A Psychological Approach to Tension and Migraine Headaches
This is a discussion of migraines from a psychological point of view — from the "inner" point of view. [I hope it is clear that it is not offered as a cure or psychological treatment for headaches. It is meant to be used in addition to psychological, psychiatric, and/or medical treatment, not as an alternative or replacement for them. The goal is to help the reader understand possible underlying psychological factors involved in some headaches. It is aimed at people interesting in learning about themselves.]
The discussion below is aimed at headaches with a psychological component. If an headache is 100% biologically caused, the ideas in this paper will have no application. Further, it is meant to apply to tension headaches and to migraines that start as tension headaches. If there is such as a thing as a pure migraine with no tension component, these headaches are beyond the scope of this paper.
It seems that headaches, when they cross a certain line, hit a point of no return where psychological methods usually don’t work. Even here though, a psychological approach can be useful for a person wanting to understand the cause of his or her headaches: the present one, but also past and future ones.
There is no psychological method for getting rid of headaches — a parallel with golf
Even for headaches covered in this article, I am not giving a method for ending them. My goal is to sketch out a path a person can take to get to a certain point of awareness where it may be possible to see the cause of the headache. It is possible that seeing the cause of ones headaches can be a step on the road to a lessening or dissolution of one or more headaches. However, the steps between 1) seeing causes and 2) thebettering of one or more headaches is not one that can be charted. I will give the deeper reason for this later in this article.
For now, I will make the strong statement that, as far as I know, there is no psychological method or recipe for getting rid of headaches. And one reason for this is that the frame of mind from which one can affect a headache is not a frame of mind that can be chosen or willed. It may happen from time to time, but it is not something you can do “A,” “B,” and then “C” in order to enter it.
It is like what Bobby Jones said about his golf game: that there were only a few times in his career where he hit a shot that felt just right. For headaches, if a person can get rid of headache through a mental act, it is like entering into what is now called, the zone. While in the "zone,” a golfer feels as if he or she has entered an almost dreamlike state of perfection, and then the golf shot comes off perfectly. But the golfer can not choose to enter the zone (in this respect, entering the zone is similar to the Christian idea of divine grace).
Similarly with headaches, there may be a zone of understanding into which a person can enter in which the person sees the cause of the headache and how to let go of it and enter a pain-free state, but, if there is such a zone, the person with the headache can not just choose to enter it or do “A,” “B,” and “C” to enter it. Golf lessons can help the golfer, but does not, by themselves, lead to the perfect shot. Our steps in this article, can, at best, help the person with a headache understand underlying factors, but this understanding, by itself, will not and can not make an headache evaporate. Another step is needed, and it is not one that can chosen or “done.”
The parallel with golf goes a little further: A person can take golf lessons and practice and practice and try and try, and the golf game can get worse instead of better. Similarly, a person can try and try to understand the causes of his or her headache, and this can make the headache worse. (This is part of the reason that the psychological approach should be practiced only with, or in conjunction with, a trained therapist.) And some people just do not like to look at their feelings and sensations under a microscope. And probably some people can’t.
The Psychological Approach
The Psychological Approach
What is being presented in this article is a purely psychological "method" and not a method that involves reaching for a pill or stretching or getting up and keeping moving or doing yoga or receiving acupressure or acupuncture treatments or applying heat packs or pressure point packs or any physical manipulations whatsoever. The "method" I will propose does not involve any movement at all. It involves a shifting of attention that might lead to subtle changes in body position, but the moving and changes of position are after the fact. In fact, if one tries to mimic these movements without the understanding and the shift of attention, it can quite possibly make a headache worse, not better.
Obviously headaches, including migraines, are serious problems for many people. Not only can they become extremely painful and debilitating, but they lead to loss of man/woman work hours and so can be accounted for in monetary terms. I have not researched this, but I would guess that hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on research on physical treatments for headaches and almost nothing on psychological approaches. Most of the money has been spent developing pain medications aimed at the different pain receptors or at the vascular system thought to underlie migraines, and there is no question to me that medication can help many people some of the time, and some people, perhaps, most, or even all of the time.
