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Curing a Symptom or Healing a Life?

Written by Debbie Shapiro   
Saturday, 01 December 2007 00:00
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There is an important distinction to be made between curing and healing. To cure is to fix a particular part. Allopathy—Western medicine—is particularly good at doing this, offering drugs and surgery so that disease, illness, or physical problems can be repressed, eliminated, or removed. It plays a vital role in alleviating suffering and is superb at saving lives and applying curative aid. This is invaluable. However, the World Health Organisation defines health as complete physical, mental, and social well-being. This is not the same as simply being without symptoms or illness. Rather, it implies a deeper state of wellness that goes beyond being cured of a particular infirmity.

This is where we enter the realm of healing. “If you look no further than getting rid of what is wrong, you may never deal with what has brought your life to a standstill,” says a patient in Marc Barasch’s The Healing Path. “The thing you want to heal from may be the very thing you need to focus on in order to learn something.” Whereas a patient remains passive when cured by someone else, healing is an involved activity, less dependent on external circumstances than on the work we are prepared to do within ourselves. As Dr. Bernie Siegel explains in Peace, Love and Healing: “It is the body that heals, not the medicine.”

To be healed means to become whole. This is not possible if we are only concerned with the individual part that needs to be cured. “The word salvation is derived from the Latin word salvus, which means heal and whole,” says Paul Tillich in The Meaning of Health. “Salvation is basically and essentially healing, the re-establishment of a whole that was broken, disrupted, disintegrated.” Becoming whole means bringing all of ourselves into the light, leaving nothing in the dark, no matter how disturbing or painful it may be. It is embracing all the parts we have ignored, denied, tried to push away or eliminate. So, to heal is to bring all of this into the conscious mind, into our hearts, into our lives. As long as we reject parts of ourselves, we are not whole and cannot be healed.

Determining Our Priorities

Healing is a journey we all share, for in our own ways we are all wounded. Whether the wounds are visible or not, we each have our story. A psychological wound is no different than a physical one; emotional hurts are real and often just as painful. Most of us become very good at hiding our wounds, not just from others but also from ourselves. When physical difficulties arise, we invariably look for a cure while continuing to repress the inner pain. But when we want to know ourselves better, to find our wholeness, then the journey really begins.

This asks that we look at and question our priorities–the things that are really important to us, that figure most in our lives. Many people feel that their first priority is the welfare and safety of their loved ones, but beyond that our priorities can get a bit vague. For some, making money or succeeding in their career is near the top of the list, for others it is near the bottom. For some, religion and religious activities are important, while others do not mention this aspect of life at all. Beyond family, work, and religion, what else is there? Ourselves?