The MWS Podcast 71: Pete Goble and Rich Flanagan on Pain

Today’s guests are Pete Goble and Rich Flanagan. Pete is a retired nurse and currently a Buddhist Health Care Chaplain. Rich is an Operating Department Practitioner, working in the NHS, specialising in anaesthetics and post-operative recovery. They’re both members of the Middle Way Society and they are here to talk today about how people perceive pain, the assumptions we make about it, how it’s influenced culturally, psychic and physical pain, attitudes and trends in dealing with pain and how this might all relate to the Middle Way.

The book Pete recommended is Pain edited by Frederick Toates and the three links that Rich mentioned are What is Pain on the British Pain Society Website, the NHS Pain Tool kit and Ways to Manage your Persistent Pain

Peter also has written two posts on pain which you can access here: Pain (1), Pain (2)


MWS Podcast 71: Pete Goble & Rich Flanagan as audio only:
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About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

2 thoughts on “The MWS Podcast 71: Pete Goble and Rich Flanagan on Pain

  1. An interesting discussion. I think I’ve been lucky enough not to have suffered a lot of pain in my life – with only one episode of acute pain from an ankle injury. That was more than ten years ago, but I was disappointed with myself at the time for how much I allowed the kind of anxiety Rich talks about to dominate and thus compound the pain experience. Times of pain strike me as big tests of how well we can really practise the Middle Way. I hope that I will manage better next time.

    I think Rich was right to identify the application of the Middle Way here in avoiding rigid beliefs about pain that stop us accepting its presence, and that these beliefs are associated with meanings and desires. However, there’s also a more philosophical application that I thought could have been brought out a bit more in the first half od the podcast – that is, the avoidance of metaphysical beliefs in the independent mind or body. On the one hand, those who believe they can ‘get over’ pain assume an independent mind with absolute freewill, whilst on the other, those who think only in terms of a determined physical process are at least implicitly reductionists or materialists. Accepting the full inter-relationships of what we call ‘mind’ and ‘body’ (indeed, trying to avoid the dominance of these opposed concepts in the way we think about the issue) seems to be central to finding the right set of assumptions to talk adequately about the experience of pain.

  2. Before the discussion I had it in mind to refer to McGilchrist’s idea of the tyrranny of the left hemisphere in relation to pain, and how the non-dominant hemisphere can be brought into play in coping with it. I have (I reckon) a pretty high tolerance of pain, mainly because it seems to subside rather quickly (when I compare it to the experience of others I’ve met), and because I’ve learned to ‘reframe’ it using a few mental ‘tricks’.

    These tricks include letting the pain take on a shape or ‘substance’, and also a distinctive colour or luminosity. These are liable to change, and noticing/watching the changes with curiosity and inquisitiveness is something of a distraction, reveresing the impulse to ‘pull away’ from the pain, and seems to divert some of the energy of the pain.

    It’s also possible (but not necessarily easy) to ‘welcome’ the pain, ‘sit it down’ like an invited guest, and make it feel at home, perhaps by asking a few questions: e.g. what would put it at ease? what message would it like to deliver? A similar technique has been described by Tsultrim Allione in her lovely book “Feeding your Demons”(2008, Hay House UK), based on the teachings of an ancient (11th Century CE) Tibetan adept, Machig Labdron.

    I’ve used this to cope with a very severe toothache, and found it both interesting and effective, although it took some effort and was only effective intermittently. It seems to me that by paying close, inquisitive and sustained left brain attention to pain instead of pushing it away somehow (paradoxically perhaps) entrains the right brain and invites a flood of creative re-interpretations of the experience, and a broader context for doing so.

    Just a theory, based on limited personal experience.

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