Posted by Michael Finkelstein | July 25th, 2014
End the War on Disease
This article was first published in The Huffington Post on July 25, 2014.
There are 750 catalogued diseases, each of which are caused by innumerable factors and present themselves in a multiplicity of ways. Considering this vast amount of information, medical schools do an outstanding job in training doctors to skillfully identify the facets of each disease and outline the protocol for fighting it. Indeed, within the paradigm of disease management, conventional medicine is at the top of its game. The problem is that fixating solely on disease, instead of focusing also on wellness, and taking a stance of combat, instead of an attitude of healing, can greatly reduce our shot at optimal health.
There is, as the saying goes, a time and a place for everything. As wisely noted by the late David Simon, M.D. — former medical director, CEO and co-founder of The Chopra Center — if someone ends up in a near-fatal auto accident as the result of drunk driving, the proper immediate response is to give this person emergency medical treatment, not to try and address the root of this individual’s drinking problem or advise strategies for healthy lifestyle habits. Similarly, if someone is experiencing an acutely life-threatening illness — for example, a ruptured appendix, heart failure, or an aggressive form of cancer — it is imperative to have in our toolbox fast and powerful response options like pharmaceuticals and surgery.
The sweet spot of health care is simply a matter of perspective and balance.
Our culture often speaks of health in terms of war: the war on cancer, the war on pain, the war on fill-in-the-blank. Certainly there is a time for war. War, however, invariably leaves destruction in its wake. Even the most valiant soldiers leave something behind on the battlefield, not the least of which is peace of mind. So for both our society and our health, it is in our interest to practice “diplomacy” unless and until we are up against a wall with no other option for survival. In other words, let’s bring out the big guns when we have to, but let’s not live life shooting them at everything and everyone on our path.
There is another way.
Given the current disease-management paradigm of conventional medicine, disease — not wellness — is at the center of our healthcare system. Our mindset is that we either are in the throes of disease or at risk for it. Accordingly, we construct our lives around preventing disease altogether or minimizing its effects. The best defense, we are told, is a good offense. Dutiful soldiers, we launch an attack against disease, through a cacophony of diets, workout routines, and stress management tactics designed to combat existing illness and/or to ward off the ravages of those which might befall us. We fight, battle, conquer, overcome, and then — if we are lucky and perseverant — survive.
How about if, instead, we thrive? In other words, rather than living in the shadows of fear and operating from a place of distress — which itself is “dis-ease” — how about if we face our challenges with a positive and life-affirming mindset?
For many, the trouble starts at the dinner table. Enjoying fresh garden peas is not simply the pure joy of experiencing its sweetness. Instead, it is a strategic operation in the war against cancer, inadvertently polluting the mind with thoughts of illness. Throughout our days, in fact, in the interest of protecting our loved ones and ourselves, we cull information about all the foods that will help us target and annihilate the hideouts of this disease or that. In doing so, we teach our children to do the same. Again and again, we bring into our awareness the thoughts of what we do not want. Eventually, we may lose sight of what we do want — namely, to enjoy life.
What if instead of trying not to die, we practice being fully alive? And what if instead of fighting disease, we dance with it?
Through my work with thousands of patients over the years, I have discovered that illness can serve as a catalyst for a new and improved life, if the situation is approached mindfully. Someone with heart disease, for example, can use the illness as an opportunity to get into and enjoy moving her body. Instead of signing up for a gym and pushing herself to get on the treadmill each day, she can join a dance class, hike in a park, or practice tai chi at the beach. She can use the health challenge as an opportunity to expand into and delight in her life. Similarly, someone with diabetes can embrace the creativity involved in rethinking food. He can take a cooking class, plant a vegetable garden, or replace desserts with the pursuit of a hobby that offers the true “sweetness” he is craving. Who knows? In the process, he may end up discovering his true calling as a chef, gardener, or photographer.
As Albert Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Not only does the latter mindset ultimately serve our bodies the most, but it uplifts our spirit in the process. Through embracing every opportunity to fill our lives with passion, harmony, love, creativity, and joy, and in doing so, through living in alignment with our heart’s calling and our soul’s purpose, we stop fighting dis-ease and begin inviting ease.
So go ahead: Instead of railing against the darkness, just flip on that light switch.