BY CINDY CHEN
Starting in October 2008, I began to experience tremendous back pain unbeknownst to me. The acute onset of the pain, complicated by its seemingly de-localized manifestations in different parts of my body, frightened me a great deal, enough for me to seek medical attention. Neither western medicine nor eastern acupuncture was able to diagnose the root of my condition. Strangely, after each attempt to combat the disorder, painful spasms would move around my back in real-time: at work, at home, and during my sleep.
I had no patience for this game of hide-and-seek. Two months after the first onset of pain, I was introduced to a book titled Healing Back Pain, written by a professor and attending physician at the NYU Medical Center. Dubious at first, I quickly became fascinated by the read. It proposed the real cause of my back pain to be Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS), a condition in which recurring back pains are not caused by physical abnormalities but rather psychological stress. The root of the problem is repressed emotions. The typical patient profile matches that of a highly responsible perfectionist.
Chuckling at the description, I flipped to the treatment section. It recommends patients to review a list of twelve key thoughts, called daily reminders, during a quiet, relaxed period of fifteen minutes per day. For about two weeks, I literally spoke daily reminders such as: “the direct reason for the pain is oxygen deprivation,” and “I will shift my attention from the pain to emotional issues,”John Sarno, Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection. New York: Warner Books, 1991, 82. to train my mind. I would then proceed to reconstruct painful emotions in the past, experience them in full, and cry to release the pain from my body. If the memories were too painful, I would need to pray to calm myself down from crying. Within two weeks, I was freed from the grip of back pain almost completely.
This miraculous incident set me on a path of rediscovery. In the past, I had often considered prayers to merely induce placebo effects in, if not utter hypnosis of, the mind. I would sometimes dose off during communal prayers, as the act of lowering one’s head, closing one’s eyes, while trying to focus on the lengthy and often incoherent prayers of another, is not the most exciting exercise for me. When prayers were answered, I could not know with compelling certainty if they were the results of my prayers.
I can feel strongly, however, that prayers worked some magic this time around. During those two weeks of recovery, I would sometimes forget the daily reminders (as I felt quite stupid repeating them after awhile), but I would always remember to pray. Even though my prayers were sometimes short, they were nevertheless powerful. I am more convinced today than before that prayers might actually be the conduit between the natural and the supernatural.