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Illness is Intended to Transform Us

Illness and the quest for Health are intended to transform us.  It is more about us than the illness.

 “Obstinate are the trammels, but my heart aches when I try to break them.

Freedom is all I want, but to hope for it I feel ashamed.

I am certain that priceless wealth is in thee, and that thou art my best friend.

But I have not the heart to sweep away the tinsel that fills my room.

The shroud that covers me is a shroud of dust and death.

I hate it, yet hug it in love.

My debts are large, my failures great, my shame secret and heavy.

Yet when I come to ask for my good,

I quake in fear lest my prayer be granted.”

Rabindranath Tagore from the Gitanjali

“Physician, Heal Thyself.”


Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world…” (in your patients).  Whether a physician is drawn more to the power of natural medicines and therapies or the power to eat, move, think and relate skillfully or the power of wisdom and compassion, it is each physician’s experience of her own personal healing that gives her the greatest confidence and enthusiasm in her “therapies”.  Less confidence and enthusiasm comes from the experience of witnessing the healing of others and the least power comes from reading, lectures and other second-hand sources.  Generally the more deeply a healer has been healed herself; the more powerful is her own passion and therefore skill in imparting this same healing to others.  The physician-teacher’s deepest conviction and enthusiasm are born of having actually freed herself from her own suffering.   Her own healing imbues her with a distinctly different healing power than one who has not been healed herself.  One’s own bodymind is the raw material, the canvas, the marble given each student to shape into the highest degree of Health they are able.  In addition to studying ABOUT healing, every Physician can study Healing through direct experience in her own bodymind. She becomes her own living masterpiece.  Her greatest teacher is her own suffering.  Her quest for the power to heal leads her directly into her own suffering and illness.  By finding what it actually takes to heal her own eczema, cancer or depression she masters the tools she will use to heal others.

Whatever the level of healing a student is attracted to, the most important thing in the education of any physician is that he be honestly and deeply engaged in his own personal healing.  To the degree he is so engaged he will learn and will naturally be motivated to share his wisdom with others.  One student may be most helped by homeopathy, another by physical medicine, nutrition, counseling or surgery; most by some combination of therapies. The distribution of what “therapies” prove most effective for the greatest number theoretically ought to correspond with our hierarchy of therapeutics.  If our therapeutic order is accurate we would expect that the first steps in the order would benefit the greatest number of persons and benefit them the most; fewer will benefit or the benefit will be less from the latter steps.

The education of a Hygeian doctor:  Learning to wield the weapons of Hygeia

We define the root causes of illness to be ignorance, indifference and lack of self-control.  These are discussed at greater length under “Tolle Causum”.  These three conditions are all negative, meaning they are defined by the lack of something not the presence of something.  Ignorance is the lack of truth, wisdom, knowledge or intelligence.  Indifference is the lack of love, caring, passion or motivation.  Lack of self-control is precisely that.  The relationship between these positive and negative character qualities is identical to that of light and darkness or Health and disease.  The negative quality is not an entity or power in and of itself.  It is the absence of the positive quality.  Thus truth dispels ignorance and ignorance is the absence of truth.

Love, passion, kindness, caring is the universal remedy that “cures” indifference.  Indifference is the absence of love, exactly as illness is the absence of Health.  Wisdom, Truth, knowledge, intelligence cures ignorance.   The marriage of Truth and love i.e. compassionate wisdom produces self-control.  Self-control is intelligence and caring in action.

Acknowledging that one is ignorant is the first step in healing one’s ignorance.  Once a person becomes aware that she is ignorant she is immediately free from being 100% dominated by that ignorance.  Likewise recognizing that we are indifferent and how we suffer due to our indifference gives rise to motivation/love.  Illuminating indifference is the actual movement of passion, of love.  Love Heals by dispelling apathy and indifference to our own good.  Truth Heals by dispelling ignorance regarding what is truly beneficial and what is truly harmful to us.  Truth and love, these are the weapons of Hygeia.

Naturopathic students could be taught to understand these principles and their practical applications as thoroughly as they understand the process of inflammation.  Being able to recite the three universal roots of illness and Health is but the beginning.  Such intellectual knowledge alone is of no more value in the clinic than it is in being able to swim.  It requires a lifetime of training to develop this knowledge into a level of understanding, passion, and self-control capable of dispelling real clinical illnesses.  Training consists of first learning how to recognize the manifestations of the three roots of illness and healing in one’s own bodymind; One develops the ability to explain simply and clearly how their own personal suffering is caused by their own ignorance, indifference and lack of self-control as well as how their Health and happiness are the result of their own wisdom, kindness, and self-control.

