Memories, Phantom Pain, & New Thinking

by TonZ, flickr.com

by TonZ, flickr.com

This blog is by a valued member of Kate’s Blog Team, Brenda Evers.

The understanding about how our thinking affects our health seems to grow broader and more complex each day. Studies are now making connections such as:

In fact, over 90% of health problems can be traced to what we think, according to some health professionals.

And although it’s being studied as its own separate cause, it seems that the effect bad memories have on health could underlay many of the others.

Consider the phenomenon of “phantom pain”—pain that continues to be felt by a person, even after a limb has been amputated.

I became more aware of this when I observed a friend of mine desperately try to scratch his leg that had been amputated. This phenomenon is common in soldiers who have lost limbs in war, as well as in others who have lost limbs through accidents or disease.

Doctors once believed this post-amputation phenomenon was a psychological problem, but experts now think that these real sensations originate in the spinal cord and brain.  Still, study into phantom pain continues.

Some research concluded that the brain maintains a memory of the severed limb that is indistinguishable to the patient from the sound limb.

Studies by other researchers have found evidence of a “subtle energy” model to explain phantom pain. (journals.sfu.ca/seemj/index.php/seemj/article/download/235/198‎)  This model strives to tap into the explanations given in some religious and indigenous beliefs.

But perhaps it is worth simply connecting the dots between phantom pain and the other studies where researchers are seeing how our thinking actually impacts our health. Isn’t our increased understanding on how that happens across a wide spectrum of emotions worth applying to phantom pain?

Mary Baker Eddy, a 19th century woman who researched, in depth, the medical practices of her day and analyzed them from the perspective of how they fit with the healing Jesus did, had this to say about pain that appears resident in nerves or the brain.

“Nerves are not the source of pain or pleasure. We suffer or enjoy in our dreams, but this pain or pleasure is not communicated through a nerve. A tooth which has been extracted sometimes aches again in belief, and the pain seems to be in its old place. A limb which has been amputated has continued in belief to pain the owner.” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures)

Further, in the same book, she says, “The effect of mortal [human] mind on health and happiness is seen in this: If one turns away from the body with such absorbed interest as to forget it, the body experiences no pain.”

Probably, we all have had the experience of feeling no discomfort or pain when our thought has become completely focused in another direction—toward something we are interested in or something we love.

That gives us a strong hint as to what can be done to help.  The Bible puts it this way, “thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee”, showing that focusing on something else, focusing on God, can bring peace – both mental and physical.

Perhaps it is the case that our memories and beliefs about past experiences, including trauma from severed limbs, brings about the suffering.  And, further, that turning away from it completely is part of the solution. If this is true, we may need to re-examine our assumptions and our models. Maybe we need to focus on how to turn to God more.  This is certainly worth exploring further.

Brenda, a member of Kate’s blog team, is a writer who loves to learn about and share with readers the connection between spirituality and health.  In addition, she is a Christian Science Practitioner in Ellicott City, Maryland.  She and her family spent many wonderful years in Southern California and now are happy to have returned to beautiful Maryland.