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Introduction: How We Heal

Excerpt from "Free to Love, Free to Heal"

by David Simon, MD


Love has no opposite. Love has no conflict. - J. Krishnamurti

In my role as a "mind-body" physician, I hear many heart-rending tales. Over the three decades I’ve been practicing medicine, I’ve come to see a person’s migraines, fatigue, digestive distress, or back pain as a kind of admission pass that entitles the bearer to a few moments of a doctor’s attention. After listening to people’s problems for so many years, I’ve learned that when I can create enough safety for the sufferer, an underlying story – a story that at its heart is about giving or receiving love – will be revealed to me. And if I as a doctor can coax the hidden meaning of the illness into the open, then healing can begin.

As you may have guessed, seeking the emotional roots of a patient’s illness is not something I picked up in medical school. On the contrary, my conventional medical training taught me that my responsibility is to relieve symptoms: Prescribe a pain reliever to subdue a headache; add an acid blocker to extinguish heartburn; sprinkle on a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor to alleviate depression. In this era of managed care, in which one out of four doctor visits lasts less than ten minutes, providing symptomatic relief for a person’s distress is a practical and worthy endeavor. An anti-anxiety medicine may not get to the root of your problem, but it will help you feel less stressed during the day. An anti-inflammatory drug may not address the core issues underlying your chronic pain, but it should enable you to do housework with a little less discomfort. And if you develop indigestion as a result of your daily doses of pain medicine, a potent antacid will soothe your stomach. There is indisputable value in lessening the symptoms of distress, and it is not my intention to disparage any approach that relieves the suffering of humanity.

Still, long before beginning medical school I sensed that illness presents a deeper opportunity for healing and transformation, which we miss when we focus on symptom relief. Like a young child, the body communicates its needs in a relatively simple and straightforward manner. Whether it wants nourishment, affection, new experiences, time to rest, or a chance to release toxins, your body generates sensations to get attention. When you listen to these signals and address the basic needs they represent, your body responds by producing chemicals of comfort. When you fail to heed your body’s message, its calls become louder. If despite its best efforts, your body is unable to get your attention, it may stop talking for a while, but when next heard from, it will not be ignored.

Hearing Your Story

Most of us have a story underlying why we become ill. In the businessman’s mind, his heart attack is the result of relentless job stress that offers overwhelming pressure but little appreciation at work and at home. To the recently divorced woman, her irritable bowel syndrome is the culmination of years of unwillingness to listen to her gut feelings and leave an abusive relationship. The adult child of an alcoholic parent senses that her chronic weight problem somehow protects her against the pain of early emotional abuse

Our reductionistic medical science resists these connections. Heartburn results not from lack of appreciation, but from hydrochloric acid molecules leaking into the esophagus. High blood pressure is caused by excessive amounts of circulating angiotensin molecules, not a turbulent marriage. Your insomnia has little to do with the early childhood experience of your parents arguing after you went to bed; rather, it reflects a deficiency of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. Your depression is explainable by a lack of serotonin, so there is no need to explore whether your relationships are nurturing or if you’re fulfilling your true life purpose. Though in each case the symptom has its roots in an underlying story about the inability to give or receive love, in conventional medicine we continue to ignore the love story that longs to be revealed.

People as Molecules

It took me most of my years in medical school to grasp the mind-set that drives our conventional approach to physical and emotional distress. The biological sciences teach us that people are biochemical bags. If you accept this basic assumption, it logically follows that the best treatment for most disorders is a pharmaceutical.

Drugs are effective. With them, I can (at least for a while) put you to sleep, wake you up, slow or accelerate the movement of food through your digestive tract, raise or lower your blood pressure, and numb your pain. The downside, of course, is that if a medication is effective, you are not required to examine your life or change the way you live. And yet it is in these self-examinations and positive life changes that the key to healing lies.

