In this slim debut, Johnston draws on her long experience with prolonged physical pain to advise other sufferers. Unlike many books on the subject of chronic pain, this one focuses not on how to recover, but rather on how to accept its continued presence and find personal peace regardless. Even more unusually, Johnston presents her experiences and reflections in the form of a dialogue with an entity she considers to be the Holy Spirit. While readers who don’t share the author’s religious beliefs may find this framework off-putting, its exchange of questions, answers and elaborations turns out to be an effective mechanism for exploring Johnston’s ideas about pain and peace. Biblical quotes and references to Jesus abound, and Johnston’s advice focuses largely on tenets of Christian faith: e.g., “If we have an original thought, it comes from God, right?” Still, open-minded nonbelievers will also find valuable insights and perspectives for coping with pain. Much of the dialogue, for example, concerns the process of shifting beliefs and perceptions about experiences rather than changing the experiences themselves. “[P]ain,” Johnston writes, “is a thing and suffering is our response to the pain,” and her careful examination of how suffering comes into and out of being is one of the book’s strong points. At times, though, the rehashing of such common injunctions as “take good care of your body/temple” and “you must understand the importance of loving yourself” grows repetitive, and the shortage of further specific strategies for achieving those worthy goals can be frustrating. But while such concepts are likely familiar to many seasoned self-help readers, Johnston’s brief overview is an especially clear, compassionate distillation of them. Though it is by no means an exhaustive guide, this book may still prove useful as a starting point or refresher course for readers looking to achieve peaceful coexistence with persistent pain.
Far from comprehensive, but a thoughtful, well-balanced exploration of the author’s experience with chronic pain.