Windsor the CatOur 15-year-old cat has had a long struggle with thyroid disease. At its worst, his thyroid hormone levels were about 9 times normal. We were able to somewhat control these through medication, but not quite. As a result he was frequently hungry, demanding, and anxious. Finally, this past spring we allowed the vet to treat him with radioactive iodine. The result was striking. He now sleeps 20 hours a day, walks with some stiffness, and eats considerably less. He seems an almost normal elderly cat. We now know that his most irritating character traits and behaviors were driven by physical illness.

Sometimes physical problems create emotional and cognitive challenges for us. In our overly psychological, self monitoring age, folks are likely to go into counseling to attempt to psychologically address biological issues. This strategy often fails. In Freud’s time, many illnesses were psychosomatic, reflecting the highly repressed and repressive structure of European society. Today, our psychosomatic illnesses are, for the most part,  more mundane, yet the cultural belief in psychotherapy as a cure-all remains firmly in place. I believe counseling can certainly help us to manage physical illness, although it may not cure it.

We are, as a culture, over-focused on mind, on the power of positive thinking. Yes, optimism is a powerful healer. Yes, mind and body are inseparable. Yes, awakening the healer within opens new pathways to healing. Yet, we are also biological beings, evolved in a vastly intricate web of relatedness to all beings on the planet. As a culture we forget this, telling stories that alienate us from other kinds of animals and plants, other kinds of mind. These stories build boxes that trap us, limiting our sense of belonging and creating immense loneliness. One recurring story is that we will evolve to live a thousand years, or even become brains in mechanical bodies and live forever. These are dramatically alienating, disembodied narratives.

Curing happens when we are able to address the underlying causes of distress or illness. Healing begins when we remember to breathe, and in breathing begin to reconnect to ALL That Is. Healing is strengthened when we become grateful for our lives, remembering our place in the great web of being, and feeling gratitude for life and connection and for the myriad beings who make our lives possible. Sometimes we are granted one; sometimes the other. Occasionally we are blessed with both.

I like to imagine a time, hopefully not that far from now, when physical medicine, psychology, and spiritual medicine walk together to heal and cure. In the 35 years I have been a practicing healer that dream has at times seemed close, at other times quite far away. In our practice we strive to live the dream, to make a place where it can be nurtured and held dear. We encourage clients to attend to body, mind, and spirit, and to experience the embeddedness of Self in Creation. May we all awaken in the dream and remember that bodies are central to the journey.

10 thoughts on “Bodies

  1. “Curing happens when we are able to address the underlying causes of distress or illness. Healing begins when we remember to breathe, and in breathing begin to reconnect to ALL That Is”

    So true. And it’s also very important to remind ourselves and our patients of the difference between the two. I was taught very early on that healing is a restoration of balance, whereas curing is an alleviation or removal of the condition. Often modern Western Medicine juxtaposes the two.

    Studying the Medicine Wheel has brought home to me like no other teaching that we are four-lobed creatures, possessing mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies. And while each of these require their own type of care, it’s also important to keep in mind that working with any one of these aspects can – and generally does – facilitate healing of the others.

    We know, for example, that mental illness may in fact be rooted in physical dis-ease; while physical ailments may be manifestations of spiritual or emotional imbalance.

    Armed with this knowledge, we are better able to help those who come to us seeking care work through their afflictions and arrive – if not at a place of curing – at the very least a place of understanding and balance, in order that their healing might begin…

    1. Ben, I am thrilled with your comment. You have spoken so clearly to the heart of my writing. Thank you. Your comments clarify and expand the discussion, a true service to me and my readers.

  2. These are wonderfully evocative/provocative questions!.

    What is what we have come to call the “subliminal” self, the “unconscious” self, the “larger” self, the “apparent” self, etc. that we have come over the ages to “name!’. We have come up various ways of seeing, holding, and “presenting” the “self.” in experinece. THEY ARE ALL MADE UP!!” But we tend to assume and treat them as if they were REAL! Coming through Freud’s and Jung’s “traditions” of naming the parts of the “self’ and then on to the more poetic frames of Milton Erickson’s, unique understanding of THE UNCONSCIOUS, we have received so many different ways of conceptualizing and “naming” what we call the ‘self.” ( Not to mention, “ego” psychology, “self’ psychology, and the myrid of other ways of naming this illusive “thing” we refer to and point to in consciousness}. Now we have these “new” understanding coming from neuro-science, the “science” of “consciousnes” studies, etc. No wonder things seem to get in such a jumbled mess of :”views.”

    This, in my view, this is an exciting time to be thinking about the “self” and learn many forms of conceptualizign and experiencing the “self’ it. There are so many ways of thinking about it coming from Western science and, for lack of a better term, Eastern traditions of thought, several of which I am vaguely aware of! I find it exciting to be explosed to all these different “frames” for holding this ellusive “thing” we call the “self.:

    May the conversation continue!

    1. Hi Rob! Your comments deserve their own blog post! They hit the mark, clearly. We live in a time when everyone and everything is medicalized and scrutinized. Let there be time to BE.

      1. If you can name a thing, then you can master it…hold power over it. An obvious drive for a culture whose primary religious text states that man was given dominion over all the animals and provided names for them.

        While I do believe that “the unexamined life is not worth living”, I also believe that we often “confuse the finger pointing at the moon with the moon itself”. So many titles out there to choose from …each more convoluted and politically correct that the last. . .

      2. I was teaching yesterday and we just grazed the naming game. I find myself curious as to why almost all the popular portrayals of shamans, et al., focus on naming and maintaining power over.

  3. We’re a scientific lot. We love to meter, inch, and gallon everything to death. man is, after all, “the measure of all things”. This is reflective, I think, of a core conflict in our society. If a thing can’t be touched, tasted, seen, heard, or smelled, it doesn’t exist. Yet at the very center of our beliefs is a Being who cannot be touched, tasted, seen, heard, or smelled. We’re asked to accept the existence of this Being sight unseen, and if we question said Being’s existence, we’re kicked out of the club. We’re not content, like so many indigenous cultures, to accept the fact that there’s a Great Mystery behind it all, and that some things are beyond the grasp of our physical selves.

    Our culture preaches rugged individualism, and the fact that there’s nothing a man can’t do, given the right tools. There’s an arrogance at the center of this idea. It’s the same arrogance that has led to the slaughter of millions in the name of Manifest Destiny, and judges a good number of the world’s people as inferior simply because their skin is a different color, or because they’ve never heard of Big Pharma or Kentucky Fried Chicken…

    1. I’m not so sure we are a scientific culture. Mostly we ignore science and do so at our peril. I imagine we are more of a technology memorized culture. Good science knows the limits of its claims; good scientists are actually a humble lot. That aside, I think you are absolutely spot on with this.

      1. Perhaps I was a bit hasty to lump all scientists together. Certainly there are noteworthy exceptions (Fred Allen Wolf springs to mind). One must be careful not to gloss over the details when painting with a broad brush. I might have said empirical as opposed to scientific.

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