The real voyage of discovery rests not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
I met Marie on a long cross-country flight. She was returning to her home in California after a business trip. We spoke about oceans and beaches, and I told her how much I was looking forward to a few days of long walks by the sea. After a heavy sigh she said, "I've lived near the beach for the past year and I haven't been able to take one walk." Although she didn't know I was a physician, she continued to speak with some intensity "I've had asthma for two years, and now it is so severe that I have to stay indoors as much as possible." She continued, "I'm too young to stop doing all the things I love to do." As I listened, I wondered whether physicians have a subtle way of attracting those who are ill, or whether it was my smile of encouragement that invited her disclosures. Either way, I put my work aside to listen.
In the past two years she had seen numerous physicians, had undergone complete allergy testing, and had taken the usual prescribed medicines. Despite these efforts her symptoms were getting worse. "It's the pollen," she said. "I know it's the pollen." She continued with this thought in a rather persistent way even though I pointed out to her that she had lived in the same area for many years without any previous problem with asthma. I took another tack, asking "Was there something that happened in your life before the asthma began?" A bit set back by what seemed to be an irrelevant question, she responded, "No, nothing."
Because I have heard so many similar stories, I pressed on with some ambivalence (after all I was taking an airplane flight, not conducting an office visit). "Think carefully," I told her, then asked again, "Did anything unusual happen in your fife?" After a pause she spoke. "Well, now that I think about it my mother died around the time I got my first attack."
What happened?" I asked. She responded, "I've never been close to my mother, but on the day she died she had complained of some chest pain. She had similar pains many times before, but I told her I would come over. She insisted that it wasn't necessary, but I knew I should have gone. She died that night, and I feel guilty."
Noticing her sadness, I asked, "What have you done about the guilt, and sadness, and anger?" "What do you mean?" she answered. "Well," I asked, "when did the asthma start?" "About a month later," she responded, not making the connection between the events in her life and her disease.
As we talked it became clear. Marie had come to believe that disease generally has a single cause, one that is usually outside of ourselves. In her case it was pollen. A single cause calls for a magic bullet, which for us means drugs. And even though all her efforts at such treatment had failed to heal her asthma, she persisted in using that treatment.
Through their experience, physicians learn that there is a time to join an individual compassionately in his or her pain and suffering, and a time to confront. With only an hour left on the flight I realized that I would have to take the path of confrontation. I let her know that I was a doctor, and stated my view as
clearly as possible. "Disease is not caused by one external agent," I said, "nor is it ever isolated to one part of ourselves. Disease results from the combination of many issues that lead to a disunity in our mind and body. Disease is a disorder of our whole being. Your asthma," I stated, "can be fully healed."
I went on to say that healing would require her to understand the full web of circumstances, inner and outer, that resulted in the disunity of mind and body that she called asthma. I told her that she could learn about and apply her own built-in capacities for healing, moving from her present partial approach to healing to one of Whole Healing. I also assured her that if she chose to engage her disease in this way then she would walk on the beaches again. She listened intently, yet skeptically, and asked me where to begin. I told her that I would find someone in her area who could help her with the first steps toward Whole Healing. Within a few days I called her to fulfill my promise.
For Marie, the problem was a severely limited understanding of her disease and her own healing capacities. For others who are exploring for the first time the rich diversity of healing approaches that are now increasingly available, the problem is very different. Consider the following.
Several months ago I received a telephone call from Ann, a thirty-two-year-old woman in considerable emotional distress. Although we had never met before, her story came quickly as she sought my advice and assistance. Four months previously she had been diagnosed with a localized, surgically curable; cancer of the cervix. For the next month she reflected on her options and then decided to forgo surgery. Instead, she traveled to a Mexican clinic to try an alternative therapy. After three weeks of that therapy she was advised to return home and undergo the previously recommended surgery. She did so. At the time of surgery the surgeon explored the cancer and found that it had progressed. What had been an easily curable cancer had now advanced. Four months before, this woman could anticipate many more years. Her potential now for a
long and full life were dramatically changed. In her call to me she was struggling to make sense of the situation.
In Marie's situation the problem was a lack of information. In Ann's circumstance there were newly discovered alternative practices, a burgeoning number of options for healing, and plenty of information, but no way to sort through them and organize them for her benefit. These two people are typical of many people who seek medical help. Most do not have an understanding of their capacity for healing themselves, and even if they do, they have a lot of information but no effective way to use it. So the absence of information is only part of the problem. How to use information, particularly when it is plentiful, is the second part of the problem.