Yet medication has a negative side. Medications can have side-effects which can affect a person's alertness and energy level, and so many medications can be seen as dangerous in their own right. More, taking a pill does not help people understand why they get headaches and does not give them a feeling of power in relation to them. Many people do not care about understanding and look for pills or for the latest treatment modality involving the injection of a chemical. Naturally enough, they just want the headaches to be gone so that they can go on with their days. But to make an analogy, let's say we are watching a man who bangs his head against the wall every few minutes and complains to us of having a splitting headache and asks us for a pill to relieve the pain. We suggest he stop banging his head, and the pain will go away. But he gets angry and frustrated and demands a bottle of anti-headache medication.
I see many headaches as being self-induced in a parallel way. The problem is that it is more complex and more difficult to explain: Banging your head against a wall is a physical act that, for most people, would be simple to stop. But the thing a person does that brings on a headache is not a visible physical act, and it is not at all easy to stop. Stopping it involves a deep insight and a profound and subtle change, and, it is for this reason, that our "procedure" or "method" is not really a procedure or method.
In fact, one of the problems in describing the "procedure" to a general audience is that a certain knowledge of ones own psychology is necessary to even understand the procedure, and it is probably safe to say that perhaps 90% of people have neither the time nor the inclination to look inside in a calm manner and be 100% honest about what they find. The history of psychology since Freud is very clear on this point: that people find it very difficult to face themselves in this way, and that it is either too difficult or too painful for most people. Looking inward and being honest with oneself is work, and for this reason alone, it is of no interest to people who have little time or who are already overloaded with and exhausted from work or who do not have an introspective bent.
Not only does the procedure I am about to describe involve work, difficult work (though inner work), and not only does it involve a willingness to face aspects of oneself that one has not seen and may not want to see if they should arise in the work, but even if a person is willing to march into this wilderness, it remains difficult to describe it and map it out clearly enough to make it easy to "get a hold of." Communication about inner matters such as these is very slippery and elusive. If two people are talking about a tree, both can see the tree and can point to it if there are problems in knowing what they are saying about it. But with the inner realities, one person can't hold up something and show it to the other for common view so that they can both observe and describe and discuss it. What we are stuck with here is for one person to look in and describe something and to hope that the other person can look inside and find a parallel something and that the first person's comments will apply for the second person.
Every person is frightened of certain things and certain places. Often a daredevil in the outer world is frightened at the idea of looking within. And vice versa. Just as there are some who just can not make themselves climb a high mountain or go scuba diving and who maybe shouldn't make themselves do these things, so also some people feel they would be flirting with madness if they were to sit around, with eyes closed, and peer into the void. And there is reason to think that some people shouldn't scuba dive in the oceans of the soul or try to climb its mountains.
So again, the point is that the "method" about to be described is not for everyone and maybe not for most people. Yet, if a person has a certain talent for introspection and self-examination and has an interest in it and is willing to put in some work and be willing to try to make a few intuitive leaps to understand the points being made, and, with a little bit of luck, perhaps the following ideas will, hopefully, help them understand their headaches, and this might lead to changes in the headaches themselves.
One last point before proceeding: I think it is universally agreed that headaches can be ranked from almost imperceptible to being intensely painful. And, as mentioned above, many people find that, up to a certain point of intensity, headaches can be reversed with some favorite method but that there is a point of no return where only bed-rest or medication will do the trick. It is common to separate tension headaches from migraine headaches, but I think it is possible that it is more a matter of degree than of kind. Some tension headaches, once they pass the point of no return, are called "migraines." What physically is added to the tension headache to turn it into a migraine, and just how many migraine headaches — if any — start as tension headaches, is not clear to me, but this is not the point of interest of this paper.
And nothing in this paper is meant to deny that muscles are involved in headaches or that blood vessels or nerves or sinuses are involved or posture or lack of exercise or the wrong kind of exercise and so on. To me it is obvious that every headache has a biological, physical component. And, again, I would never deny that the physical approaches, from muscular manipulations to heat applications to exercises to baths to pills, can't help. Our approach, however, is purely psychological.
Moving on to the psychological approach, I want to say again that I do not know how to get directly to the point. So I will begin with the idea that, and I hope the reader will agree, that basic to our nature is a reaction that when something is causing us pain we tend to pull away from it. If you are walking in bare feet and step on a thorn, the tendency is not to step down harder, but to pull your foot up and find the thorn and pull it out — to get rid of the offending object that is causing the pain and so to get rid of the pain. But headaches are not caused by thorns or bee stings or the pricks of needles or by any external cause. In spite of this, there is a tendency when one has a headache to pull back from the pain, to move ones head in the opposite direction of the pain, as if the body "thinks" it is pulling away from an external pain stimulus. It "feels as if my head is in a clamp" or "it feels as if there is a knife blade in the back of my neck" and the like are how people describe headaches, and so it is natural for them to pull back, as if to pull out of the clamp or away from the blade.
