Something Selina and I wanted when we moved to Tennessee was to have a mountain view. Our house is located about 40 miles from the center of Knoxville and 50 miles from the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We feel grateful to be able to see the Smoky Mountains from our front porch. For a time, we wanted to live even closer to the mountains. Interesting thing, when you live in the mountains, you can’t see them. It’s another way to appreciate the phrase, “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” Although accurate, it sounds strange to say “Can’t see the mountains for the mountains.”
Another interesting thing about mountains, it seems human nature compels us to journey to their top. We see the peak, feel the challenge, and desire that feeling of accomplishment. We think, “How am I going to hike up that mountain?” It becomes a project with a desired goal, following a series of well though out action steps. A game plan is established and the journey begins. Great use of the mind. This is classically how we tackle most projects. Fixing your car, remolding the kitchen, planning a road trip, etc. But how effective is that approach when faced with a health challenge?
The way I see it, when faced with a health issue we have four options. Delegate it, cure it, heal it, or a hybrid approach. Each option has their own set of pros and cons. How do you know which approach to take? Before going any further, we need to define our terms. What I notice as a health care provider combined with what I see in our culture, is that most people are not aware of their options. Or the implications of their choice. What options do you choose to address your health?
We have to consider the severity and urgency of the health issue. This will determine how much time we can afford to the project. And of course, when it gets scary, how much can you trust the process and stay curious? Much more to consider than climbing a mountain or even completing your taxes. That was supposed to be a joke. Healing is a bit easier when you can find some humor. “Your levity is good, it relieves tension and the fear of death.” – The Terminator.
Main stream medicine exclusively uses the cure it approach. It is by far the most widely used approach in the world for addressing health concerns. For many people that is the only approach they ever take, all the way up until their last dying days. So we are going to discuss the ‘cure it’ approach first. I Googled define cure, and the top return showed two equal and distinct definitions. Here they are.
1. relieve (a person or animal) of the symptoms of a disease or condition.
2. preserve (meat, fish, tobacco, or an animal skin) by various methods such as salting, drying, or smoking.
On the surface, these appear to be two separate definitions. But I see them as the same, because the intent underlying the action is the same. It is the desire to relieve symptoms of a disease while simultaneously preserving the person and their lifestyle. It allows us to keep doing the things that caused the problem, by taking away the consequence, at least for a while. Essentially a successful cure separates the symptom from the person having the symptom. The value of a curative remedy is short term comfort and to provide more time before real healing becomes necessary.
As you read through each description, it may be helpful to refer to this graph. The x-axis represents the severity of the symptoms. The y-axis represents how much time we have to address the issue. The following example would be representative of quadrant C.
John Doe has another headache, the third one this week. He suspects that this is a problem because he knows it’s not normal to have reoccurring headaches. He needs to investigate this health issue further but he has so much to do. So many meetings with deadlines that requires his full attention. He stays up late and gets up early and pounds coffee to try to keep up with his work load. He hasn’t been able to attend any of his son’s baseball games all season. Or much less play a round a golf, his favorite passtime activity. He needs a short term fix for that annoying headache. Something to provide just a little more time until he can get his affairs in order... then he can address this headache thing. He needs a cure and Tylenol was his choice. And hiking to the top of the mountain he goes.
Does John have a brain tumor? Or just very stressed out, not sleeping well enough, or taking time to enjoy life and to restore his vitality? At this point we do not know for sure, and it does not really matter to John. We do know that John needs to reflect upon his life and make some choices about his priorities. But he does not know that yet. We also know that curing the headache with Tylenol made him feel better, and enabled him to continue to stress his body, and to preserve his unhealthy lifestyle. If he has a brain tumor, the cure allowed it to continue to grow undetected. That may make a difference in the end. If he is just stressed, the cure allowed him to not have to take a reflective look at his life. His cure bypassed an opportunity to heal...for a while longer.
If you look up the definition of heal, you will see cure listed as a synonym. That is unfortunate. Indiscriminately blurring the lines between curing and healing makes people think they are the same thing. It takes an option off the menu and limits our choices. Healing has very little to do with symptom relief or removal of a health condition. It’s about wholeness. The relationship we have with our own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects within us, and the rest of the world around us. This involves placing a symptom or health condition within a greater context relative to our whole life. Not seen on medical drama TV. The doctor is usually the hero. Not the patient’s courage to heal.
To engage in a healing process you have to separate the symptom from your concern of the symptom. Here is a very simple exercise for you to do. Put your attention on any aliment or health issue you are currently having. Ask yourself what am I feeling? Now ask yourself how do I feel about what I am feeling? You have just made the symptom personal. I works better if you have someone guiding you. Here is an example of quadrant B.
Let’s do this exercise with John. John, how does your head feel? “It hurts.” Notice that his answer really tells us nothing. It’s too superficial. So, John, describe for me the physical sensations of how your head feels, and be specific. “It constantly throbs, with a piercing spike type jolt that goes through my right eyeball.” While he talks you can see, hear, and feel a subtle but palpable tension in his communication. So we probe deeper with a more targeted question. And how does that make you feel? In an unconscious attempt to avoid deeper feelings, his response is, “It makes it hard for me to think clearly or to stay focused. I can’t get my work done.” He still did not tell us his feelings. But he did tell us his concern behind the symptom, and we can work with that. John, what’s your concern about not getting all your work done? “I can’t make money.”
