The purpose of this discussion is not to supply dictionary meanings, but to enlarge our own perspectives and understandings about these human elements: health, healing and disease. In understanding the scope of these concepts, we can also widen the possibilities in our own pursuit of wellness and balanced living.
Let’s start with “Disease”.
Lots of negative connotation here. Note what even words like “cancer” or “AIDS” or “terminal” imply when we hear them. Words can be powerful: we all know this. Imagine the power that the medical profession wields with words like this. Or complex, arcane Latin terminology that is used to diagnose problems. People hire lawyers because the system of “justice” is so complex and so riddled with arcane terminology, that you have to pay someone to interpret it, much less solve problems with it.
Medical terminology in Western Medicine has become another frightfully complex and arcane way of labeling and categorizing illness. We all understand the reasoning behind it. We need labels to accurately tell a patient “what they have”. We need labels to classify and organize disease into a myriad of categories so that this information can be archived and passed on. Because our informational, left-brain understanding of human life has become so predominant, and so exclusive, we end up becoming obsessed with the “correctness” of terminology and abandon the the deeper wisdom that implies an understanding of the nature of illness itself.
And the patient – in turn – becomes the victim of whatever strangely-worded “verdict” that the medical establishment labels them with. It may be “accurate” in scientific terms … often it’s not. (CBS News, on April 17th, 2014, reported that “12 million Americans are misdiagnosed each year.” (LINK) This is not a minor thing. This amounts to 5% of all patient encounters.) And the “victimhood” that patients experience, after being labeled with intimidating, confusing, fear-impregnated labels, may well be worse than the disease itself. In fact, nothing is known about the extent of damage done to patients by the diagnostic process of labeling them with this potentially toxic terminology. Knowing how much the mind-body connection has been explored and validated in the process of stress-related illness, we leave you to draw your own conclusion about the potential for stress-generated illness.
Treating Symptoms vs Treating the Person vs Transforming the Person
One of the many reasons people are turning to Alternative or Complimentary medical solutions is the tendency of Western Medicine to treat the symptoms – the surface layer of disease – while ignoring the roots of illness or the larger, “whole-person” picture.
Let’s make up a pretend scenario. A woman suffers from severe, frequent migraine headaches.
CASE ONE: She goes in to see her family doctor. The doctor takes a history of the symptoms: their onset, their frequency, their character, their intensity. Then he prescribes a medication to help reduce the symptoms. Let’s say he prescribes “Imitrex”, a form of Sumatriptan. Here are the possible side effects (common ones): injection site reaction, dizziness, vertigo, nausea and vomiting, tingling sensation, flushing sensation, and unpleasant taste… (less common ones) Abdominal or stomach pain, anxiety, blurred vision, changes in patterns and rhythms of speech, chest pain or tightness, chills,, confusion, dizziness, fast, slow, irregular, pounding, or racing heartbeat or pulse, headache, muscle cramps and stiffness, neck, throat, or jaw pain, nightmares, shivering, sweating, swelling of the fingers, hands, feet, or lower legs, tightness in the chest, trouble breathing… (and a few rare ones): blindness, spasms of the eyelid, nerve pain, severe numbness, severe stomach pain, trouble speaking or swallowing, vomiting of blood … and the list goes on and on. This is a TREATMENT FOR A MEDICAL PROBLEM, courtesy of Western Medicine.
So, let’s say the woman takes the medicine and experiences some degree of relief, from some of the migraine symptoms, and is lucky enough to not develop any crippling or incapacitating side-effects. So, what we have is some relief of symptoms. No decrease of frequency of headaches. We have not cured or healed the headache problem, we have just reduced symptoms to make the problem somewhat more tolerable. And the woman has an ongoing dependence on costly medication, with potentially unhealthy side-effects from long-term use.
CASE TWO: Let’s say, instead of going to a Western Medicine doctor, she goes to a Naturopathic doctor. The Naturopathic doctor might do a different type of assessment and look at other possible connected issues, like diet, allergies, environment, lifestyle or employment stresses etc. The Doctor discovers, after a bit of digging, that the woman drinks six or more cups of coffee per day, and also has red wine with dinner frequently. He advises her to first reduce, and eventually quit coffee altogether, and quit the red wine and see what happens. She tries it and discovers it cuts the frequency and duration of her migraines significantly. No dependence on medication; no liability of long-term medication expense or side-effects.
