One of the intriguing things about traditional healing is that its practice is remarkably similar no matter where you go. Traditional healers from different disciplines can often work together because after thousands of years of refinement they have independently distilled the healing process to its essential and most effective essence. Regardless of race, culture or geography, when it comes down to fear and anxiety, we really are, it turns out, all the same.
At the foundation of traditional healing is the shared belief that the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and environmental realms are all interconnected by a vital life force with a divine or spiritual origin. Called “chi” in the Orient, “prana” in India or “kan ku” by the Maya, this life force is found everywhere and in everything. In the belief of traditional peoples, this life force binds The Universe together into a great interconnected whole. Everything is connected to and has an impact upon, everything else.
Practitioners of traditional healing, called shaman, believe that the natural or harmonious flow of chi or prana plays a vital role in the health and well being of not only people, but of everything else too. Affect any part and you impact the whole – for good or for ill. Shaman know that the optimal health for anything – people, oceans, trees or mountains – only occurs when there is balance and harmony. They have also established that disease is the result of imbalance in the flow of chi. The shaman seeks to balance and maintain the flow of energies not only within the individual but between the individual and the rest of the Universe.
Western medicine accepts some aspects of the traditional philosophy, but it is primarily illness care not health care. Concepts like life force, prayer or ceremony fall outside the way science views the world, Western doctors and researchers have difficulty accepting these ideas. Some physicians dismiss traditional healing as mere superstition, an unfortunate error that unnecessarily prolongs the suffering of their patients.
While Western medicine’s interest is primarily on the function and repair of the body, the shaman’s essential focus is to bring the person’s spirit back into harmony. The shaman knows that the presenting problem or disease, while important and requiring treatment, is also the byproduct of deeper disharmony.
So, while addressing the presenting problem, the shaman will also concentrate on the the spiritual/psychological disharmony that caused it. The shaman will work with the beliefs and fears that pulled the individual off center in the first place.
The shaman will focus on the origins of the debilitating emotions – what shaman refer to as “soul loss” – from (usually childhood) trauma that created the beliefs that are driving the presenting difficulty. He or she will then work with the individual to become more at peace with the world and with whatever God or creator god or nature spirits the person believes in.
If you were to speak with the patients in the waiting room of a Western physician or in the surgical ward of a hospital, you will find people clinging to beliefs, doubts and fears that have kept them in a state of disharmony for years. So, according to traditional belief, although the people’s hearts may be at risk or their livers might be failing, these diseases are the result of a lifetime of emotions like anger, fear, depression or despair that have not been adequately addressed. This leads to the creation of significant stress, and Western doctors are just beginning to appreciate the devastating impact stress has over time on the body/mind/spirit.
Herbal remedies are a very important part of traditional practice, but these are used very differently than in Western medicine. In traditional healing the energy of the plant is brought into the process in a spiritual context. The shaman will have developed an intimate relationship with the plants.
Shaman talk with (as opposed to just talking to) plants. He or she will have literally slept with the plants, dreamed with them and asked to know them. This is a refined and faith-filled practice of meeting plant energy in a realm where the human psyche and the archetypal energy of the plant can connect.
The shaman will maintain an active dialogue with the plants to receive information about using them and to call upon the plant energy for its assistance in healing. In an interesting turnaround, some shaman are chosen by certain plants and the two then develop a very special working relationship. This connection can be of real benefit, especially in challenging situations.
Probably the most significant difference between traditional and Western healing practices is the role of prayer. There is a profoundly powerful energy available through prayer that connects the shaman with the immense restorative energies of The Universe. It is the most powerful resource a healer has. We are not talking about ordinary church prayer here, but a deeply meditative, almost trance like state where the physical and spiritual worlds join.
In the Mayan tradition, prayers are offered through ceremony to Junab K’uj (God’s Spirit) and to the Yuumtsiloób (gods) as a request for assistance to the healer in his or her work. Whether spoken in ceremony or in silent meditation, this kind of prayer opens a channel for healing and aids in bringing balance to the patient’s kan ku or life force. Mayan healers believe that prayer directs the healing energy where it is needed.
Many/(most?) Western doctors maintain intellectual distance from spirituality and dismiss prayer and ceremony as “superstition.” Although Western researchers do acknowledge “spontaneous” healing or “the placebo effect,” they insult the concept by premising that “nothing,” i.e. “placebo” is influencing the outcome. Yet, even without the benefit of ceremony, in trials for antidepressants for example, “placebo” does almost as well in treating depression as pharmaceuticals do.
Additionally, medical files are filled with millions of documented examples of “spontaneous” healing, and although most doctors will acknowledge the profound affect the intentionality of the patient has in healing, the medical profession steadfastly resists incorporating patient intentionality as a significant part of the treatment process. Similarly, although shaman are meticulous about the clarity of intention and their purpose, few Western doctors will accept that the attitude and belief of the physician play a significant role in the patient’s healing.
As just a simple example of the impact of even the simplest of prayers, I will point to the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto. If you are not familiar with Emoto’s work, he takes water and separates it into two batches. One batch has prayers said over it while the other batch remains unaffected. Dr. Emoto then makes ice crystals from each batch, and the difference in the two is simply stunning, speaking volumes to the impact of prayer, even simple prayer, on the physical universe:
This is an ice crystal made of water from the Fujiwara dam in Tokyo.
This is a crystal made from the same water after Buddhist prayers were said over it.
In the Mayan (and other) tradition(s), the blessing of water is of the utmost importance, especially to the Ix’men (female healers) because of the connection blessed water has with Ix-chel, the Mayan Moon Goddess of medicine.
We must remember that we are about three fourths water, and that every water molecule in our bodies (if not every molecule period) responds to our moods and emotions as we see from Dr. Emoto’s ice crystals.
Sadly we have not yet found a way to scientifically document the impact of prayer on solid objects and body tissue, but the empirical evidence of thousands of years of traditional healing practice is, in and of of itself, rather overwhelming.
There continue to be significant differences between Western and traditional healing practices, and it is my hope that someday the two disciplines will be brought together for the benefit of all of humankind. There is great truth and benefit in each approach. I remind my students that in China acupuncturists still do surgery when the situation requires it.
St. Theresa’s Prayer
May today there be peace within you.
May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities available to you.
May you use the gifts that you have received,
and pass on the love that has been given you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
May this presence settle into your bones,
and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2016