What does healing mean anyway?
I think this poem by Mary Oliver speaks of what healing really is:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Do you want to be healthy and happy? What a ridiculous question! Of course you do! Everyone wants physical health and emotional happiness.
And we spend a lot of time and energy searching for the answers to get us there. You may have opened this newsletter looking to find some help in getting out of physical or emotional pain. You are not alone. We all want to get “there”.
What if healing was about not trying to get anywhere? What if the state of health, or wellness was possible right where you are?
There is nothing wrong with wanting health and happiness, or to survive a life threatening illness. I think the problem is that we sometimes go in the wrong direction to find it.
Maybe the way to find the freedom of health and happiness is to stop striving so hard to be different than we are, pushing and trying and efforting to be something more, better, different.
It’s the pushing, trying, judging, falling short and pretty much feeling that we are not right in some way that creates fear, anxiety, depression, and leads our bodies to become stressed, tight, and exhausted. This is the very state of illness!
When we respond to our challenges with acceptance, curiosity and willingness (yes even to pain and fear), it gives us the chance to listen and discover what this symptom might be expressing on a body-mind level. The very thing we usually fight can actually lead us to the real source of our dis-ease and give us clues about what is really needed to resolve it at it’s source.
Think for a moment about what it really means to heal emotionally and/or physically. How would you describe the state of health that you seek? Write them down if you’d like.
The words I come up with are freedom, ease, peace, vitality, balance, acceptance. Are these similar to yours?
I think that the way to find these things is to stop striving so hard to be different than we are, pushing and trying and efforting to be something more, better, different. It’s the pushing, trying, judging, falling short and pretty much feeling that we are not right in some way that creates fear, anxiety, depression, and leads our bodies to tighten with these feelings and stress. This is the very state of illness!
So I’ll cut to the chase. My working definition of Healing is freedom; freedom in the natural flow and movement of our physical, emotional and spiritual selves.
And dis-ease occurs when that freedom is blocked, thwarted, or restricted in some way.
Let me explain;
Our physical health depends upon the free and natural flow of the chemical and energetic pathways and structure of our bodies. When these get blocked, we get sick. Our blood needs to flow free and full in our blood vessels. When those vessels are blocked by atherosclerotic plaque, or constricted by the stress response, our cardiovascular system is compromised. When our lungs are not able to expand and contract freely because we smoke, or have asthma, or don’t breathe deeply because of chronic stress or lack of exercise, our system is starved of oxygen and energy. All of these lead to a cascade of other breakdowns in other organs and systems and our health deteriorates.
On an emotional level, when we are able to feel, express, process and resolve our emotions, we can return to a state of equanimity. When that process is blocked by repression, denial, or disconnection from our emotions, we can become depressed, chronically angry, anxious, etc. And these states in turn affect the body by causing physical restriction and contraction, not to mention the chronic activation of the stress response.
And on the spiritual level (whatever that means for you), or the level of soul; if we deny, abandon, or are afraid to follow our truth, allow our life’s path to unfold, and contribute our unique expression to the world, we can end up in despair and resignation. We must have a sense of meaning in life to thrive.
From this perspective, just trying to fix the effect of the block, or lack of movement, without being aware of what’s causing it, doesn’t bring us health. We have to address the block. It may be an unconscious defense pattern learned early in life, it may be a belief about ourselves or life that keeps us from participating fully in life, it may be held emotional pain. It can also simply be that we are not moving our bodies and our mood is spiraling down with the stagnation. Instead of fighting the resulting symptoms, it makes more sense to address the block!
Our medical system can end up contributing to this FIGHT against illness. They focus on fixing symptoms, or repairing systems that aren’t working right. Illness is the enemy. Now again, there is nothing wrong with fixing something that’s broken, but often in doing so, we miss the root cause that generated the breakdown.
We look for the physical, external causes of our illnesses, but rarely do we acknowledge the internal causes of our dis-ease.
Instead of trying to eradicate our symptoms and fight our illnesses to try to get to a better place, I believe it is useful to actually stop resisting and to listen to our bodies and emotions to find out what the breakdown is a reflection of; where is the block in our natural flow of physiology, emotion, thought patterns or soul? How are we not allowing our bodies and selves to move freely? What is getting in the way? For High Blood pressure or heart disease, it may be that we are living in constant stress at work, or are too afraid to be in relationship.
Now, this doesn’t mean that there may not be very real physical causes for our illnesses. Our genetics might be creating an impairment, we may not be able to make insulin in our pancreas, we may break a bone, or get memory loss as a consequence of aging. Sometimes an illness is just an illness.
The promise of body-mind approaches to healing is that they add a critical new piece of diagnostic information that may give us valuable clues about why we are suffering. But to listen to these clues, we need to actually have a conversation with them. We may find when we explore our heart disease on a body-mind level, that we have unexpressed sadness that has not been resolved.
That sadness may be being “postured” in the body by a subtle collapse in the chest, diminished breathing, which blocks the flow of oxygen, blood and energy in that area. Our bodies posture, or symbolize our moods.
Try this. Read these words out loud to yourself three times. Whether they are true for you or not, just recite the words:
“I am not enough. I’m not doing my life right. I don’t look right, I am ashamed and have no hope of being happy.” It will always be this way.
Now take a moment to notice what you are feeling in your body. How is your posture, your breath, your gut, your energy level? Can you say these words and feel vibrant? I sure can’t.
Many of us have these kinds of subtle beliefs and messages running unconsciously… affecting our bodies and contributing to physical dis-ease.
OK NOW! Before you read on, sit up, raise your chin, take a big breath into an expanded chest, open your eyes wide and say the word “yes” three times.
Feel better? Ok phew, sorry about that. But the best way to understand this concept is to feel it in your own body.
Notice I didn’t instruct you to say a positive affirmation like “I am enough”. Positive affirmations can be helpful but what’s more helpful is to say yes to whatever you do feel. By “YES” I mean, instead of running from the emotional experience or negative belief, turn toward it, breath into it and listen to it. By listening you will learn what it needs to be resolved, thereby dissolving the block that it is creating. This is certainly easier said than done, and it’s vital to have a helper to guide you in the process. It can take a while but as you learn this kind of practice, you can address the blocks and imbalances as they arise in your Bodymind, instead of leaving to fester for years and take over your experience of yourself, your body and your life.
We all have these Bodymind patterns that develop early in our lives in response to our early experiences. What we learn to believe, how we learn to behave, think, and deal with our emotions all become conditioned early on in life. Out of these we develop personalities, defense mechanisms and strategies for being in the world and in relationship. And all these conditioned responses live in our bodies as well as our conscious and unconscious psyches. Over time, the stress they create on our physiology as well as our emotions, can be profound.
If we try to fight these, or eradicate their effects, they’ll still be there. If we want to heal, we must listen, learn to understand and address our underlying bodymind patterns. They are not bad and wrong failures, they are primitive response to life that are trying to help us. If we can listen and become aware compassionately to right where we are and exactly what we are experiencing, like pushing a thread into a knot to untie it, instead of pulling it and making the knot tighter, what is blocked can open and move and become free.
To borrow two holistic healing slogans:
What you resist, persists.
And what you can feel, you can heal.