Every student would understand clearly the causal relationship between the roots of illness and healing and essential physiological processes such as circulation, digestion, inflammation, blood sugar and hormonal levels.  They would be able to explain the specific ways they personally are infected by ignorance, indifference and lack of self-control.  How their eating, movements, thoughts, emotions and relationships are damaged by these qualities; and how the faulty performance of these essential life functions gives rise to their personal sufferings.

The direct experience of one’s own suffering joined with a clear understanding of how one’s actions contribute to that suffering naturally (key word here) naturally, effortlessly, spontaneously, miraculously gives rise to the desire and intelligence, i.e. the power to heal that suffering (by healing our actions).  The experience of our own darkness is what calls forth our longing for light.  Conversely, to the degree one does not recognize or care that they are sick they cannot be healed.  “If you can’t feel it, you can’t heal it.”


A friend of mine says, “One of the main reasons people are sick is because they don’t want to be healthy.”  If this is true then one of the main ways of healing illness would be by nourishing a powerful desire for Health.  Everybody wants Health but in most their wanting is insufficient, feeble, lacking passion.  If one desires Health only enough that they are willing to complain to a doctor and settle for what the doctor can do for them that is all they’ll get.  However if someone loves Health, longs for Her, thinks, reads, speaks and devotes themselves to Her, their longing will awaken and motivate their innate intelligence and they will learn how to fulfill their longing for Health.

Naturopathic students are to be encouraged to become passionate about Health, to unabashedly love it, long for it and pray for it.  There is nothing nobler, more worthy of our love.  Our understanding of what Health is evolved in step with our Health improvements.  Initially, most of us think of Health as a physical state free of physical symptoms.  However, as we heal we become aware that we suffer also mentally, emotionally and socially and our desire for Health expands to include these.  As our thoughts, words and deeds become increasingly in harmony with the dictates of wisdom and love “we” begin to vanish and are replaced by these universal powers.  We become embodiments of what we love, living expressions of Health/Hygeia.

As a physician succeeds in healing herself at one level her next level of healing naturally reveals itself in the same organic fashion as a fetus develops or a wound heals.  She learns that Healing does not end with freedom from symptoms but continues into ever more satisfying levels of Health and happiness such as abundant energy, strength, endurance and flexibility, mental clarity, emotional joy, intimate relationships immune to infection by jealousy, resentment, anger etc.; an inspiring, meaningful livelihood; mastery of physical and mental appetites, an internal dialogue that is honest and loving, an intimate relationship with the Vis.

The ancient Chinese graded physicians in the following way. The apprentice physician has developed the power to heal herself.  A good physician brings healing to her family, friends, and community.  As her passion and wisdom grow she is termed a superior physician and brings healing to other communities and perhaps to her country.  The greatest physicians, the sages are those whose healing influence permeates the entire world.

Integrating “Physician, heal thyself.” into our colleges

Self-healing deserves the same emphasis in our curriculums as academic learning and clinical practice.  The integration of “Physician, heal thyself.” in the education of Naturopathic Physicians will transform our colleges and our profession.  Presently our Naturopathic curriculums, like our culture overemphasize intellectual learning.  Under the academic pressure, many students compromise their wholesome disciplines and Health in order to survive.  The integration of the principle “Physician Heal Thyself” would strongly teach and support our students in both living more wholesome lifestyles and in studying therapies such as nutrition, movement, rest, hydrotherapy, botanical medicine, acupuncture, and homeopathy as much by actually experiencing them as by reading “about” them.  Students would graduate our colleges Healthier than when they began.  If the faculties in our college clinics are not certain of their ability to deliver unmistakably improved Health to willing student-patients then they should be replaced with faculty who have certainty.  If our clinical faculty is certain that they can deliver improved health then let us move as rapidly as possible to integrate “Physician, heal thyself.” into our curriculums.

Students would choose one or more mentors from their faculty or elsewhere and work closely with them in improving their personal Health.  They would select mentors in both the Aesclepian/medical as well as the Hygeian/educational aspects of healing. In addition to individual visits with their mentors, students would also attend classes in “Physician, heal thyself.” In which they would report on their challenges, victories, and failures in their personal Healing and receive feedback from their peers.  Students would be graded based on their effort as well as a subjective and objective demonstration of improved Health. Like any other class, it should be possible to fail the segment on self-healing.

