Greek physician treating a patient's arm
A man was suddenly struck by a crippling disease. In a matter of only a few days, he was reduced from a normal condition to a situation where he could hardly move his limbs, and his jaws were nearly locked. In the words of the patient himself, "the bones in my spine and practically every joint in my body felt as though it had been run over by a truck". Doctors in the hospital gave him maximum doses of aspirin [26 a day] and phenylbutazone [12 a day] plus some more medicines. As a result, as he said later, he developed hives all over his body and felt as if his skin were being chewed up by millions of red ants. This man, in such a terrible and hopeless situation, was lucky to find a good and trustworthy doctor who told him the truth when he asked for it: his chances of recovery were about one in five hundred! Upon hearing this, he decided to take his treatment in his own hands, whatever the pain, whatever the risks. His deep intuition was that the self-healing powers of his body were given no chances to work under heavy medication. He there fore decided to get himself discharged from the hospital, much to the amazement of all the specialists concerned. He rented a room in a good hotel to continue the fight against his illness by his own chosen methods and finally cured himself.
This man's name was Norman Cousins. He became quite well known afterwards through the book he wrote to tell the story of his self cure under the title Anatomy of an Illness. This book made a profound
impact. To many, it was the discovery that illnesses and treatments are not to be left to doctors only: healing is a complex process where the so called "patient" must participate as consciously as possible. Ultimately, it is the patient's body that has to respond to treatment and cure itself: medicines are only props trying to reestablish the proper functioning of the body. Nothing can replace the patient's will to recover and his own intimate perceptions of what is going on in his body. But the fact is that there is a great risk of depersonalisation in most hospitals where patients are often treated as bodies with little care for their individuality. Many hospitals tend to become like "body-processors", healing factories where individuals easily feel lost.
But it is not only the pressure of modern life which provokes a tendency towards depersonalisation in hospitals; the manner in which the body is usually perceived may also be responsible for patients being treated like chattels. From the beginning of what is called modern medicine, there has been a tendency to consider the body as a machine. Organs, bones, nerves, flesh, skin, muscles and the rest are generally seen as parts with which is built the "marvellous machine": an object which is expected to deteriorate and disfunction now and then, ultimately leading to death. It is seen as an object to be manipulated with caution, with the application of technical knowledge of its components by who act like engineers of the body-machine. Specialization comes naturally since the body is complex and intricate: just as with cars, where there are specialised engineers for motors, suspension, lighting, etc.... The negative counterpart to the longer life expectancy provided by the above mentioned expertise, however, is the dependency on, indeed, addiction to, more and more medicines. Thus, and it is not really surprising, it has become an onerous habit, particularly in developed countries — but it is spreading fast everywhere, — to treat symptoms with medicines and eventual side-effects of these medicines with ever more medicines!
A widespread dissatisfaction with modern medicine, despite its undeniable triumphs, has resulted in the advent of a large number of new approaches to health as well as a renewed interest in old, time tested systems. The Holistic movement in health has brought back the primacy of the person in the healing process and the overarching importance of the relation between the therapist and the patient. Different systems of medicine, like homeopathy, which have been often
treated with mistrust or even faced with obstruction by the official medical authorities enjoy a much larger acceptance today. In the eyes of more and more people, the fact that homeopathy treats illness with only minute amounts of medicine is a guarantee against the risk of poisoning the body in allopathic treatment. Ayurvedic medicine, the timeless traditional medicine of India, holistic much before the word was coined, is evoking a growing interest beyond its usual clientele. Unfortunately however, there are also — with ever more people desperately seeking some kind of superhealth or elixir of youth, — numerous faddist theories or methods which can be eventually dangerous. Health books are sprouting everywhere at an exponential rate. Magazines and reviews are giving more and more space to health stories. Healing and health have become obsessions, are much talked about, but, unfortunately, not better understood.
Maybe healing is more an art than a science. Like in any art, the mastery of techniques is important, but the essence of healing transcends techniques or scientific knowledge: each individual to be healed is a vastly different person from the next in respect of his or her physiological and psychological make-up. Symptoms may be similar but a cure may work in one case but not with the other. Psychological needs are very different according to personalities. Some people need to be told the truth about their condition, which will be too heavy a burden for others. The true healer is one who knows intuitively both the medicine and the method appropriate to the case so as to evoke the self healing powers of the body. The efficient healer is one who creates the confidence in his/her patient that he/she can indeed recover, even when the outcome is uncertain. Indeed, healing is a very complex art: it is the result of the combination of accurate knowledge, precise techniques and the subtle psychological handling of patients. A good healer is truly an artist.
When people are asked what they consider most important in life, a majority put "good health" first. And it is quite understandable as, after all, health is the condition which is basic ,to all aspects of life. Interestingly enough, although it is so important, health is not easily defined. It may be because health is the sum and combination of many factors and also, beyond the objective criteria, very much dependent on subjective perceptions. Hypochondriacs are well known to feel them selves in bad health or, at least, in much worse condition than they
really are. Mind appears to have extraordinary powers on the state of an individual's health and, as too many human minds are ordinarily cluttered with worries, fears, greed and other rather depressing feelings, it may not be very surprising that real, vigorous, exuberant health is perceived as a rarely attainable ideal. It is probably not by chance that, on average, scholars or monks who have led a very quiet life tend to reach a very ripe age; quietude, moderation and higher preoccupations in life appear to be a good prescription for long life and good health.' Good health could be seen as an artistic product much in the same way as we can call a good healer an artist.
As a demonstration of the power of mind in the healing process, we have included a very striking story of a British admiral successfully fighting a very bad case of arthritis in the hips by visualization and concentration only. His life was not threatened, as in the case of Norman Cousins, but still, according to specialists, there was little chance of his escaping the wheel chair at the end. After this rather grim prognosis, our admiral embarks upon quite a special programme of ordering about and around those undisciplined elements in his body that needed redress. — And it worked! An inoperable case was being operated upon by the mind scalpel. Within a comparatively short time, a remarkable cure was achieved, which no surgeon or medicine could have done. Also no less remarkable is the general tone of modesty with which the story is told by Admiral Whitlock in his book Mind Your Body. He is convinced that anyone can do what he did, and this is his main reason for speaking out. He may be right, in fact, but, unfortunately, modern medicine is so organized that it hardly leaves a chance to such methods to find their places. The potent and generally morbid fear around illnesses deprives patients of the kind of self-possession which is needed to try out such different healing methods.
Healing is an absolutely vast theme and a large number of books have been written on this subject. As our purpose is not to deal with any subject in the systematic manner of a textbook but rather to bring to the notice of the reader a sense of striking awareness, mystery and wonder, we have selected a few excerpts from the two above mentioned stories.
One may feel, upon reading a few excerpts of their stories, that Norman Cousins and Admiral Whitlock are exceptional personalities and that this is the basic reason for their success in their unconventional
healing methods. There might be some truth in such feeling, but the fact remains that they very materially cured themselves. It demonstrates the possibility of such cures and the primacy of consciousness, determination and voluntary optimism over medicines. It proves the central importance for any cure of preserving and enhancing the self-healing powers of the body. Their stories may be exceptional, but the insights brought by their achievements in the field of healing are most important to a proper understanding of what healing truly is.
Dhanvantari, the god of Ayurveda