Holistic Health and Healing / Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios PDF File
The word ‘holistic’ defies definition. Different people use it in different ways.
In the field of health and healing, some people think of holistic medicine primarily in terms of taking the body and the mind of a human person together as a single whole entity and not as two. This is legitimate, since modern western medicine, when it went scientific in the last century, set aside the ‘mind’ as a separate entity to be taken up later by specialists like psychologists and psychiatrists, leaving the body for the physician and the surgeon.
The new psycho-somatic approach, or mind-body medicine, which as a scientific trend developed approximately three decades ago, was however only a stage on the way to what we now regard as holistic health and healing.
There have been important developments since medical scientists began taking the mind-body problem seriously. One has seen the widespread use by therapists of practices like bio-feedback, meditation, relaxation, and even alternative systems of medicine like Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Chinese or Taoist systems including Acupuncture and Acupressure, Tibetan medicine, Herbal remedies and so on. Another has been the development of new “cross-disciplines” like psycho-neuro-immunology. There have been many clinical reports of strange wart cures and placebo effects which cannot be accounted for by ordinary medical science, It is now fairly well established that factors once regarded as ‘purely mental’, like perceptions, beliefs, emotions, thoughts and attitudes, have a definite role in the healing process.
It seems, however, that we need to go one step farther, in order to get at what we mean today by Holistic Health and Healing, not so much to define, as to depict some of its main characteristics.
I. Planet, Person and Paradigm Shift
The first thing we have to note is that neither the human person, nor the planet earth on which the person is totally dependent, exists or can subsist in isolation. Neither one can be understood except as part of larger systems of which it is only a subsystem.
The very word “person” is a relational term. Human persons, as far as we know, can be formed and developed only through interaction with other persons and social groups like family, relatives, peer groups, societies, religious groups, national populations etc. Even if we take the human species as a whole, that whole is in turn dependent on other wholes – like for instance the system of nature or the biosphere as such, which includes air and water, earth and sea, mountains and rivers, sun and moon, and so on.
Similarly the very word ‘planet’ indicates that our earth is a satellite unit of the solar system, existing only as its subsystem, dependent on it for its very sustenance and energy, interacting with other planets in the system as well as with its own moon, and never in isolation from the system. In holistic health and healing we need to pay constant attention to the system of relationships, which play a most significant role both in the causing of disease and in the healing of persons.
So far we are on fairly undisputed territory, though current medical science does not take all these factors into account. We need, however, to go even further in our envisioning of the whole of reality of which we are a subsystem.
There is, as of now, no single paradigm of the whole of reality on which scientists and other theoreticians agree. This is especially so if we can step outside the bounds of western civilisation and western scientific thought in envisioning the reality process.
Negatively, we can say that mechanical or static models of person, Planet or Reality as a whole will not do. But even dynamic models are usually conceived in time-space, subject-object categories and frameworks. In fact our human language seems hardly capable of going beyond these. Past, though the present, to future (time), and locality (space) seem unavoidable even in a dynamic paradigm. Extension in time and space is an aspect of the reality we inhabit and experience. Change (in time) and movement (in space) appear to be foundational for person, planet and universe alike. Paradigms can only be maps; they should not be mistaken for the territories they map.
II. Quanta and Consciousness
But there are two interconnected aspects of our human experience where time and space take on unusual characteristics. In quantum reality and in the understanding of our own human consciousness, time and space behave extraordinarily. And these are quite important for any paradigm which should undergird the theory of a new medical science. I propose here about Holistic Health and Healing. But we shall refer in ordinary language to some of the unusual discoveries of modern physics which have relevance for medical science and healing therapies.
While mechanical causality may have helped us and can still help us understand many phenomena, there are other areas of experience where the cause-effect connection, within time and space, with the cause preceding in time and acting through space to produce the effect, cannot be established or even postulated.
In the area of health and healing too, not all healing can be causally understood or controlled. Or if causality is to be postulated, it has to be in terms of ‘non-local causation’, i.e. without any lapse of time between cause and effect, without the passing of any message through any observable medium from cause to effect.
