The connection between our mind, body and spirit has been documented widely. When we feel balanced, loved and connected, the immune system is stronger and the body finds its own health. Heartbreak, loss, anger and other forms of stress inevitably take a toll, not only on our personal lives, but on our physical health.
As we tense up to fight our personal problems, our body tenses as well and begins to block the natural healing energies that would otherwise flow. Beyond that, the way we handle our illness can compound this situation. Modern medicine is based upon the notion of battle. We battle germs and fight for life. As soon as we feel pain or discomfort, we immediately try to stop it from happening and look for some way to soothe what we are going through. We feel we must change our illness or problems, overpower them with our expertise. This orientation leads to increasing stress and a never-ending battle with all that impinges upon us. However, often, after one illness or problem is conquered, another arises. There is little room for ease of mind. When we include a psychological and spiritual component to healing many changes can take place.
To begin, let us look at illness itself. Illness often comes when we feel defeated or overly exhausted. The illness may be the only way they can give themselves permission to stop, rest, and make much needed changes in our lives. Each illness has its own story. When someone is in physical pain and suddenly understands what is troubling them personally, what needs to be done in their life, or how they may have to grow, they often let go, and it is not unusual for physical problems to subside. For full healing to take place it may be essential to make changes in one’s total life.
When illness comes, it is useful to ease up and begin to look within. This does not preclude also having fine medical care. It simply includes taking a broader attitude not only towards our illness. One step in healing from within includes a meditative state of mind, or mindfulness practice, where we are taught to stop, pay attention and respect all that comes to us. It is as if we were re-focusing a camera, receiving our experience through a different lens. For example, usually there is a deep sense that pain is bad and must be removed at any cost. As we begin healing from within, we see that pain is not bad. Pain arises from lack of balance and contains much information. It brings many messages along with it. When we see our pain as a messenger and learn how to respect and listen to it, healing begins in all kinds of ways.
The first step is to learn how to see pain as an ally and to “dialogue” with it. This requires a complete turnaround. Instead of tensing up and gearing for battle, we learn how to pause and look for the lesson we have to learn. When we do this, we find the pain often comes holding a gift in its hands. Usually we feel like victims and expect the doctor or psychologist to take control of our illness and make us well. This attitude itself is part of the disease. When we take this attitude, we are relinquishing our part in the illness, denying our inherent ability to understand and correct our lack of balance and what our illness is saying to us.
Most of the time we are reluctant to notice the quality of our lives, moment by moment. We are all experts at brushing things under the carpet. Then the carpet begins to roll up at the corners, and we feel we are coming unglued. During illness the body is rebelling. It is demanding that we pay attention to all that has been unattended. We may have been pushing ourselves for too long. Now our body is fed up. Stop and listen to me, it pleads.
We could have been looking and listening all along, but we are not taught to stop, pay attention to and respect what we are feeling. In the time of pain and sadness it is of the utmost urgency to learn how to reconnect with our own inner understanding and source of strength. When we learn how to listen and how to reply, an entirely new life begins. Then pain and illness become an opportunity for vital change.
Learning to Listen
We usually listen only to part of ourselves. The rest is rejected. But no matter what we are rejecting, soon or later we must come up against it and face it straight on. Rejecting something never makes it go away. In fact, it will come back time and again, just for you to accept it. Everything needs to be loved and accepted, including our illness and pain. The best way is to make friends with the pain. Fighting intensifies it. If we can relax into it for a little while and explore it, many possibilities arise. When we let go, and allow ourselves to speak to the pain, and to listen to what it has to say, incredible changes can happen.
To do this, we simply close our eyes, stop fighting, and ask our pain what it is saying to us, what does it need from us right now? Then we become very quiet and listen deeply. An answer may not come right away. Patience is needed. This attitude is called making friends with the pain. Answers come in different ways. Some hear answers within. Others see images, some have dreams. We learn to be open to all that comes and, in this openness, we learn. As we do this process over and over, fear diminishes and we begin to hear.
For example, if we are sad for too long and have not done enough crying, our bodies may begin to cry for us through the illness we are going through. If we feel that life is meaningless, our bodies can start to express this by shriveling up and dying. If we have held onto difficult attitudes, our bodies will bear the burden of them. Persistent negative attitudes become wounds upon our entire selves.
We must look at the basic attitudes we live with and ask ourselves if they are conducive to our health, or do they contain the very seeds of pain?
Some live with deep fear. They believe life is full of defeat. Other do not allow themselves too much beauty or pleasure. They drive themselves relentlessly. Is it any wonder they become ill?
In order to heal from within, it is essential to handle these long-standing patterns, to change them to attitudes and patterns that are productive of well-being. Health comes with learning to say “yes” to all of our experience, in being willing to experience it just as it is. Wellness emerges out of the balance and harmony of all parts of ourselves.
When we are well, we feel whole, accepting and in harmony with ourselves and the entire world we live in. Like a freshwater stream flowing, this state of being brings continual refreshment and healing day by day.
Dr. Brenda Shoshanna, psychologist and workshop leader, is the author of Jewish Dharma (A Guide to the Practice of Judaism and Zen), Perseus Books, and the ways in which it can heal your life. In practice in Manhattan, she has offered over 500 workshops on all aspects of personal and spiritual growth and developing authentic peace of mind. An award-winning author, some of her other books include The Anger Diet, (30 Days to Stress Free Living), Zen and the Art of Falling in Love and many others. www.jewishdharma.com. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org, (212) 288-0028.