So it goes somewhat against the natural instinct when I say that, in our approach, a person with a headache should not "pull away from" the pain but should, in some inner sense, turn towards it and even move towards it and into it. Pulling away makes it worse, or, at least, does not help. There is no external painful stimulus. There's nothing to pull away from. So all the squirming around "to get comfortable" is of no use.
But what good can it possibly be to face the pain? Doesn't this "wallowing" just exaggerate it? And isn't it masochistic — almost trying to make it worse instead of ignoring it and getting on with ones business? But sometimes, though not always, just facing the pain and "going into it" can, for some reason, make it feel better. It is as if the "running" from it required effort and that this effort made the tension worse and so made the pain itself worse. If the pain had to do with tension in the first place, the manipulating to get rid of it just adds another level of tension. If the reader is willing to lend some credence to this view and is willing to "explore" the phenomenon of the pain next time a headache occurs instead of trying not to pay attention to it, then I think the attentive reader will find that pains are like external objects in the sense that they have an inner, more intense area and a peripheral area that is less intense. And the idea here is to go straight into the heart of the storm with ones attention and in ones mind.
As mentioned, this, in itself, can sometimes make a headache go away. It is as if the headache does not want to be the center of attention and dissolves once it is approached. Or perhaps it is that attention is a relatively weak function and can not focus too long on any single object of focus, and so, trying to fix the center of pain in attention, by the nature of attention, makes the pain slip out of attention with attention attaching to some other point of interest.
But I am not proposing this as the proper fix for the headache. I am putting it out here for two reasons: First, as an exercise for becoming more conscious of the experience of pain, and, second, and more important, for the person with the headache to face the fact that he or she feels bad, really bad. This sounds odd, because the person may be complaining about the pain and doing this and that to get rid of it, but it is just this "running to and fro" that can be seen as a denial that there is a pain or at least of the seriousness of it. And, if the goal is to get rid of it at all costs, this is to devalue the pain. But what if the pain has a value? We might even think, for a moment, of the pain as a person who has a reason for being and a goal. Or we might think of it as a divinity that is trying to tell us something. Or we might think of it as an electric fence surrounding a field and that it is there to keep us out of a dangerous territory and that it causes us pain whenever we try to go past a certain point.
But what is this point and why does the person suffering with a headache keep trying to go on and does not want to stop and "listen" to the headache? And the answer, at least sometimes, is that we try to ignore the pain in order to push on with our projects and our thoughts about our projects. We try to keep on as normal when really we are in pain. We do not want to feel the pain. We want to pretend to ourselves it isn't there or that it isn't too bad or that it is easy to get rid of. We want to get on with our lives and our plans and our goals. We don't want this waste of time. What this means is that a person who is in pain and wants to keep thinking about something else or to get up and finish a project is valuing the project over the pain, over his or her own body.
If the person stops the project and decides to look within, the person can find that the pain in the head is one small component of a bigger complex of sensations and feelings that is spread throughout the whole body and of which the sensations in the head are just one small part. This wider area includes, most importantly, the chest area and the heart deep inside.
Now, if I am right, if the person were to focus on this global complex, a complex I call a feeling (and not just on a particular sensation of pain), he or she will find that the global feeling is not pleasant. Whether it is a feeling of anger or of failure and frustration or of fear or of being overwhelmed, it is a feeling that the person wants to escape from as sure as if it were a sharp pain. And this unpleasant feeling propels the person to escape it into certain behaviors. And these behaviors — whether they involve pushing oneself to accomplish more and more chores or to think harder and harder about a problem — combined with the developing pain, serve to divert the person away from the feelings. Up to the point where the pain becomes unbearable, the headache pain is the lesser of two evils from the point of view of the person. The most important thing is to get away from the bad feeling, or so it seems, and it is worth ignoring any developing pain to get on with the project of escaping the bad feeling.
Now we can take the next step. Remember that the headache is a specific painful sensation located in a particular part of the head and that the fear or anger is a complex of sensations or series of sensations that are spread throughout the body and to which I refer to as "a feeling". And it is our view that the person, in trying to escape the unacceptable feeling does things that lead to the pain. The "pushing themselves" and the "wracking their brains" makes the pain worse, and it is this single sensation, the pain sensation, that winds up being the focus of the person's attention instead of the global feeling. And the person, at least up to a point, would rather feel the sensation of pain in the head than the complex feeling spread throughout the body.
