Photo: Melanie Thernstrom
The Pain Chronicles
Cures, Myths, Mysteries, Prayers, Diaries, Brain Scans, Healing, and the Science of Suffering
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
Book Review: The Pain Chronicles
“They say the god comes into them, but in Hinduism everything is god,” he complained. “I am god and you are god. How can something come into you that you already are?”
Rather, Shree said, the true meaning of the festival is to remind people of their own innate powers.
“When we pierce we are using the divinity we always possess to control our own consciousness.”
Faith and pain
Susan Maier-Moul What was the experience that most surprised you or captured your imagination?
Melanie Thernstrom I was fascinated by the way in which some people are able to control their brains and modulate pain in a state of religious belief.
I had read about Hindu pilgrims, for example, who were able to endure painful rituals and claim they felt no pain, but I found it hard to believe. So I journeyed to Kuala Lumpur to witness the festival of Thaipusam and I watched as the pilgrims had skewers threaded through their tongues and cheeks and weighted fishhooks hung from their torsos and did not appear to be in any pain!
Susan What went through your mind? What were your thoughts about such an amazing experience?
Melanie It was only then that I fully believed the research on how the brain can control pain in certain states of mind, such as trance, or because of certain beliefs, as in placebo. It naturally made me wonder how I could learn to control my pain.
Susan In a way that we don’t yet fully understand it increasingly appears states of mind are in some sense states of body.
Melanie As a neuroscientist told me, the interesting thing about pain is that we are all born with an innate pain-control system–we just don’t have control over the dial.
The pilgrims at Thaipusam have learned how to control the dial. This raised for me the haunting question for me of how I can learn to have control over my own pain–a question I am still working on!
Writing as a personal journey
Susan Do you have any advice for other writers who want to do well-regarded work on issues they live with and/or which are personally important to them?
Melanie My advice is to truly dedicate yourself–monk-like–to the subject and ignore all people who ask you when you are going to finish your book! After I finally finished my book, lots of people confessed that they doubted I ever would.
Susan You knew there was something you had already come a long way to find, even if no one else could see it.
Melanie It took me a decade to write the book, eight years of which I had a contract. I completed a draft after four years, but I wasn’t satisfied with it. Every Dec. 10th, I dreaded the approach of my contract deadline when I knew I had to beg yet another extension.
What kept pushing me forward was my desire to really understand the subject–and the more I explored it, the more aware I was of how much there was to learn.
Susan You’re such an inspiration – you really kept faith with yourself!
Melanie My advice is to try to shrug off the pressure to “publish or perish” as they say–to stick to your journey and to believe it will lead somewhere in the end.
Every writer is the first reader of her own book and at the very least you want your book to measure up to your own vision.
When I was finally ready to publish the book, I knew that at least the book did that–but I hope it speaks to others as well.
Hear Melanie when she appears next week in the KGB Reading Series in conversation with Dan Menaker KGB 85 East 4th St, New York November 9, 2010.
We may publish any content, comments or ideas sent to us.
Name may be withheld by request.
© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.