Most of my adult life I’ve been fascinated by human emotions and specifically the part they play in regard to our state of health and well being. A wealth of information is now available about the importance of balancing body/mind/spirit, yet after thirty years, I find myself wondering where this fits into the culture of allopathic medicine. It has since occurred to me that medicine, by its very nature doesn’t deal with health. It deals with disease. Diseases are isolated, researched and labeled in the process of finding appropriate treatment. A great deal of empirical data is required to justify FDA approval, so there is very little room for intangibles; yet there is still no cure for cancer, heart disease and many other illnesses.
In the process of pondering this, I discovered two parts of myself (voices if you will) that seem to be at odds with each other much of the time. The more forceful of the two is logical, methodical and masculine in nature. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call him Nick. Nick says “If you have symptoms, immediately call the doctor and do exactly as you’re told. If you don’t have insurance you’re in deep trouble. All of this healing stuff sounds good but you were always a bit of a ditz.” The other voice is less forceful, more feminine in nature and very intuitive – we’ll call her Sophie. Sophie says “Well, O.K. but something seems to be a little off here. There must be a more balanced, less invasive way to approach illness.”
At the time that this skirmish was occurring, I was one of thousands in this country without health insurance, so I desperately wanted to believe Sophie without negating Nick. However, Nick’s was the voice of our culture thereby having the credibility factor that Sophie lacked. Distressingly enough, I sensed a strong undercurrent of fear in Nick’s voice and he always demanded concrete proof. Sophie, on the other hand, is more laid back and given to whimsy. She still believes in fairies and magic and fervently wishes everyone else did as well. My mission: Find the balance within myself.
Finding the balance within myself, led me thirty years ago to become a Massage Therapist. Included in my training were two courses in Shiatsu (acupressure) an ancient Japanese technique that has withstood the test of time. What fascinated me was that the body was never approached from a purely physical or symptomatic level. Every area of the body has a psychological or emotional component and they are mapped out in detail. Sophie was ecstatic! Knowing she had “come home” she began to purrrr. Nick rolled his eyes with skepticism but grudgingly admitted he liked the map. Sophie said “Nick, this true!!!” Nick said “Prove it! UH OH!
Eight years passed with Nick merrily rolling along in the political struggle to gain credibility in an alternative field and while Sophie was occasionally acknowledged, she spent most of her time in the basement with her comic books. In 1994 the big break came. I was contracted by the Oncology Dept. at the county hospital to provide Massage Therapy to the patients. Nick was beside himself with joy. Sophie was apprehensive. They needed to talk. Nick said ” What are you nervous about?! This is our big chance to prove it in a hospital setting!! This is our moment of truth!” T
Although she tried not to, Sophie had begun to shrink with each word until she was now only about an inch tall. In her new, tiny and somewhat squeaky voice, she said “Precisely Nick. Color me paranoid but that’s exactly what I’m nervous about. What if it can’t be proven by medical standards?” Sophie feared for her existence and had no intention of going back into the basement. The work was rewarding albeit intense at times. To Nick’s delight, there was a measurable reduction in the amount of pain meds needed by the patients who received the massage. I was still full of questions. Many times the suffering was caused more from the treatment of the disease than by the disease being treated. Since both parents died from cancer I am statistically at high risk and I wondered what I would do if I received that diagnosis. T
Three weeks into the job, I discovered a lump in my left breast. The skirmish turned into war. Sophie said calmly, “According to ancient Japanese wisdom, breasts represent our capacity to nurture ourselves and others. Since left side of the body is controlled by right hemisphere of brain ,this is clearly a feminine issue involving my capacity to nurture myself. It indicates that I am repeating a familiar pattern of finding the time to accommodate the needs of others while ignoring my own. If I address this issue,” she continued with only the slightest degree of condescension, “the lump will disappear. This may take time so we’ll need to be patient and trusting.” Nick stopped drumming his fingers long enough to shout “CALL THE DOCTOR!! NOW!!!” O
On occasion Nick wants to wring Sophie’s neck but because they share it, he resists the urge. He won. I called the doctor and scheduled a mammogram. There was a sense of urgency that made both Nick and Sophie uncomfortable. Sophie especially dislikes urgency as it makes her feel tired and cranky. She doesn’t appreciate being pushed faster than she wants to go.
