When I was talking to Richard Schwartz about how the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model came to be, he said, “It required me to be willing to be wrong dozens of times in the thirty years I’ve spent creating it.” Since I finished writing my book Mind Over Medicine in 2011, I’ve learned so much and proven myself wrong time and again. Any good scientist needs to be willing to assert a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, and then collect evidence that either proves or disproves the hypothesis without attachment to whether the hypothesis is right or wrong.
When I started researching spontaneous remissions and the placebo effect in an attempt to hack healing, I hypothesized what might make the body ripe for miracles. Since I finished writing that book, and as I’ve been collecting evidence for my book Sacred Medicine, my research into the mysteries of healing continues. As a result of this ongoing investigation and the acquisition of new knowledge and understanding, I now teach the 6 Steps To Healing Yourself from Mind Over Medicine differently. In this blog, I’d like to share with you a few new things I’ve learned in the past eight years.
[I’ll be teaching this content experientially and in more detail in my Mind Over Medicine workshop in Mill Valley, CA in June. Register through May 2 at midnight and get $200 off tuition here.]
The 6 Steps To Healing Yourself
First, let me review the way I taught the 6 steps in Mind Over Medicine, and then I’ll briefly review what I’ve learned since then.
Step 1: Believe you can heal yourself.
Step 2: Find the right support.
Step 3: Listen to your body and intuition.
Step 4: Diagnose the root causes of your illness.
Step 5: Write The Prescription for yourself.
Step 6: Surrender attachment to outcomes
Step 1: Believe you can heal yourself.
Steps 1 arose from my understanding of the placebo effect. My definition of the placebo effect in Mind Over Medicine was “a combination of positive belief and the nurturing care of someone you trust.” I still believe that positive belief helps, but I now think it’s less important than other factors. While I’m on board with what Bruce Lipton, PhD teaches in The Biology of Belief about how the hormones induced by positive belief prepare the body-wide cell culture that affects epigenetic changes when you think positive thoughts about your health, I’ve now been exposed to new data that makes me think the placebo effect might not be so simple. I’ve also been exposed to data that suggests that you don’t have to believe in a treatment in order for it to work. A skeptic, for example, appears to be able to receive an energy healing treatment and still experience maximal benefit. While belief probably plays a role, I now think that if you clear your unhealed trauma, for example, you might be cured, even if you don’t believe you will!
Step 2: Find the right support.
Step 2 is full of paradoxes, like “You can heal yourself, but you can’t do it alone.” Step 2 also arose from my understanding of the placebo effect, and I now believe that Step 2 is far more important than I once understood. I conclude that love heals. Period. Scientists and researchers keep trying to separate love and medicine. We want to prove that the chemotherapy works, not the person administering the chemo. We want to prove that the energy healing method works independent of who gives it. I don’t know why we’re so resistant to admitting that the love of the person offering the healing may be far more important than the treatment itself, but science seems uncomfortable with such things. I, for one, am not at all uncomfortable with concluding that finding the right support and feeling loved is essential to the healing process. I mean, duh. It’s quite obvious, isn’t it? It’s also quite scientific. When you feel loved, you feel safe. When you feel safe, your nervous system relaxes into the parasympathetic nervous system, and only then can the body’s natural self-healing mechanisms flip on and do their glorious thing.
For many years, cardiologist Dean Ornish, MD has been leading the Ornish Reversal Program for people with coronary artery disease for many years. The program, which is now considered mainstream, is evidence-based, is covered by Medicare, and has been proven to open blocked coronary arteries without stenting or surgery, consists of diet changes, exercise, stress reduction, and the loving support of a circle of other people going through the program. When I asked Dr. Ornish what he thought really worked about his program, he told me that the diet and exercise protocols were there in order to get Congress to approve Medicare coverage from the program. “But what really works?” I asked. He said, “It’s a conspiracy of love. They have broken hearts. We put them in a circle and they give and receive love from each other. Then they have healing hearts.”
So yes, I still think Step 2 is essential, and if you don’t feel loved by your health care providers, find new ones. Expertise is great, but it’s insufficient for permanent healing. The people who experience radical remissions feel loved by their support team.
Step 3: Listen to your body and intuition.
