During my seven year study of spiritual healing in preparation for researching and finally writing my book Sacred Medicine: A Doctor’s Quest To Unravel The Mysteries of Miraculous Healing, I had long pondered the way the hundreds of people I have interviewed talk about healing. The most conventional point of view comes from those who experienced life-threatening illnesses and credit conventional medicine for saving their lives. They had heart attacks, strokes, cancer, brain aneurysms, life-threatening infection, or traumatic injuries that likely would have killed them, were it not for the miracles of modern medical technology. Some of the people whose lives were saved via conventional medicine express deep gratitude to the doctors, drugs, and machines that saved their lives, and they bow at the feet of modern medicine. Others seem to expect such outcomes, as if it’s ordinary and normal to have your life saved by medical technology, as if none of it is miraculous, as if it is merely science.
Yet not everyone is saved by modern medicine. While conventional medicine can work miracles for acute illness and traumatic injury, it tends to let people down when it comes to chronic illness or disability. This is when people tend to seek out other approaches in a quest to relieve suffering. Some find relief with using food as medicine or herbal approaches. Some swear by homeopathy, chiropractic medicine, or acupuncture. Some go to yoga or meditation seeking solutions. Some still find themselves lost and suffering, having tried all of the above, without relief. It is these people—and those who serve them—who have been the subject of a decade of study for me. Those who Western medicine has given up on, who CAM modalities have failed to treat, who eat well, exercise, meditate, and take all their vitamins, supplements, and herbs—and yet, still they suffer. These are the people my heart goes out to. These are the people I pray I can help through what I’ve learned.
Having listened to countless stories, I have become curious and interested in the language people who have experienced what I’ll call “anomalous healing” use to describe their experience of unexpected and often unexplainable cure. The mind just loves to make meaning of mysterious phenomena, so we all have our strategies, myself included, for trying to explain the numinous.
Healing As Miracle
For some who have been the beneficiaries of such healing, they speak of miracles and interpret the event as Divine intervention, a gift from God, which was an act of grace, something they did not cause and often did not feel they deserved because they did not consider themselves unusually pious. Those who interpret healing from an “incurable” illness which conventional medicine has failed to treat as a “miracle” are often tearfully grateful, still charged with emotion many years later to have been the recipient of such an unearned blessing.
In Jungian psychologist Robert Hopcke’s book There Are No Accidents, he tells the story of Juanita, who considered her healing a miracle. A Puerto Rican-American woman who had suffered severe, untreatable psoriasis on her hands for most of her life, Juanita had given up hope that she would ever be cured. Conventional medicine had failed to give her any relief, as had native herbal remedies and poultices. Then one day, she was praying—not about her psoriasis, but a more general sort of prayer—when she heard a sweet, maternal, loving voice she identified as Mother Mary, which filled her with an ecstatically blissful feeling of wellbeing. The venerated Virgin gave her very clear instructions—Immerse your hands in water and give thanks to God for your healing.” Stunned but devoutly obedient, Juanita did as she was told, filling her bathroom sink with water and dunking her hands in the water while expressing her gratitude for her healing. Within a week, her lifelong psoriasis was cured, never to return. In the case of a miracle, the healing fits into a conventional world view of cause and effect, the cause being God, the effect being cure. For those who are religiously oriented, this kind of explanation for a mysterious phenomenon sits squarely with a “God is in control and we are not” world view, which evokes intense gratitude and wonder, which fits with the etymology of the word “miracle,” which stems from “mirari,” or “to look at in wonder.” Miracles evoke awe, disarming us with wonder.
Healing As Magic
Others treat anomalous healing as a kind of magic, often mediated by someone who they have imbued with supernatural powers, like a shaman or healer or witch doctor. Supposing that this powerful creature can manipulate reality in a way that appears as if an affliction is suddenly and sometimes instantaneously removed, their language is different than those who perceive that they have been the recipient of a miracle. Gratitude is still tantamount, but in these cases, the gratitude is often poured upon the powerful being who facilitated the magical event. As with a miracle caused by God, there is a sense of causation here—only the perception is that the supernatural human caused the cure. Sometimes in situations like this, gratitude is tempered by an expectation of such an event, since they may have paid good money or made a long pilgrimage in order to “earn” such an outcome. In other words, the healing is seen less as a gift, less as grace, and more as a transaction. I give the healer $300, and in exchange, the healer gives me the cure I purchased, in which case, I am grateful for the cure, but I participated in creating it. In this case, those who are cured often use language to suggest that they are in some way causal to the outcome, as opposed to those who believe they received a miracle, which they perceive as acausal, something they did nothing to create, something unrepeatable, unexpected, and unearned.
