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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?
Society has two contrasting yet deeply ingrained attitudes. One is that we should direct all our energy toward the care of others; to think of ourselves first is self-centred and egotistical. Although this attitude is a very caring one, it can also be very detrimental. It can lead to guilt trips, power games, blame, shame, and resentment. By putting others first and ourselves last we create a situation where we easily become exhausted, unwell, and unable to give; then we pass our own dissatisfaction on to others.
The alternative attitude is that we should always think of ourselves first, focusing our lives on fulfilling our own needs. This would work if, after recognising our own requirements, we then turned our attention to caring for and helping others. Sadly, this is not usually the case. The “me first” syndrome does not often include others; rather it is based on greed, selfishness, prejudice and manipulation. Invariably, this gives rise to anger, loneliness, and fear.
For healing to take place, we have to put ourselves on our list of priorities— not in a self-centred way but as an act of selflessness. When we put ourselves on the list we are saying that our love for others is so strong that we want to be able to really give by being in the most healed state possible. In this sense, healing ourselves is the most selfless thing we can do.
The following is a note written by Irene, a woman who came to a workshop Eddie and I were teaching. She couldn’t talk due to a throat operation, but her eyes spoke volumes:
Hello, I’m Irene. I have been extraordinarily ill and nearly dead on many occasions. I have been unkind to myself and always good to others with no thought of myself. In the last year I have felt bliss three times. I now have the complete set of pain, fear, love, bliss, life and death. I’d like to heal my life this time round. I have felt such love from others while I was ill that it has made me start to love myself.
Looking at priorities means asking why we are really here, what our lives are about, and what gives us our sense of purpose or direction. Is it just to raise a family, make money, retire, play with the grandchildren and then it’s over? This certainly brings great joy, but it can also leave an aching emptiness inside, due to unacknowledged longings and dreams. What happened to the athletic teenager who loved to run across the fields and is now trapped inside an overweight and rarely exercised body? What happened to the paintings you never did, to the musical instrument you never learnt, to the novel you never wrote? What happened to the pain you felt when your mother died? What happened to the anger you felt toward the uncle who fondled you? Why is it so hard to spend time alone?
Illness confronts us with many of these questions. We have choices: we can take a pill and carry on as before; we can have surgery and repress our feelings. Or we can begin to become whole. If we only take a pill or have the surgery then we are ignoring a wonderful opportunity to find a deeper level of joy and freedom within. Are you willing to forgive yourself for a past mistake, or is it easier to feel guilty and suffer the recurring backache?
Healing means letting go of resistance, of the barriers that have been constructed, of the layers of self-protection, of ingrained patterns of thinking and behaviour, of repressive control over our feelings, of all the ways we have held on and to what we have been holding on to. Think about all our habitual ways of being: putting other’s needs first, not thinking about ourselves, staying so busy there is no time in which to be alone, or focusing only on the financial and material aspects of life. Healing is releasing the holds and breathing into the space that is left behind. “So our path becomes a letting go of that which blocks the path,” writes Stephen Levine in Healing Into Life and Death. “Healing is not forcing the sun to shine, but letting go of the personal separatism, the self-images, the resistance to change, the fear and anger, the confusion that forms the opaque armouring around the heart.”
The Heart’s Remission
To be healed is to bring ourselves into a whole; it is a gathering of our lost voices and forgotten selves, an embracing of those parts of our being that have been hidden and denied. It is a journey of trust to discover our inner strength, and it demands our total commitment.
As we gather ourselves into a whole, a beautiful thing begins to happen. We find that our lost voices have a sweet song to sing, that our forgotten selves want to dance and laugh. As we embrace the darkness and soothe the inner wounds, we come to a different purpose, one that gives rise to a new priority: that of our salvation, freedom, and a discovery of our true potential. Stop fighting the world and start loving it instead.
The original interpretation of the word ‘meaning’ was to recite, tell, intend, or wish. This suggests that without meaning, life is like a blank page there is no story to tell, nothing to recite. But meaning also implies significance and purpose, without which there is no direction or mission. No story plus no purpose equals no reason to be here. Meaninglessness can thus cause lethargy, depression, hopelessness and illness. Finding meaning gives direction and motivation, a reason for being that stimulates creativity, optimism, strength and well-being.
This is seen in the word remission, used to describe a period of recovery when an illness or disease diminishes. A patient is described as being in remission when their symptoms abate. Yet the word also reads as “re-mission, to re-find or become reconnected with purpose. In other words, disease can diminish when we find a deeper meaning or purpose in our lives. Remission also means forgiveness, implying that healing can occur through accepting ourselves and our behaviour and releasing our guilt, or through accepting and forgiving another and releasing blame.
Remission arises through a blend of responsibility and passivity. It is essential that we take responsibility for our own behaviour, actions, words, thoughts, and lifestyle. No one else can do this for us. Taking responsibility means acknowledging that healing comes from within. We can then work with others to find the best way to promote our health. This may involve taking medication or having surgery, but it can also involve meditation, group therapy, or dance classes. The difference is that we are responding to our personal needs. To be responsible is to be able to respond: to hear those lost voices and remember our forgotten selves.
