Everyone in the healing professions understands this
strange paradox—that they don’t heal their patients. No
matter how clever, committed, or well-trained they are,
doctors, nurses, and therapists cannot impose healing
from the outside. At their best, they simply cocreate the
conditions within. Our mind-body system can then restore
itself to wholeness. We are largely self-regulating systems,
continually seeking to reset and restore the optimal
conditions of our natural design. The only thing healers can
do is remove the impediments to this innate process.
When you cut your finger, oozing blood flushes out
foreign bodies. As it contacts the air, blood begins to
coagulate, forming a scab and sealing the wound. White
blood cells rush to the area to fight infection. Blood vessels
swell around the wound, bringing an abundance of oxygen
to accelerate healing. Red blood cells help form collagen,
a tough connective substance your body uses to build new
tissue. As the wound heals beneath the surface, the skin
begins to close over the opening. Eventually, it’s as if the cut
never happened—we are wholly restored.
Not one single aspect of this complex process is
accomplished intentionally. You do not have to will yourself
to heal. Healing happens without your knowledge or
consent—the body restores itself to wholeness. In this sense,
we are all physicians.
This same principle is at work in our efforts to heal one
another’s broken hearts. When we get the horrible phone
call—one of our friends has suffered a sudden and shocking
loss—we rush to their side. On the drive over, we struggle to
find the right words. How can words buoy us over the depths
of our grief? They cannot. Instead, we wander together
through the labyrinth of despair and somehow keep
breathing. By our presence alone, and through the space we
hold together, healing begins to arise.
In Judaism, this core principle is formalized in the ritual
known as sitting shiva. For observant Jews, this shiva
(seven-day) mourning period ritualizes and facilitates
the natural healing that slowly arises after the death of a
loved one. For seven days the bereaved stay home and sit
in low chairs as close to the ground as possible, signifying
the wisdom of coming out of lofty abstraction and settling
down into the stability of immediacy. They wear torn
black ribbons, symbolizing the impermanence of form.
They cover all of the mirrors in the home to shift from
self-centeredness toward universal, sacred consciousness.
They allow the quiet to envelope them. They let people
come take care of them. Simply by being together
in the stillness, in a period of focused presence and
contemplation, they leave space—space through which
the soul’s own healing power can rise up the way ground
water seeps into a meadow. Soon, the flowers of their lives
will once again bloom.
In our increasingly fast-paced and fragmented lives, it’s
more important than ever to create rituals that allow our
souls to catch up with our bodies. Practicing conscious
stillness, whether in formal meditation or in more
spontaneous acts, allows our natural restorative processes to
convey their many blessings. Maybe healing, health, wealth,
and wellness are not achieved as much as they are allowed.
It is not our cleverness or ambition that draws infinite
richness into our lives—it is our willingness to leave gaps
in our busyness through which it may enter. In this way,
we heal ourselves.
Spirituality, philosophy, and mythology from the world’s wisdom traditions
PETER BOLLAND, CHAIR OF THE HUMANITIES
DEPARTMENT AT SOUTHWESTERN COLLEGE IN
CHULA VISTA, CALIFORNIA, ATTENDS THE UNITY
CENTER IN SAN DIEGO, WHERE HE TEACHES
CLASSES ON WORLD SPIRITUALITY. VISIT
Physician, Heal Thyself
A TO ZEN
IT’S MORE IMPORTANT
THAN EVER TO CREATE
RITUALS THAT ALLOW
OUR SOULS TO CATCH
UP WITH OUR BODIES.
PHOTO CREDIT: LORI BROOKES