ntensive interviews with people who have made personal and spiritual transformations show several dimensions as being important to their healing.
1. A strong internal locus of control for healing, meaning that they have:
• An accurate appraisal of their situation, including its threat potential.
• A belief in the self as an agency for healing.
• A belief that personal change would be associated with physical healing.
• A belief that healing is possible. This includes having a plausible story about how to get well. People need believable stories. What is believable to one person is preposterous to another. One man believes his prostate cancer was cured by a combination of vitamins and mushroom extracts. Another man believes that his cure came from God, though the vitamins helped. Another believes he was cured by radiation pellets. Each of these beliefs represents a story that shows how the person got from sickness to wellness. The story is more powerful and believable when it includes how the person became sick.
• A belief in their own personal capacity to heal. Faith and hope are important. Jesus said that faith can move mountains. "All things are possible for those who believe." Hope is the sense that the road on which we travel leads somewhere; despair is the sense that we are going nowhere. Faith is built when the expectations of hope are fulfilled. When we see that we are going in the right direction we have more faith. Little successes build large ones. This is why traditional healers keep their prayers small, for events that can readily occur and be recognized. Instead of praying that Millicent is cured of diabetes, we pray that she requires less insulin next month. Since miracles can come slowly, we need the small successes to build faith. The more faith and hope, the more likely a miracle.
• A sense of self-empowerment.
2. A sense that life has meaning and purpose. We need to feel as though our lives and our suffering have meaning. This could be personal meaning, family meaning, or the sense that we are meaningful to God. Victor Frankl stressed this finding in his studies of concentration camp survivors, and used it as the cornerstone of his technique of logotherapy-psychotherapy aimed at the creation of a sense of meaning in life. We also must feel our own dignity, that we have integrity to some reference self, God, family, community, political party, and so forth. This sense of meaning and purpose includes:
• Having important plans and projects for the future.
• Refusing to give up or to die.
• A sense that continued life is associated with increases in meaning and fulfillment of life's purpose.
• A life purpose that involves benefiting and helping others.
• A sense of joy associated with fulfilling life's purpose.
3. Personal transformation that is to a large extent completed while on the healing journey, including:
• Significant changes in personality. A profound change is necessary; we have to become a different person in some absolute way to find healing. Native American philosophy provides the best explanation for this finding: If illness is a territory in which we find ourselves, then we must back out of that territory to find wellness. Wellness is a place, as well as a state of mind. Who we are and where we are is determined by our relationships to all aspects of life. To change location (and state of mind) we must change these relationships. We can't know how many of these relationships must change until we start. The more relationships that change, the more profoundly different we become.
• Significant change in the ability to identify feelings.
• Significant change in the ability to express feelings.
• Identification with an entirely new self-image. A sense of congruence of their current lives with their developing new self-images. This includes significant changes in values and valuation of what is important in life.
4. Spiritual transformation that is to a large extent accomplished while on the healing journey, including:
• A change in the patient's sense of the unity and connection of all things.
• A change in the patient's sense of the presence of a higher power.
• An increase in the patient's sense of the importance of spirituality in guiding his life.
• An increase in the patient's feeling that his life is being directed by spiritual principles.
• An increase of his overall sense of peacefulness.
5. A sense of surrender to what cannot be changed. ("Thy will be done.") This includes the discovery of peacefulness and the acceptance of all possibilities, including death. All religions stress the importance of these principles.
6. Improved quality of life as a result of the healing journey, including:
• Increased emotional well-being.
• Increased ability to tolerate and manage distressing emotions.
• Increased comfort and enjoyment of the physical body.
• Increased feelings of self-worth and life satisfaction.
• Increased sense of being on the path to fulfilling life's purposes.
• Increased pleasure and joy in life. You must have fun. Healing and hope are joyous. Humor recreates the Divine. Humorless healing is ponderous, boring, and ineffective. Even angels are often represented as smiling and laughing.
7. An increased sense of quality in relationship, including the transformation of relationships that encompass:
• Increased experiences of intimacy.
• Increased pleasure and joy in relationship with healers and others. I enjoy my patients. We laugh. We have fun together even though we sometimes do difficult work. Medicine men with whom I have studied have good humor. Even in the most serious and holy ceremonies they find a place to make everyone laugh. A famous quote says, "Humor is divine." Serious, ponderous healing without joy or laughter is not as helpful.
• Increased sense of being nonjudgmental.
