Man comes out of unity into diversity,
The ego appears, has to be recognized,
Then transcended and return to Unity
In a higher octave of consciousness.1
--Karlfried Graf von Durckheim
Illness can be our golden opportunity. For a few days, weeks, or months, we have to step out of the mad race and watch the world go by. This is the time to look at the instrument we call our body and to the condition of the brain that controls its every action and to the larger concerns of our mind and emotions. Before we are ready once more to play our part in the symphony of life, the instrument must be tuned.
For several years I have asked many of my patients two questions. Why do you think this illness came to you at this particular time in your life? Do you suppose this illness has certain lessons for you to learn? The answers have been many and varied. Usually, at first, the answers are not known, but if and when the patient is ready to accept the challenge of responding to the questions with candor and complete honesty, from that point on his life will not be the same.
Martha had just come out of the hospital, having had treatment for a low back strain, and was extremely resentful of her treatment while there. One trouble seemed to follow another. At this time she was suffering from a severe burn from a sensitivity she had developed to adhesive tape.
For fifteen years I had been trying to get her to look at herself and see some of the psychosomatic aspects of these various problems, but she had been unreceptive to such suggestions. Someone else, or something over which she had no control, was always to blame. Then, one morning during my period of meditation, I had a strong feeling that she was ready to talk. Later on I approached her, and she opened up, telling me of her need for sex, of her feelings of unfulfillment. She spoke of her inability to communicate with her husband on anything more than a very superficial level.
"I wonder," she said, "if, in my need, I haven't brought this illness upon myself."
The beginning of real therapy takes place when we recognize that we are on the great path of life and that everything that happens to us has significance.
Clifford was in the hospital for two and one-half months in traction for a severely comminuted and compound fracture of his leg. He had ample time to ponder the questions. One day he came up with these comments:
"I decided I have been getting too big for my britches. I belong to too many organizations. I'm too spread out. I need to give more of my life to the consideration of others. I have become very conscious of the goodness and kindness of many people who come to see me, some of whom I had never met previously. I am going to be more concerned with things that reach out to others and less with myself. I have realized how fortunate I am. I have seen so many worse off than I. How my leg comes out is of no consequence because a person can always overcome a handicap."
Mary was a thirty-five-year-old woman who was recuperating from a hysterectomy for cancer of the uterus. The questions had been asked, and after several days of deep reflection she broke down one morning and said, "At the age of sixteen I was married for the first time and had a baby. When he was a year-and-a-half old I gave his care over to my parents. I guess I was too immature to really mother him. I can never forgive myself for this."
There are many instances of this sort involving young women who became pregnant before they were able to face the responsibility of motherhood, had an abortion or had to put their children up for adoption, and finally, years later, developed cancer. It is as if the malignant process involving their deep sense of guilt germinates in the mind and gradually takes form in the body. A very interesting study of these deepseated psychophysiological aspects of cancer appeared in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences a few years ago.2
These examples indicate that one's life orientation bears a significant relationship to his state of health. This insight should be presented to the patient by both the physician and the psychologist.
Dr. Artur Jores of Germany reports on a flu epidemic in Hamburg that hit a peak in December and over the Christmas holidays, with a subpeak a month later.3 On a review of the cases it was discovered that practically all the patients in the latter group were post office workers who, during December, are very busy and play a very significant role in the eyes of the public. Perhaps they were too busy to be ill.
Further supporting this point of view, a medical writer describes the duration of illness in cases of flu among a group of 1,000 patients, 500 of whom, according to psychological testing, were normal and 500 of whom had a high degree of psychoneuroticism. The former group were well within a week, while the latter's illnesses lasted on the average of three weeks.
Why the difference between these two groups of persons? What is psychoneuroticism? The dictionary defines the psychoneurotic as the person with an emotional disturbance less severe than a psychosis, suffering from a mental disturbance due to unresolved, unconscious conflicts, and typically involving anxiety, depression, and somatic disturbances.
If we wish to become whole persons, the true causes of anxieties, periods of depression, and psychosomatic types of illness must be discovered. We cannot be honest with ourselves and believe that the huge group of illnesses falling under this heading comes from outside of ourselves.
Anxiety is probably associated with illness more than is any other mental state, and to ignore it would be most unrealistic. The word comes from the Latin, angere, meaning to choke. In other words, we are choked with emotion. Certainly if a choking person walks into the emergency room of a hospital, the doctor first would examine the patient's throat and remove the object producing the symptoms. SO, too, it is the role of psychiatrist and psychologist to remove the cause of the unconscious emotion that is quietly choking the patient and filling him with anxiety.
Most illness states are accompanied by varying degrees of anxiety that should be recognized and rooted out before they so alter the blood chemistry and the hormonal balance as to cause more manifest disease.
