The role of a physician is to help nature heal.
The best plastic surgeon in the world can’t heal a paper cut. No amount of skill, prestige, and money can fix our most superficial injury. Only the body can heal itself.
Dr. Alan Wallace, a former Buddhist monk and translator for the Dalai Lama, pronounced these words as part of his Dharma teaching at the School of Ancient Wisdom in Bangalore.
I traveled to Bangalore to take part in his multi-day workshop on the “The Power of the Focused Mind.” This is only one of the many interesting points he brought up, but I want to share two amazing stories with you that illustrate the power of healing contained in our own body and mind.
So, back to the question of the paper cut: why do we think things will change when we move from our smallest injury to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or anxiety and depression? The body’s healing capacity doesn’t change.
The simple logic becomes lost in increasing complexity, but in fact, the body is still the only one capable of healing. Not to be confused, symptoms are a different matter – yes, taking ibuprofen will alleviate a headache. But why did the headache arise in the first place? The problem’s root remains untouched.
If you have ever tried to fend off invading dandelions from your garden, you’ll realize pulling the leaves and flower off might help temporarily, but unless you remove the root, the problem will come back!
I think our health is much the same way. Treating symptoms has its place. I am not an opponent of judiciously used antibiotics, by any means. But I think we need to think deeper: why was our immune system weakened to begin with? Why did our natural line of defense fail against these microscopic invaders at this particular time?
During one of our workshops, Dr. Wallace told us a story about going into a 6-month solitary retreat. One of his students, an elderly woman, offered to host him on her California property for this time, and being retired herself she also decided to practice meditation for a few hours each day.
She was relatively new to the practice, so lying supine, she would simply practice observing her breath and body each day.
As the months went by, she noticed that at certain times feelings of pain would arise in her body during the meditation. She would notice them, follow the movement of the pain, and then watch it dissipate.
In daily life, she noticed that the aches and pains of joints and her back began to recede. These chronic problems had come to resolve themselves parallel to her practice of breath-focused meditation.
Focused meditation, Dr. Wallace explained, could be likened to dreamless sleep where the body (and mind) could truly relax and recharge, an optimal time for the body and mind to heal itself from accumulated injuries.
The California woman’s story amazed me, reminding me of how powerful the body is and how capable of healing it is if we allow it to do so.
The mind, in dynamic unity with the body, can likewise achieve this process of self healing. This is when we open Pandora’s box.
Dr. Wallace shared a second story with us about the depth of wounds carried by the mind. A young boy was constantly criticized by his father, told by him that he wouldn’t ever be good enough for anything.
It came time for the science fair at school, and one teacher encouraged her student to submit a project. “Why?” thought the boy, he’d never be good enough to compete with the others. But, with the encouragement of his teacher, he decided to give it a try.
To his great astonishment, the boy won first place. At the awards ceremony, he was beaming with joy. But his father approached him and said, “you didn’t win that. I won that. Without me, you’re nothing.”
In that moment, the boy’s fragile spirit was crushed. That mental wound, whether inflicted knowingly or unknowingly by his father, stayed in this mind, festering for many years.
As he retold this story an innumerable time, tears came forward to his wrinkled eyes. The old man now felt the pain as freshly as the day his father crushed his spirit at the science fair. He had relived this story so many times, and the wound had never healed.
We all have this within us; we carry mental wounds as well as chronic physical illnesses. To heal these mental wounds, we must open the heavy lid of our Pandora’s box: our mind.
Tie a snake into many knots, and it will be able to loosen itself, given time and space. To loosen the knots of our mind, we need to give our mind time and space to work them out.
To do so, we can begin by “watching the cinema of our mind,” in the words of Dr. Wallace. This means objectively observing our emotions and desires without getting caught by them.
This is a type of meditation that moves beyond watching the breath. We sit openly, receptive to whatever might come up from our subconscious: pleasant or unpleasant.
Of course, it won’t happen in one 30-minute sitting. Just as the California woman’s body took time to heal itself – several hours of meditation each day for a few months (and continuing) – unraveling the knots of the mind will take time. Sometimes things might surface, sometimes they might not.
Once the emotion or desire rises up, call it by its name. If you observe it neutrally, it won’t find anything to cling to, and risen long enough from the sub-conscious, it will be forced to dissipate like early morning dew on blades of grass met by the rising sun.
To be very honest, both of these practices take patience…and practice. I have yet to progress beyond dabbling, but the stories give great motivation, I think!