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The modern vitalistic principle was introduced in the nineteenth century when Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840) maintained that there is an “innate” impulse in living creatures toward self-development. This principle of vitalism holds that life cannot be explained fully in terms of chemical and physical forces alone. It propounds that there is a third, separate and distinct, “vital force” (élan vitale) necessary to any explanation of life. The life of the organism and its functions then depend on this vital force, which differs in kind from all physical, biochemical and electrical forces. This vital force is always a part of, and never apart from, physical processes, as the immaterial expression evolves alongside physical structure.
The early vitalists in the nineteenth century proposed that this vital force was the very source not only of life, but health and healing, as well. However, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw science become more quantified, in an age where objective measurement meant everything. This period also witnessed the expansion of electrical and mechanical therapies, which not only led to a decline in true healing arts, but the dismissal of the idea of vital energy. “Scientific” medical doctors in the early 1900s utilized bio-science to explain life and treat disease, and subsequently discredited vitalism. However, the latter part of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century have witnessed a resurgence of the true healing arts and the vitalistic philosophy at their foundations.
Medicine is a “curing” art, with a different objective than a “healing” art. Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defines “medicine” as the art and science of the diagnosis and treatment of disease by any drug or non-surgical remedy. The goal of medical intervention is to reduce or eliminate symptoms of body dysfunction or malfunction (sickness or disease) so that we feel our symptoms or condition less. The goal of healing is to bring about a closer holistic connection in mind, body and spirit so that we can feel our life experience more. There is no cure for healing, because curing and healing are separate and distinct paradigms.
In order to heal, we must be willing to feel the emotions that are the underlying cause of the sickness. Physical symptoms are not the cause of these emotions, but rather the effect of not feeling them. They are simply the body’s way of getting our attention to bring about the necessary change to heal holistically.
To heal holistically is to recognize that the body as a whole is composed of interdependent and interrelated parts. The physical body is one component of the whole, which includes the emotional body (the limbic system and related structures) and the spiritual body (the chakras and nadis). When the Wisdom Within signals the emotional body via emotional symptoms to initiate change, and the “message” goes unheeded, we experience signals of physical symptoms of pain and discomfort.
Central to modern vitalistic philosophy is the principle that a benign source of well-being supports life, and that organisms tend to self-regulate, neither building up nor breaking down too much. This homeostatic balance depends on the flow of life force— energy called chi in China, ki in Japan, and prana in India—which, if unimpeded, can continually reestablish equilibrium. The modern theory of homeostasis, or physiological adaptation, emerged with the French scientist Claude Bernard (1813–1878). An “experimental” vitalist, he stressed that the fluids and cells in the human body abide in an essentially constant state, despite varied and endless changes in their external environment. Bernard’s declaration that the constancy of the internal environment is a condition paramount to the independent life of higher animals is one of the most famous phrases of biological sciences. He also proposed that the maintenance of stable conditions within the body is somehow dependent upon neural and hormonal control, which was a new concept in the nineteenth century.
Almost 100 years later, American physiologist Walter B. Cannon (1871–1945) expanded on Bernard’s theories of physiological adaptation in his renowned book, The Wisdom of the Body. In this publication, Cannon popularized the term “homeostasis,” which he described as the fact that under normal conditions, the human body maintains its internal processes in a state of equilibrium by continually compensating for the disturbing effects of external forces.
Today the principle of vitalism is based on the holistic concept that the human body is greater than the sum of its parts, while emphasizing the interdependence of the parts and processes. Its basic assumption is that there is an intelligent force which creates and sustains all living organisms, and that this inherent vital principle is distinct from all internal physical and chemical forces. Vitalism assumes that life is self-determining and self-evolving. The basic principle of vitalism is that the body has an inherent (or inborn) intelligence which animates, motivates, heals, coordinates and inspires living beings. This Wisdom Within guides and directs our lives on our individual paths of healing, to be restored to wholeness in mind, body and spirit.
Healing is a process of personal evolution, growth, self-development and self-discovery. As a person heals, his mind, body and spirit forge a closer connection. Healing gives us the opportunity to see ourselves more clearly, and get more in touch with ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. True healing is a process of feeling more, by increasing our awareness of what we’re feeling in the present moment.
Sometimes when we feel more, the experience is joyful and blissful; other times, we face a very challenging healing experience. Both experiences represent an opportunity for personal growth. For as we fully experience that awareness, we become more in touch with ourselves, and consequently more vibrant and alive. It is through the willingness to experience all of our feelings that we create the environment for expressing more of the pure, unconditional love at the core of our being.
Communications from Inner Wisdom
Symptoms, in the vitalistic healing model, are viewed as agents of change and a communication from the Inner Wisdom. A symptom, whether physical or mental-emotional, is an awareness that change is needed at some level in our life. Judging the symptom as good or bad is a subjective interpretation rather than an objective fact. Symptoms are neither good nor bad—they are simply an awareness of a need for change.
Change is an integral part of the healing process. In order to heal, we must be open to change. This willingness to change enables us to become free of past behaviors, attitudes and belief systems that are obstacles to personal development and spiritual growth. If we do what we’ve always done, we will be what we’ve always been, and get what we’ve always gotten. Resisting change means we will continue to be who we are not, which keeps us from the freedom inherent in becoming who we truly are: pure, unconditional love.
True healing involves a willingness to transform our lives physically, emotionally and spiritually. The process of healing and transformation are guided by our Inner Wisdom, which communicates to the mind via the body’s energy systems. When this communication is unimpeded, we can choose to listen, and thereby transform our life. In order for this healing transformation to take place, the body’s energy systems must be clear of interference so that the Inner Wisdom can fully express itself.
In a vitalistic healing model, symptoms may indicate an impediment to the flow of energy. Severe impedance of the flow can result in an imbalance in our energy systems, which can express itself as a physical, mental or emotional condition.
When the educated mind listens to the innate communication and chooses to undergo a process of change, it brings about healing— a closer connection of body, mind and spirit. The symptom or condition can be a wake-up call, communicating a need to initiate the change necessary to heal. To intervene in the symptom also intervenes in the awareness the symptom is trying to create. An attempt to stimulate or inhibit the body to achieve a specific symptomatic change could interfere with the process of healing. Inhibiting the innate healing process in an attempt to change feelings of awareness by “curing” ourselves of our symptoms is impossible. There is no cure for healing.