Ironically, we are living in a time when we are no longer dependent on a single health-care system and its particular perspectives. We are now discovering multiple unrelated health-care systems such as Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, and homeopathy; each has its own logic, approach, and treatment options, each is rapidly expanding our information and capacities for healing. Yet this sudden embarrassment of riches has resulted in a fragmented approach to healing. Some people are unaware of these new opportunities, and others who are aware make decisions based on pieces of information, pieces that too often are taken out of context and can therefore be more misleading than helpful. The problem is simply this: At a time when our world is changing and our possibilities are expanding, we have not yet developed a way to find the best and most direct route to health and healing.
This problem has developed in part because we are living at a time when old structures and ways of thinking are coming apart and new ideas are being formulated. This shift in our way of thinking can be most dramatically seen in the reshaping of our ideas about health and healing. We are changing from a mechanical view of the mind and body, one that examines and repairs one cog, one spring, and one flywheel at a time, to one that is dynamic and holistic. This shift has given rise to confusion and, at times, false hopes, but it has also given rise to a fundamentally new set of opportunities. Yet with all the changes that are occurring, several clear facts emerge:
- We no longer believe that there is a single cause for each illness. We now recognize that disease, like health, is the result of a web of circumstances that involve our mind, body, spirit, and environment.
- We no longer believe that there is only one way to heal. We now recognize that no singular approach, practice, or treatment has all the answers.
- We no longer believe that the power to heal is exclusively contained in external agents or treatments. We now recognize the wealth of healing capacities that are built into our minds, bodies, and spirits.
- We no longer believe that health professionals have all the answers to our questions about health and disease. We now recognize that there are answers we must seek ourselves.
A new vision of healing cannot be found through any one healing practice or a combination of them. Nor can it be found by shifting our focus from the body to the mind, or from one practitioner to another. Healing does not evolve from the proper functioning of pieces and parts, from the exclusive influence of either the mind or body, or from one system of belief or another. It emerges from our entire experience, which gives us access to all the possibilities for both inner and outer healing. The task becomes a process of exploring and bringing into our lives a fundamentally new and comprehensive approach to healing, an approach that I call Whole Healing.
Solving the Problem
As we move along the path toward Whole Healing, here is what we need: first, an understanding of the Whole-Healing process and a new vision of what it means to be healthy; second, the capacity to choose intelligently among the extensive menu of practices and approaches-conventional, alternative, mind/body, and spiritual; and third, an understanding of how these approaches work together. These three essential elements of a complete healing program were the missing ingredients in Marie's and Ann's quests for healing.
To facilitate these steps we need a way to consolidate the current array of healing practices into a coherent process, one that serves our needs rather than adding conflict and confusion. We must answer these questions: How do we expand our knowledge and understanding of our full healing capacities? How do we create order and coherence out of diversity? How do we bring together what appear to be separate aspects of healing into a natural whole that can serve our day-to-day health concerns while promoting long-term health? These are the questions that Marie and Ann, unknowingly, were beginning to ask for each of us. Their dilemmas reflected the larger concerns that we are all now confronting. The answers to these questions will force us to break through the limitations of a partial and inadequate approach to healing.
I'd like to propose a model that achieves that consolidation by considering the full range of healing already available to us, the four distinct healing systems that we can identify as part of our personal experience. Each of these systems has its own frame of reference, operating principles, characteristics, practitioners, practices, and research methodologies. I call the four systems Homeostasis, Treatment, Mind/Body, and Spiritual. At any one time, most of us are using one or two of these systems. That is what we are taught and what we are accustomed to. Used individually, these systems are limited and partial approaches to healing. Taken together, they form a Whole Healing System with a flexibility, adaptability, and comprehensiveness that cannot be accounted for by the mere sum of the individual components.
The figure below illustrates the natural nesting of the four individual systems to form a single whole. In the pages that follow we will examine each of the systems separately, but it is important to remember that in life they always operate as a unity, as one system. Living systems do not exist as parts; it is only our capacity for abstraction that makes it seem this way. And although the chapters in this book on the individual healing systems can each stand alone as descriptions of separate and distinct healing paths, human life, as we know it, is dependent on the presence and interaction of all of these four systems.
The Health Continuum
The Whole Healing System is composed of four separate and unique healing systems. Each system builds upon the other systems by adding new capacities and resources. In our lives, the entire system works as one, providing us with a remarkable capacity for self-healing.