The Courage to Heal by Steven E. Hodes, MD
As a physician, a gastroenterologist with over 25 years clinical experience of caring for patients I have pondered the difference between how I was trained to practice my profession and my present understanding of healing. As a product of the traditional approach to medicine, I viewed the patient as a machine who was suffering from some undisclosed mechanical failure. Why else would they be sitting before me in my office? Certainly I was aware that anxiety or depression could exacerbate the symptoms of disease, but the extent to which the mind, body and spirit were united was unappreciated.
Gradually, as my own understanding evolved, it became crystal clear that all three elements co-existed, interacted and inter-related in a dynamic flow. Since the term ‘healing’ referred to ‘making whole’, all aspects of the patient needed to be understood and addressed if true healing was to be accomplished.
Self-Awareness Precedes Self-Repair I also came to appreciate, to a far greater degree than I could have imagined, that my role as physician was to facilitate the body’s intrinsic and phenomenal ability to heal itself.
Gradually, I began educating my patients to this truth. As products of our culture’s mechanistic paradigm of disease, they would enter my examining room as if they were bringing their car to a mechanic. Whether expressed explicitly or not, the attitude was, ‘fix me, you’re the doctor’. I had to help transform that attitude and challenge them to participate in their own healing.
For some it became a rather frightening concept to ponder. It meant taking charge of their own mental/emotional/ spiritual state of being. It meant facing their own demons. It required the courage to see that their symptoms might be the tip of a deeper iceberg of discontent and disequilibrium; that their symptoms might very well reflect a deeper dis-ease of mind and spirit; that they would have to listen to what their body was telling them and come to terms with feelings and thoughts that had been previously denied or even repressed.
The Courage to be Healed Before you can understand the nature of healing you must understand the spiritual nature of human beings. While for some patients this will have to do with faith, religion and a belief in God, for others it may simply be a sense of connection to the ‘Universe’ or to ‘Spirit.’
The universal human attraction to religion and spirituality cannot be debated here, yet it also cannot be ignored in any discussion of healing. There are great insights to be found in all the world’s traditions, as well as many schools of metaphysics. Often, it is the search for relief from illness or imbalance that leads people to find their true spiritual path.
Protestant theologian Paul Tillich had written about courage all of us need in the face of life’s enormous existential challenges. Fear is the primal human state of being. We face it as children as we confront the cold reality that we are unique, vulnerable and sensitive beings. Henceforth, our lives seem to require a constant struggle against the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. We become reactive to real and perceived threats from others. We fear intimacy and the expression of love for this exposes our inner fragility. For many this becomes an attitude that ranges from sadness and depression to hostility and outrage.
Such feelings form the substrate for disease itself. Healing often requires the courage to face that perception and the courage to choose to transform that feeling/attitude/belief into a mechanism for growth and equanimity. How we cope with these ever-present challenges helps determine the quality of our lives.
There are powerful strategies which can unquestionably help us in our own internal struggles. We need to learn, and really ‘get,’ that our minds do create our own realities and that courage is needed to face the challenge, to own up to that truth. It is not easy, but it is the only path to internal peace and, yes, healing.
Steven E. Hodes, M.D. is a board certified gastroenterologist with over 25 years private practice. He also has a degree in Religious Studies and teaches Contemporary Metaphysics at Brookdale College as well as lecturing and writing on Kabbalah and Healing, the Jewish View of Afterlife and on Near-Death Experience. Visit him at his daily Blog, Physician to Meta-Physician at www.meta-md.com