It is important that the general feeling is incompatible with the sensation of pain located in the head. If a person is focusing on the global bodily feeling, the sensation of pain no longer can be the center of focus. It recedes to a a distant point on the periphery of the body — where it belongs. And out there, it dissolves. It can not maintain its concentration and melts. If the heart and the chest and the stomach absorb the person's concentration and re-assume the dignity of being the center of consciousness, the pain loses its importance, and the person is cured. Sometimes an headache pain goes away merely by finding a more generalized and a more centralized place of discomfort. In this case, the cure for the head problem is for full consciousness to flow back into the full torso and the full body. The person may have an actual feeling of coming back into his or her body, of stepping back into the body, of suddenly remembering they have a full body and are not just thinking heads.
And this "stepping back into the body" is accompanied by a realization that the needs of the full body have been ignored. The body has a rhythm with an ebb and flow of energy. Energy comes in small packets, as it were, and after an energy component is used up, the natural thing is to rest for a bit and recoup ones energy, before setting out again. Animals are good at this as can be seen in their bursts of energy followed by naps. People are animals in this sense, but civilization has made it nearly impossible for people to maintain their animal rhythms. When a person, as we have been describing, "moves back into his or her full body," the person comes to realize that the rhythm has been ignored. That, when the energy level of the full body ran out, and where the natural tendency would have been to sit down and rest and "lick ones wounds", this person ignored the retro-active impulse and pushed on and on and on and on. Recovering from the headache is the same as returning to the natural rhythm. Recovering from the headache is a slowing down and stopping, a stepping back from goals and projects, which, for the civilized person, may be experienced as failure or paralysis, as a "breakdown", as a proof of weakness and inferiority.
If these ideas are accurate for certain people at certain times, one question is, "What is it that makes some people hate feelings of fear and vulnerability so much that they push themselves into a headache?" The answer may seem obvious. It may seem obvious that these feelings are inherently unpleasant and that this alone is enough to explain why people would try to "get out of them." But everybody has these feelings, and not everybody gets headaches, not everybody pushes themselves to this point. Is it that some people are genetically prone to headaches? — in fact they do seem to run in families, a grandmother and a grandson, a daughter and her mother and her aunt.
But the psychologist, though not denying the importance of genetic factors, looks towards the inner explanation. And one possible answer is that, though all people get feelings of failure and of being overwhelmed and so on, not everyone reacts to these feelings in the same way. Some seem willing to give into them and allow themselves go through a healing process. These people, it seems, are willing to stop activity, take a rest, eat something, settle down, and do what it takes to return to equilibrium. It is possible that what makes one person push on over the edge and another stop and recover has a genetic component, but it also may be that each has learned a reaction to losing and failing. Parents can teach their children never to give up or never to let fear get the upper hand, and so on, and these rules can become internalized and can wind up being the inner guiding principles when the children grow up.
Even more, a whole culture can teach this ideal — in their schools and churches, in their work places and through their media. We can almost define a headache as the conflict of the goals of society implanted within an individual with the natural energy modulating system of the individual. It is the intersection of cultural values (family and/or societal) and the bodily needs of an individual.
The reader will notice that we have shifted our psychological focus from a sensation (of pain) to a global feeling and now to a value (in ourselves and even in the general culture). We can say that the type of headache we have been discussing is not just a sensation. And it is not only a result of a reaction to an underlying unpleasant feeling. But it is also a commitment to a value system and a way of life. And this value system assumes a belief system that sees the world as conquerable. It believes that people, with the right attitude, applied with persistence, can (and should) overcome the problems that confront them. It is a belief in the human Ego, in thinking and hard work and ingenuity. Some may see this as a commitment to a naively optimistic idea of the world and of the ability of the civilized individual human and as a de-valuation of the animal self-regulatory instincts built into us. And it may seem clear that the animal will not stand for this too long. A headache can be seen as the animal biting back.