Your Body Is Trying to Tell You Something

We often miss the signal our body is sending until we suffer. After an argument with your spouse, you wolf down several slices of leftover pepperoni pizza right before bed. You awaken an hour later with terrible heartburn, but within fifteen minutes of chewing a couple of antacid tablets, your indigestion subsides. What have you learned? Although your body (and soul) might like you to consider how your emotional anguish translates into digestive distress, the only lesson you may have learned was to take your medicine before going to bed.

Since the discovery of penicillin in 1928, conventional medicine has been driven in a noble quest to find a silver bullet for every ailment. The pursuit of cures for cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease drives our medical research community, and we’ve witnessed important advances in our ability to alleviate suffering. Still, our power to solve the most pervasive health problems facing our society remains limited at best. If there were pills that could cure anxiety, alcoholism, obesity, or irritable bowel syndrome without significant side effects, there would be little reason not to take them. Sadly, there are few conditions causing human suffering that have surrendered to our "pill for every ill" approach. In the vast majority of cases, medicines lessen, but do not eliminate, symptoms – and they often carry side effects that are as distressing, and at times as dangerous, as the illnesses for which they are prescribed.

An Alternative Alternative

So, what is the alternative? The word alternative still carries a lot of emotional charge for many in the healthcare field. From the perspective of conventional allopathic doctors, "alternative" implies unproven interventions that keep people from accepting effective care. For non-conventional health practitioners, alternative refers to individualized therapies that relieve "dis-ease," even if they have not been subjected to rigorous scientific scrutiny.

I have a different perspective. Although I embrace any approach that can provide relief to your body or mind, I’m wary of interventions that place the power in the hands of the healthcare practitioner, whether it be a medical doctor, chiropractor, or herbalist. I’m pleased when an acupuncture treatment, homeopathic remedy, or nutritional supplement eases someone’s functional bowel disorder or headaches; yet, I wonder how long the reprieve can last if awareness and healing of the underlying mind-body turbulence do not accompany the relief – if the story or "biography" beneath the biology is not addressed. If a person does not learn to heal the deeper wound impeding their ability to give and receive love, another expression of the underlying story will emerge.

When a doctor "fixes" someone without exploring the context of the illness, the symptoms may abate but the unmet needs will persist, and the person’s mental, emotional, and physical health will remain vulnerable. A migraine sufferer’s headaches may be less intense with medication, but her insomnia becomes more troublesome. The pain relievers prescribed to reduce a lawyer’s backache lead to an escalation of his digestive complaints. Pharmacologically suppressing a stay-at-home mom’s anxiety shifts her focus to chronic fatigue. The body is trying to tell us something, but rather than hearing the message, conventional medicine’s tendency is to use drugs as more effective sound barriers.

Keep the Baby, Learn Why It’s Crying

There are, of course, times of crisis when appropriate medical interventions are necessary and lifesaving. If you fracture your arm in an automobile accident, you need a good orthopedic surgeon. If you develop bacterial bronchitis, you will most likely require antibiotics. If you develop a rapid heart rate, promptly get to the nearest emergency room to be evaluated by a cardiologist.

But even with accidents, infections, and arrhythmias there is almost always a love story waiting in the wings. Perhaps you were having a heated argument with your partner on your cell phone and ran a stop sign, prompting the collision that resulted in your bone injury. Maybe your bronchitis developed because you had secretly started smoking again after your most recent relationship dissolved. Perhaps your heart palpitations were triggered by the extra caffeine you’ve been consuming to override your exhaustion from staying awake at night wondering if you should remain in your marriage. Emotional pain binds our hearts and makes us sick. To regain genuine health, we must be free to love.

Responsibility, Not Blame

There is rarely a simple explanation for physical or emotional illness, and looking for the deeper story – the illness’s subtext, if you will – does not mean assigning blame when your body becomes ill or your mind becomes distressed. Pursuing the answer to why people become ill is only of value if it leads to more productive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The last thing a suffering person needs is the additional burden of thinking that they caused their illness or could have prevented it if they had made other choices. Responsibility and blame are not the same. One uplifts and empowers, the other weakens and depletes.