We stop there because John is a dude and that is about as far as we can take this dance. Going further crosses over into the touchy feely realm. Harder for men. Interesting to note, a woman’s life expectancy is seven times longer, and on average will see a doctor three times more than a man. Feeling is healing. But when things get intense enough, he will eventually go there... we all do.
This exercise is like hiking down a mountain. As you descend from the top, your terrain becomes larger. More to discover, more to appreciate. At the foot hills is where you get to the bottom to things. What I have noticed, at the core of any health condition, is a fear based concern waiting for us. This is where we can distinguish the pain from the suffering. Pain is awareness of the discomfort, and a painful experience can activate suffering. But it is suffering, not pain, that touches our true self. For John, if he cannot make money, it represents something deeper about his sense of self. His ability to make money is the cornerstone of what makes him him.
Please understand, that for some people, it will be about their good looks, or their intelligence, or whatever attribute that has molded them. Their sense of self worth is anchored to that attribute. They cannot risk being without the quality that makes them exist. Take it away, and they figuratively die. Could it be, that John’s headache is signaling to him that there is a more honoring way of being? His worth is not dependent on how hard he works? Amazing how a tiny Tylenol pill can keep him from looking at that possibility. The marvels of modern medicine.
It’s not nice to fool mother nature. Do it enough times and you may find yourself in quadrant D. When the health issue has become very serious and time is critically short, you have to delegate. It is a subset of the cure it path. It is the perfect setting for the cure it path. Could be trauma related or a severe infection. Whatever it may be, it requires a health care professional that you can completely turn things over to. You no longer have a choice, it is out of your control. This is where the marvels of modern medicine marvels.
The hybrid pathway is a convoluted mixture of possibilities. Healing concepts are coming more into culture with the use of the internet. But what we are seeing is an inaccurate portrayal of what it really means. Taking vitamin supplements and super foods to lower blood pressure instead of a diuretic is a better choice if it works. But again, the intent is the same. To lower the blood pressure rather than to get to the heart of the matter. Why does the heart have pressure? The answer comes by asking the heart, not the mind.
Healing concepts have been hijacked by the alternative medicine market. People have been convinced that alternative medicine is somehow better than drugs. That is not always the case. All traditional medicine and almost all the alternative medicine is still curative remedies. Attention needs to be placed on the intention of our actions instead of the action taken. Where did the healing begin?
Acid Reflex → Tums → Prilosec → baking soda → apple cider vinegar → diet change
Healing can happen anywhere, anytime.
Here is the story of a patient I treated well over 25 years ago. It is a good example of a hybrid pathway represented by quadrant A. I honestly cannot remember her name and barely her face. But I could still tell you everything about her spine and associated structures. I will refer to her as Judy. She was about 50 years old and had been in a motorcycle accident many years prior. The trauma fractured her hip and although the bones had long healed, she was left with a distorted gait mechanism and chronic pain. Over the years her unsteady walking motion had excessively worn away the integrity of her hip socket. Judy had received two independent recommendations from orthopedic surgeons saying that a hip replacement was eminent.
During my consultation with Judy, she made it very clear, in no uncertain terms, she was never going to get a hip replacement! I told her that I will work to restore as much bio-mechanical reorganization as her altered structure will allow, and we will see what happens. I made no guarantees. I applied gentle chiropractic adjustments with the intent to restore balance to her nervous system. This removed core tension patterns within and around her brain and spinal cord tissues. This process allowed an alignment of her spinal bio-mechanics, posture, breath, mental and emotional connections within herself.
Her muscles and spinal joints were becoming healthier and her breath was much deeper. She was regaining a healthier spine. Somewhere around the fifth office visit, during an adjustment, she started to cry quite dramatically. After about 5 minutes of sobbing she abruptly sat up and said to me, “I’m ready for the hip replacement.” She went on to explain that what she needed was to grieve over the loss of her hip. She was grateful for all that her hip had done for her and that it was time to say goodbye.
Let’s recap this hybrid example. She came in seeking a cure. I provided intervention with a healing intent. I made no guarantees of symptomatic relief or that we would save her hip. As she healed, she became more whole with in herself. She welcomed back her afflicted hip. She left seeking a curative hip replacement procedure, but from a place of healing. The odds of her procedure being successful were greatly magnified.
The next time you come into my office for an appointment, ask yourself this question regarding your aliment or health concern. What type of health care do I want? Do I want Dr. Brittain to cure it, heal it, or some hybrid approach. Full disclosure, whatever you tell me, I am still going to approach you with a healing intent. There are many fine doctors, pills, lotions, and potions that can give you a cure. But very few doctors have the ability or the desire to embrace the path of healing. I do.
Lets hike down the mountain together.