An article I did for Missy Bradley’s Heroic Journal...
Eat a Penguin: Health, Healing & Curing
What’s the two things they tell you are healthiest to eat? Chicken and fish … You know what you should do? Combine them– eat a penguin!
My doctor recently told me that jogging could add years to my life. I think he was right. I feel ten years older already.
Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you…
Heal… (verb) from the Old English “wholeness, being whole, sound or well”… “uninjured, of good omen” …. “holy, sacred”
Cure…(noun) c.1300, a remedy. From Latin “care, concern, trouble,” …”to be concerned.” Cured…In reference to fish, pork, etc., first recorded 1743. Meaning “medical care” is late 14c.
The word heal is a verb…active, moving, fluid, full of life. Cure is a noun— a person, place or thing, but more importantly—the passive recipient of the actions or movement of another. It is also a reference to drying meat, salting the flavor and life out of it for the sake of saving it. Such is the difference between healing and curing. If necessity is the mother of all invention, then the need for a cure is probably the mother of all healing. Curing is about restoring physical function to the body, but healing inevitably becomes about restoring a relationship, often to the non-physical self, to those whom we want to love well, or to the Divine. Curing is a journey we choose while seeking to be relieved of trouble or a concern. But healing often becomes a journey that chooses us, and as such it becomes fluid, a movement toward health and wholeness, a good omen, holy and sacred. Cures are about surviving, healing is about thriving. Cures are about what the experts think they know about you or a disease process. Healing is about what you come to know and believe about yourself and your own journey.
Before I moved into a private practice dedicated to healing, I worked in hospice for several years. During much of that time, I worked in a hospice house and had the opportunity to be with literally hundreds of people while they were dying and at the time of death. While working with adults, a common theme was the desire to be “healed,” and we would often discuss the differences between healing and curing. The truth is that I haven’t seen a lot of “cures” in my life, although I have seen some. In my work, I’ve seen what would be considered miracle cures by the medical establishment: tumors evaporated from scans; bones, tendons and ligaments inexplicably knitted back together; addictions removed as if by magic; hearts, arteries and organs mysteriously restored as if brand new. But the truth is that most people I worked with in hospice still died from their illness– they were not “cured.” Yet scores of of them were healed in a deeper sense as their relationship to health, self, wholeness, family, friends and God was restored.
I have worked in healthcare (alternative and western medicine) for years. I have come to believe that you can be healed and not cured, just as you can be cured and not healed. Sometimes grace filters in like spiritual penicillin and we experience both. Healing can take place at many levels, many of which may not be recognized by a scan or a doctor or anyone else. But healing can take place nonetheless, often in invisible yet profoundly tangible ways…Relationships can be mended. Life traps can be worked though. Old patterns can be changed. New insights can be gained. Broken relationships and past hurts can be repaired and a new sense of peace can be found through the healing balms of forgiveness and acceptance. All of this can happen without any outward physical changes that would be marked as a “cure,” yet there is no doubt healing has taken place. For some this may be spiritual, for some emotional, for some it is relational. Sometimes it is also physical, but for many people, that becomes the lesser of the healing they seek. Healing comes in many packages, all individualized and recognized internally, even if it is never seen by anyone else as physical “cure.” Healing knows there are things worse than death, and sometimes what I want isn’t always what I need.
When the World Health Organization was created in 1948, health was defined as being “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” True health is more than just the absence of disease and true health is not a luxury. True health is about living luxuriously, being present, whole and living in the fullness of life, of grace, of community, of hope and love.
The absence of disease does not necessarily imply wholeness, health or wellness. There is a word from the Greek called scotosis, which refers to intellectual blindness or a hardening of the heart and mind toward wisdom. Some theologians have expanded the meaning to include the concept of soul scarring. Many shamans and healers see this form of soul or psychic scarring as a condition which cannot be cured through standard western medicine, but which can be healed through soul retrievals or other methods. Sometimes those seeking a cure will fall into a form of scotosis, unable to see other possibilities, being so focused on the problem that they are unable to see beyond their immediate expectations into potential solutions. Healing takes us beyond expectations and into possibilities, into humor and gratitude, into what could be if we can let go of our ideas of what should be.
Curing is about expectations; healing is about possibilities. A “cure” is claimed by an authority in medicine when an offending invader or unwanted condition is successfully conquered through means of removal or suppression of symptoms. Healing may involve an acceptance of an ailment or a transformation of a condition which used to cause pain or suffering. Curing is about not wanting to carry the pain, but healing can be about letting the pain carry you, often into a new way of being, a change from suffering to allowing, receiving and moving forward. Healing sometimes involves embracing the pain and allowing it to transform you, as tattered and torn as your body and soul may feel in the moment. Curing asks, “what needs to be fixed?” Healing asks, “How can I grow? What can I celebrate?”
Merton said the more we try to avoid suffering, the more we suffer. Healing is about leaning into the suffering and finding the grace there, moving beyond questions about “why” and coming to understand that the source of your suffering can also be the source of your awakening. Zen teaches that the obstacle is also the path and without pain there is often no compassion. Healing is about letting go of old hurts so they let go of you, and using that pain as fuel to transform you. Healing is about forgiveness, about embracing the scars as part of the seams which sew you back together and bring you new life.
Healing knows that it sometimes hurts to let go, but sometimes it hurts even more to hold on. Healing is about taking the judgments, projections or expectations off of the situation and instead moving to a place of discovering your own capacity for life, hope and transformation. Cures are about fights, battles and comparisons—how you stack up to others, to the DSM or ICD-9, how it will be when this “problem” is cut off, away, out, removed or restored. We “fight the enemies” of depression, cancer and a myriad of other conditions, seeing them as outside of us, apart from us instead of a part of us. Healing is about gratitude for what is, about finding meaning in what underlies whatever is seeking healing, somehow knowing the thing you are seeking is probably the thing causing you to seek. Healing is about resilience, a capacity for life and all life brings without judgments or labels. Healing inevitably liberates something within us we didn’t even know we had, and brings with it the power of creative transformation. Healing may even involve inviting the “enemy” in like a wise teacher, offering it a cup of tea and really sitting with it to see what this invader might be bringing to us.
Healing allows us to tap an inner resilience and trust the process. Healing can move us from old expectations to new possibilities, to a place still wet with the dew of dawning inner hopes and dreams suddenly transformed into realistic possibilities. Healing is about recognizing that life is meant to be lived and enjoyed, and just because you aren’t sick it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are well. Healing is about living life to the fullest and preventing dis-ease, but also not getting too worried about what the “experts” say because what is deemed healthy today may not be considered healthy tomorrow. Healing is about remembering that laughter is the best medicine and sometimes admitting that honestly, I drive way too fast to worry about cholesterol anyway. And I’m just not spending my valuable life force fretting about it.
Doug Larsen says that life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon. On the path to wholeness and healing, it’s important to remember that if you rigidly resolve to be cured or to give up smoking, drinking and having some fun, you might not actually live longer, it might just seem longer. To quote George Bernard Shaw, “No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is made of fat. So without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office.”
To your good health!
Terri Schanks, MSW, LCSW