Ensuing alterations of the body chemistry, which vary from one patient to another, produce a wide variety of clinical pictures. Early in this sequence of events may be the alteration of the person's sugar metabolism with its accompanying high incidence of anxiety and depression. If these disordered emotions are not recognized for what they are, the functional illnesses that follow at times may persist, and organic illness may appear. In other words, a healthy state of mind is the first requisite of wholeness. What poisons the mind must eventually poison the whole body. Far too often in the past there has been only a medical diagnosis, as though the physical illness were an entity in itself and not related to the mind. But every cell in the body has its nerve connection to the brain and is affected by this greatest of all computers. As Dr. Paul Tournier says, in any illness there are always two diagnoses: that of the illness and that of the person.4
Whole Person Medicine
In any medicine of the Whole Person, the primary requirement is to recognize the message of the illness and ask such questions as "Why am I anxious? Why the depression? Why the backache? Why is my resistance so low that I pick up every passing virus?"
Frequently a full response to these questions must wait until the patient is feeling somewhat better and is ready to face himself. This may take months or years. Many people will not be able to make this personal inspection in this lifetime. First there must be some type of relief of symptoms and attempts to approach a physical state of homeostasis.
At this stage, love, patience, and a feeling of acceptance of the patient are the essentials. This frequently cannot be accomplished in an impersonal hospital setting. It will mean a new education of physician, nurse, and technician alike. One who does not truly know himself can hardly be expected to know another. Those involved in the central portion of the healing team today should have had minimal training in the medicine of the Whole Person. This must, in the future, be taught in our medical schools and hospitals, and the teaching must be experiential. Too often, when a patient has said to me, "But doctor, you don't know how terrible I feel," I have walked out the door and gone to the next patient.
In 1964 I attended my first session of the Medicine of the Person, in Woudschoten, Holland, along with some eighty other doctors and their wives. For one week we looked at ourselves in the patient-physician relationship as we considered the subject "The Comprehension and Understanding of Man." During that week Dr. Paul Tournier gave us four of the most meaningful medical lectures that I have ever heard. They were turning points in my medical practice. They dealt with the "Meaning of True Understanding," "Our Personal Obstacles to This True Understanding," the "Suffering of the Misunderstood Person," and "Knowing God and One's Neighbor."
A few thought-provoking statements from these lectures remain with me to this day:
The noblest and the worst exist in the same heart.
Man cannot be seized from the outside.
The verb "to sin'' should only be conjugated in the first person.
It is dangerous to have a noble vocation. It allows me to escape from recognizing my own sin. I may not be able to reach the patient because of my pride, my love of power.
Love is not natural. I put up the appearance of loving and of not judging rather than really loving.
It is in the midst of suffering that man feels the least understood. The efforts men make to understand can add to the suffering, the feeling that not only are we not understood, but we are actually misunderstood.
To understand the place of illness in life is to understand God working in that illness. The Holy Spirit is the capacity to see, understand, mobilize these forces.
For twenty-five years, these annual meetings have been going on. Physicians from many countries join together to examine themselves and see how fit they are to be teachers of their patients.
Discovery of Self
In this process of self-discovery there are two essential steps -the recognition of the personal self and, later, the discovery of one's spiritual identity, or one's Real Self. Each step is fundamental and must be taken in that order.
The spiritual self cannot be known until one has developed a feeling of real self-worth. Jesus chose, for His own intimate group of disciples, men who were recognized as successful in their own ways of life. They had found their identity in the world of men. They were ready for the next step-the venture into the world of spirit-and were asked by Him to leave all and follow Him.
One cannot leave what he doesn't have. The boy who has always dreamed of being a football hero, the man whose great ambition has been to make a million dollars, the woman whose great goal has been to raise five children to maturity, must all be allowed to fulfill that dream and have the satisfaction of its accomplishment. One does not ask them to cut off their dream and start a spiritual journey. He who is not the master of his own body and emotions can hardly launch out into the world of spirit with its necessary concomitant disciplines.
In the school of life one does not soar from kindergarten into college. It is always one step at a time, with each life going at its own natural pace. Human growth must follow its own rhythm and fit into the seasons of life. When a natural rhythm is broken, illness will eventually follow.
As previously quoted, "Man comes . . . into diversity; the ego appears, has to be recognized...." This is an extremely important step and cannot be by-passed along the road toward personal fulfillment. I must love myself and believe in myself before I can love or believe in another, to say nothing of loving and believing in God. One who has never been conscious in this lifetime of having been loved by another cannot be expected to give love any more than the non swimmer can be expected to swim at the command of another. Many people today have been brought up in situations where they felt unwanted and unloved. Plastic surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz has described how plastic surgery, while improving the appearance of certain individuals, in many cases did not restore their confidence and belief in themselves.5