I first heard of John Sarno many years ago. My good friend’s mother had terrible sciatica, she’d been to several doctors and got no relief. She credited Dr. Sarno, and his radical but practical treatment, with curing her. I have another friend, subject to crippling back pain, who similarly credits John Sarno with giving him a way out when his back immobilizes him.
Most impressively, Sekhnet’s first cousin, the least New Age person you could imagine, saw Sarno for crippling back pain. He was skeptical of what sounded like New Age bullshit coming from Sarno during the doctor’s orientation lecture on the program. He said it made no sense to him. He stayed around afterward and spoke to Sarno who asked him gruffly what he had to lose. Sarno pointed out that he’s stayed to talk, so that should tell him he might as well fucking try it, right? He followed Sarno’s program and was cured of his crippling back pain. He too swears by Sarno.
Sarno’s theory was that much severe, chronic pain is the psyche’s defense against rage, a terrifying and very common emotion that is often too threatening for humans to deal with. The rage is masked by extreme physical agony, which virtually everybody prefers to the unresolvable emotion of extreme and incurable anger.
According to Sarno, and those cured by his method, when you get closer to knowing what is causing your rage, and understanding that the crippling pain is your body’s response to it, you can begin to calm that bodily response. The cure rate of the patients Sarno saw was very high. Still, he was regarded as a pariah in an industry that sees pharmaceuticals and surgery as the only scientific answers to what seem to be purely physical problems. Sarno’s focus on the mind/body connection was frowned on by these empiricists.
A documentary about Sarno, All The Rage, was released the other day, which is why his name came up at dinner with Sekhnet’s cousins the other night. You can see the trailer here. The morning after we had dinner with Sekhnet’s cousins, one of them sent us an email. In a neat bit of cosmic timing, John Sarno had died the day before, right before the documentary opened and a day before his 94th birthday. Here is the NY Times obit for Dr. Sarno.
I was thinking about someone close to me who has been suffering undiagnosable and disabling chronic disease for many years. She has been to every specialist and the new theory is that this recurrent and painful loss of her voice is related to allergies that seem to flare up only when her vacation ends. She lives in a situation that certainly produces a fair amount of understandable rage on a daily basis. It would not surprise me if, after our conversation about Sarno and his theory, and our many other talks, she did not click on the links I sent her to the documentary and the obituary.
The more threatening the psychic pain, the more likely we are to do anything possible to avoid it. Makes complete sense, but it’s also very horrible. Goodbye, John Sarno.