Consciousness or mind cannot be spatially localized. The human neuro-biological system does not seem to have a centre either in the brain or anywhere else in the individual human body. It has a quality that transcends space and time; it is more corporate than individual, ultimately unitary, able to act at a distance, and to travel without lapse of time. The healing power of mind or consciousness has been clinically observed in all forms of healing by faith and prayer, in placebo effects, in some alternative systems of healing etc. The biological path by which the causal chain acts may not be directly traceable, but the healing effects are evident in too many cases to be dismissed as merely anecdotal. Any new revision of medical theory will have to take these factors into account.
Our growing acquaintance with reality in the quantal realm has not yet taken us to the point where we can describe that reality satisfactorily in our time-and-space conceptual language. We now know that we do not know reality itself, but only know our perception of it. All our descriptions, measurements and mathematical formulae relate only to the perceptions. Quantum reality cannot be adequately described in the categories of Newtonian mechanics.
Some things however, we can affirm, as paradoxical indications of our quantum experience. Reality is interconnected everything seems, ultimately, in immediate touch with everything else. Human beings cannot stand outside reality and look at it from outside; they are on the inside as participants; they are part of the reality they observe, and partially shape that reality in the very act of observing. Our experience of time and space and causality at the macro level has no validity at other levels of our experience. In the healing process too some of the observed phenomena have more affinity with the quantal than the mechanical realm.
III. Insight as Healing Agent
In psychiatry and psychoanalysis, the healing role of insight has long been recognized. The patient’s self understanding is what the therapist works on, in order to induce new insights which give the capacity to solve problems and predicaments in a new way.
In ordinary healing, however, the role of insight is not as widely recognised. The whole Indian religious tradition is based on insight as the way to deliverance or moksha through self-realisation. Even the insights coming from ordinary knowledge and from scientific enquiry can lead to stress reduction and thus contribute to healing. The disciplined pursuit of science, philosophy, law or other academic disciplines, of arts such as sculpturing, painting, music and so on, and even of practical arts like weaving, cooking, interior decoration, pottery etc., so long as they provide for some sort of disciplined total involvement, can be helpful in the process of healing.
A new medical theory should take into account the role of insight as well as that of aesthetic experience of true beauty, as positive factors in therapy.
IV. Relationship, Faith and Community
Relationships are central in Holistic Healing, and that at many levels. People are today talking about Transpersonal Medicine, as they talked yesterday about Transpersonal Psychology.
First, there is the healer-healed relationship, or doctor-patient relationship. Love, empathy and compassion on the part of the healer towards the patient and some response from the patient to that love can generate strong healing energies which make the work of healing quicker. Doctors and nurses who genuinely care make all the difference in the healing process. This may be the opposite of the time honoured idea of scientific dispassion. But healing is more art than science.
Much ill health is due to isolation and alienation – the loneliness of not knowing that others care. And our present civilisation which puts too much emphasis on each one doing his or her own thing, generates loneliness in havoc-wreaking measure. Bolstering the individual ego and enhancing the strength of the person can both be futile if these are not aspects of healthy and mutually self-giving social relationships, chronic loneliness, as distinct from cultivated and disciplined spiritual solitude, can be toxic and generate morbidity. If the healer, by his/her love, compassion and empathy, can bring the patient out of the morbid isolation of loneliness, the healing process would be remarkably accelerated.
The second area of relationships is the whole community around the patient. This includes the physicians, surgeons, nurses and the paramedical personnel in the hospital, the patient’s relatives, visitors, and even those who without actual face to face contact with the patient and often even without the patient’s knowledge, function as a community faithfully praying for the healing of the patient.
The attitudes of those in direct contact with the patient, even over phone or through other message, are very important, for these can generate healing energy. But the faith of a community and its fervent and sustained prayer can definitely exercise high therapeutic efficacy. The prayer of a single person, in direct contact with the patient or without such contact, can also be immensely effective. There are secular substitutes for prayer available to agnostics: like positive imagining, or intensely desiring and willing the healing of the patient.
Even in these, a fundamental faith in the positive or beneficent aspect of reality is a precondition. The joint effort in prayer of more than two people has always a special effectiveness. This is the mystery of community.
