Posted by Michael Finkelstein | August 11th, 2018
Love, The Only Medicine You Need
This month I’m going to go a little farther out on the limb of a tree I’ve been cultivating–the primacy of a spiritual compass and its relationship to Medicine. I’ll admit up front, I know that I’m running the risk of upsetting you. So, I apologize in advance, because it’s not my intention to turn you off. But, I do want to challenge some thinking that gets us into trouble–leads us down overly complicated paths to extract ourselves from ever more complicated experiences, including those we call medical ailments and the full array of conditions of dis-ease.
I want to challenge the notion that our chief disease is ever purely physical. Even in the simplest of conditions like hunger or Strep Throat, it might seem the issue is merely about when our last meal was, or whether or not we are infected by a singular easy-to-identify pathogen. Why then can people who choose to fast go a day or days without eating? And why doesn’t everyone who uses a contaminated toothbrush get sick? Especially with more “serious conditions,” our tendency in this culture is to address the physical as the primary issue. In fact, in these “catastrophic” situations, there is even more staunch defense put up for that approach. And, this gets to the point I want to raise.
Indeed, when we search for the “cause” with an eye toward identifying something outside of ourselves — killing it, eradicating it, surviving it — we adopt a mindset that leads to a misappropriation of our primary resource: a clear vision and its clear focus on what we are truly seeking — not the absence of disease, but a state of wholeness, best defined as Love.
This is not to say that we don’t have physical conditions, of course we do. And some of them are quite significant and painful and they lead to a lot of real suffering. But, they are never purely physical, which is why if the approach you take is purely physical you are apt to remain “dis-eased” no matter how much you work at it. More so, the true nature of our condition is that these individual “dis-eases” get entangled and lead to a very complicated mess, which is the situation we do find ourselves in. On top of this, indeed, as a result of it, we are further wounded emotionally by the projection of pain we either inflict on ourselves or receive from others as a consequence of their suffering. If we’re not mindful and don’t check ourselves, we wind up designing approaches that while complex don’t adequately address the disarray at its core.
Already, you can see that logic and wisdom would dictate that we reconsider; that we do “check ourselves” and the illogic (and frankly, the insanity,) of any purely physical approach and, as critically, one that doesn’t take into account the way our emotional experience exacerbates or contributes to our susceptibility to our physical ailments directly (through the autonomic nervous system–the core principle of Slow Medicine), weighing us down, treading water at best.
Here’s the analogy: If a baker decides to leave out a key ingredient, how good is the cake? Body, check; Mind, check?
All that said, I will freely admit there are some exceptions, though they are very limited. I’ll put those into the category of “immediately life threating;” like sepsis or a ruptured aorta. This is where Western Medicine excels and deserves quite a bit of credit. Giving us one more day is not insignificant. But, what we chose to do after we leave the emergency room is at issue here. Just surviving isn’t the point; nor is adopting long lists of “practices” that reflect our fixation on the physical body, i.e. dieting for disease prevention or yoga as exercise, even psycho-therapy can fail to address the essential interconnectedness of our body and mind.
To be clear, this is not to say we shouldn’t be mindful of what we eat, or how we keep our body in shape, or the value of working on our relationships. But, it is about something far more fulfilling. If our practice isn’t linked to a higher vision of what we are truly after and doesn’t fully embrace the essence of our existence from the very beginning we might remain alive in this body but won’t get very far on our journey.
For each there is a natural starting point…where you are right now, with the “pain” you are experiencing right now. The same pain that motivates you to read essays like this one. And, there is no question that we need to acknowledge and address the immediate issues — finding the necessary traction in mindful living and taking advantage of some of the technology that can and does serve us, in order to eliminate some of the obstacles. These “immediate needs” in the form of chronic and sub-acute ailments demand our attention and can’t be ignored. It seems the way this is all designed has the path go through them. Right through them! And, while this seemingly tortuous journey is frustrating perhaps, I firmly believe there is a way through. Perhaps there is a brilliance behind it, one that is worthy of our faith and thus capable of settling down our activated nervous systems in order to experience wholeness once again? This is where the third ingredient comes in. The fact is, it’s the catalyst, without which the cake does not rise.
So, what is that? This image that I saw a few days ago captured it for me. And, in its basic nature it’s more sophisticated than the current modern, technically oriented and “well-informed” culture leads us to believe. Indeed, it’s a very old concept, but perhaps worth dusting off and considering once again: We are here, on this earth, as people, despite our differences, with a single history, longing for the same thing: liberation from the vicious cycle of physical and emotional suffering. And, there remains only one answer even though the story has gotten quite convoluted — Love…the most potent medicine. Perhaps, the only medicine you need to get to where you really want to be. Please make sure to add it to your list. Actually, put it at the top.