The entire purpose of “Physician, heal thyself.” is self-healing.  Each student will find for herself the blend of Aesclepian and Hygeian approaches most effective for her own self-healing. Students get to grapple intimately with their own impediments to Healing.  What is actually needed to heal their digestion, sinusitis, PMS, neck pain or moods?  What therapies and doctors do they find most useful to them and why?  If they are not progressing, why?  Why are well-chosen remedies and therapies not acting as expected?   What blocks them from reducing sweets, exercising regularly? Are they actively working with the influence of their attitudes, beliefs and internal dialogue?

The doctor-patient relationship:

The beneficial or “therapeutic” influence of the physician-teacher is transmitted not only through medicines and therapies but most powerfully through her relationships with her clients. This means much more than merely capitalizing on the respect and trust that most clients have toward their doctors.  Virtually all doctors capitalize on this. (For better or worse)

Relationship occurs in ways both visible and invisible.  It is estimated that less than 3% of communication is transmitted verbally, the remaining 97% occurs through facial expression, gesture, posture, tone and probably pheromones, electromagnetic and other as yet undiscovered energies as well.  A parrot, book, tape or CD can transmit information.  However, none of these is capable of communicating the wisdom, inspiration, and compassion that flow between a teacher and her student in the living present.  The physician-teacher has studied and practiced the art of making the principles and practices of healing understandable to her students and is strongly intended to educate her students.

Through teaching, the physician transmits her knowledge and skill, inspires right action and empowers all her other therapies.

We know that the root causes of illness are ignorance and indifference and that these are dispelled by wisdom and love.  The wisdom that heals human beings comes primarily through other human beings who are wise.  How else would it be possible to communicate this wisdom?  Therefore it follows that the greatest source of healing is the company of the wise.  They are living vessels containing healing wisdom.  They are the Medicine. Many spiritual traditions recognize and respect that the deepest levels of healing and wisdom flow from one person to another by direct transmission; no specific actions are required.  We could say this in another way by saying that Health is contagious.

Our overarching principle in Naturopathic Health care is that Health is achieved by living in harmony with Natural Law, with Vis Medicatrix Naturae.  The deepest levels of one’s own Healing are only attained by harmonizing one’s actions with the dictates of Nature.  To become Healthier it is obvious that one must cease the actions that impede and undermine Health and embrace the actions that produce Health.  It takes deliberate effort to heal one’s personal actions; to free oneself from alcoholism, perform daily exercise or grow in faith, forgiveness, and patience.

To the degree that this healing occurs in any individual the light of Health, The Vis, Hygeia shines more brightly through her. It actually becomes her. Here is the mystical union of the miraculous with the mundane. This is mysticism; a most practical mysticism.

Self-healing (in contrast to receiving medicine or treatment from another) is a deliberate, intentional process. It does not happen by accident.  A physician’s training in self-healing teaches her to allow her bodymind to become an instrument for the Healing of others.  As her passion for Health dominates her consciousness and increasingly governs her choices and actions throughout every day, you could say The Healing Principle inhabits her. When she eats, Vis eats.  When she thinks, Vis thinks. Therefore when she speaks with a client, Vis speaks with the client.

This is not an abstract metaphysical concept to be intellectually believed or not.  This is a matter of ordinary, everyday experience.  Self-Healing occurs in direct proportion to a person’s desire/willingness /passion for allowing their actions for being controlled by Vis, i.e. with the dictates of intelligence and kindness.

All human beings practice intelligence and kindness whether or not they are outwardly religious or “spiritual”.  The uniqueness of the Hygeian tradition in Naturopathic Health Care is that it provides specific training in the use of these healing “weapons”.

Health is contagious:

Vis has but one purpose, to heal.  Vis IS Healing.  To the degree that Vis gains a toehold into one “trained” physician She (Vis) then uses this fortunate physician’s thoughts, words, and deeds to “infect” others (with Health).  To the extent the physician/teacher heals, masters, trains herself she becomes a more useful instrument to Vis in the Healing of others.  It is Health, Vis who uses the physician for Her purposes, not vice versa.  At the outset we all desire to gain Health in order to fulfill our own purposes, however, this rarely happens.  What happens is that the process of self-healing/mastery transforms the apprentice.  She is healed of her sick desires for what causes misery and of her aversions to what is truly beneficial.  As she becomes Healthier by living wisely and kindly she gradually comes to want only what Vis wants; she yearns passionately for and studies deeply how to live in harmony with Natural Law.  A Naturopathic physician naturally optimizes the therapeutic power of the doctor-patient relationship to the degree that she embodies the purpose of Naturopathic Health Care: Restoring Health through harmony with Natural Law.

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