This is part of the explanation of why it is impossible to come up with a step by step method to get rid of this kind of headache. The problem is that there is a conflict within the individual for which there is no simple solution. The individual has to decide whether to admit and accept that he or she is lost and confused, not the person society idealizes, not the person they had always wished to be or to fight on and take the one more step that might just kick them up to a new level. To step forward is an heroic deed, but to set the collective goal aside and to say, "Screw it, I'm not taking another step, I don't care how it will look," would also require an heroic effort of an equal and opposite kind. To push ahead and maybe join the ranks of the great or to drop back and give up and feel normal and like everyone else?
So it is not simply a matter of the person with an headache choosing to relax and calm down and back off. If the person could make this choice and did make this choice the person would run up against the collective value and, what's worse, against a value embedded deep within him or herself. It is not just a decision to relax; it is the choice of a whole new value system, a system that entwines all the aspects of a person in a web that is almost impossible to become conscious of as a whole. It's hard enough to see our value systems let alone choose to change them. A person can leave the hub-bub of the city life and move to the country to escape the rat-race and to live a simpler, more peaceful life only to find themselves rushing around in the country, pressuring themselves to do this and that, and staying up late at night trying to figure it all out. The Prophet Micah in the Bible prays, "Grant us peace, they most precious gift, O Thou eternal source of peace." If there is truth in this it suggests that peace is not a choice but a gift and that, in the end, there is no method that a person can employ to delete a tension headache. Realizing that one is pushing oneself is not the same as stopping pushing. And trying to stop pushing and deciding to stop pushing and figuring out ways to stop pushing are still pushing. To realize and accept that we are not that great, that our moments of victory are soon to be forgotten, that failure and weakness lie right around the corner, is not something we can do or want to do but is something that reveals itself to us more and more over time, and to this fountain of wisdom and humility we are dragged kicking and screaming. No one chooses this route; they don't, they won't, and the can't. We do quit. We do give up. But we do not choose to quit or give up. It just happens. It is a feat of nature, like our hair turning grey, not a conscious act. Yet, from the psychological point of view, it is just this giving up, just this "collapse," that marks a return to the full self and, sometimes, an end to an headache. But it is as difficult to engineer this collapse as it is to become humble. It is tempting to say that the culture has to change for the individual to be cured, but I do not think this is true.
There is still one more level of this problem that needs to be discussed. A while back I spoke about the feeling that is distinct from the ache in the head. This feeling might be anger or fear or failure (or something else) depending on the person and the situation. For example, a woman may feel anger at her husband and not wish to and feel frightened by how she might respond to the anger, and she finds, in her frenzy of trying to figure out what to do and what to say to him, that she is developing a bad headache. Another person, a man, has been struggling at work to finish a project by the end of the month. He begins to realize he is running out of time and, not only that, he is beginning to realize he may be on the wrong track and that he has no other idea about what the right track might be or even if there is one. He wakes in the morning with a severe headache and can't imagine pulling himself up to go to work, but he can not escape going.
The point here is that it is not the anger or the fear or the feeling of needing to finishing a project that leads to the headache. For example, time pressure can lead to pushing oneself on to meet the deadline, and no headache develops or is even hinted at. When the push is over there is exhaustion but no headache. Headaches come when an inkling comes that there is no chance of success or that there is no point in trying for success, and yet there is still a felt need to go on. It is this "spinning ones wheels" that is the ground of headaches. The artist stands at the canvas with a vision and pushes on through the night. No headache. The artist stands at the canvas, but the vision is gone, and yet he wants to finish, because he vaguely remembers how great his vision seemed to have been, and so he pushes on and on. Headache.
This concludes this part of this essay. However there are a few points that still remain to be made. I have portrayed people with headaches as being quite aware of their pain sensations, but of being unaware, or only dimly aware of their feelings, the feelings of weakness or failure or fear or hopelessness or confusion or lack of confidence or doubt. At the same time these people may appear to be confident, even super-confident, maybe even manicy confident. They are often filled with energy and can be inspirations to others. How can this be? The answer is in the nature of the mind. It is possible for the mind to be split. This is true for everyone from time to time, and it is true of the people I am picturing at the time their headaches are developing. If they are lying to us it is only because they are lying to themselves. However we understand it, there is a split between the ideals and goals and immanent victories they preach to themselves and others and the creeping doubts and realization of realities worming their way into the depths within. It is possible, as it is said, for the right hand not to know what the left hand is doing, and it is also possible for the head to be clueless about what is going on in the rest of the body. Even in the victory parade, feelings of failure, feelings of only partial success, and fears of future failure can creep in. The feeling of victory slips away like water through the fingers of a cupped hand. However, it is not these feelings that are the headache. It isn't even the struggling to eradicate these feelings that is the headache. It is the struggling to gain the final victory combined with the feeling that it is a growing impossibility and these combined with the exerting of effort when there is no more energy for it and these at a time when the animal instincts are demanding rest and recuperation. If the person would allow the victory and the goal of victory to slip away, the headache would fade also, or so goes my theory. The fear of fear is itself a phobia, a topic I hope to cover in another paper. And, just as feelings of failure lurk in the heart of every victory, so too, feelings of future victory arise from the ashes of every failure. But this resiliency of the human organism, this play of opposites, can not be manufactured by the conscious mind.