V. Touch and Ritual
The idea of the “healing touch” has recently come into vogue, especially in nursing literature. It can also be the “caring touch” that communicates to the patient as well as to members of the patient’s family the assurance of care and support. Medical practitioners and nurses have to break out of their self-image as technicians and become warm human beings, expending something of themselves in the act of caring. This cannot be mere mechanical touching, but the touch that communicates confidence, warmth, reassurance, support and understanding, as well as respects the personhood and dignity of the patient.
Touching is communication, a most intimate form of communication. Therefore it is important that the other person’s privacy and dignity is fully respected in the touch and that it does not become an intrusion. Nursing personnel have to be careful in keeping their professional dignity and yet being warmly humane, but the latter is an essential part of holistic healing.
Another very effective form of touch is “laying hands on by those who pray for the sick, and by faith healers. The hand becomes a medium through which healing forces transfer to the patient from the healer. Usually the right hand of the healer is placed on the forehead or crown of the patient and a prayer is said, silently or audibly. The patient, usually with closed eyes, with faith, and in a spirit of receptive meditation, receives the healing energies.
Ritual as a healing technique has for long been difficult to understand for the modern western rational mind. The European Enlightenment of the 18th century made western an rather anticlerical and antiritual. But new anthropological studies have begun to show that ritual plays a very major role in the social communication of modern humanity. Dr. Jeanne Achterberg, a forceful advocate of holistic healing and especially of “Transpersonal Medicine” as a new system of healing has written a very perceptive article in a recent (winter 1992, Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 158 ff) issue of Revision on “Ritual: The Foundation for Transpersonal Medicine.”
Ritual is a participatory community act, in which words, actions and symbols combine to communicate to the participant meaning which cannot be expressed in words alone. Long before the human species acquired its language skill it has been using ritual as the mode of expressing meaning. In healing too, along with other forms of interpersonal relationships, ritual plays a significant role.
Jesus, the Great Healer, sometimes healed by the mere word, sometimes even without a word. At other times, he made mud with dust and saliva and applied it as salve in the eye of the man born blind, asking him to go and wash in the pool of Shiloam, or asked the paralytic to pick up his bedding and walk. The ancient churches developed special rituals for the healing of the sick. A modern surgeon in Medical City Dallas Hospital may light a blue sulphur flame in the operation theatre and recite an abracadabra to heal a patient whose disease could not be diagnosed or cured by all the complex techniques of modern medicine (See Larry Dossey, Space, Time and Medicine, 1982). The role of ritual in healing cannot be neglected in any new theory of healing and health.
VI. Alternative Techniques of Healing
Many alternative techniques of healing have recently caught the attention of the general public, both within western culture and in other cultures. Clinically successful, these alternative techniques imply a theoretical framework which is not always clearly articulated, but which seems radically different from that of western medical science.
Dr. Irving Dardik of New Jersey has, for example, clinically demonstrated non invasive techniques for curing chronic hepatitis and other similar ailments. Dr. Dardik, well trained in western medicine and surgery, explains his technique theoretically in terms of restoring certain basic stimulation-relaxation rhythms in the human system to be in harmony with the larger reality system, which he conceives as complexes of energy undulations.
Another example comes from the modern Prophet Mokichi Okada of Japan, who developed the healing art of Johrei, based on spiritual energy, as one aspect of a whole complex of holistic healing techniques, including exposure to beauty, organic farming, and abstaining from chemical drugs and fertilizers. His theoretical basis is the clear conviction that the sensible world is undergirded and directed by the spiritual universe. His system is now practised in many countries by his disciples.
The theoretical basis of the western system called Homeopathy is worth examining again, free from the bitterness and rancour of the earlier debate between Homeopathy and Allopathy. Similar examination of the theoretical basis of Chinese, Indian and Tibetan systems may reveal insights important for a holistic paradigm of health and healing.
VII. Towards the Making of a Theory
All that has been stated above does not imply by any means that we should completely abandon all the ground so painstakingly covered by modern medicine in the scientific analysis of human anatomy, pathology, and therapy. However nearly all aspects of that analysis will have to be radically re-examined to see if they are based on mistaken assumptions about the nature of reality and the nature of the human, as well as about health and healing.
