A chiropractor’s philosophical treatise about the nature and treatment of pain
In this nonfiction book, Cooper (I, Cancer, 2009) discusses different types of pain, from the chronic, physical variety to emotional, psychological, or even romantic discomfort. It also addresses specific pains—such as those experienced by women dealing with sexism and misogyny, or by parents raising fractious children. Along the way, it brings in concepts from various faiths. The author sees chronic physical pain, in particular, as an urgent crisis: “More Americans currently die from doctor-prescribed narcotic pain meds than from illicit heroin and cocaine overdoses combined,” he asserts. In response to this epidemic, Cooper reminds readers that both pain and healing are intrinsic parts of being human: “We are irrefutably among the most marvelous creations of the universe, veritable healing machines.” The core of his treatise asserts that people make their pain worse by mixing emotional grievances into it—a deeply ingrained instinct that he characterizes as “adding insult to injury.” To remedy this, the author concentrates on what he calls the “fire in the belly”—the act of removing cognitive elements from the experience of pain in order to trigger the production of serotonin and dopamine. This method, he says, will “allow you to pass through moments of suffering as innately as does a whale, a lion, or an eagle.” Some sentiments in this book are written in an overblown style (such as “And then there is that molten gut domain, your id, where unfettered atmospheres sporadically manage to flood the banks of your socially correct superego”). Other ideas seem speculative, at best; he provides no scientific support, for instance, for the notion that animals pass through moments of suffering any easier than humans do. That said, the book’s focus on the stress of a “vicious cycle” of negative self-evaluation is valuable, no matter what specific pain one may be enduring. Cooper’s broad-brush approach—which includes not only Christian concepts of suffering and atonement, but also the key Buddhist idea of dukkha—will also give readers a great deal to think about.
A wide-ranging, if sometimes-overwritten, study of how people process discomfort.