Before ending this section, I want to remind the reader that the feelings that underlie headaches and the value systems that support them in actual people are as varied as the colors of a summer dawn. Though the overall structure may be the same or similar, the way the structure plays out in each individual person is unique. One person will be striving to be a good husband, another will be trying to build his dream house, another will be trying to be the perfect football player. Because of this, working with each headaches must be tailored to individuals. Even more, work with each individual headache will be different, which is part of the reason no method can be developed. A woman comes to a hard-won psychological understanding of an headache she has on Tuesday morning, and it goes away, but the headache she develops on Thursday afternoon is different, and she finds she can not apply what she learned on Tuesday in a cookie-cutter fashion to her Thursday headache. But this does not mean there is no general pattern and nothing to be learned and no fund of knowledge that develops gradually over time. Again, there a comparison with golf can be made. To quote Bobby Jones, "Golf is assuredly a mystifying game. It would seem that if a person has hit a golf ball correctly a thousand times, he should be able to duplicate the performance at will. But such is certainly not the case."
And, in spite of all I have said about the inability to decide to cure ones headache, it does seem that, over time it is possible to get better and better at heading them off. Yet it would be vain and foolish and even immoral if a person were to brag that they had figured out, psychologically, how to get rid of their own headaches or the headache of others. It would be a hubris that might anger the gods. Having headaches is like having an addiction to alcohol. There is only the tiniest gap between drinking and not drinking, and there is only the smallest gap between having and not having an headache.
Finally, one more point about psychological approaches such as the one I am putting out here. There is a physical side even to a purely psychological approach to headaches. When people accept their unpleasant feelings, fall into them, as it were, they are no longer fighting them, and they relax, and, perhaps the headache disappears. Relaxation involves the muscles. The muscles of the head and neck and shoulders change. I have not tested this in any lab, but it is hard to picture that it is not true. When a person relaxes, the position of the body changes, if only subtly, and the muscles relax. So there is a physical side, even in the psychological approach. The point though is that if you were to document, accurately and completely, every single aspect of the physical changes and could teach these changes to the person with an headache, and even if the person could manipulate his or her body to implement these changes, unless the feelings and value system could be made conscious and changed, the body position and muscular and vascular structures would crystallize right back to where they were. It is parallel to the man who is banging his head against the wall. No pill and no exercise and no injection will cure the pain forever as long as he continues to bang his head against the wall. And if he stops, no pill or exercise or injection will ever again be needed.
An Eight Stage Progression
An Eight Stage Progression
The type of headache I am thinking of comes on one when a person is involved in a certain type of task. This task involves thinking, and this thinking can be done in bed, or, even in dreams, and so it is not strange that these headaches can come on while the person is in bed or even asleep.
I imagine that the typical progression for the type of headache I am think of has four initial stages. It is an interesting experiment to insert some stages after the initial four. A few people I know have reported relief, at least at times from adding these extra stages. I find this interesting, and it may be something professionals could experiment with with their patients.
This is a stage before there is any pain at all.
Here there is a series of thoughts, emotions, images, sensations, feelings, and so on that are all aimed at a goal. We can sum this up by saying that there is a drive or an ambition or a striving. There may be physical movement, but I am not assuming any. This is to allow that someone can be in Stage 1 while lying in bed on a day off from work.
Stage 2 is the same as Stage 1, but now there is a pain from an headache. It is not a big one, but it is definite. It is there, no getting around it. It is a forerunner and harbinger of a bigger headache that may come. For some people, this tiny pain is a sure sign that a major headache will come. The arrow with an S under it signifies that some attention has been diverted from the Goal towards the headache. The S stands for Sensation and indicates that the headache is sensed.
In this stage the headache has grown into something sizable. It is no longer possible to dismiss it or just hope it will go away. It has grabbed the attention.