Action also needs to be balanced by non-action—doing by being. Many of us have completely forgotten how to simply be present and at ease with whatever is happening. Children have this capacity—to flow with each moment without holding on or exerting control. But, as we grow older, we cling to control and power; we stop being and start doing. Very often those who experience illness followed by a remission find that it occurs through releasing control and allowing whatever is to be—a return to that childlike place of trust, discovery, and living in the moment.
This attitude toward simply “being” is one of letting go and entering into assurance, of releasing the logic of what appears to be right and opening to intuition and inner feeling. It is embracing ourselves and the universe without the need to be in control. This is not the same as feeling we are victims of fate, that we just have to suffer our lot. Rather it is recognition of the interdependence and intricate relationship between every aspect of the universe, including ourselves. “Surrender means the decision to stop fighting the world and to start loving it instead,” writes Marianne Williamson in A Return to Love. “It is a gentle liberation from pain. But liberation isn’t about breaking out of anything; it’s a gentle melting into who we really are.”
Who Creates Reality?
It is easy to start thinking that we are responsible for everything that happens to us. That we are to blame for being ill, that we have brought this state upon ourselves. There is a popular belief that we create our own reality, that we are 100 percent responsible for everything that happens in our lives, that every thought we have determines the future, both good and bad. This idea can be helpful as it enables us to see where, often without being aware of it, we are causing difficulties for ourselves; it can teach us to stop blaming other people or external events for our problems and instead to look at our own behaviour and to take responsibility for our actions. It also shows us that we cannot really change other people or the world, but we can work on ourselves and our attitudes.
However, the moment we start thinking we are responsible for our own reality in its entirety we develop an inflated sense of self, a belief that we are allpowerful. This generates egocentricity and self-centredness, which sets the stage for guilt, shame and failure. Blaming ourselves for getting ill, we then blame ourselves for not getting well. Feelings of guilt for repressing our anger, and subsequently developing an ulcer or a tumour, lead us to believe we must be a hopeless example of humankind. Saying we are totally responsible for creating our reality means we are equating physical health with spiritual or psychic development; if we become ill it implies spiritual failure. Yet such an equation has been disproved over and over again, especially by the many spiritual teachers who have died of cancer or other illnesses.
Believing that we create our own reality —both cause and outcome—implies that “I” am in complete control. But the individual can never be in complete control; there are always other factors present. We are not alone here. Rather, each one of us is an essential component of an interwoven, interrelated whole that is constantly changing and moving. Reality is co-created through our mutual dependency. And it is this intimate relationship with all other things that gives life its depth and beauty.
As Treya Killam Wilber, quoted in Ken Wilber’s book Grace and Grit, says: “While we can control how we respond to what happens to us, we can’t control everything that happens to us. We are all too interconnected, both with each other and our environment—life is too wonderfully complex—for a statement like ‘you create your own reality’ to be simply true. A belief that I control or create my own reality actually attempts to rip out of me the rich, complex, mysterious, and supportive context of my life…to deny the web of relationships that nurtures me and each of us daily.”
We are in charge of our own attitudes and feelings and the way we treat ourselves and our world, but we cannot determine the outcome; just as we do not make the sun rise or set, keep the earth in orbit, or make the rain fall. We do not create our own reality; rather, we are responsible to our reality. We cannot direct the wind but we can adjust our sails. We are responsible for developing peace of mind but we may still need to have chemotherapy. The resolution and healing of our inner being is within our control, and this may also bring a cure to the physical body. But if it does not, we are not guilty of failure.
It is vital to remember this, for although we are intimately involved with our sickness and health, we are not in charge of what ultimately happens. We can affect our attitudes and behaviour; we can work on emotions and repressed fears; we can develop forgiveness and loving kindness. But the result of this goes beyond our personal dominion. We should not feel, at any time, that we are a failure if our healing falls below our expectations.
Through illness the body gives us a message—it tells us that something is out of balance. This is not a punishment for bad behaviour; rather it is nature’s way of creating equilibrium. By listening to the message we have a chance to contribute to our own healing and to participate with our body in bringing us back to a state of wholeness and balance. So, rather than blaming ourselves by saying “Why did I choose to have cancer?” we can ask “How am I choosing to use this cancer?” We can use whatever difficulties we are confronted with in order to learn and grow, to release old patterns of negativity, and to deepen compassion, forgiveness, and insight. Our difficulties can then become stepping stones along the way rather than stumbling blocks. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness and guilt that we are responsible for everything that happens to us, illness can be seen as a tremendous challenge and opportunity for awakening. In this way, illness can be a great gift—a chance for us to find ourselves.
About the Author:
Debbie Shapiro is the author of Your Body Speaks Your Mind (Piatkus 1996) and The Bodymind Workbook (Element 1992). With her husband, Eddie, she is the co- author of A Time For Healing (Piatkus 1994) and Out of Your Mind – The Only Place to Be! (Element 1992). She is also the co-author of The Metamorphic Technique and The Healer's Hand Book. Debbie has trained extensively in different forms of bodywork, Buddhist meditation and Jungian psychology in both England and America; she has been teaching both bodymind therapy and meditation for the past 15 years.
View article references and author information here: http://pathwaystofamilywellness.org/references.html
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #16.
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