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Consciousness and Healing: The Two Faces of Individual and Collective Transformation

Written by Marilyn Mandala Schlitz, PhD   
Wednesday, 01 June 2011 00:00
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The call for healing can be heard echoing around the world. With extreme political unrest in the Middle East, the after- math of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and earthquakes shaking the globe, people everywhere are feeling pain and desta- bilization. The shifting plates and tsunami waves are rocking our inner lives just as they shake our physical environment.

In this moment of crisis, how can we harness what we know about human consciousness to guide us? What inner tools and technologies, drawn from both science and spirituality, can be called upon to help us find the resilience that we need to meet the outer complexities of our time?

It is clear that the images and worldviews we hold about pres- ent and possible futures shape the path we take forward. They inform what we think, feel and do. In the face of profound social and environmental calamity, we need to examine our deepest as- sumptions about our place in nature and how we respond to the changing times.

A first step is to reflect on our worldviews. It is often the case that we think of reality as something “out there.” As this hap- pens, we find ourselves isolated and separate from one another. Frontier science is challenging this view by revealing our funda- mental interconnectedness—between mind and body, self and other. Rather than separate from each other and the world, we are entangled in a vast living system that connects us with the flow of individual and environmental evolution.


This fundamental shift in worldview presents uncertainty. Yet research shows that crisis is a great catalyst for positive transfor- mations. Even when painful, we have the capacity to make shifts in our selves and our society. We can, as writer and aikido master George Leonard used to say, “take the hit as a gift.” In so doing, we can see the challenges as catalysts for the birth of more resil- ient and sustainable socioecological systems.


In the face of our current global crises, an expanded sense of perspective is called for, grounded in pragmatic hope and col- lective healing. We can engage the world, rather than retreat- ing from it. In this process, we can choose to create images that mark a new beginning, grounded in shared intention and collec- tive action.

“The integral model’s most profound effect may not be on the contents of the integral medicine bag itself—with its blend of conventional pills, orthodox surgery, subtle energy medicine, and acupuncture needles. Rather, its greatest effect may be on the holders of that bag; the integrally informed health-care practitioners who are opening themselves up to an entire spectrum of consciousness—from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit.” – Ken Wilber, from his forward to Consciousness and Healing


The Changing Face of Healthcare: An Integral Approach

As we consider this new image, a question arises about what healthcare will become in the 21st century? In the midst of unprecedented change, what are we aiming for? Among many health practitioners, researchers and patients, there is a growing conviction that we urgently need a new system that is grounded in whole-system healing and global wellness.

It is increasingly clear that the primary focus of modern healthcare on the objective, material world has come at a cost— frequently obscuring what is meaningful and valuable in human experience. Like other segments of society, healthcare today is in a state of crisis. While science has contributed to our under- standing and treatment of disease, it has also served to limit the development of a model in which personal relationships, emo- tions and meaning systems are fundamental aspects.

As we seek to address this problem, one approach that stands out is called integral healthcare. The central tenet is a comprehensive model of reality that includes the best in modern medicine while recognizing that human beings possess emotional, spiritual and relational dimensions. It also acknowledges that what is good for the collective is good for the individual—and vice versa.

The transformation of self in society is at the core of the integral model. A key component is that consciousness shifts are a fundamental aspect of health and healing. Consciousness change helps expand the range and scope of what is possible. By shifting our vision for self and society, we can actually transform the entire landscape of human experience.

As Ken Wilber, a leading integral philosopher, suggests in his forward to my book (with Tina Amorok and Marc Micozzi), Consciousness and Healing: Integral Approaches to Mind-Body Medicine, “the integral model’s most profound effect may not be on the contents of the integral medicine bag itself—with its blend of conventional pills, orthodox surgery, subtle energy med- icine, and acupuncture needles. Rather, its greatest effect may be on the holders of that bag; the integrally informed health- care practitioners who are opening themselves up to an entire spectrum of consciousness—from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit. The impact of this new awareness is the development of healing practices that expand from physically based interven- tions to a sacred caring for human beings in all their extraordi- nary richness.”

And as Elliott Dacher, an integral physician, notes, the integral model embraces “all previous perspectives and approaches to health and healing, simultaneously transcending them in the creation of a fundamentally new vision.”

In so doing, an integral view can help us to cultivate resilience under adversity. We can find new ways to engage the changing landscape of our times. In his book Resilience: A Change for the Better, Daryl R. Conner outlines five characteristics of resilient people: they are positive, focused, flexible, organized and proac- tive. They are also people who find that how they think impacts their bodies and their relationships—boosting immune systems and strengthening inner capacities.

As we seek to nurture these qualities, we can harness our inner resources. There are many tools to do this: personal reflec- tion, walks in nature, meditation, contemplative prayer, journ- aling, the use of language that stays in possibility rather than despair, positive social support, self love, altruism and collective visioning. Sharpening the tools in our inner toolbox allows us to manage moments of reactivity to create the space for greater emotional balance and personal clarity.

These time-tested methods can help us sustain our well-being and promote deep healing. A restoration to wholeness through the co-creation of new images for humanity can help renew us in body, mind and spirit—individually and for the well-being of our planet. Through the full development of consciousness, we can merge the inner and outer aspects of health and healing.

Ultimately, the development of an integral model involves a new story that includes a multifaceted call to action. In this process, how might we reconcile the insights of consciousness studies within the complex social, political and ecological context that shapes our lived experience? Striving to uphold human car- ing in the sociopolitical context offers a new vision of health that is not only needed but absolutely imperative in today’s world. The integral impulse speaks to its own evolution occurring on individual and collective levels. An understanding of personal transformation and changes in worldview is needed to redefine our relationship to ourselves and the world in which we live.