Now there is a new goal, Goal 2, which is to get rid of the headache. The thoughts and imagination are working on this problem as well as on the original goal. Energy and attention are diverted from Goal 1, the goal that had been occupying the attention.
In Stage 4, Goal 2 has become the main focus of attention (as indicated by the two arrows below). The headache is more intense. It has diverted most of the energy from Goal 1 and is threatening to take over completely. Thoughts and feelings and imagination are becoming absorbed in the question of how to get rid of the headache.
It is here that we can try a different tack which can lead to a different path than the usual one headaches take.
In this stage which we can choose if we want, the attention is split still further than it was split in the previous stages. Goal 1, Goal 2, the headache, and all the thoughts and feelings and energy and imagination and emotions that have been devoted, one hundred percent, to the issues at hand, are stepped away from and become the object of observation and investigation. Now there is a third goal, Goal 3, which is to understand the meaning of the whole process.
One Thing that becomes apparent here is, as discussed in the previous section with a slightly different emphasis, that there may be a relation between all the striving towards Goal 1 and the headache. It is as if the headache has the function of diverting some of the energy away, perhaps towards the body. Perhaps there is an imbalance caused by the drive towards Goal 1, and the body has no other way of correcting it besides creating a diversion.
Stage 5 is the second to the last stage of the "method". A person can choose to enter Stage 5 (and Stage 6). It is a matter of will and of diverting ones attention. But Stages 7 and 8 are not a matter of choice. In Stages 7 and 8 there is no more headache, and this is not a matter of choice.
The idea is that relaxation and headaches don't go together. You can not be in a state of deep relaxation and peace and have a tension headache. If there are headaches caused purely by biological factors, maybe this kind of headache could persist. But if it is a tension headache or a migraine that built itself out of a tension headache, it can not co-exist with relaxation.
But relaxation is not something that we can choose. If anything, trying to relax makes us more tense. It is the Bobby Jones phenomenon, where a relaxed golf stroke is necessary for a "sweet" swing and hit, but this is a once or twice in a life-time phenomenon.
But there is more. Relaxation and headaches can't co-exist, but drive and striving can't co-exist with relaxation either. If a person's Value System is such that the number one goal in life is Goal 1, then Goal 1 is more important than relaxation. By definition, given a choice between striving for Goal 1 and Relaxation, the person will choose pushing on towards Goal 1.
As discussed in the last section, Goals and Values are notoriously difficult to change. You can not choose to change your goals or values. If you have a deep desire for riches, you can not just tell yourself that this is a bad thing, and I won't go for it any more. No sermon, no New Year's resolution, no belief that riches are superficial will penetrate to the depths where these urges and drives develop.
There are only a few things that can touch down into the center of the urge and change it for good. One thing is giving oneself permission to follow the urge to its end. The problem here is that, depending on the urge, following it to the extreme can cause problems for oneself and others. And yet it is very difficult to get an urge out of ones system without satisfying it to the point where it no longer has a major charge to it. The life of St. Augustine shows how this works. A dissolute man, he turned to a religious life. He fell to the bottom and saw it wasn't as exciting as it had seemed. And it fell away from him like mud on the skin that has turned to dirt in the hot sun.
A more ordinary example is how adolescents are notoriously wild. Parents are often upset if their adolescent children are not wild enough. The hope is that certain things have to be gotten out of the system before one can move on. Not everyone agrees with this idea, and it has great dangers associated with it. If finding out the folly of your ways by crashing from your own experiences can be avoided, what a good thing. But temptation is often so powerful that it feels like a wave against which the will has no power to resist. It can not be denied, or it feels that way. And it appears to be the good, brave, and strong path. It is only later, looking back, that one is ashamed and has to pay the piper.
Another way that seems to lead to the same end, to the re-valuation of ones values (as Nietzsche called it), is an awareness that comes to one of what is important and what isn't important in life. What leads to such awareness is varied. Sometimes it comes from living out the urges until they fall away, as with St. Augustine. But other times it comes in a moment of reflection, when one sees where ones behaviors are bound to lead and what they mean for oneself and for loved ones. For this awareness to take hold, it has to be very deep and permanent. It is not something you can choose to see. Some seem to be naturally more sensible about such matters than others.