Such is the case for Will, who was nine years old when he was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor, which, because of its location was inoperable. His father, a cardiologist and die hard believer in conventional medicine, was skeptical when his mother wanted to take him to see the now fallen-from-grace spiritual healer John of God. Will was told he would need to come ever day to the inner sanctum of the space where John of God does his healings at the Casa in Brazil, so his parents risked leaving him there so he could get daily “treatment.” He spent two years sitting with John of God until the day John of God announced, “You are now healed” and sent him home. Will is now 24 years old and studying to be a therapist who can help people who are in the terror of a devastating diagnosis. Will credits John of God with his healing and believes John of God indeed has special powers. Before John of God’s arrest, he had made many pilgrimages to Brazil with others who were seeking healing and can attest to witnessing many inexplicable cures facilitated by John of God’s healings. While Will ultimately believes it was God who healed him via the famous healer, nevertheless, the cause and credit gets placed on John of God, rather than directly on Divine intervention, as Juanita experienced it.
Still others use the language of self-healing or manifestation, as if the healing is caused by the individual who is healed through an act of will, the force of discipline, or the exercising of personal spiritual power. If these people succeed in achieving full cure, they claim to have healed themselves and take credit for the healing personally. When those same people fail to achieve the outcome they are trying to manifest, they tend to express frustration, disappointment, or despair if they have exerted great effort to “heal themselves” only to have failed to achieve the outcome they are seeking. Self-healers tend to believe healing is under a person’s conscious control, so a failure to heal can activate a particularly distressing kind of panic, not just because the illness causes suffering but because the attempts to control reality and manifest what they want seem to have unpredictable efficacy. If they’re not getting the outcome they want, they tend to interpret it as a spiritual failure, as if they’re not trying hard enough or surrendering enough or employing enough discipline to counteract their negative thoughts and beliefs.
Mark healed in this way. After conventional medicine failed to relieve the chronic pain syndrome that plagued him after a sports injury, he sought out CAM modalities. When those also failed to help, he got his hands on every self-help book he could find and started experimenting with the mind-body connection. After years of discovering what helped to relieve his pain and what didn’t, he began examining and questioning his thoughts, clearing and releasing past traumas, and installing positive imagery, beliefs, and experiences. A couple of years of devoted practice to these mind-body techniques led to full resolution of his agonizing pain. Because he employed so much effort, and because nothing else had worked, the story he tells is that he healed herself. He expresses immense gratitude, sometimes to the point of happy tears, and he believes a spiritual source helped free him from the debilitating pain that left him in a wheelchair. But he doesn’t believe any of this would have happened without his effort and willpower.
Healing As Synchronicity
Sometimes healing seems to come as a kind of acausal synchronicity. It would feel like a meaningless coincidence if we weren’t swept into the emotions of awe, wonder, and surprise that tend to accompany synchronicity. This was the case in the spontaneous resolution of my vision. Starting in medical school, my vision deteriorated and I had to start wearing corrective lenses. For the past twenty years, my contact prescription was stable at 20/200. But slowly my vision started getting worse. Thinking I needed new contacts, I went to my ophthalmologist. Turns out I couldn’t see because my vision was now 20/30 and my contacts were overcorrecting me. She said, “That’s impossible.” I lost my shit and said, “DO NOT TELL ME THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE BECAUSE IT JUST HAPPENED IN FRONT OF YOUR VERY EYES. TELL ME “I DIDN’T KNOW THAT WAS POSSIBLE.” A few months later, I got my vision retested and it’s now 20/20.
Did I heal myself? I wasn’t trying to clear my vision. I didn’t go see some healer and ask for help healing my vision. I didn’t hear a voice or see a vision that told me to go bath in this waterfall and my vision would be restored. It just happened. Sure, I’ve been studying spiritual healing for many years, and I’ve had healers offer me sessions. I’ve been praying and meditating for many years. I’ve been seeing a trauma therapist to clear past traumas. But did any of these interventions cause my vision to improve? Did God grant me a gift? Did I do this myself? I have no idea. All I can say is that I am awash in gratitude. I think about it every day, how blessed I feel, how grateful I am. I hope I never take it for granted that something “impossible” happened to me.
Is Healing Something We Control?