• Increased forgiveness. This includes living in the present and releasing past hurt and anger. Living in the present also means letting the future create itself instead of trying to control it.
• Increased degree to which relationships have improved related to self-help work.
• Increased ability to love.
• Family relationships that have become more supportive of new behaviors and identity and less attached to what has been in the past. People around the person, including family and friends, must believe in the plausibility of healing. Gilda Radner provides an example of this principle. She had ovarian cancer, but became well and went on the lecture circuit to promote alternative healing. Eventually she relapsed. I believe she tried to create too large a community and to change too many people. Her enlarged community could not support her story of healing. The story collapsed under the weight of so much disbelief, and then she did too.
8. High levels of active personal efforts to transform, including:
• Recognizing the need to change.
• Having the ability to act and change.
• Having the willingness to initiate change.
• Applying oneself diligently to the work of change.
So by these definitions, wasn't Frances, whose story I related in chapter 2, cured? Though I can never know, I believe that Frances, like Gilda Radner, was too visible and was surrounded by too many conventional thinkers who were convinced that she would die. Likewise, while she found peacefulness and became profoundly more spiritual, the rest of her life did not change. Perhaps she found too much meaning in her suffering and death, or was too linked to the similar suffering of Jesus. Perhaps dying was simply her destiny.
I often tell people that Frances burned through more karma in two years than most people do in a lifetime. She transformed her spirituality dramatically. Perhaps she changed her family and friends in ways they would never have changed without her. And perhaps, as hard as it is to acknowledge, that was Frances's destiny. Perhaps her death was prearranged, even before her birth. Perhaps her life journey was meant to be short and to profoundly influence others, as she did me. We cannot know these things with certainty.
Confronted by Our Value Judgments
In healing we are confronted by our value judgments. We value living, not dying. We value long lives over short lives. But these are just values. Frances's story was an epic tale, though short. Who are we to say it was less desirable than a longer version? Who is to say that she would have enjoyed the longer version? Perhaps a short stay was just what was needed for her greater good.
On the other hand, we cannot excuse our failing to consider what we could have done differently by glibly saying that she didn't want to live or that "it was her time to die," as I heard some of the healers say about Frances. My honest self-examination suggested that I could have done more, been more forcible about her stopping chemotherapy earlier, been more demanding about her going on a quest away from the public arena of her cancer in her hometown, but I didn't. But perhaps it was her destiny to live well but for a short period. I cannot pretend to know either way.
Finally, when someone is dying, a good-bye ceremony is important. We need to express ourselves to each other before a person dies. Of course, we can continue to talk with his or her spirit after death, but it isn't the same as saying good-bye to a flesh-and-blood person. These ceremonies are as important to the community as is the patient.
Max's Personal Story of Healing
I finish with Max's story. Max was someone whom I met over the Internet. We corresponded during his descent into psychosis and his ascent into wellness. Here is what he wrote, which nicely summarizes the message of this book about healing.
Awhile ago you asked for my story, so that you could use it in your work to help people who are in a similar situation. I write what follows in the hope that it may benefit others. It is not my intention to write an autobiography here, simply to collect some of the few elements of what I have found to be of help. I am constrained by the fact that so much of what I experienced falls into a realm that words cannot describe; words literally fail here. But I will try.
The first thing that someone who is undergoing a dramatic spiritual opening with elements of altered reality might be advised to remember (if possible) is that the world that he is experiencing is not necessarily accessible to other people. For example, being in a highly sensitive state, the person might perceive somebody else's energy field and psychic wounds, even sense her emotions very strongly. He might also be aware of entities in the spirit world that are present or feel the energy of a particular place. When this is in the process of overwhelming the person in question, somebody who has not had a spiritual awakening or is not following a spiritual path will probably find it very alarming or threatening if you talk to her about what you are experiencing. She simply is not equipped to handle other realities beyond those she has always lived in. It is like a six-year-old child not being equipped to deal with adult problems, although I do not mean here that a person undergoing a spiritual crisis is more "grown-up," or "advanced" than an ordinary person.