The mammogram was clear so there was only a 10% chance that it was a rare type of cancer that wouldn’t show up on the test. For that reason the doctor had scheduled me with a surgeon later that week. Sophie was very frightened while Nick was still occupied with tallying up out of pocket expenses and wondering why we’d bothered with the test if a visit to a surgeon was inevitable. They called an emergency conference. Sophie was tapping her foot (with great vigor) and feeling a bit superior because she never wanted the test to begin with. It was all Nick’s idea. They needed to reach a compromise because the doctor was adamant about the surgeon and once again, his urgency was beginning to grate on Sophie’s nerves. Nick suddenly realized that Sophie was feeling outnumbered and took pity on her. An agreement was reached. I would not close my mind to the surgeon, but neither would I be pushed into it. The doctor was not pleased and began to use scare tactics. I explained that I just needed time to assimilate rather than closing down my feelings..(which according to Sophie, was what caused the lump to begin with tap….tap….tap….) I agreed to call him the following week. Sophie was pleased. She was sick of the basement and had read all of her comic books. Nick and Sophie were in sync, for once; operating as a unit rather than two opposing forces. I was in charge of my body and it felt great!
The next day I took a long walk on my favorite beach and sat between some sand dunes. Sophie wanted to try a technique she’d learned at school. It involved deep breathing until a state of relaxation was achieved and then imagining the lump in her mind’s eye. She then wanted to ask it what she needed to know and why it was there. Nick only went along with this to humor her since he knew lumps don’t talk. She ignored the eye rolling and continued. Almost immediately the image came into my mind of a small kitten on its back. It seemed vulnerable and frightened. Nick was a bit taken aback and was not without skepticism but Sophie knew the kitten needed to feel safe so she picked it up. There was a profound feeling of comfort; of having returned home after being away. Nick and Sophie were a unit again and the peace and balance were back.
The next day I repeated the exercise on the beach. This time the image that showed up was a huge brown bear. Nick panicked. “OH MY GOD!!! THIS CAN’T BE GOOD!!!! It’s cancer and it’s going to devour us!!” Sophie wasn’t particularly pleased with the image either. It faded out. Emergency conference. “That’s it!!” Nick shouted. “I QUIT!! This is ridiculous!!” Sophie replied “Look, I’m scared too. Maybe it is cancer but if so, would you rather hear it from a surgeon or here on this beautiful beach with just us?” Nick didn’t want to hear it at all but agreed to try it again. Maybe it was a mistake and this time we’d get a puppy. The bear reappeared and I had to let the fear settle. It waited patiently and when I could breathe again, it began to move closer. It seemed female and oddly enough, the closer she got. the calmer I became. There was an aura of deep comfort around her. When she was close enough, she picked me up. There was no fear. I realized I was the kitten. The feeling of safety was so overwhelming it brought me to tears. T
I was still unclear about the message so when I got home, I looked it up in a book on Native American symbolism. Bear represents the healing capacity in all of us and encourages introspection, nurturing and trust. Most importantly, we have within ourselves the understanding of our deepest needs and can access this information rather than always searching outside. Nick was not fully convinced but did occasionally glance sideways at Sophie with a new sense of wonder. Three days later the lump was noticeably smaller. Nick said “It’s a coincidence.” Sophie was on a roll and told him to shut up. Occasionally she wants to wring Nick’s neck but since they share it, she resists the urge. I called the doctor with the good news. He was still adamant about the surgeon and told me I needed to take a look at my control issues where doctors are concerned. I should interject here that he was a personal friend so he could get away with that. He’s got a lot of Nick in his head.
Nick thought maybe we should listen to him. Sophie was horrified. In her mind, at this point, surgery was equivalent to animal abuse. Two weeks later the lump was gone. Nick felt that it was nothing and it would have gone away on its own. (although he certainly worked up a good sweat when he saw the bear, as I recall). Sophie pointed out that it did just that. She felt that he was missing the point. Had her voice not been acknowledged, more aggressive measures might have been taken and I would have missed the insights and deep sense of connection I experienced with my own body.
Several things became clear to me from this experience. First: Our bodies have their own intelligence and are capable of communicating with us when we provide time and a safe space in which to listen. Second: Emotions need to be experienced rather than suppressed. When we allow our feelings to surface in a safe environment, we are less likely to act them out on other people and can be more truthful with ourselves. I saw this regularly on the Oncology floor. When emotions were suppressed, the body was forced to engage in two battles: The fight against their feelings and the fight against the disease. How exhausting! When patients were encouraged and allowed to grieve their illness or impending death a profound level of peace was achieved. In some cases, this diminished the level of physical pain enough that the need for medication was significantly reduced.
I also learned that the feminine or intuitive side of our nature is of vital importance to health. Although it can’t be proven empirically, it offers balance to the more black and white masculine perspective on concrete reality. (Sophie doesn’t care much for concrete reality. Thank God for Nick) What I see in this world of polarized perceptions, is that the intensity of a person’s belief that they are right, is directly proportionate to their fear of being wrong. This is increasingly dangerous in our current global climate. Willingness to openly listen in order to reach compromise is imperative in order to find balance, both collectively and individually. When the two sides of our own nature can come together with mutual respect for their differences, true peace and enduring love is attainable. There will be no lasting peace on this troubled planet if we are at war within ourselves.