Pioneering doctor Patch Adams used humor to help people to regain perspective. His story was made famous in the movie Patch Adams, where his character was played by Robin Williams. One of my favorite scenes is when Patch is in hospital himself and a fellow patient teaches Patch a lesson in perspective. The patient holds up Patch’s hand and asks how many fingers he sees.
Arthur; How many do you see?
Patch; There are four fingers, Arthur.
Arthur; No, no, no. Look at me. You’re focusing on the problem. If you focus on the problem, you can’t see the solution. Never focus on the problem. Look at me! How many do you see? Look beyond the fingers. How many do you see?
Arthur; Eight. Eight. Yes! Yes! Eight’s a good answer. Yes. See what no one else sees. See what everyone else chooses not to see out of fear and conformity and laziness.
Once he let his eyes lose their focus, he saw eight fingers. Or else maybe he was seeing Arthur’s four fingers as well. Either way, it led him to shift his perspective.
Wellness has so much to do with perspective, and this is where the mind interacts with the body. Perspective is shaped by beliefs, new knowledge and deeply lived experience. Part of this perspective is claiming responsibility for your wellness.
Your beliefs about the cause of illness likely reflect your beliefs about yourself and the way the world works. For example, if you think of sickness as weakness, you likely feel guilty when you get sick or maybe ashamed. If you see illness as an inconvenience, you likely don’t listen to your body when it’s warning you to slow down. If you think of illness as a punishment, you likely catastrophize sickness and feel powerless. It’s helpful to think about your beliefs around illness. If you treat yourself with compassion and patience, then you likely see sickness as a challenge but also an opportunity. While healing from sickness, your whole being is growing in the process. You are becoming stronger in every way.
What do you think causes illness? Your answer to this question likely reflects your attitude to wellness and healing. (read on for more about putting the mind and body back together)
The history of disease is an interesting one. In the ancient world, mind and body were one. Diseases were caused by supernatural forces, demon possession or as punishment for a sin or an ancestor’s sin. If the gods caused illness, the cure was also in the hands of the gods. If miraculous healing occurred, it was due to the favor of the gods.
Hippocrates, in 400BC, challenged the supernatural basis for disease with his perspective on the “humors” in the body. He said,
All human diseases arise from bile and phlegm; the bile and phlegm produce diseases when, inside the body, one of them becomes too moist, too dry, too hot, or too cold; they become this way from foods and drinks, from exertions and wounds, from smell, sound, sight, and venery, and from heat and cold.
The cause and cure for disease was generally seen as diet or climate related. The cure was to rebalance the “humors” through changed diet or lifestyle or purging the body of excess phlegm. Today we still emphasize these lifestyle factors, but we know so much more about disease.
It wasn’t until the 1500s that the idea of contagion caught on, so to speak. They wondered why people could contract diseases even when their “humors” seemed to be in balance. They still didn’t understand the role of bacteria, but they suggested that some disease arises spontaneously and some disease is passed on by contact. They effectively combined the idea of “humors” in the body with the new notion of contagion. Then in the 1800s Germ Theory and Louis Pasteur’s study of fermentation paved the way for a modern (natural) view of bacteria and disease. And it wasn’t until 1900 that a genetic understanding of disease was added to the mix. Between the 1500s and 1800s, science and religion were butting heads.
The role of religion was pervasive. Religion prohibited the dissection of bodies, which would eventually uncover new understandings of bacteria and disease, on the basis that it would harm the soul. By the 17th century this prevailing view was very much getting in the way of best scientific practices in analyzing the body.
17th century French philosopher, Descartes, solved this problem but created some new problems. He divided the body and soul, in what has become known as Cartesian Dualism. Descartes, picking up the ideas of Plato, said that the body is the physical reality and the soul is the pure realm of holy and eternal things. The advantage in Descartes’ view was that you could do anything with the body without negatively impacting the soul, opening the way to necessary research. The downside of Cartesian dualism was that it devalued the body, making it separate from and somehow less than the soul. Cartesian dualism is the basis for gender oppression, because women are associated with the body and men with the soul, and it devalues the earth because the earth is associated with the body and plants and animals (and women) don’t have souls.
Even today, both religion and the practice of medicine are limited by Cartesian Dualism to a certain extent. Religion still tends to devalue the body and sexuality. Medicine tends to see the body as a machine and treats isolated symptoms rather than treating the whole person. Maybe unconsciously Cartesian dualism seems to have survived in our modern minds, even though science has shown us that each of us is an integrated whole from the cell out.
It’s time to reclaim the ancient wisdom, now supported by science, that we are whole and integrated in body and mind from cell to skin, and top to toe. We can reclaim the unity that ancient cultures practiced without the fear and dread that so often comes with supernatural beliefs. We can live whole lives and include ALL aspects of who we are. We can take responsibility for our lifestyle and beliefs, and seek holistic and natural remedies to illness wherever possible.
The truth is that we know precisely what causes disease.
- Toxins from diet, air quality, and chemicals.
- Stress that weakens the immune system.
AND we know exactly what WE can do to prevent illness.
- Put into your body/mind things that you lack, whether its nutrients or beliefs.
- Remove things from your body/mind that are harmful, whether its toxic chemicals or toxic beliefs.
- Stop feeding your body/mind with harmful things, whether ideas or substances.
- Stop activities that burden your body/mind.
- Add activities that increase the body/mind’s capacity to thrive.
It’s all about perspective. Instead of looking to an external spiritual force to heal illness, see yourself as a whole person with untapped healing powers. As Patch Adams said,
You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.
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