Living next door to my two year old granddaughter has been an enlightening experience. She is darling. She is sweet. She is delightful. And she is a walking germ factory. I had forgotten that the parents, and in this case grandparents as well, get to experience the wonder of the way children build healthy immune systems – by catching every virus imaginable. Most of these they pass on to family.
In the midst of my second cold of the past two months, I became fascinated by the process of illness. I know that there is a complex body/mind connection in illness; that the body can help heal the mind and that the mind can help heal the body. I was practicing with training my thought process to support my body and had just written down a healing affirmation: My body is efficiently removing the toxic effects of this cold and restoring itself to health. Immediately I had a coughing fit, a sneezing fit, and a nose that flowed with mucus. “Some efficiency,” I thought, “so much for affirmations!” Then I realized that my body responded exactly as it should to such an affirmation.
Symptom management is an interesting thing, sometimes necessary and helpful but often counter to the body’s processes and natural instincts for healing. Sneezing, snuffling, coughing, and even fever are the ways the body sloughs off toxic material. Too much symptom “management” actually interferes with this healing activity. I will take something to ease a sore throat and help me sleep, but if I can avoid over-medicating myself I will be more in line with my body’s wisdom.
Much of our psychological and social suffering is the same – natural symptoms produced by the toxicity of a conditioned mind and culture. Without the perception of suffering, the disease would surely kill our spirit quietly and quickly. The person who is dismayed is the person with a healthy psychic immune system. It may be the attempt to manage our psychic symptoms that has exacerbated the disease to fatal proportions in our species. Our conditioned mind has developed a series of toxic “viruses” – existential fear and anxiety and the accompanying grasping, distraction, blame, and violence. Rather than let these symptoms lead us to true self-examination and the discovery of the root causes of our personal and social ills, we put all of our energy into economic symptom management – accumulation, diversion, distraction, blame, violence, and ultimately warfare over resources to insure the continuing economic ability to manage the symptoms.
Teachers such as Jesus, Lao-Tzu and the Buddha emphasized simplicity, not because of the intrinsic virtue in such a practice, but because simplicity allows the symptoms to emerge from repression and denial and begin to work their difficult, but ultimately healing and joyful, process in our spirit. By letting our fears, anxieties, angers, and sufferings be available for mindful awareness, we find that they actually lead to our healing and happiness. But by seeking to manage them through clinging, accumulation, and distraction, we keep the disease active for a whole lifetime – working its ravages in our bodies, minds, and cultures.
I am ill with far more than a simple cold. Semi-consciously I have been seeking to cooperate with my spirit to heal this illness. The more my habitual management tools have fallen away, the more severe the symptoms appear. Rather than sinking into despair over this, I see it as a call for a new approach that will bring actual healing rather than a medicinal cover-up job. It is hard work, as I have said before, but only by seeing clearly through all the illusions I have constructed will I find the ultimate joy and freedom that is my birthright.