In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. ~ Albert Camus
As humans, we have a deep longing for ease, meaning and wholeness. Throughout life, things (accidents, illnesses, stresses) happen to us that make us fearful or cautious. This fear may then cause us to protect ourselves, physically, mentally, or spiritually. Ultimately, these protective mechanisms take us away from ease as well as away from our essential selves, our inherent creativity, and a sense of free choice. They create physical, emotional and mental limitations, become habitual, and lead us out of balance and into disease. Yet, our inherent longing for ease compels us to seek healing and health.
Dis-ease (lack of ease) or illness is an imbalance in the body, mind or psyche. An imbalance can be described as the lack of choice to respond to a situation, or a habitual, patterned, fixed response to a situation. Such imbalances can be created in many ways. Car-accidents, sports injuries, childhood abuse and neglect, for example, can lead to imbalances that we come to experience later as whiplash, brain injury, insomnia, digestive troubles, or muscular and joint pain. Toxins in the environment can lead to imbalances in the body, mind or spirit that we may experience as allergies, the flu, stress, or depression. Malfunctions in some part of the body end up resulting in imbalances that lead to autoimmune disease, cancer, genetic, congenital conditions and so forth. Of course the causes and resulting imbalances are not quite so direct or clear or simple. For disease to arise, most often more than one factor is at play. For example, when one is highly stressed, the resulting imbalance makes us more susceptible to the flu virus. “Disease” is the messenger alerting us to an imbalance.
Healing is a process that leads to increased choices in life in the physical, emotional, and/or spiritual realm. This leads away from habituated responses, which often cause pain and suffering, into increasingly creative, freer, and more accepting ways of living.
A client came in the other day with severe shoulder and neck pain. Aside from this nagging, debilitating pain, she felt fabulous. Things in her life, she reported, no longer bothered her. Her husband’s cruel, demeaning comments now just rolled off her back, she thought. Yet her shoulder pain told a different story. As the session progressed, first in conversation, then on the massage table, it became clear to her that her shoulder muscles were shielding her from the impact of her husband’s words and shielding her from feeling hurt and sad. With this awareness, her muscles began to loosen and a deep sadness came over her.
Another client came in with a frozen shoulder that a variety of medical professionals had failed to heal. During the session, as the weight of his arm was taken up and the resulting compensatory patterns were explored, a place of resistance, or virtual non-movement was found. As attention was held on this place of resistance, the client remembered the initial injury to the shoulder and how he started guarding it in fear of pain, and how in the following months the shoulder became stiffer and stiffer until he could barely move it. As his body recognized this protective pattern, he experienced something like a long sigh that seem to speak of the desire to be protected from the pain that had led to this paralysis, yet simultaneously, a recognition that, in fact, movement would be a much better protective mechanism. The resistance released and a freer, more natural movement returned to his shoulder.
Another client came in because of the severe food allergies that caused her to break out in rashes. As this immune response was explored on a physical and an emotional level, we discovered which foods caused the reaction, but we also discovered a very deep-seated fear of the world in general. As we continued to learn about how hers fear manifested on an emotional, mental and physical level, she was able to see that her fears actually developed in the early part of her life. With this awareness and understanding, her allergic responses to foods began to ease. Perhaps most impressive was the acceptance and appreciation she found for her immune system and the ways that it did whatever it could to keep her strong.
The first step in the healing process involves recognizing what the habitual pattern is. This recognition needs to happen in a holistic way that includes the body, the mind and the spirit. This full recognition can happen in a moment of stillness, a halting place where the whole system becomes aware of its pattern. This is not cathartic, but rather quiet and beyond judgment or even conscious contemplation. In this recognition, a shift becomes possible—a transmutation through which an array of new choices and possibilities is seen, felt, and made possible. In this comes the opportunity to release habituated patterns. For example, once the client experiencing shoulder pain in the story above became aware of the way she was using her shoulders to guard both from harm and from her own feelings, she was able to find alternatives—new possibilities for experiencing and addressing her true feelings that were ultimately more freeing and powerful.
Health is present at all times. While one part of the body, mind or psyche is in dis-ease, many other parts are functioning with optimal health. For example, the client with the shoulder pain had no trouble with his legs, his digestion, or his eyesight. Health is a state, while healing is a continuous process. Both are at play at all times. In this culture our tendency is to identify with what is not working, with dis-ease, so to speak. Yet while there may indeed be disease present, so, too is healing and health. Health means to be whole, intact, not fragmented. Health means to be able to respond to any situation in a way that is supportive of the individual’s overall being. When the flu virus enters the body, the immune system kicks in and produces mucus, a cough, and fever in order to expel the virus. When you cut your fingers, the blood will provide clotting cells to close the wound. Our body, our whole being, has a natural tendency to respond in this way. In western medicine this is called homeostasis, the body’s way of constantly moving into balance. When we get too hot, we start to sweat to cool down. When we eat enough, the feeling of hunger subsides. When we feel sad, tears appear. In Chinese medicine the balance between Yin and Yang are the expression of health. The particular path of healing—returning to health—is found within the individual person. The path to health cannot be standardized, but needs to be found in and for each individual because it is the system that is out of balance that also holds the wisdom to guide the particular healing that needs to happen. It is healer’s responsibility to listen and hold the space for the person to find back to health.