It is unfortunate, but we live in a society where connection to spirit reality has been taken away from us, and to talk about spiritual experiences that are so intense as to knock one off balance is a sure way to get yourself labeled psychotic, especially when the person being talked to is of a rational, materialistic mind-set, or is a psychiatrist. The best thing, hard though it may be at the time, is to find someone who is aware of and comfortable with altered reality AND WHOM YOU CAN TRUST, be it a healer, counselor, elder, minister. Members of non-Western cultures, such as Native Americans, Tibetans, or Africans, may be more approachable, simply because they are more likely to still have a connection with spirit. So it is important to respect other people's ways of seeing the world, even if they may seem to you at the time to be extremely limited.
Perhaps it would be best to seek out trustworthy, open people before a crisis and to build up a good relationship with them, so that they already know you when a "tornado" hits. This would be a role traditionally taken by shamans, elders, and medicine people, but in our world you have to work that much harder to find these people. This brings me to my next point: connection.
It is a feature of life in big cities — and most of us live in cities — that one easily becomes isolated. We associate only with people of our own age and social class, and there is very little cross-generational interaction. Often we have large numbers of acquaintances and few real, close friends. As a result, when we are undergoing a crisis it will often happen that there is no one there who is willing to help us, and we are very, very alone. It is important to have a strong relationship with a few people so that these people can support and help in a time of crisis, knowing that it is only a crisis and that you are not some "crazed weirdo off the street". Unfortunately, we are surrounded by thousands of people who have never met us before, and to act in a way that is even slightly out of sync with accepted behavior and social norms is another way to find yourself labeled insane.
I have observed that in a small village community a wider range of behavior is tolerated, simply because everyone has known each other since childhood and knows each other's families, and therefore the fear of the unknown is taken away. This is the strength of community versus individualism. It would be best to be part of a strong community, made up of members with diverse ages and backgrounds who are willing to support and help each other in times of crisis. It is possible to find communities even in a city. When you are making friends, learn to identify who will be there when things are going well but will desert you at the first hint of difficulty These are false friends, and they are best avoided.
Another thing that may benefit others is to have a strong grounding in mundane, physical, routine activities. This can be compared to the roots of a tree. Without roots a tree would be blown over by the lightest wind. Similarly, when we are engaging in regular activities like cooking, cleaning, exercise, gardening, or manual work, we are less likely to be thrown off balance by a spiritual opening. If you find yourself lying in bed all day tripping out in another space, go do the dishes or dig the garden. Also be disciplined here; don't give up your regular activities because you have a more interesting world to live in inside your head. Try to remain grounded even if it requires some effort. I read about a Zen monastery where if a monk was having a crisis, (s)he would be asked to stop meditating and be given work to do in the garden. If this became too much, the monk would be allowed to just walk around in nature and be himself or herself until the crisis abated.
Another thing that I cannot stress enough is to keep searching until you find what you need. If you are diagnosed by a psychiatrist as psychotic, manic depressive, schizophrenic, or anything else, by all means respect what the doctor is trying to do but do not lie down and let an expert tell you exactly what is wrong and what you need. We know ourselves and what is best for us. Keep searching for people who understand you and can help you. These people exist, and by searching you will be led to them. "Seek and you shall find" If you do not have the money to pay a healer's fees, make raising the money a priority just after buying food and putting a roof over your head. Maybe stop smoking and drinking alcohol so you can pay for a healer. Ask the healer if she can help you for reduced fees, if necessary. Try out many healers and therapists until you find which one works for you. One of them will. The same goes for spiritual paths: Find one that feels right for you and that helps you. Patience is required here.
Also, life is much easier if you can be tolerant, openhearted, patient, respectful. As a Buddhist teaching goes, enemies are as limitless as space; they cannot possibly all be overcome. Instead overcome the hatred in your heart and there will be no enemies. By being negative to other people we are sowing the seeds that will harvest us further suffering. Even when somebody is hurting you, do not hate him or be overcome by anger. This applies particularly to people who have to deal with others trying to control them during times of crisis, like, unfortunately, most psychiatrists.
What I have written has all been said before, and is completely obvious anyway.
Like Max, I conclude that what I have written in this book emerges best in the stories people tell. And the fact of healing is completely obvious anyway.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Bear & Company. www.InnerTraditions.com
Coyote Healing: Miracles in Native Medicine
by Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D., Ph.D.
About the Author
LEWIS MEHL-MADRONA is a board-certified family physician, psychiatrist, and geriatrician. He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. He worked for over twenty-five years in emergency medicine in both rural and academic settings and is currently the Coordinator riff Integrative Psychiatry and Systems Medicine for the University Arizona's Program. He is the author of the best-selling Coyote Medicine.