Self-healinga challenge to modern medicine
The body contains infinite wisdom and vast armies at its command that can conquer illness, extend life, vanquish adversity, and perform miracles.
How did the human race manage to survive so many onslaughts of disease, epidemics, famine, and upheavals without the aid of modern drugs, skilled physicians, and sophisticated surgery?
If Biblical evidence is to be accepted, the life span of individuals extended beyond our present concepts. More recent records also indicate that “primitives” who do not fall prey to wild animals or natural disasters have a much higher rate of longevity than Modern Man does.
What have we lost as civilization imposed its demands upon our natural instincts?
What has accompanied the miraculous journey of humanity as it descended the trees, from an arboreal existence, down into the eaves, and across the savannah? Our blessing is the highly developed human brain and its ability to affect the physiological being.
In that respect, humans are unique. All forms of life are endowed with immunological systems that ensure survival of the species. Only people are twice blessed as the possessors of a brain that can work in harmony with bodily functions and direct them–phenomena that have seldom been recognized or understood.
But the wondrous powers of the mind, while capable of being harnessed to fight off bacterial and viral invaders, summoning energies from the deepest labyrinths of the spirit, can also go astray and cause stress, depression, and illness.
Self-Healing and Self-Destruction
The duality of human nature was recognized thousands of years ago, and so were the enormous powers of self-healing. During the centuries in between, we have lost, from time to time, this precious knowledge.
That we are capable of both self-healing and self-destruction is a truth utilized and understood by philosophers, religious leaders, physicians, and even charlatans. We are both beneficiary and victim of this unique power.
Hippocrates often commented upon the role that physicians can play in cooperating with Nature. He noted that the doctor only applied the splint; nature heals the broken bones.
Plato observed: “The great error in treatment of the human body is that physicians are ignorant of the whole. For the part can never be well unless the whole is well.”
Sigmund Freud spoke of the conflict in human nature, the life force in a constant struggle with the death force. He labeled them libido and destrudo.
They, and others of their vision, were able to grasp a truth that modern science is slowly beginning to acknowledge, that mind and body are not separate, but act upon each other, positively and negatively. We have the capability of making ourselves ill. We can also cure ourselves. There are dynamic, unconscious forces at our disposal.
Although improper nutrition, a harmful environment, and exposure to infection can lessen physical resistance, the powers of the mind and their influence upon the physiological processes can be decisive.
This is not an offbeat concept meant to denigrate the value of scientific progress. Ancient physicians knew and practiced what we now call psychosomatic medicine. Neither is it a new science, but one that has been too often ignored.
Ancient Attitudes Toward Healing
Healers of the past, lacking potent drugs, were forced to devote more time to contemplating their patient’s maladies. They also discovered that physical diseases were intimately related to emotions and personal relationships.
Good health, they were therefore led to believe, depended upon people living in harmony with themselves and the environment. To be healthy is to be able to face changes and adversity with positive and challenging attitudes.
These truths were well understood but were often linked with religious, occult, or esoteric rites so that the patient would believe strongly in the probability of cure.
The idea that pain or disease could be caused by demons or spirits was commonly believed in early societies. It also persists among many people today. When cures are realized, the forces at work are combinations of faith and belief. How the blind have been inspired to see, the lame to walk, and the dying to rally may be matters of cynical disbelief, but these “miracles” happened and continue to occur often enough for scientists to give credence to the possibility that a body can cure itself.
In ancient Greece, healing temples relied upon the use of fasting, prayer, sleep, and psychological suggestion to achieve cures. Many of those ideas find their counterpart in modern concepts of holistic medicine that employ the modalities of nutrition, biofeedback, hypnosis, acupuncture, and psychoanalytic therapy.
Unfortunately, the discoveries of the Greeks and other enlightened societies of the past were eventually swept into an abyss of ignorance during the Dark Ages, when scientific rationalism fell into disuse.
There were, however, isolated islands of knowledge in the 12th century, such as the works of Maimonides, the Hebrew physician and scholar, who explored the relationship of illness and emotions. His treatises on asthma, as the result of emotional distress, are equal to many of the modern dissertations.
The Rise of Scientific Psychosomatic Medicine
The 19th century ushered in a narrow mode of thought; it insisted that if a disease could not be studied under the microscope, or in a test tube, it did not exist. Not until the 1890’s did men appear on the scene who established a link between illness that could not be detected and emotional conflict. Pioneers in the field were Jean Martin Charcot, Pierre Janet, and Sigmund Freud. Their work would eventually lead to a revival of ancient concepts brought to modernity as psychosomatic medicine (psycho, mind; soma, body).
In the 1930’s, another group of pioneers again advanced such ideas and began to prove conclusively that psychic conflict could be the fore-runner of bodily disease. Among them were Howard Dunbar, Franz Alexander, Thomas M. French, and the eminent team of English and Weiss.
The emphasis, until 1950, was upon the equation that mental conflict leads to somatic illness. Then a modest but monumental work was published that would redirect generations of scientists into other aspects of psychosomatic medicine.
The book, The Will To Live, written by Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker, revived Freud’s concepts of the duality of human nature and suggested that within us constantly struggle the will to live and the will to die. Hutschnecker went further, to show that we can also harness the will to live and propel ourselves not only into good health, overcome serious illnesses, and also use the properly directed life force to achieve success in our daily lives.
The essence of Dr. Hutschnecker’s theories has been adapted, capitalized upon commercially by Dale Carnegie, Zig Ziglar, and Norman Vincent Peale. The Power of Positive Thinking and The Miracle of Enthusiasm have become enshrined in corporate life as inspirations to sales organizations and management.
We can select our diseases; we are also capable of selecting our time to die, Dr. Hutschnecker believes. Since then, many studies have appeared that confirm the theory: cancer sufferers conform to such a profile, for the most part, so do ulcer victims, patients with diabetes, heart disease patients, and a wide range of invalids whose illness began psychosomatically and developed into bona fide disasters. Self-Healing: More Than a Theory
The medical profession admits that approximately 50 percent of all illnesses, left alone, will eventually heal themselves.
Cancer specialists, much to their surprise, attest to a significant number of patients who “go into remission” and are either cancer-free or whose ailments disappear for a considerable length of time.
Should we content ourselves to consider these cases of self-healing as merely mysterious events, or can the possibility of a vital force at work be given serious consideration?
(Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Issue Number 18.)
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