The myth of modern medicine has as much to do with our expectations of a cure as it does with actual observable measurable evidence of removal of sickness.
This notion of "curing" is a myth perpetuated by an earlier medical-scientific age based upon a prevailing medical optimism founded on the expectation that with progress and technology all diseases and public health problems could be controlled and overcome. The last century has proved otherwise in that despite all the medical technology illness remain refractory to our attempts to control and eradicate disease.
On the other hand the notion of "healing" implies a less arrogant and more subtle approach to illness. It means finding the story that fits your suffering, the story that explains your anguish, the story that gives a larger meaning to your pain in the context of your life and your biography. Healing opens you up to new spaces whereby you can hold your suffering better. It makes no claims to cure anything. It is open to the reality of life suffering and decline without the romance of the men in white coats coming in to save the patient with their wondrous technological gadgets. Nowhere more appropriate is such an approach needed than those diseases dealing with incurable or progressive chronic illness. Neurology, diseases with chronic pain and cancer illnesses fit under this category. It is my position that in these specialties the older paradigm of curing medicine fails and a new model of medicine is needed that cuts across the conventional divide between psychic and somatic! , curing versus "giving up" or hospice care.
My belief is that in response to the new paradigm of healing rather than curing, the physicians' role needs to undergo a change to fit this model, which is to provide a space and safety for the story to unfold and tools by which a patient can learn to hold his or her suffering better.
The key to opening up of your story lies in the "symptom'. It alone is the entrance to the wound and the healing. It is not the category of your disease nor the diagnostic label rather the actual symptom itself, the complaint, the pain, the dysfunction, the numbness, the dizziness, the headache; this "presenting complaint" which is the key and the entrance to your unfolding narrative.
My job then is to help you find that inner story that will allow your healing to take place. I liken it to a cocoon in which the story needs to grow and ripen until it can flower into a beautiful butterfly or a rose that needs just the right soil nutrients and water for it to flower.
Rather than using the disease label as my guide, it is the symptom that points me in the direction of greatest attention which represents the are needing the search for meaning. In time a narrative germinates, a story, a biography emerges that expresses your struggle with life, with illness, with disability. Slowly the story develops and unfolds in which you are the hero, the protagonist 'with a thousand faces'. The suffering and anguish are merely the catalysts or the chemical mix out of which a new composition emerges. At times it seems paradoxically the symptom and the search almost become friends in as much as we are so lazy that only in extremis, in illness, in suffering, does such goading force us to make any spiritual progress.
In this search for meaning through narrative, we discover the paradox of life, the meaning of our suffering in the story that unfolds. In the layered narratives of our lives and medical conditions it emerges that our relationships to dear ones, to God, to life itself have altered forever. We develop an acute clarity of vision through the suffering and misery and in reflecting on this we discover our real inner desire. We find out about our hunger for life itself, the need to be, to be alive, to be aware to all that life has, the very air we breathe becomes precious, the blue sky, the trees and green pastures, the autumn leaves, the sea, the starry heavens, all take on new meaning becoming alive in new ways after having been confined so long in the day-less, night-less, ICU of disease.
In the interaction between I, the healer and you the sufferer, I cannot divorce my interpretation of your narrative from my own biography of suffering. My own path is intimately bound up with my own spiritual struggle, a similar inner architecture being constellated by my personal narrative and family dynamics, culture and ethnicity. All this is determined by many, many factors including my own childhood traumas, my own failed paths, genetics, and my reaction to my faith tradition. Through my struggles with spirituality I have come to believe in doubt as an integral part of my religious experience. The notion of radical uncertainty colors everything in my landscape. I thus welcome debate with all who come to share experiences being completely open to others with different beliefs, lifestyles and professions of faith. I do not feel that I hold the absolute finger on "truth". I have no delusions about my past or my spirituality, yet I do embrace the notion of specific ethni! c and culturally-specific spirituality, of the importance of faith traditions and most importantly that of sacred texts that support them. I have discovered that the faith and tradition of my parents and their respective families, their guilds, ethnic grouping, race, religion and creed and their texts have informed my own view of reality and the world and of God; there is no escape from that. In my own religious tradition we are expected to struggle with faith and that has given me the mythological tools and narratives by which to receive the world as it is and struggle between what is and what ought be. In the sacred texts of my tradition I struggle with and express my relationship to God and the history of my people and my own biography. I have inherited these ancient myths, narratives and stories; and these live side by side with my own struggles and my own biography in a sometimes uneasy but usually helpful way.
The objective facts of archeological history, biblical source criticism, phylogeny and even science do affect and impact on the narratives and dogmas of faith. I must therefore struggle and live between the worlds of tradition and modernity, and come to terms with the roots and the developmental human elements that make up my tradition.
Yet I am also a child of this century, of the scientific age that produced both the wonders and miracles of technology and medicine as well as the machines that torture; genocides of unspeakable horrors never before seen in the history of man. This too affects my relationship with other fellow humans as well as the Divine. And being a child of the twentieth century I've also come to critique modernity with all the passion of a post-critical reader. In that critique I have been able to return to a secondary "naivety" about my tradition. I am able to sit well once again with texts that have multiple archeological layers and authors precisely because of the post-modern insistence on the integrity of the received text rather than intellectual reconstructions as to authorship and design. In this way I have become open to religious and spiritual experiences alongside my skeptical analytical mind and have learned when to use one and when not to. My relationship to the sacred text! s of our tradition parallels this approach. I can no longer remain a believing fundamentalist yet these texts are of ultimate signification for me; I study them daily, (often nights as well) and within my own articulation of life and its interpretation I begin to see my life as an unfolding text the way I read those sacred texts of my tradition and interpret them. I slowly become witness to the events in my life and experience the narrative in the daily routine and cycles of mythic life the texts, acting as a spiritual lens, afford. I slowly come to make meaning of these experiences in the context of the myths and rituals of tradition.
