Our 15-year-old cat has had a long struggle with thyroid disease. At its worst, his thyroid hormone levels were about 9 times normal. We were able to somewhat control these through medication, but not quite. As a result he was frequently hungry, demanding, and anxious. Finally, this past spring we allowed the vet to treat him with radioactive iodine. The result was striking. He now sleeps 20 hours a day, walks with some stiffness, and eats considerably less. He seems an almost normal elderly cat. We now know that his most irritating character traits and behaviors were driven by physical illness.
Sometimes physical problems create emotional and cognitive challenges for us. In our overly psychological, self monitoring age, folks are likely to go into counseling to attempt to psychologically address biological issues. This strategy often fails. In Freud’s time, many illnesses were psychosomatic, reflecting the highly repressed and repressive structure of European society. Today, our psychosomatic illnesses are, for the most part, more mundane, yet the cultural belief in psychotherapy as a cure-all remains firmly in place. I believe counseling can certainly help us to manage physical illness, although it may not cure it.
We are, as a culture, over-focused on mind, on the power of positive thinking. Yes, optimism is a powerful healer. Yes, mind and body are inseparable. Yes, awakening the healer within opens new pathways to healing. Yet, we are also biological beings, evolved in a vastly intricate web of relatedness to all beings on the planet. As a culture we forget this, telling stories that alienate us from other kinds of animals and plants, other kinds of mind. These stories build boxes that trap us, limiting our sense of belonging and creating immense loneliness. One recurring story is that we will evolve to live a thousand years, or even become brains in mechanical bodies and live forever. These are dramatically alienating, disembodied narratives.
Curing happens when we are able to address the underlying causes of distress or illness. Healing begins when we remember to breathe, and in breathing begin to reconnect to ALL That Is. Healing is strengthened when we become grateful for our lives, remembering our place in the great web of being, and feeling gratitude for life and connection and for the myriad beings who make our lives possible. Sometimes we are granted one; sometimes the other. Occasionally we are blessed with both.
I like to imagine a time, hopefully not that far from now, when physical medicine, psychology, and spiritual medicine walk together to heal and cure. In the 35 years I have been a practicing healer that dream has at times seemed close, at other times quite far away. In our practice we strive to live the dream, to make a place where it can be nurtured and held dear. We encourage clients to attend to body, mind, and spirit, and to experience the embeddedness of Self in Creation. May we all awaken in the dream and remember that bodies are central to the journey.