What does it mean to be healthy? How do we define healing? What is the difference between the two?
The World Health Organization took the traditional definition of health — the absence of physical or psychological pain — one step further and said it is complete physical, mental and social well-being. Healing, meanwhile, literally means to make whole.
Much of modern medicine is focused on defining and alleviating symptoms in both the physical and emotional senses. We take drugs to make us feel better, but not to heal us. In a world that makes so many demands on our time, and requires our full focus, alleviating symptoms so we can still function is sometimes necessary, but if we want to heal what ails us, pharmaceuticals can’t do it.
It is easy to ask our healthcare providers to give us something that will help us continue to maintain our incredibly unbalanced and unhealthy lifestyles. High cholesterol medication so we can keep eating cheeseburgers, decongestants and cough medicine so we can work through our cold, and anti-depressants to help us appear and feel more “normal” as we go about life.
I am not knocking people who take this route. It is the simplest, most straightforward and least time consuming way to deal with illness, and most of us have never been taught that there is another way. The body, mind and spirit all have incredibly powerful self-healing mechanisms, but they require us to be in a relaxed state, and for many of us, that can seem like a luxury we just don’t have time for.
I work from home, have a completely flexible schedule most of the time, don’t have kids or a husband to distract me, have full mobility and rarely face any detrimental effects from cancer, and I still struggle with balancing my emotions, finding time to be physically active and putting my needs first. Bernie Siegel, M.D. said in his book Love, Medicine and Miracles that those of us who put everyone else’s needs ahead of our own are usually the ones who end up with cancer. I took that to heart, and I do a much better job of taking care of myself now than I used to.
The fight or flight response, which was developed to help us flee from wild animals in hunter-gatherer times, is now triggered on average 50 times a day by such common thoughts, beliefs and feelings as loneliness, pessimism, work stress, fear of the future, financial concerns, and relationship worries, according to Lissa Rankin, M.D. and author of Mind Over Medicine. We don’t have to actually BE in any danger. Just thinking that we may be someday can set off alarm bells in our nervous systems.
Back to what it means to heal — to make whole. If we want to be whole healthy human beings, we can look at illness (symptoms) as a signal that something is wrong, and we can choose to heal that something rather than masking it with alcohol or drugs (prescription or not). This takes a little more time, energy and focus. Louise Hay offers a great directory of common illnesses and their emotional roots in her book You Can Heal Your Life, but often the healing is as simple as taking better care of ourselves.
Sometimes the “cure” is forced upon us when we have no choice but to rest when we get sick or injured. What if we took more time for things we love regularly instead? Would we be less likely to get sick in the first place? Whether it’s a sick day, a vacation, more time with friends and family, yoga, time in nature, a good book or a massage, we need to know what triggers our own relaxation response and make those activities a priority.
As a three-time cancer survivor, I now look at my illness as an opportunity to examine the patterns in my life that may be at the root of my disease. In the past eight years since I was originally diagnosed, I have found many things to heal. It is gratifying to hear stories of people battling serious illness who heal the major relationships and negative patterns in their lives even if ultimately, they don’t survive. It is possible to find healing, even without total health.
There are also many stories of people who when diagnosed with a terminal illness quit their jobs or left their abusive marriages, started living the lives they wanted to live and suddenly got well. When we can heal the guilt, shame and unworthiness that may lie hidden under a outwardly happy countenance, the miraculous can happen — and not just in terms of whatever disease we are dealing with. Truly our lives can take on new purpose and meaning.
In my forthcoming book, I write about many single survivors who have found a way to serve others after dealing with their own illness. From mentoring programs, to outdoor adventures, educational efforts and writing or speaking about their own experiences. These incredible people have found healing through serving others.
Some people struggle with this concept, because if we truly can heal ourselves, and I haven’t been able to do it, does it mean that I am to blame for still being sick? Absolutely not! We are all doing the best that we can with the information we have available to us at the moment. As we learn more, we can do more. Transformation is a process. Beating ourselves up for wherever we happen to be now is counterproductive.
There is a delicate balance between being satisfied with and grateful for life today, and also seeking for a better tomorrow. Find that sweet spot and life can be magical!