Step 3 is all about connection to what I call your “Inner Pilot Light.” I just wrote a whole book—The Daily Flame—about how your connection to your inner doctor, mentor, therapist, parent, Beloved, and guidance system is foundational as a fundamental of self-healing. I now have more tools than I had when I wrote Mind Over Medicine about what actually secures this Divine connection to our true center. Without this, all the effort in the world will not optimize the healing process. Nobody outside of you knows what will best serve your healing journey. Just as I described in my story of my own healing journey after I was injured in a dog attack two years ago, your Inner Pilot Light knows your way. And your way is unique to just you.
Step 4: Diagnose the root causes of your illness.
This is still the most uncomfortable and potentially triggering step in healing yourself, and it’s the one you’re likely to need the most support to uncover. Because most people are in denial about what their bodies may be trying to communicate with them through illness or injury, we have lots of defenses built up to protect us from actually facing the truth. For example, if you’re sick because your childhood wounding has resulted in your inability to say no, your illness may be the way you’ve adapted, so your body forces you to say no. That way, you have a good excuse to say no, and it’s easier to say “I have a migraine” than “No, I’m not resourced to help you or meet your need right now.” People may judge themselves for having an illness that says no for them, but once you learn to love, accept, and appreciate your body and even your illness, once you validate and respect how it might think it’s helping you, you can face the truth about the real issue, which is that you still have unhealed trauma from childhood that made you incapable of saying no. Once that trauma is healed, your body may not need to say no for you anymore, because your mouth can say no instead. In the Mind Over Medicine workshop in Mill Valley, CA in June, we’ll be focusing a lot on Step 4 and doing some trauma healing work to clear and treat the root causes.
Step 5: Write your own Prescription.
This is the action step, the one where you answer the question, “What does your body need in order to heal?” or “How can you live a life your body will love?” It’s an intuitively-guided treatment plan that only you can write. It may include conventional medical treatments. It may include complementary and alternative treatments. It may include trauma therapy to clear the wounds you identified in Step 4. It may include lifestyle modifications, like setting boundaries in your relationships or making a career change or moving to a more health-inducing location. It may include changing your diet or starting a meditation practice or joining a running group. It might include signing up for a workshop like the Mind Over Medicine workshop I’ll be teaching (register here). The key is that nobody else can write this kind of capital “P” Prescription for you. Your doctors and other healers can make suggestions, but they are merely expert consultants. Your Inner Pilot Light is the Source of what belongs on your Prescription or not. (If you’re not sure how to get a yes/no answer from your Inner Pilot Light, the Connect To Your Inner Pilot Light program might be just what your inner doctor ordered.)
Step 6: Let go of attachment to outcomes.
Imagine if every illness, new pregnancy, or surgery began with a simply prayer—”Let us pray for that which is most right.” What if we simply don’t know what is most aligned for our soul’s journey? It’s hard not to be attached to the desire to get out of suffering or avoid dying. But as Tosha Silver says, “The very act of grasping for the feather creates the wind current that pushes it away.” It totally makes sense that we grasp for cure. But this step of spiritual surrender is a gesture towards letting go. It acknowledges that there are things you can do to be proactive about your health—and there are mysteries that will alone cannot control. If you ask for help and surrender your desire for cure to whatever Force of Love you resonate with (your Inner Pilot Light, the Universe, the Divine, God, Goddess, angels, guides, your spirit animal, other deities, or maybe something in nature, like a tree or the ocean), mysterious forces beyond your control, you’re likely to feel an inner peace that frees you and relaxes your nervous system. There are some things we simply can’t make happen. We simply have to let them happen—or not.
What’s New? How Have The 6 Steps Changed Since 2011?
While this is the format and order in which I taught the 6 Steps in Mind Over Medicine, I’ve been reframing and teaching the process differently in my Mind Over Medicine workshops and in the Whole Health Medicine Institute. After taking a workshop with Outrageous Openness author Tosha Silver back in 2013, I realized that (duh), Step 6 should be Step 1. Of course we don’t need to wait until the end of the process to humble ourselves, ask for help, surrender to the Divine, and then . . . wait for guidance! While some people are unwilling to raise the white flag of spiritual surrender until they feel they have maxed out everything they can make happen proactively with the force of their will, this can lead to a lot of unnecessary effort and frustration. Surrender first, then carry on.