So, when it comes to the competition between Goal 1 and relaxation in Stage 5, it is not a matter of simple choice. Poised at Stage 5, even if one sees the connection between Goal 1 and the Headache, a person can still feel helpless to give up Goal 1, even temporarily. The drive towards Goal 1 can be so deep and so strong that it is not even possible to imagine what it would be like to give it up. It is unimaginable.
I should remind us that Goal 1 may be something that others are pushing us towards. We want to please parent or spouse or teacher or boss or cohorts or country, and so external factors may have no impetus towards us relaxing. In these cases, we may feel evil to lay down our tools and relax. And, maybe we are, in fact, being weak and evil. It depends on the circumstances (even by our own standards, headaches . So there is often a conflict, a real one, between values that leads to our being locked into a path that does not agree with us on a physical level. And what is the answer?
On the other hand, seeing the whole complex or mega-complex from the outside, as the picture of Stage 5 indicates, a person may possibly be able to get a bit of a hold on him or her self and become a little bit more objective about what one wants and what the body can take. And it may be possible, at least for a moment, to let go, to let go of Goal 1, at least for the moment, and slip into a state of peace. In this state, Stage 6, the headache is immediately felt as dissolving. The peace comes over the head and neck as well as over the rest of the body. It is more than a feeling, it is a physiological state.
This is the last stage that can be chosen with an act of will. The picture here does not quite do it justice. Here there is an awareness that the focus of ones efforts have become, nearly one hundred percent, to get rid of the headache, and the inspection (introspection) of this effort is the focus of Goal 4.
The goal here, in Stage 6, is 1) to examine how much energy and thought has been given, up to this point, to getting rid of the headache. It will be noticed that behind the methods of Goal 2 and Goal 3 and Goal 4 lies one predominant, underlying goal and that is to get rid of the headache. Once the headache has arisen, almost all our energy has been spent trying to get rid of it. All the thoughts and observations made in stages 2 through 6, even though they were not all directly aimed at the headache, had, underneath, the function of trying to get rid of it. To put this another way, all of our energy has been wrapped up in getting rid of the headache. It is the over-arching goal, and, as such, it can, itself lead to an headache or increase the intensity of the one we have. From one angle, it is just another goal. And the more we struggle to achieve it, assuming we are failing, the more energy we put into it, and the more tense we become, and this tension and struggling and the accompanying anxiety, is just the emotional structure and framework that we have been arguing can cause headaches in the first place. This reverberating circuit of trying and failing and feeling a little more hopeless and then trying again and failing again and feeling still a little more hopeless, and so on, this is the structure of inner emotions and needs and goals and feels and efforts that set up the need for a compensatory headache to get us away from this self-defeating and endless circuit. The tension from trying to understand the headache and trying to relax can be just as powerful as the tension towards any other goals including the goals that were there when the headache arose.
The second goal of Stage 6 is to see that, if we have gotten this far in the exercise, we have, knowing or unknowingly, arrived at a state of desperation. We have arrived, unless the exercises have helped us snap out of it, at a place of failure and at growing feelings of helplessness and hopelessness (with respect to the headache) and at our ability to cope with the headache and, maybe, with life in general.
What should be clear now is that no matter how many more stages we add to the exercise, no matter how many more ways we try to understand and/or manipulate the headache, it will not help and may make it worse. We are in a spinning, reverberating circuit and can not get out.
If there is an answer, it is to realize this and to give up and to admit we lost and to stop trying. This is when the headache, by my view, can go away. But, and this is why there can not be a method, we can not choose to give up and relax and let the headache drift away. Maybe if we are in “the zone” we can, but we can not just choose to get into the zone and trying to get into can make the headache worse.
In a way it is a miracle if the headache goes away. And it involves a whole change in our personality. If we are nervous and worried about something, we have to relax about it, about just that exact thing that makes us nervous and worried.
On the other hand, it can happen that we do relax and that the headache melts away. Stages 1-6 are our exercises. Stages 7 and 8 are a leap that happens or doesn’t, that we make or that we don’t. The parallel with golf is that we have taken our lessons, have approached the ball on the tee on the golf course, have thought all the thoughts about what to do and what not to do, and now we hit the shot, and it is either a good shot or it isn’t.
Let’s assume it works. We let go of the whole project that led to the headache and the project of letting go of the headache. And we feel the headache leaving.
And then there is a clean slate.
After a period of rest and relaxation, now there is a return to ones regular state. Everything is as it was before the headache. There is a renewed burst of energy and interest, either towards the old goal or towards new ones.