Healing and Curing: What is Medicine?
The Purpose of Medicine
The purpose of Medicine is to alleviate suffering and to honor life and death.
All human societies have created, adopted, and adapted systems of medicine to this end, in order that we might be healed and our diseases might be cured. In our striving to heal and to cure, we have ingeniously come up with a rich kaleidoscope of different kinds of medicine. Each of these medicines involves healing and curing to various degrees.
What is the Difference Between Healing and Curing?
While there may be overlap, healing and curing are not exactly the same. Diseases are cured but people are healed. A disease is something we define as being outside of our personal identity; we may have a disease, but that does not mean that we are a disease. A disease is forever external, even while living inside us. Disease is often the unwelcome guest whom we insist on inviting to our party. And we do so knowing that he is someone who can cause all kinds of mischief.
A disease is defined differently than the person who has the disease, so we treat them differently. We can cure a disease or a condition, but we cannot cure a person; a person can only be healed. When we heal a person, we heal their spirit, their heart, their relationships, or their body.
So, while curing and healing are different, both can impact mind and body. Curing is deductive, linear and physiological. Curing is best defined by science, as science best defines disease. Healing is inductive, non-linear and psycho-spiritual. Healing is best defined by spirit, as spirit best defines health. But they are not mutually exclusive; we can still heal without curing or cure without healing. Ideally, we are engaged in both.
Divination as Medicine
Because curing is different than healing, and healing is crucial, medicine need not limit itself to only addressing issues of physical health. We heal in many different ways. Medicine can and must address a much deeper and more profound calling than just the alleviation of physical symptoms and labeled syndromes. Our humanity carries an emotional and existential malaise that can bring tremendous suffering, and medicine must address this. Throughout history many unusual medicines have been created to alleviate this suffering, with varying degrees of success. These ingenious forms of medicine have been created to help us integrate our fractured selves.
While not normally thought of as medicines, I list the following as unconventional modalities we might embrace if we are going to expand our ideas of what constitutes medicine and healing. Many of these are systems of divination that categorize and organize human personalities and experiences in order to create insight into the nature of suffering. They function much like the Rorschach inkblot tests used by psychiatrists.
Divination practices are, for all practical purposes, maps of the psyche. They are gems that reflect the facets and nuances of our human experience and consciousness. Their unique perspectives reflect us back to ourselves, allowing us to ponder our lives and dilemmas and brainstorm solutions from a variety of different vantage points. These are things like astrology, tarot, enneagram, psychoanalysis, mythology, I Ching, neurolinguistic programming, etcetera.
These modalities create food for our unconscious mind and spark our imagination. They help us navigate and integrate “shadow”: the parts of ourselves that we deny, avoid, or repress.
Much of our thinking comes from these shadow parts of our mind. This same thinking profoundly impacts our physical health directly by generating hormones and neurotransmitters that can alter our immune system. Our thinking also affects our behavior, whether we eat good food and exercise, for example
A Rich Diversity of Medicines
As well as systems of divination, we are also fortunate to have a myriad of more “conventional” medicines to choose from … a rich and varied tool chest.
* Scientific medicine measures and battles disease.
* Natural medicine measures health and strengthens the body’s natural processes.
* Chinese medicine aligns the patient with their Destiny (Ming).
* Hawaiian medicine connects a person with their ancestors, hence returning them to the place of Creation (Pö).
* Tibetan medicine resolves Karma.
Each medicine treats what it perceives as the root of the problem. But, as different as they may be, all of these medicines have one thing in common; when they are practiced well both the patient and the practitioner will benefit from their experience of that medicine. With varying degrees of success, each of these medicines will move the patient and practitioner toward their own integration. This integration may involve healing, curing, or both.
Medicine as Dogma
While each medicine has specific strengths and weaknesses, none has a monopoly on truth. The faithful in each medicine will say, “Those other medicines treat mere symptoms, but only our medicine treats the root of the problem.”
That is like saying that only a hammer is a significant tool for building a house and that a drill is not important. Each medicine has its own form of genius, but the universe and our humanity are bigger than any method of healing can embrace. Every perspective has a blind spot. And because every medicine uses tools that arise from its particular perspective, it also has a blind spot.
Looking Into the Mirror
Just as every medicine has a blind spot, so does every patient … and every practitioner.
As practitioners we should hold up a mirror so that our patients can see their blind spots. We must also face the mirrors that our patients unwittingly hold up for us. As practitioners we are not only seeking the integration of our patients, but also our own integration. We cannot treat our patients effectively without doing our own inner work and facing our shadow. This is one of the great gifts and challenges of practicing medicine.
When we place ourselves between our patients and their potential, we become the conduits through which healing (and integration) is facilitated. This process is not necessarily personal, nor does it always reflect our level of skill. In positioning ourselves as practitioners we align with powerful ancient archetypes and become the conduits of healing, not the generators of it.
All Medicine Answers to Nature
Integration is the strengthening and harmonizing of systems. When we integrate we are harmonizing natural systems within our body and also harmonizing those systems with the outside world. When we are internally integrated and externally synchronous our lives and our health take on new meaning. When the internal and external interact seamlessly, the possibilities of both healing and curing are potentiated.
Our process of integration is, at its source, derived from the natural world… there is no other place from which it can emerge. So the root of our medicines, whether pharmaceutical, scientific, biochemical, herbal, structural, psychological, spiritual, or shamanic, reside in Nature.
Ultimately all of our medicines emerge from, and are accountable to, the Earth. At the end of the day, all medicine answers to Nature.