If you lived in a traditional society and presented your tribal shaman with a case of cancer, arthritis, heart disease, snakebite or the breakup of a relationship, the shaman would address the immediate problem and then search for the deeper emotional or psychic disturbance that was causing your dilemma. In traditional societies, the healing process requires that the cause of the failure be addressed as well as the immediate difficulty. If only the presenting or symptomatic cause is addressed, the shaman knows the disturbance will either recur or manifest elsewhere in the person’s system. He or she knows that until the originating problem is resolved, the client will only get temporary relief.
Your blood pressure may be high, your cholesterol count may be off the charts, your joints may be stiff and your arteries may be weak, but to traditional healers, the heart disease, arthritis, stroke or cancer that can develop from these systemic problems, although regrettable, are natural progressions from unhealed psychic or emotional disturbances. Moving away from the purely physical, your personal relationships may be a mess and you may be having a difficult time fitting into the world, but just as with physical problems, unless you address the deeper causes to these difficulties, you only address the manifestation without attending to what is driving it.
Allow me to be clear: if an organ or a body system becomes dysfunctional, it is essential to intervene and bring the system to a more normal state, but in addressing the systemic failure, we must not be confused about this being healing, for it is not. It is restoration of the highest order, and it is vitally important!
Restoration usually entails adding something to the body such as drugs, or a physical intervention such as heart surgery or splints to a broken bone. This is extremely important work, but it does not address underlying cause. At this point one might be inclined to ask, “Well what about accidents? Don’t hearts sometimes just fail?” And the answer, in my belief, is, “No, they do not.” There are no accidents, no random events. Everything that happens here is providential. It is purposeful and intended.
In tribal belief systems, the body experiences problems because of an underlying emotional or psychic cause referred to as “soul loss.” Soul loss can occur as the result of a shock or trauma, but more typically it is the result of habitually refusing to listen to the guidance of the gods or spirits.
The misalignment of spiritual nature as the source of a person’s physical or emotional difficulties is a theme found frequently in the precepts of indigenous cultures. The Iroquois, for example, speak of disease as resulting from the conflict created when the soul’s needs are not met. They believe the soul becomes “resentful” when ignored and then creates difficulties for the individual. The soul’s perspective is, of course, God’s perspective. So to the Iroquois, disease is the result of turning away from the God Space.
The Mayans would agree. They see disease as the result of a disturbance to the relationship between people and the gods, created by an individual’s disharmonious behaviors and attitudes. Healing requires that individual make changes not only to their behaviors but also their beliefs.
Navaho medicine woman Annie Kahn describes illness as, “the habit of excluding,” which disturbs the natural harmony. She says, “To heal, one must . . . accept. This very act causes healing.” People who know nothing of shamanic practices often speak of feeling a hole in their spirit. If this separated part is not “retrieved,” the person is then vulnerable to emotional and physical problems.
We get romantic about tribal cultures holding these truths, without realizing that these beliefs were once a very important part of our own culture as well. When Christ healed the sick, it was through blessing and forgiveness, not through the manipulation of the body. When he put his hands on someone, it was “to reawaken,” to remind,” the tissues of the body of their normal state. He was rebalancing the natural order. In Christian theology, the Holy Spirit, the third and frequently neglected part of the Trinity, is described as the creative, healing and renewing presence of God. In shamanic practice, a disharmonious system must be brought back into a resonant state in order for it to heal.
Carl Jung wrote, “When the God is not acknowledged, egomania develops, and out of this mania comes sickness.” Once regarded as a “quaint” and “primitive” idea by Western intellectuals, some physicians are beginning to recognize and accept the wisdom of these ancient and time-tested concepts. Jean Achterberg, a professor of psychology and physical medicine writes, “It is becoming increasingly clear, that what the shamans refer to as soul loss – injury to the inviolate core which is the essence of a person’s being – does manifest as despair, immunological damage, cancer, and a host of other very serious disorders.”
So in summary, to heal you must address the deeper disturbance that created the surface manifestation. You must release the beliefs that drive it. In the shaman’s view, it is soul loss that leads to the creation of pain and physical and/or emotional disease. When we heal, we eliminate the things we have identified with which are “not us.”
Healing means finding your true self. It means striping away and releasing the contrary beliefs and attitudes that keep the real self, hidden. Healing does not involve adding anything to the system, whether that is pharmaceuticals or knowledge. Rather, healing is a process of releasing the beliefs, fear and anxieties that keep you out of the God Space. It is not about learning anything, taking drugs, surgery or acquiring some esoteric meditation or yoga technique.
HEALING MEANS LETTING GO
You cannot alter the aspects of yourself that are part of The Universal. This is a safety mechanism built into the process. But our fears and beliefs can and do present significant impediments to our holding that space.
This is not a small matter. Bringing our beliefs to the surface is messy and disruptive to the life structure we have created, no matter how dysfunctional it may be. Nisargadatta Maharaj said, “The search for reality is the most dangerous of all undertakings for it destroys the world in which you live.”
One of the biggest obstacles in counseling is getting a client to let go of the life structures she has created, no matter how dysfunctional they may be, in order to make room for new behaviors and attitudes. When people come for healing, it is because they are hurting and frustrated. If they felt their old way of doing things would still work, they wouldn’t be asking for help! The challenge is helping them feel safe enough to risk finding a different way of life.
In the moment, it is easier to avoid the inner child’s fears and pain and simply push through a challenging situation. And until you are ready, really ready, to give up your fears and limiting beliefs, they will interfere with your ability to be whole. What you need to do in concept is very simple. But you have to be ready to go there. You must really want it!
There is an old Chinese story about a famous healer who lived near the top of a mountain. He had a great gift, but the climb to reach him was difficult, especially for people with afflictions. Someone asked him once why he did not move lower so people who needed his healing could reach him more easily. His answer was most interesting. He said, “Those who really want to heal will get here.” His answer may seem callous, but there is a great deal of truth in what he said.
When a person comes for healing I know we are dealing with at least two personality parts. One part of them sincerely wants to heal or they would not be in my healing room, but the other part of them is afraid. Otherwise the client would have already healed herself and would not need help. The dilemma for the therapy process is that in order for someone to heal, she needs to confront pain she has been avoiding all these years. She must come to terms with the beliefs she holds about herself. So by asking her to address what she has been avoiding, the initial healing work actually stirs the pot and makes her feel worse than when she came in! Fortunately, this pain is short-lived, and after a little work, she begins to feel the powerful benefit of living from a new and healthier place.
Sometimes people come wanting a miracle in order to avoid dealing with the pain of having to change themselves, but it doesn’t work that way. That would be just about the worst thing that could happen for them.