A couple of years ago while hiking with my friend and colleague Dr. Lissa Rankin, she talked about her then forthcoming book, Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself, and how she could use my assistance designing and launching her Whole Health Medicine Institute.
The six steps to healing outlined in her book would become the core curriculum of the Institute – training doctors and health care providers in the mind’s relationship to the health of your body, and how modern day health care requires a radical reimagining of the doctor/patient relationship if we as a society hope to address the medical conditions plaguing the modern world.
I jumped immediately onto her shooting star; her book hit the New York Times Best Seller list, it is now a successful PBS program, and the Institute was launched.
In the new paradigm of healthcare, these two basic assumptions are being challenged:
- The mind and body are separate, and if you’re sick, you should just focus on your biology. A growing number of clinical research studies show that what you think can improve your health or make you sick. To treat physical illness, you must ask yourself what is going on for you mentally and emotionally.
- Patients should rely exclusively on the expertise of their physician and discount their intuition when it comes to treatment choices. Patients should participate as partners their healing, trusting their intuition while creating a healing roundtable of both knowledgeable health care providers and loved ones to assist the decision-making process.
Splitting the Mind/Body
So how did it happen? How did we disconnect the mind from the body? And what does this relationship have to do with healing medical illness?
Often social scientists point to a period during the 17th century when one man contributed his idea of a mind-body split in his theory affectionately referred to as the “Cartesian Split.”
Rene Decartes lived in the early 1600s. He was a French philosopher, mathematician, and writer who taught that the mind is a nonphysical substance. Descartes identified the mind with consciousness and self-awareness, and distinguished this from the brain as the seat of intelligence.
Hence, he was the first to formulate the mind–body problem in the form in which it exists today, meaning that Decartes “split” the mind from the body. Social scientists call this “dualism,” or things that are distinct from one another, not related.
He also ascribed psyche (the totality of the human mind, both conscious and unconscious) to the mind. The mind was seen as the seat of the soul, and it, too, was divested from the human body and the “embodied natural or material world” that we inhabit.
You needn’t look further than earth-based mother cultures for a stark comparison. These cultures are animistic, meaning there is no separation between the mind-soul and the physical (or material) world. The soul exists not only in humans, but also in all other animals, plants, rocks, geographic formations such as mountains or rivers, and the movements of nature like thunder or wind. The world itself is seen as ensouled. The planet and you are both consciousness in manifest form, vibrating atoms made up of stardust and light, all living things intertwined and interdependent upon one another. Because there is no separation between things, when you become physically ill, traditional healers treat the condition of your soul as well as its sickness taking shape as a physical ailment.
The Doctor / Patient Relationship
The psychology of the doctor-patient relationship is based on the concept of paternalism, that we have all been acculturated to believe that our doctors hold the absolute truth and knowledge, making them superior, “god-like.” The doctor holds power the patient does not. Healing then is external, located in the expertise of the physician and dislocated from the patient.
We are placing the responsibility for restoring our health solely onto our doctors, their knowledge, training, experience, and the prestigious place in our cultural hierarchy that we have given them. Why? In addition to the obvious, they do hold all the clinical expertise that we depend on, but there is more.
Doctors practice medicine at the intersection of life and death, an intersection most of us are terrified to face, so we also assign the belief that doctors are our “seers,” able to forecast and dialogue with the fates. Our fates. In fact, human disease was first seen as a “mystical illness” in which the gods were held responsible for causing sickness and death.
Not all gods made humans suffer; Apollo a god who taught humans the practice of medicine. In Greek mythology, he was known as the god of healing and prophecy and the god of light. He taught humankind medicine and he had power to unleash it or to stop it — the power of life and death. He was also extremely important as an oracular deity. His prophecies were channeled by the Delphi Oracle in 650 BCE that dominated Greece.
Another Greek, a human not a god, was a physician named Hippocrates who lived in the 5th century. He broke from paternalism and suggested that healing comes from within and must be stimulated, activated, or unblocked by therapeutic action to express itself. Healing comes from within (the patient), treatment from the outside (the doctor), and at best, treatment facilitates healing (the natural and powerful impulse of the human body to restore itself). Disease was not a punishment inflicted by the gods, but rather the product of environmental factors, diet, and living habits.
If you are suffering a medical condition right now, explore Lissa’s six steps to healing:
1. Believe You Can Heal Yourself
2. Find the Right Support
3. Listen to Your Body and Intuition
4. Diagnosis the Root Cause
5. Write a Prescription for Yourself
6. Surrender Attachments to Outcomes
By doing so, you are tapping into the animate universe that teaches a profoundly “relational” and “co-creative” response to your human suffering and symptoms of “disease” within the human body. By doing so, you restore not only yourself, but also a rich cultural legacy in which you live in direct relationship to that invisible force behind all this visible life.
In psyche and spirit,
P.S. If you are a physician or health care provider and would like to join us for the 2015 class of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, we are presently enrolling.
Lissa and I will be teaching in addition to our esteemed list 2015 guest teachers that includes: Love, Medicine & Miracles author Dr. Bernie Siegel, Kitchen Table Wisdom author Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, The Biology of Belief author Dr. Bruce Lipton, Outrageous Openness author Tosha Silver, and Healing Words author Dr. Larry Dossey, and Bruce Cryer, who spent 11 years at the helm of the HeartMath organization as its CEO.