by Neil F. Neimark, MD
Within each one of us there lies a “healing system” capable of fighting off disease, combating infection and bringing us greater energy, vitality, and well-being. In any medical text we can read about the “digestive system,” the “circulatory system,” or the “nervous system,” but nowhere can we find a chapter on the “healing system.” Yet it is this very “healing system” which allows all our other “systems” to function with brilliant precision. Our healing system is the organizing force through which all our body systems function with a deep intelligence and miraculous sense of balance and wholeness.
Bernie Siegel, MD, the famous Yale surgeon and author, speaks of this healing system eloquently when he says, “As a surgeon, I cut into the body and I rely on it to heal. I don’t have to yell into the wound and tell it how to heal.” The body, in its own infinite wisdom, knows how to heal. The healing system lies within us. Our body has its own natural ability to heal. Though in certain situations, surgery or drugs may be life saving, it is our internal healing system which allows ultimate life.
We all know of patients who have lost the “will to live.” No matter how valiant the efforts of medical experts, how advanced the technologies, how genuine the prayers of friends and relatives, these patients will continue on a downhill course, until and unless they find within themselves some sense of meaning with which to embrace life and connect to something greater than themselves, something greater than their sense of illness or despair. It is this “will to live,” to prosper, to grow, to contribute, to engage life with passionate involvement, which most directly contributes to the overall health of our “healing system.”
Norman Cousins, the great author and humanitarian, says that “the highest exercise of a physician’s skill is to prescribe not just out of a little black bag, but out of his or her knowledge of the human healing system.” It is this knowledge of the healing system that distinguishes the technician from the healer. We recognize the doctor as “healer” by what we call “good bedside manner,” “compassion,” or “empathy.” It is in fact these qualities in the physician that reflect his or her intuitive understanding that each patient is an utterly unique individual, whose ultimate health and well-being depends upon their unique lifestyle choices, belief system and sense of purpose in life.
Cousins goes on to say, “The doctor has a role beyond the prescription pad to invoke the patient’s own bodily resources” for healing, the patient’s own healing system.
“Healing” comes from the root word “whole,” to be one. In searching out our own individual path for health and healing, we will inevitably embark on a journey that leads us into our own sense of wholeness, uniqueness and self-discovery. It is important to understand that no two patients are alike. In fact, two patients with the “same” diagnosis of migraine headaches will, in most cases, require two completely different treatments, based on their own unique stresses, genetic background and lifestyle choices. So, in reality, two “cases” of migraine are two different diseases. Healing, in its essence, is an adventure in self-discovery.
New Realities: New Capacities
One of the greatest discoveries of the human potential movement is that as new realities are demonstrated, new capacities come into being. How many of you remember Roger Bannister? He was an Oxford medical student who was the first person to run the mile in under four minutes. He broke the “four-minute barrier.” Until that time, it was believed that no human could break that barrier. No such reality was ever demonstrated. Now the most fascinating part of the story is that within 46 days of Bannister’s breakthrough, John Landing broke the four-minute mile. And now, at this time, literally thousands of runners have broken the four-minute barrier. So we see that as new realities are demonstrated, new capacities come into being.
The challenge for all of us is to open ourselves to the “new realities” that have been demonstrated through recent advances in mind/body medicine and psychoneuro-immunology. These new medical disciplines are beginning to detail the many ways in which our thoughts, our feelings, our psychological and spiritual beliefs affect our physical health. By recognizing these “new realities” of what is possible, we can begin to develop “new capacities” for health, healing and greater well-being. These new capacities can help us access our own healing systems.
In ending, I want to relate a story that Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, a physician and healer in northern California, tells. This is the story of the acorn. For one moment, imagine an acorn trying to make sense of itself, trying to understand itself, by describing itself. It might say, “I’m about 1 inch long, flat on one side, pointed on the other, brown in color, hard to the touch, etc. etc.” But this description fails to capture the true essence of the acorn. “It’s important to realize,” Dr. Remen says, “that an acorn cannot make sense of itself without knowing about the oak tree and without knowing that deep inside of itself, there is a mechanism waiting to unfold which knows exactly how to become that fullness of expression” of the oak tree. She says, “There is an impulse, a yearning in each one of us, towards our own wholeness,” our own fullness of expression. It is this impulse, this yearning towards our own wholeness, which leads us into the healing process.
We can access our healing system, and begin the adventure into self-discovery and wholeness, allowing us to fully realize our capacities for health, healing and a sense of well-being.
Neil F. Neimark, MD, is a board certified family practitioner with a family practice in Irvine, California. He is the author of Less Stress Surgery: A Guided Imagery Relaxation Tape, Contacting Your Inner Healer: A Guided Imagery Exercise and his latest book and audiotape: The Healing Power of Attitudes & Beliefs: A Journey Towards Self-Discovery. This article is excerpted from his newsletter Mind & Body: The Newsletter for Health and Healing. His books and tapes are available through his website. He specializes in the mind/body connection and he offers a free monthly newsletter on his website: www.mindbodymed.com
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