CASE THREE: Let’s say this woman with the migraines is really open to the more “fringe” or “new age” concepts of healing, and decides to have some sessions with an energy healer. After 3 or 4 sessions with the Energy Healer, the woman begins to open up about her past and her childhood and some memories flood to the surface of violent physical abuse she endured in her childhood. In the next couple of sessions she realizes that the husband she is married to and the teenage boys they have are re-enacting the same cycle of violence that she grew up in with her abusive father. These realizations are painful, but powerful and transforming. She comes up with a game-plan of confronting her family members and giving them an ultimatum: either they get family counseling and address the violence and abuse issue immediately, or she is ending the marriage and moving out on her own. The family is powerfully affected by this realization, and by being confronted on their own chronic negativity. They decide to save the family and go for counseling. This transforms the way the family connects and treats each other in the domestic environment. The migraines – mysteriously – disappear. So does a lot of stress and other negativity. This woman is transformed; the lives of her family members are transformed.
Obviously, Case 3, is one end of the “Alternative Health” spectrum, where healing becomes an act of personal transformation, and not only do the symptoms of “disease” disappear, but internalized negativity in a human life is released and transformed, and the “sham” of a life that was being lived is now more authentic, truthful and healthy – to mind, body and soul. This doesn’t mean she’s now “perfect” … or life will now be “perfect” … but it means she’s “unpacked” the numbness, forgetfulness and denial surrounding negativity in life she had internalized. Unresolved, these patterns kept repeating themselves and became the root of her migraine issue. (NOTE * this is just a made-up case to illustrate the spectrum of treating illness, and the different techniques that could be employed by different practitioners. There is no guarantee that “energy medicine” or Naturopathic treatment will help any more than Western Medicine.)
So, we have a whole spectrum of what “disease” and “healing” can mean.
Where do you fit in? Does it mean if you have a tooth-ache, you have to go have major psychotherapy to “uncover” the hidden root cause? No! Go to your dentist and get the bloody cavity filled! But this example show you a number of important concepts.
- How we tend to only see the “surface” of things (like illness)
- How doctors tend to only treat the “surface” of things (like symptoms)
- How symptomatic treatment with medications can potentially cause dangerous side-effects
- How alternative practitioners can give a range of assessments and treatment options that Western Doctors won’t
- How various systems of “energy healing” can put people in touch with dimensions of the self that can be key to restoring health
- How “personal transformation” can be a key and vital part of living a balanced life.
And… what is “Health” then?
Let’s go back to the Migraine Lady. Before going to any doctor, she used to say, “Well except for my headaches, I’m pretty healthy…” If a person shows up for their 9-to-5 job, 28 days out of 30, they’re considered “healthy”. If they go to the gym, and run around the block a few time times and “look good”, they’re generally considered “pretty healthy”. But how do we measure it? By how “civilized” our society is? How much money and material toys we’ve accumulated? By the fact that we’re doing what all the rest are doing with our suburban house, our picket fence, our 9-to-5 job, looking ‘normal’ and fitting in .. is a sign of health?
The most “civilized” and wealthy industrialized, modern countries on the planet have the worst demographics of people dying of cancer. Here are the 10 worst countries for incidence of cancer: Denmark, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, France, USA, Norway, Canada, Czech Republic. These are some of the richest, most advanced countries on earth. Where “Western Medicine” is predominant. So, are we “healthy” as a nation?
If we wake up in the morning pain-free, are we “healthy”…? We can cram down our coffee and our bacon and eggs and drive in the congested rush hour to punch our time-clock, then get back home to spend a weekend at the cottage and suddenly die of a massive heart attack. We thought we were “healthy”…?
We, as modern men and women, live under a lot of disguises. A lot of assumptions. A lot of “make-up”. Packaging. None of us are perfect, and all of us are in kindergarten – as far as human evolution goes, and as far as knowing and using our full potential. So, as always, it comes back to YOU. Are you “healthy”…? Are you living a life of assumptions and pretty packaging? Is your happiness and contentment wearing thin like your makeup as the day wears on?
This life that we have is real, it’s not a game. When we really begin to discover what our own games are, our own pretense is, when we can begin to un-pack the layers that surround, congest and choke our own soul … then we can begin to feel and live the life that is really us. And understand what that connection is between knowing the self, and true health.
People are strange.
They are constantly angered by trivial things.
But on a major matter, like totally wasting their lives,
they hardly seem to notice.
– Charles Bukowski
This purpose of this article, and the mission of this website, is not to show you that one form of medicine is “superior” than another. This article is inviting you to question your assumptions on health and healing, and think beyond your normal envelope. You’re being challenged to consider and embrace your own responsibility in health, in healing, and in living life.