“There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering and too much pain. Then suddenly the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer it an extraordinary way.” -Mother Teresa
Practicing medicine is a healing art. It requires more than interpreting test results, analyzing reports, diagnosing illness and following a course of treatment. Awakening a healing light within the patient through conscious, loving attentiveness is as important as administering medicines.
On a macrocosmic level, the truth that all living beings are interconnected is one of the salient principles underlying the call to practice healing. The same notion, brought to a microcosmic level, is the foundation of the essential concept that holistic healing involves the entire individual, not merely the body. Body, mind, intellect, emotion, memory and consciousness are inextricably interwoven into the shared fabric of existence. Thus, a holistic approach focuses on the whole being, recognizing the important of integrating these relative aspects when assessing the patient, as opposed to the mechanistic style of Allopathic medical diagnostics.
Disease is engendered by dis-ease, meaning tension. One of the strongest stresses faced by people in today’s busy world is a pervasive sense of disconnectedness, both internally and externally. Most of us are distracted by the constant stream of activities that govern modern life and fail to attune to the spiritual currents meant to nourish us on deeper levels and keep our lives in balance.
Many of us starve for real love.
To regenerate a sense of unconditional, loving care is vital to facilitating the healing process, and a key factor is to create a sense of reciprocity between patient and doctor. Communicating concerned caring nourishes a positive attitude and kindles confidence. More and more doctors are discovering that the attitude of a patient proves a central factor for the ultimate outcome of treatment. I know one doctor who, for this reason, will not operate on patients when they’re overly anxious. He waits until the patient is calm and ready.
A holistic approach recognizes the need to wed science and spirituality. Conventional medicine, based on a biomedical paradigm, is linear in its method. The typical attitude of the doctor is one of competition, to win the battle over a virus or combat the symptoms of disease. The idea of interconnection is more like a circle. The attitude of cooperation sustains the healing.
The circular aspect is a symbol for the holistic notion that mind, body and spirit are intricately connected and one must address imbalances on all levels. To this effect, Lewis Meil-Madrona, author of the book Narrative Medicine and a powerful shamanic healer from the Lakota Sioux Native American path wrote:
“The concept that disease arises from disharmony and imbalance leads us to realize that health and disease are inseparable from culture, geography, geology, and spirituality. Everyone is situated in different psycho-socio-cultural space. Human disease is context dependent.”
It is important for the doctor to understand the patient’s context. Is he having troubles at home? Is he suffering under financial strain? Has he recently faced hardship or personal loss? Is he undergoing an internal, spiritual crisis?
More often than not, these factors prove to be the roots of disease, and addressing them with an intention to promote a resolution can accelerate the healing process, sometimes with extraordinary results. Each human organism possesses subtle interior channels which have their own inherent intelligence. These facilitate rejuvenation and bring resilience to the healing process. These channels can be blocked by negative emotions and unresolved conflicts. When these blockages are released, the vital life-force can flow freely and do the work of healing.
If the patient focuses conscious intent on participating in the healing process and opening internal energy channels, this significantly augments the efficiency and effectiveness of treatment. Holistic medicine is not just using herbs, acupuncture, or any of the ancient or new systems of healing. A holistic approach follows the understanding that every aspect in life can contribute or detract from the healing process. Attitude places the biggest role.
On the physical plane, sometimes the greatest contributing factor to disease is imbalance in the boy based on lifestyle factors like diet, climate, stress at work, lack of exercise, etc. A holistic health care professional should be able to recognize such cases and advise accordingly.
Even more impacting than the physical lifestyle factors is the mental outlook. The mind tends to repeat a story to itself. Often, the internal dialog of a patient centers on anxiety, fear and pain, thus embellishing a sense of separation and bolstering disease. The unconscious belief that one is unloved or unworthy also fuels this sense of alienation. Encouraging the patient by listening attentively to his ‘story’ and helping him change this internal story can be profoundly transforming.
Teach me to listen
to each one’s words as if
uttered by Your treasured voice
on waves of parting breath.
Seemingly small gestures can have a huge effect in altering the patient’s internal story line. A sincere smile, encouraging words, a loving gesture, such as placing a consoling hand on the patient, communicate a sense of care. This contributes to a new internal dialog: ‘The doctor cares about me and will make all possible efforts to cure my disease’.
Other contributing emotional factors may relate to unhealed wounds of the past, anxiety about the future, or unhappiness in the present. If the patient is able to resolve inner conflicts, the symptoms of disease are likely to decrease more rapidly.
