An Authentic, Sometimes Gritty, and Always Hopeful Blog for All Who Live with Severe Physical Pain

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Brain Can’t Respond to Pain and Beauty at the Same Time

The hummingbirds are back to drink at my feeder again -- they’ve been back for almost a month.  They’re new, as my backyard hawk scooped up the single male that hogged my feeder last summer.  (I actually saw him do it, and have yelled at him ever since whenever I see him!) 

I love hummingbirds, don’t you? They hold an even more special place in my heart than most people’s because of how God used them to prove something important to me. 

Horrible man 'o war jellyfish
A couple of years ago I was sitting on my screened-in-porch, feeling like I did when I was a kid body-surfing at the beach and misjudged a wave.  When that happened,  I’d wind up being tossed around, like I was inside some kind of sandy, seaweed-y washing machine.  Even worse, you’d need to throw in a couple of super-stinging jelly fish, so that with every scraping somersault, I’d also get a good zapping from their long tendrils. That describes pretty well how well I was feeling, knees hugged to my chest, tortured by pain.

Coming up for air, I suddenly caught a flash of iridescent emerald just outside the porch.

It was a hummingbird! I prayed one would come when I hung a feeder on a post outside the screen a few days earlier. 
Instantly, the washing machine released me and the pain evaporated!  Like sweet rest after an arduous trip, a state of complete relaxation washed over me as I watched the hummingbird feed and retreat every few minutes.  Even when pain returned about 20 to 30 minutes later,  it was nothing like it had been earlier. The bad cycle had passed--Hurray! 

I heard a speaker at a conference about my illness, Trigeminal Neuralgia, say, the brain can not attend to pain and beauty at the same time”.  Until that happened, though, I had never experienced it in such a dramatic way. 

Since then, I’ve recognized this power to distract the pain by beauty can be manipulated. 

What I’ve discovered is this: 

When I engage in activities that bring me great enjoyment, my pain is diminished; sometimes an entire pain cycle can be broken by enjoyable distractions!  

Here’s a powerful plus!   
It’s like a “prescription” to do the things I most enjoy doing!  

Each person has his or her own favorite things. If you’re like most people, you’ll have to figure out what those are, because you’ve been so busy working hard on the “have to do’s” in your life, that you have not focused on the “want to do’s” of your life. 

In order to live as well as you can, now,  
you have to do your want to do’s!
 (You may have to read that a couple of times to get it!)

“Okay, but how can I tell what I really enjoy?” you may ask me. 

I found out this way, and you can too: You will know what you enjoy but what activities allow for you to be most distracted from the pain!

      - Here are some of the things that most distract me from the pain: 

- Working in my yard:  planting, digging, trimming, composting, etc.  I love it all. 

- “Being in the Green”  I actually feel better being outside pretty much anywhere there are trees, and plants.  Mountains are nice too, and I’ve got a thing about rocks.  I like to have lots of rocks in my landscape.

Warren and I in our kayaks
- ...Oh, and water.  I experience less pain when I am in, around, or on the water. 

- Enjoying casual, relaxed, totally low-pressured time (i.e. NO high level cognitive abilities needed) time with people I care about. 

- I always, always feel better when I pull out my bible, and/or my old-fashioned hymnal and read, study, and sing! 

Interesting Fact:  When I am unable to do any of these for a couple of weeks, I’ll notice worsening pain.  The longer I don’t engage myself in activities I enjoy, the worse pain becomes! 

Heed this Warning:  I have to pay careful attention that while I am enjoying myself, I   I’ve learned this the hard way!  When I dive into the activity, forgetting myself, the pain will rebound much stronger.

What I Hate to Admit, but Here Goes:   There are many days (too many) when, even though I know I would feel SO much better if I got up off my sorry hiney and did something enjoyable... I don’t.  Instead, I choose to  lie around and suffer...wearing some ugly, wrinkled, old clothes, running just a quick comb through my hair,  eating nothing that comes close to a fruit or vegetable,  and watching DVR’d movies that I realize I don’t even like 20 minutes into them, but watch them all the way through anyway.

These are the times I choose to have my own personal pity party.  They normally happen after several days of poor sleep, being stuck in the house for too long due to high pain, feeling overlooked, having a crappy doctor’s appointment...or for whatever other reason I allow as an excuse.  Basically, I have a personal pity party when I let my mind focus on my circumstances rather than on how God has taken care of me in the past!

Here’s something amazing:  
Even these pity parties are okay. God is compassionate: 

“Praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

His son, Jesus Christ, was sacrificed, for my self-centeredness:

“...He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”  1 John 2:2

The Holy Spirit who infills me, intervenes on my behalf to pull me out of my pity party:

“The spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”  Romans 8:26.

I am so loved by God!  He formed my inner parts (Psalm 139), and knows the number of  even the hairs on my head. (Luke 12:7) My name is carved on his hands (Isaiah 49:16), and bottled up my tears (Psalm 56:8).

Want to know more about this kind of love?  Read my post, “Jesus, the Light.”  It’s my most popular one, by the way.

Until Next Time,



  1. Judi-
    You always have words that HELP me so much!! Like realizing I am not the Only person who suffers with Pain and has those days (mine seem to run for a while--then hubby will casually say "Sure like you Pajamas!) Gradually I find my way out of them.... The message you share is YOURS--but the Help it gives to others-wow Judi, a blessing to say the least.

    You opened my eyes to a couple of activities I thought were long gone from my life--I LOVE being around a river or lake, and its been a LONG time since I made the effort to find this joy again. Being Outside--in the beauty of Mother Nature--a reminder this is NOT lost to me.....

    thank you Judi... love forever.. martha

    1. How I hope you can enjoy trying something around the water again! Let me know!

  2. hi Judi---
    it is a joy to read your words--to listen as your heart speaks----such a help, more than you know. I have been on a roller coaster of Pain--doctors, Pain.... Having to reach deep inside... Would you mind if I gave you a call this week?

    Need to chat if you have some time and feel up to it..

    Blessings to you Judi. martha