There are problems about current medical theory and practice which we can no longer afford to ignore. One could mention several:
a. the increasingly exorbitant, and for many unaffordable cost
of medical care;
b. diseases and ill health induced by hospitals, doctors and
c. the unholy alliance among the health insurance business, the
medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry working
against the interests of the patient;
d. the arrogant exclusion of all alternate therapies and healing
systems by a dominant medical ideology which claims that it
alone is scientific;
e. the Cartesian, mechanistic, reductionistic, individualistic
understanding of the human person on which medical science
is still based;
f. the chemical-bacterial theory of disease and therapy;
g. the growing mechanisation and technologisation of diagnosis
h. the increasingly poor quality of human relationships prevailing
between healers and patients.
We will have to question our ideas and assumptions about nutrition and healthy nourishment of mind and body. We will have to ask whether our so-called scientific, mechanized, chemical-fertilizer-pesticide farming methods lead to important health problems for humanity and for the rest of the biosphere or life-community. We will have to ask questions about fossil fuel combustion, carbon dioxide and ozone production, toxic waste disposal, usage of radioactive compounds and so on.
We will also have to ask questions about the way we live together and deal with each other, for that is the most fundamental part of the human health. Justice, peace, and a life-enhancing environment are aspects of human health care. Economics and politics cannot be easily separated from health and health care.
Reducing holistic health to transpersonal medicine can hardly allow us to deal with all the problems and issues we have listed in this paper. Neither the mind-body approach nor transpersonal Medicine can be sufficiently comprehensive to deal with holistic health.
As we stated at the beginning there is as yet neither a satisfactory definition of the term “holistic healing”, nor an adequate paradigm of reality within which a new theory of health and healing can be built up.
Reflection reveals that wholes can be of various kinds:
a. the original whole from which everything comes to be and
on which everything is contingent, and without which no part
can exist or subsist;
b. an organic whole in which the component parts can function
only in the framework of the whole and not apart from it, eg.
the human or animal body and its organs;
c. a systemic whole: an open system like the planet earth or the
human person which exists only in a complex web of
relationships with many other entities which together with it
constitute a whole; the planet may or may not be aware of
these relationships, but does respond to them. In the case of
the person he/she may be not consciously aware of all these
relationships; but the person’s existence is significantly
affected by them nevertheless.
d. the whole of a particular entity: eg. the whole world, the
whole country, the whole bottle, the whole leg, etc.
All four of these aspects of wholeness have their own significance for the healing process.
The English word ‘whole’ is etymologically related to health and healing. It has more of a qualitative than a quantitative sense. One English dictionary gives the meanings of the adjective ‘whole’ as: “sound; healthy; healed; intact; entire.” The word ‘wholesome’ means promoting good health; to be made whole is to be healed.
The Holistic Approach is in principle opposed to all Reductionist understandings of the human person and of the human eco-socio-bio-physical endowment. The positive value of specialised training and study is recognized; at the same time the dangers in the fragmentation reduction on which all specialisation is based should also be understood and provided for. Modern Science itself is intrinsically reductionistic, since it can deal with only sensibles, measurables and with what is repeatedly experimentable. Reality always transcends the categories of modern science.
The Holistic Approach centres around human relations, harmonies, attitudes, meaning-perceptions, faith, hope and love, spiritual disciplines like prayer and meditation, environmental improvement, and community support as fundamental in the healing process. Unfortunately, Western Allopathic Medicine, when it decided in the last century to be strictly scientific, took over a reductionist paradigm of reality from the then prevailing science, which excluded these factors from the healing process. The 19th century scientific world view, which even people like Sigmund Freud blindly accepted as their theoretical basis, saw reality as composed exclusively of strictly measurable, mechanically structured, observable, matter and force, or Kraft und Staff as the Germans called it.