The spiritual plane is intimately connected to both body and mind. Sometimes the root of disease is based more on spiritual factors than on the physical and mental aspects noted above. Whatever the root cause of disease, for those who have faith in a higher power, prayer, meditation, and attuning to spiritual presence are often the most effective medicines of all. Prayer expands awareness and decreases the patient’s sense of limitation, bringing a higher perspective and opening the interior channels to an increased charge of energy. Words fortified with spiritual conviction and focused, conscious intention can have tremendous impact on the patient, effecting spontaneous shifts in attitude. This can compel significant impact on the cells and bodily systems, thus reducing the state of disease. Similarly, silent prayer in attunement to the source we all share can have monumental impact, altering the patient’s awareness and focus. When a patient’s faith is fortified through prayer, he finds peace of mind in trusting all is for the best and everything is in God’s hands.
I remember a particularly poignant case exemplifying this aspect. An 18 year old boy named Raoul, from Borundi, Africa, had remained in a coma after surgery and the doctors informed his mother there was only a 3 % chance of him ever reviving. One of the doctors suggested his mother visit A local saint named Amma and ask for her blessing. So she did. Amma whispered into her ear, “Don’t worry. He will be okay.” Raoul’s mother later told me if anyone else had said this to her she might have punched them! But because Amma said this from a place of spiritual awareness, Raoul’s mother felt instant certainty it would come to pass. She sensed all the weight of worry and anguish release from her during Amma’s spiritual embrace.
Two days later, Raoul regained consciousness and to this day is able to talk and walk (with help). He is gifted with a strong sense of faith and a beautiful, innocent heart. When he thinks about his cancer, he has no fear of dying or of suffering because of his deep conviction that God is looking after him. His faith gives him peace, even though his cancer is not fully cured. I can attest to that Raoul is one of the most cheerful people I’ve ever met, in spite of his suffering.
Raoul and his mother are Christians, yet they felt no gap between their deep religious faith and their belief that Amma was instrumental in sending them divine help. It is my experience that healing presence transcends religious differences because it stems from the common ground and fundamental, spiritual root all religions: unconditional love. In over a decade of working with patients from various religious backgrounds, I’ve witnessed barriers of belief break down in the pure light of healing-consciousness.
Amma says all religions are petals of one flower. The fragrance is the same. It is the same divine reality manifesting in the heart of those who pray no matter where they are – in a temple, church, mosque, synagogue, the cathedral of nature, or one’s own inner heart.
Likewise, it is my consistent experience, as a westerner working in India, that a holistic approach with patients transcends socio-economic, racial and cultural boundaries.
Let’s not forget the proverb ‘Laughter is the best medicine’. Helping the patient to smile is a valuable tool to facilitate healing. When a person smiles, an automatic message flows to the brain informing it the person is relaxed and happy. In this way, a smile has medicinal chemical properties that bring relaxation, relieve stress, help cure disease and lighten the weight of emotional suffering. I often suggest an easy ‘smiling meditation’ technique to patients going through chemotherapy and have noticed marked acceleration in improvement for those who practice it sincerely.
While curing disease is the primary aim of any doctor, we should be aware that when disease is incurable, healing is still possible, and a positive attitude is essential. I believe it is the duty of the doctor to help the patient come to terms with his mortality, to release fears based on separation and focus his attention on spiritual unity and wholeness. At the final stages, acceptance of the disease and awareness that it is not a punishment, but a gift, is crucial for the patient’s peace of mind. Raoul’s story is a testament to this philosophy.
In such a case, the disease is no longer perceived as a burden but rather as a vehicle towards expansion into light. Disease need not be perceived as an enemy but as a spiritual gift and harbinger of grace, aligning the soul with a sense of unity that transcends ordinary body-consciousness.
The Art of Dying
I hold the dying by the hands
and watch as consciousness expands
into a realm of radiance
where wisdom stands.
In awe, I sense their spirit fold
inside to where a truth untold
can spin and weave a tapestry
of soul’s pure gold.
The art of liberation’s law
is one that paints, without a flaw,
the truth that we are made of light
no hand can draw.
As we approach that sharpest edge,
which cuts and prunes away the hedge
that blocks our view – to God we now
must give our pledge.
Let’s cease grasping this life we’ve fussed
about – observe how loudly rust
and mold announce the truth that all
will turn to dust.
The body fades, like summer breeze,
but soul’s not bound by land or seas,
and dying is a divine grace-
not a disease.
Whether helping a patient to embrace a positive attitude that they can be cured, or to accept with welcome the concept of the dying process as a journey into light as opposed to darkness, a conscious connection to the healing light of awareness through deep compassion is indispensable.
Holistic healing is a term that includes various alternative approaches to treatment of disease, but it is also much more than that. It is a way of viewing life from all levels; a journey of awareness and self-discovery. Those who practice healing arts should couple their knowledge of alternative medicinal systems with their own healing journey. Ideally, a holistic healer has come to terms with suffering and mortality, and learned to expand the heart so it can deliver compassionate care to all patients, integrating the various interrelated aspects of mind, body and spirit.
Compassion is the ultimate calling: for nurses, for doctors, for all of us.