Within this matrix my paradoxical relationship to the Divine emerges. Truly a reflection of the tension between analytical and experiential, the scholarly and the devotee, I hover and oscillate between the ups and downs, the spiritual highs and lows when I can feel so close and yet at other times when I can not sense HIS pulsation in my life, those dark periods of self doubt and cloudiness. This is most deeply felt when I see the effects of torture and suffering and can not make sense of this world in the face of such anguish. Our generation shares the burden of being witness or having survived the worse century of human history and we are only now slowly awaking to the fact that our myths and rituals now fail miserably in doing justice to the cultural and psychic fracture in a post-holocaust world of ongoing genocide. we continue to live and practice our faith as ifâ€¦we continue to adhere within our faith traditions, as if nothing has happened within our own denominatio! nal fractions and without our faith. We continue to bicker in the usual triumphantalist, holier-than-though attitude not realizing that the crisis affects all religions equally.
In my own life I have had to live through this painful realization as well as accepting my own inner laziness, slough, greed, lust and all the vices we know so well. I've had to examine my own beliefs, feelings and attitudes that shape my actions in the past, how I responded to authority, to people in situations of powerlessness. How I too failed to yell and scream at the indifference and torture and agreed to be lulled into the sedation of the consumer culture. In the re-examination process I've had to reevaluate my assumptions, beliefs and feelings, my resentments and fears and worse, until I identified those aspects of my character that have caused harm to others and myself, directly and indirectly. In this struggle I've been left with tools along the way, psycho-analysis of the archetypal type and mainly the work of Hillman Jung, helped me relieve some of my burden of isolation as much as my struggle could now be situated within archetypal patterns of the soul and its! relationship to the unknown. It could be even be analyzed and a deeper desire within both light and dark could be exposed. In recovery work I regained a sense of relationship to a loving caring higher power and felt His presence in my life directly not mediated through text or tradition but, the spiritual discipline of listening to other stories working a program in a very practical way and sharing my own story on an ongoing basis with others of similar desire. Finally in the works of the Hassidic masters of the 17 and 18th centuries I have found a mystical approach to my tradition that validates the highs and lows within the context of the spiritual life (much like the way Rumii, St. John and Meister Eckhardt have done for other faith traditions).
Recently in my own trauma, physically trapped in my body, in an ICU bed, I've experienced a new type of divine immanence by total dependence on my body and an experience and discovery of the inner architecture of the lungs, the heart, the bowels, spleen, liver, in which the sanctity of this "inner chamber", the body, the temple, come alive. I felt a new type of immanence, the vitality of His presence within despite me, despite my almost total disembodied self too painful to move or to use. In the past few years my inner work has attempted to reconnect with the body in ways forged new bonds and broke the old cycle of self-abuse and escapism. These spiritual practices of the last ten years came in handy and help reconnect me to the body in new ways that the abusive escapist manners of the past never allowed. The shape of the body, it's limbs, the boundaries of skin and morphology; generally becoming more comfortable with my anatomy, my skin, color and above all reconnecting ! the head with the heart. Now however I've discovered in this trauma the internal landscape, the inner spiritual architecture, the workings and functionality, the miracle of physiology and harmony, healing and repair. It reminds me of the awe and wonder of my days in medical school, where I felt like a child wondering around God's playground as we dissected and revealed the miracle of human anatomy and physiology.
In this psychic space I live and struggle each day and hear the stories of my patients. I have learned that openness to the experience of the divine is not one can demand nor can I expect it; it is a pure gift form the "treasury of unearned gifts" coming rarely and suddenly, whilst driving along Lake Michigan, the water deep blue meeting the sky at the horizon as sharp as a pencil- line, as the sun breaks through in the dawn. Other times it comes in the silence of the fields of Indiana when I can hear the whisper of the divine in the corn ears bending and bowing. Other times it comes as the wind rustling groups of leaves shimmering in the trees like a concertmaster conducting a symphony.
How does this all allow me to become a better healer?
Unfortunately, Medicine has becomes debased as doctors are used by the state and by huge corporations and insurance companies, and remain complacent in the presence of widespread differentials in access to healthcare based on wealth. Multinationals and pharmaceutical companies continue to gouge the poor without the slightest regard to the environment or to the real needs of society and we remain silent as a profession; worrying only about our own piece of the economic pie. We as healers merely reflect the spiritually bankrupt general culture. This dark side of human life has never been so plain to see in the unabashed nature of this cultural cynicism. A new myth is required and a new spirituality that first and foremost allows for this darker side of ourselves to be viewed and acknowledged. I need to become a better healer and resist those temptations that beset my medical profession.
How do I work to become a better healer?
To connect with family, friends, community and God in faith and holding the radical doubt of my generation. To resist the temptation to become holier-than-Thou but to continue to acknowledge all those dark places yet hold all the while the glory of nature and life. In connecting and in struggling with the above I invite you my patient along with me on this journey. Together we share all the hopes and fears along our path together and together we must force ourselves to do the journaling, the meditation, the dialoging, the prayers etc.,
I wish to share with you some insights in the skills needed to re-biograph oneself to engender a new narrative, a new dialogue and a new myth. After all you are the subject of your own drama. You need to set the stage, the characters, the protagonists and the plot that will give your life meaning; it's already there all you need to do is access it and it can not happen without connection, community and your inner landscape, your space, your notion of God, your loved ones around you and the voices in your healing. You need the dialogue, begin right now!