All these stories got me thinking . . . The mind SO wants to understand how healing happens so we can control it. (Trust me, this curiosity and desire to control healing is the very foundation of what fueled my Sacred Medicine quest!) But what if healing is more mysterious than the mind can possibly understand? Maybe it’s more like getting pregnant or falling in love than getting a medical degree. If you want a medical degree, you have to have a certain amount of intellectual fortitude to be smart enough to tackle the rigorous classes you have to take to gain entry into medical school. But if you have the brainpower and the discipline, becoming a doctor is a matter of will more than grace. You study hard. You sacrifice your personal life, your sleep, your creative pursuits, and maybe your health, and if you stick with it and keep plodding, one foot in front of another, twelve years later, you wind up a doctor. It’s pretty controllable, assuming you have the brains, the discipline, and the money to pay for school.
Pregnancy or falling in love, on the other hand, are far more mysterious. Sure, you can exercise your discipline and the force of your will to improve your chances of getting pregnant. You can track your ovulation cycle, have sex at all the right times, eat certain foods, take supplements, and even seek medical intervention through an infertility specialist if natural methods aren’t working. But as any infertile couple will tell you, you cannot control getting pregnant. It happens or it doesn’t. Sometimes it happens unexpectedly and people are shocked and unhappy. Other times couples are desperate to get pregnant but pregnancy eludes them. Pregnancy is always a kind of grace, something uncontrollable and mysterious, a spark of life that comes when and if it wants to come.
Falling in love is similarly uncontrollable. Sure, you can try online dating, ask your friends to set you up, and do your best to be a kind, attractive, lovable person. But as anyone who has experienced unrequited love can tell you, there’s nothing you can do to make someone you adore love you back, and there’s nothing you can do to make yourself feel erotic charge with someone who might, by all rational measures, seem perfect for you. Physical attraction and falling in love are more like pregnancy than getting a medical degree.
I suspect healing is more like pregnancy or falling in love. Sure, we can pray like Juanita and hope for a miracle. We can seek out powerful mystic healers and hope they can intervene on our behalf. We can be personally proactive, like Mark, to lay the foundation for healing—or getting pregnant or finding true love. My book Mind Over Medicine was written for people like Mark who want to be proactive about doing everything in your personal power to achieve the best possible health outcome. The Healing Soul Tribe takes this kind of personal empowerment a step further, as we gather in community to practice the Six Steps To Healing Yourself together, along with engaging together in Sacred Medicine techniques intended to make your body ripe for miracles. I’m all for doing what we can to be proactive about self-healing, while also acknowledging the limits of what we can control. But whether or not any individual will be the recipient of a “spontaneous” healing is forever a mystery.
To heal is derived from the root “to become whole.” Healing is ultimately about wholeness. Maybe the journey to wholeness is the whole point. When wholeness is restored through connection to the Source of love and life within, when the fractured self comes together in an integrated way, when synchronicity allows us to be in the right frame of mind, in the right open hearted state, when we’re not grasping for what we want but surrendered into a whole-hearted sense of well being with life just as it is, maybe a portal opens and the interconnected web of life can mysteriously enable unexpected cure, pregnancy, or love. But can we control it with our feeble human will? I don’t really think so.
Maybe it’s supposed to be that way. Maybe we are always supposed to bow in awe of the mystery. Maybe the mystery doesn’t want to be hacked. If we could hack healing—or pregnancy or falling in love—and control the outcome so we could always get what we want, how would we ever learn humility? Why would we ever fall on our knees like Juanita did and pour our hearts out in gratitude for the unearned blessing of healing? If we could be guaranteed that pushing our way to what we want would always work, what would provoke us to really let go, in full resignation and surrender, to open to a more expansive capacity of our human/Divine experience? Maybe it is only in our acceptance of life just as it is—without cure, pregnancy, or an intimate partner—that we paradoxically touch the wholeness that enables what we might call miracles. Perhaps it is this very relaxed receptivity that makes healing possible, but still not controllable. Maybe then healing is always a gift, one that should evoke intense, everlasting gratitude for the blessing of good health. Maybe this state of grace and gratitude is what keeps us healthy after all . . . But then, what do I know?
Have You Been Blessed With Healing?
If you have ever been the recipient of healing, whether via conventional medicine, a miracle, a magical healer, or synchronicity, take a moment now to feel the immensity of the blessing you’ve received. If you feel inspired to do so, please share your story in the comments.
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