This is a brief excerpt from my book, A Beautiful Medicine – A Radical Look at the Essence of Health and Healing, that will be published within the next couple of months…
Behind the statistics on disease, behind scientific theory, we find, always, the soul of the human narrative. We find there the scent, texture, and flavor of our humanness: the stench of anguish, the perfume of euphoria, the wounds of trauma, the sweat of sexual ecstasy, the leaps of jubilation. We are thirsty to live freely, to live unbound, or, at the least, to get by with a little less trouble and a little more peace. But today, soul and science are divorced. In our view of the body, we’ve excluded the Shakespearian conundrums and the long trail of sorry tales that fertilize the roots of illness.
Today, we get our reminders about the primacy of the heart and soul from the screen, stage, and printed page. It’s art, not science, that reminds us of those quiet places within where the heart opens wide like an almond blossom in the spring or cracks from the iciness of grief and disappointment. That’s because the soul often goes incognito behind the flesh. In its enchantment with science and technology (as exciting as they are), with flurries of math equations, Hadron colliders, smartphone miracles, and stealth fighters, science easily forgets about the soul—those places within where we feel most deeply. When a shoulder or leg or gut becomes an ambassador conveying the message that anguish is percolating in the soul, we concentrate on what’s most palpable—the proverbial squeaky wheel. We act like Nasruddin who looked for his house keys under the lamp post—that’s where the light was, so he looked there even though he’d lost the keys further up the street. The lament of the aching body plays at louder volumes than the whispered voices of the soul. We are drawn to what we can see, touch, measure. It’s easier.
But in the end, science and soul can be eminently good partners. A medicine that is whole and beautiful will include both of them. In many instances, the real incentive for some patients in seeking professional help may be the need to be touched, seen, heard, known—to remember that I am. The body’s grievances just so happened to get them to the clinic of a solicitous human being who might serve as a de facto lover, father, mother. Or an archetypal one. So a good working hypothesis for the health professions would be that behind every symptom lies an unabridged human drama that’s been percolating for years and then appears at this one sore spot on the body. The symptom looks like an unexpected intruder, but it has been lurking behind the scenes for years, fed by stress, unhealthy food, too little sleep, paltry amounts of exercise, and a life skewered by disaffection. As we’ll see, sometimes a knee pain is just a knee pain. Not all symptoms and illnesses are connected to troubles in the soul. But often, and very often, they are.
This broader, more inclusive vision of health includes ideas that have been handed down to us for centuries or even millennia. Many of those insights from ancient traditions are still relevant today, an enduring legacy of the power in wisdom—not knowledge, but wisdom: the capacity to see deeply and clearly. Long before the invention of the microscope and the telescope, the ancients were analysts of nature’s patterns. They observed how nature worked in both the physical world and in the mind and body. They felt in their bones an intimacy with the winds and the earth, the sun and the moon, the trees and the oceans. Everything they could possibly experience, including medicine and healing, planting and harvesting, hunting and cooking, was another face of the one revered cosmos.