fehmi has been in private practice as a psychologist, putting into practice the discoveries made from his years of research.