Medical Science has shown a great unwillingness to examine this its precariously dated reductionist theoretical foundation. Medical Education does not equip medical graduates to be capable of fundamental reflection and theoretical reconstruction. Such reflection and reconstruction of theory are urgently needed, as a radically new basis for a radically new type of health care and healing. The formulation of such an alternate paradigm of Reality and the articulation of a new healing praxis based on that paradigm are among the major objectives of the Holistic Health Movement.
We are far from having arrived at a consensus among those thinking enquirers within and without the medical profession about the basic nature of such an alternate paradigm. The formulation of such a new paradigm demands several qualifications on the part of those working on it. In addition to the awareness of the problems associated with current medical theory and practice, they have also to be aware of the discussion in recent western (English-speaking, German and French) Philosophy of Science which reveals the precarious truth status of modern science itself. They would also have to have some acquaintance with alternate medical systems and their theoretical foundations eg., Taoist, Tibetan, Native American, Homeopathic, Ayurvedic and other systems. Some knowledge of the healing methods of unconventional healers will also help.
The basic problems with all paradigms or models of reality is that they are pictures: space-time, subject-object, human conceptions of some reality in our experience: David Bohm’s Implicate order of Holographic Reality in the Rheomode with its soma and signa modes of matter and mood; Rupert Sheldrake’s “Immanent Hierarchy of Conscious Selves” in nature causing morphogenesis, evolutionary progress and perhaps healing; Gregory Bateson’s Universe and Person as analogously evolving through stochastic spurts, which is basically a Consciousness model of the Universe shared by Larry Dossey, Willis Harmon and many others; the Energy wave model of Irving Dardik; the Buddhist perception of the Universe as Sunya-Pratitya-Samutpanna or Void-conditonally-originate; Chinese Hua-Yen or Avatamsakasutra Buddhism’s vision of reality as universal mutual interpenetration with non-local causality; the Vibration-Resonance model of Japanese prophet Mikichi Okada; the Ousia-Energeia-Diastema dynamic universe model of 4th century Christian Father Gregory of Nyssa; and perhaps many others that could be mentioned including the Dharmic and Sankhya models of Indian metaphysics. All of these are dynamic, holistic models; but they are models, paradigms, pictures drawn from human experience and human conceptualisation of Reality.
A paradigm is a paradigm – a working model that can be more or less helpful than others in dealing with reality. They are all maps, which we can easily mistake for reality itself. Reality escapes mapping or exact paradigm representation. The Holistic Paradigm can thus be only a working model, not a picture of Reality itself. It will also have to be revised in course of time, as our perceptions change and more and more anomalies between paradigm and reality come to light. Without a provisional New Paradigm for medical theory and practice we cannot proceed very far however. There is not much use in just going on tinkering with the old and familiar paradigm uncritically drawn from the obsolete world view of the science of the end of the last century. Knowing the limitations of any paradigm we must nevertheless strive for a new paradigm which will facilitate more humane, more just, less damaging and more holistic systems of health care.
Perhaps the building up of an adequate theory will have to wait, until more significant advances are made in healing practice. In the meantime, some things can be done towards building up a theory:
a. build up a network of competent and creative healers from
all over the world and from all cultures and provide them
with a framework of mutual contact;
b. begin a multi-language journal, to begin with a quarterly, in
English, French, Japanese, German, Arabic and Spanish at
least, to publish high quality research papers on clinical
experiences of holistic health and healing as well as of
alternate systems of medicine;
c. convoke regional conferences on holistic health in the regional
languages, and make available their insights to the wider
d. those involved in medical education explore ways (for example
holding seminars and discussion sessions in medical schools)
of how the medical training curriculum can be revised to
bring it more in line with the insights of holistic health and
e. seek to use the resources of both the World Health
Organisation and the Council for International Organisations
of Medical Sciences (CIOMS) to deepen and promote the
ideas of holistic health and healing, and to make the WHO
itself move from the concept of Health Delivery to the concept
of Holistic Healing;
f. seek foundation grants to get a small but highly competent
team of international experts to work on a research project
for laying the foundations for a fresh theory of Holistic Health
g. Create and fund a project for professional education and
training in holistic health and healing, centrally as well as
regionally and nationally, exploring possibilities of beginning
the pioneering with existing institutions of medical education.