Saturday, December 31, 2005

Mind-Body Connection

I have always been leery of the idea, especially perpetuated through spiritual systems like "A Course on Miracles," that we somehow earn our illnesses by holding onto toxic emotions like anger and guilt and regret.

I resent that notion because it takes a perfectly reasonable proposition, i.e., we are a holistic mechanism, and reduces the complexity of this reality to a smug, New Age motto which goes roughly like this: "If you think the right thoughts, you'll be physically healthy."

The assumption here is that (a) it's even possible to think all the right thoughts, all the time and (b) that it is a sign of advanced spiritual maturity to do so.

I am a Jungian, and respect the deep powers of the unconscious. To try to think all the right thoughts is, in my opinion, nothing but a grand exercise in egotism and control. People who try to think all the right thoughts all the time scare me. By willing themselves to jump immediately from, say, anger or jealousy or fear right to acceptance or compassion, they are not honoring their humanity but controlling it. They are not enlightened. They are tight-clenched control freaks.

Even the greatest teachers of peace and compassion never counsel such discipline. They say, rather (and it's a fine distinction), that we should observe our humanity with compassion, meditate in order to clear our minds of its constant and grievous chatter, and that we should not react out of a base survival instinct but out of our compassionate nature. In other words, we don't eradicate neurotic, typically human reactions but gain the maturity to observe and respect their origins, and to allow a higher, subsequent understanding to inform our actions and responses.

I am speaking mostly from my small store of knowledge of Buddhism here, but it seems to me that Jesus had some pretty snappy, judgmental first responses to people, too, but then inevitably put out his hands for the healing and blessing that was requested. He was far from being the ethereal bliss-ninny he is often depicted as being. When he said, "Your faith has made you well," he was not rewarding "thinking the right thoughts," but, in fact, overcoming the prevalent attitude toward disease in ancient times, which was that affliction is caused by sin as a punishment from God. To me, "your faith has made you well" is a congratulations similar to the one delivered in the beatitudes: "Blessed are those who, despite the ignorant teachings of their culture, know themselves to be deserving of healing and will seek it."

As far as sick thoughts and sick bodies go, it strikes me as appallingly unfair to hold cancer patients (as one example) responsible for their condition. While it may be that a lifetime of resentment and rage and keeping poisonous secrets damage the body's strength and immunity, to fail to factor in environmental toxins and genetic predisposition to such diseases is beyond irresponsible, it is hateful.

That said, I have been dealing with a very painful out-of-wack lower back for a few days now and while I know that the obvious factor is the overloading of my weights two weeks ago (my trainer accidentally loaded an extra 65 lbs. on the lower back circuit weight), I also resonate with an idea I think Wally Nut suggested, which is that lower back problems might flare up when we don't feel supported.

Sure there are other factors: bad muscle tone and overweightness, too many hours sitting at the computer, flinging around of 20-lb. kitty litter canisters, hefting full laundry baskets up the stairs in bad form, and having a 1.5 hour work-out without stretching or warming up first. But the timing of such a thing is unmistakably emotionally-connected, too.

As a result, I'm not at all trying to think the right thoughts, but to move slowly through the days as actively as possible, seeking support where I need it, assuming I'll be perfectly fine in a matter of days, and above all, holding myself and my creaky self with compassion rather than blame.


Blogger Wally Nut said...

I have a friend who has been facing cancer for over a year and it is an insidious, persistent kind of cancer, relentlessly attacking her internal organs and now lastly her brain. She is a woman of great compassion and has a generous heart that can be felt from a mile away by anyone with an ounce of intuition. To even imply some toxic emotional etiology of her cancer would be ludicrous. There is something else going on here, and I don't pretend to understand it. I think any simple answer to it would be ludicrous. I have been playing with the idea that we do create these things, but it certainly isn't our superficial ego that does this kind of creating. It is our Higher Selves, that spark of the divine in us that can see a larger picture. Perhaps we are setting up a possible exit point for us when we are ready to leave this planet. Perhaps we identify a need for a huge challenge to propel ourselves to another level of enlightenment or vibration. Perhaps we decide that we are now ready for a bigger dose of compassion and need the experience that cancer provides us in order to take that journey. I often think it is an answer to the question: "How do I get from here to there?" which can only be seen clearly from the future side of the question, looking back. Is it possible that we can be influenced by our future selves, or that our Higher Self can glimpse that future, and we decide that the fastest way, or the most likely way, or the only way, to get from here to there is by going through this particular suffering? I am beginning to think so, and am in fact intentionally working on living my life as if that were true.

Blogger Spring said...

I don't think it's right to say that all illness is caused by toxic emotion or thoughts. I don't think it's right to say that thinking right thoughts will keep us disease free. But there's an important distinction, and you seem to come very close to it toward the end, the idea being that toxic emotion can cause physical problems.

Wearing those old fashioned radium watches can cause cancer, but we don't look at just any cancer patient and say, "Wow, she must have been wearing a radium watch." Ditto for high power lines, polluted well water, or a host of other things that can cause cancer. Probably the first thing we'll think of is smoking or exposure to smokers.

Surely having toxic thoughts or emotions is not analagous to the smoking, but it could be analagous to the radium watch. Valid, but not so prevalent.

And how can one possibly think all the right thoughts? How much more valuable a skill it would be to recognize toxicity and do something about it. Like nutrition - even the experts disagree about what all the right foods are, but you don't have to be an expert to figure out that a diet of funnel cake will kill you.


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