A close friend of mine recently discovered that her cancer had recurred after being in remission for several years. Her first question to me was, "What did I do to bring this back?" Knowing her enthusiasm for life, her love for friends and family, and her overall healthy lifestyle, I could not support her self-flogging over being too ambitious or trying to manage too many projects. Even if it were true (which I do not believe), this type of inner dialogue is unproductive – it does nothing to improve the situation.

The essence of responsibility is recognizing that regardless of what has happened up until now, we are capable of making new choices that can improve our situation moving forward. We always have the ability to respond in creative ways that allow for something new to emerge.

Each week at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, I see guests struggling with challenges that at times seem overwhelming. Serious physical or emotional issues are exhausting, but when people are willing to look at the story behind their illness (which ultimately is a story they have been telling to themselves), do the work of releasing the toxic emotions they’ve been carrying, and begin thinking and doing things differently, healing and transformation occur.

I have led thousands of people along this path to identifying and releasing feelings and beliefs that are not serving them. Having supervised people individually and in group settings, I know there is tremendous value in having an ally on your journey to emotional freedom. Still, because even in a group, individuals are on a journey of self-discovery, I believe it is possible to do this work on your own. Although finding a good counselor or life coach who approaches life from a holistic framework can be immeasurably helpful, doing this work with a trusted and devoted partner or friend can be similarly powerful. Free to Love, Free to Heal workshops may also be available in your community.

Throughout this book, I will provide safe guidelines designed to maximize the benefits of this process with minimal risk. You may feel some temporary emotional discomfort as previously concealed toxic beliefs and memories rise to your conscious awareness in preparation for being released. Make the commitment to follow this course of action through to its healing conclusion, and you will experience the exhilaration that comes from expanding the lightness of your being. Now, let’s get started plotting our path to freedom.

 

Excerpted from Free to Love, Free to Heal by David Simon, M.D.

Copyright © 2009 by David Simon. Published by The Chopra Center Press.
All rights reserved.

Free to Love, Free To Heal (ISBN 987-0-9819640-0-3) $22.95

Can be purchased at: All major bookstores, Borders, Barnes & Nobles, Amazon.com, www.freetolove.com

David Simon, M.D. is a world-renowned authority in the field of mind-body medicine. As a practicing physician, innovative researcher, and insightful teacher, David continues to expand his vision for an effective and compassionate healthcare system. More than three decades ago as an anthropology student exploring humanity’s earliest communities and cultures, he was drawn to the understanding that the role of the doctor was much more than a disease technician; a true healer had to be a diagnostician, medicine man, psychotherapist, and priest – an expert navigator of the mind and spirit as well as the physical body.

Integrating ancient wisdom healing traditions with modern scientific principles, David has forged a model of health that integrates the multiple dimensions of a human being – environmental, physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. As a board-certified neurologist and expert in Ayurvedic medicine and other traditional healing arts, he brings a unique perspective to the relationship between mind, emotions, and health.

In 1996, David co-founded and assumed the role of medical director of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, where he continues to serve as the driving force in developing and leading the Center’s programs and seminars in mind-body medicine, emotional healing, and spirituality. Recognized as a leading authority in the effective and appropriate use of mind-body medicine practices, his endeavors have resulted in the training of thousands of physicians, nurses, and health care providers. One of the first recipients of a National Institutes of Health grant to study mind-body medical approaches to improving health care, David continues to bring integrated mind-body medical programs to medical institutions, health centers, educational institutions, and health resorts throughout the world.

David is a popular author of wellness books, including Vital Energy; Return To Wholeness; The Wisdom of Healing; The Ten Commitments; and Free to Love, Free to Heal. He has co-authored numerous other books with visionary Deepak Chopra, including The Chopra Center Herbal Guide; Grow Younger, Live Longer; and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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