Sunday, February 12, 2012
Illness and Healing
• How do we deal with illness?
• What’s illness?
• How can I prevent it?
• And if I can’t prevent it how do I transform the experience into something positive and helpful for me and others?
Carl Jung once said: “illness is the earth’s way to bring about healing.” When I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes more than 20 years ago I embarked on a journey; which brought me to learn about humanity, nature and the stars. At the beginning of this process I literally looked for a cure. I believed in alternative medicines and even believed in spontaneous healing. I read every book out there; which spoke of healing and met a good number of people who talked about self-discovery, the power of the mind and focusing on positive attitudes. There was only one thing that I didn’t expect: The Shaman perspective.
Henry Ward Beecher, a clergyman, social reformer and abolitionist of the 19th century once said: “Suffering is part of our divine idea.” Beecher was worshipped by thousands of people and Abraham Lincoln was often in the audience. I connected to Henry W. Beecher early on in my journey (between 1989 and 1994). I studied some of his lectures in University while I was finishing a minor in Religious Studies. What I liked about Beecher’s thoughts and perspectives was how he believed that “sinfulness was a kind of temporary illness.” If you could confront and survive your personal sins you could find healing. Something about his insights talked to me.
I was brought up to understand illness as some kind of misfortune. As I was growing up my mother was often sick. She spent a lot of time in bed and expressed physical suffering as well as strong emotional reactions to what she was living. I don’t recall anyone ever “naming” her illness or even attempting to explain to us kids what was going on. All I remember is how heavy the vibe was in the house. It seemed family relationships were always tainted with worry, fear, desperation and eventually hopelessness. It was only after I left home, got married and had children that I discovered my mother battled against anorexia and severe endometriosis. It took a lot of time before I was able to distance myself from this experience and realize that the way my mother chose to react to her life didn’t have to be the way I react to mine…
I understood illness at this point in my life (early 20’s) as a result of unresolved issues. Through watching different members of my family (grand-mother, aunts, uncles, mother, siblings etc…) it was clear that we carried ancestral burdens. We repeated all kinds of dysfunctional behaviours, dysfunctional attitudes, and dysfunctional thinking; which were handed down from grand-mother to mother to daughter. There was no consciousness behind our ways. The consensus was “it’s the way everyone acts or does things.” It was easy to feel helplessness through illness because there were no resources and no answers. There was literally no way out.
Recently, I gave a workshop where I invited women to gather together and explore their feminine. During the workshop we talked about weight issues and I bluntly asked everyone: “Where did the eating disorders actually start?” Stories about sexual, emotional and psychological abuse were openly shared. Yet in the end everyone agreed it wasn’t so much about the abuse as it was about finding ourselves alone and in pain without any kind of solution.
“Where was mom and dad?”
In a few stories, some of our inner children expressed mistrust towards parents and caregivers.
“They gave an opened door to many of our abusers.”
Consciousness would have gone a long way towards healing.
It’s one thing to survive; but it’s a whole other story to journey towards healing. We may have expectations towards healing; but what is it really?
Almost a decade ago I gave a conference to a group of First Nation people on a reserve in N.B. One of the participants expressed at some point during our circle that “illness was God’s way to punish people who were on the wrong path.” I remember feeling outraged with the comment. I shook my head aggressively as he spoke. In some way I reacted to his statement as if he had attacked me personally. I realized in that moment that my experience with illness stretched beyond me. I was living the “illness experience” – I knew, I had sacred knowledge, resources and consciousness suddenly that could give people a different perspective and possibly bring about healing. In the moment, I chose to take this man’s comment as another opportunity to continue to heal. He gave me a voice where I could say: “I’m sick and I’m walking the path of healing. Nothing about me and my experience is about punishment.”
I’ll admit in the beginning healing meant “cure.” It meant getting rid of illness all together; but after I tried pretty much everything and became frustrated with the fact that I couldn’t manifest for myself a life without illness, the Universe lead me to a Medicine man. It was my last resort. People told me that a vision quest, a sweat lodge or a shamanic journey would bless me with spontaneous healing.
“It worked for me!” said this woman who was cured of cancer.
It’s not like I didn’t have the faith or the will. I continuously worked on myself. I changed my life; adopted new attitudes; let go of detrimental behaviours; and most of all worked on my illusions, let go of old programs and focused on me rather than the world around me. I was ready when I met this Mic Mac elder. Whatever he would ask of me I was ready to do.
“Why are you sick?” he asked me as if it was the easiest question to answer.
“Because that’s all I’ve ever seen in my life and a part of me can’t help but mimic it,” I replied. He shook his head from side to side and told me to try again.
“Because I still need to clear some stuff out,” I announced quoting the books and the therapists. He shook his head again, side to side mouthing silently the word: “No.”
I shrugged a few times and came back with: “Because I’m not content?”
He laughed hysterically for a while until I started feeling humiliated. Noticing my discomfort he asked: “Do you find you are intense and take life a bit too seriously?”
It was my turn to laugh out loud. Just as I was about to reply I would giggle again until we were both laughing together, contagiously feeding one another.
“Yes!” I admitted, “I am someone who’s often intense and perhaps too deep at times.”
“No!” he commented “not too deep.”
The man played his drum for a while and smoke the pipe. I watched curiously and found the rituals beautiful, peaceful and calming. It felt nice to be in his presence and nourishing. He closed his eyes at some point and told me about a wolf who visited his dream space. He spoke kindly of the animal and lead me to understand how this wolf was one of my realities. He told me I “was not sick” and explained how “sickness” was about “a wrong that needed to be transformed into right.” Just as I was about to argue with the man in order to prove to him that I was indeed suffering from a chronic illness he said: “You’ve been chosen to walk a difficult path. You will always be ill; but you will never be sick. You will be a messenger, a modern social reformer – someone who inspires others to heal and to be healed.”
I sat with his words for years, growling at the fact that I would never receive what I so desperately sought: A cure. On the other hand, through the years I mellowed out so to speak and opened up to the notion that “illness is the earth’s way of triggering healing.” I started to observe illness as an expression of cosmology and nature. For example during many of my hospital visits I observed how the moon triggered particular diseases. For example certain months centered on kidney disease whereas others concentrated on cancer, the heart or nervous system illnesses… Illness like the tides followed the rhythm of the moon.
There are many different reasons why we are sick. I believe each reasons apply to different individuals. For example, I once met a man who was in prison and dying of lung cancer. A few weeks before he passed away he told me how he understood without a shroud of doubt that he had given himself a death sentence because he couldn’t forgive himself for killing a man. His guilt, shame and regret killed him.
After he passed away his doctor said to me: “Rehabilitation or healing comes in so many different forms.”
There is no doubt “illness is about a wrong that is seeking righteousness.” Each of us who journeys with illness will find different “wrongs” and different forms of righteousness. It takes humility, strength and faith to journey this Wheel and to take from it learning, healing and love. I’ve seen too many people fall in resentment, fear and panic, as well as anger and bitterness. I always remind people who are journeying with illness that the path of healing is not about how others react to us. It’s about how we react to our own story. Illness is meant to inspire us to go inside. Like I told the women at my workshop: “Don’t blame or resent the experience there’s no solution in that kind of behaviour. Look at your reactions towards the experience instead and let those reactions guide you towards the issue and towards the solutions. Arm yourself with sacred knowledge and resources. Be your best ally. Be medicine. It’s the only way to walk towards healing.”
P.S. Expect a few entries on the topic of "illness" and healing. I plan to bring your questions to the board. I thought this would be a good beginning.