What use to be Step 1—about believing you can get well—still has benefit, but I now think it’s less important than I once did. Yes, positive belief can relax the nervous system and optimize outcomes, but positive belief alone will not cure cancer. Clearing your trauma, however, may cure cancer, even if you don’t believe it will. So belief, while important, is less important than other factors, I now believe.
What was once Step 2 about finding the right support I now believe is more crucial than I ever realized. It’s not just about finding the right healing team. It’s about finding a healing community. Group healing seems to affect outcomes exponentially. This may explain, at least in part, phenomena like Lourdes, where pilgrims gather by the tens of thousands and some experience radical remissions from “incurable” illnesses. Maybe it’s Divine intervention, or maybe it’s a kind of group energy healing, where members of the group are linked by resonant bonding, and if one person gets cured, others, through a kind of quantum entanglement—or dare I call it “love”—can also get cured. It’s a paradox: Your body can heal itself, and you can’t do it alone.
I just wrote a whole book about what was Step 3—connecting to your Inner Pilot Light. (Sign up for the free Daily Flame or get the book here). I still think this is tantamount. Nobody knows your body better than you. Others can offer you their expertise, but never give away your power to tune into your own intuition and receive the guidance that can optimize your outcome. But I now realize that this step is actually part of Step 1. When you surrender to Divine Will and activate other practices of connecting to your Inner Pilot Light and trusting the mysterious guidance that can come through, this trust sets the stage for the whole journey, so you don’t need to consider it a separate step.
What were steps 4 and steps 5 are the same, only now I realize that Step 4 is largely about bringing into conscious awareness the unconscious traumas that predispose us to health. (Read about the unmistakable link between trauma and disease here.)
After teaching a lot of Mind Over Medicine workshops to large groups, I also added a step after step 5. When I’m working with groups, I’ll often ask people to review their Prescriptions and share them with a partner out loud. I’ll then ask them to imagine that we live in a magical universe where we could guarantee that if they actually followed through on everything on their Prescription, they would be cured. How many would do it? To my shock, only about half raised their hands.
Why, I’d ask? Of course, there are no guarantees, so I understand that some people might not follow through because they don’t trust that it would help. But if you had a guarantee, why would you not do it? I asked the half that didn’t raise their hands to stand up, and from their disclosures, I learned something startling.
How We Unconsciously Sabotage Healing
Many people who are sick are getting secondary gain from their illness, or their illness thinks it’s protecting them. So while they say they want to get well, and while it’s true that part of them wants to get well, an even stronger part of them does not want to get well. Why would this be? For example, people realized they didn’t want to give up their disability check and go back to a soul sucking job, but they didn’t know how else to pay the bills. They realized that cancer was serving a purpose to make them prioritize their own needs instead of caregiving everyone else all the time. They suddenly saw how illness was a good excuse to avoid toxic family gatherings, get out of housework and child care duties, and have a good reason for not pursuing a dream that might require them to risk failure. People often feel ashamed when they realize this. But this is nothing to be ashamed about. It’s just something to bring into consciousness, so that you realize that you may be putting one foot on the gas and one foot on the brakes. If you really want to optimize outcomes, you’ll need to address the blocks and clear them so that if cure is in the cards for your soul’s journey, it will have a chance to come through without your unconscious sabotage. To address this, I added a step about dealing with the inevitable fear and resistance that arises, and clearing those blocks.
So . . . to review:
The new 6 Steps To Healing Yourself
Step 1: Surrender your desire for cure to your Inner Pilot Light. Cast the burden of this intense desire over to Divine Will and ask for help navigating the healing journey. Trust that if right action is required, you will be guided through this gateway to the Infinite.
Step 2: Believe that cure is possible. Acknowledge the uncertainty that accompanies any healing journey and allow yourself to feel the feelings that come with uncertainty. But also restore hope and open the portal of potential. Toss out any statistics you hear from doctors or read on the internet. This is YOUR journey. You are not a statistic. You are a unique individual who has an unknown and unknowable future. This is not about entering a state of false hope or denial. It’s about being willing to not know. When you don’t know what the future holds, anything can happen, even a miracle.
Step 3: Surround yourself with healing support. As much as self-help books like to suggest that healing can be a solitary journey, I no longer believe that optimal healing arises from the rugged individualist. Perhaps part of the healing process is intended to restore our place of belonging in tribe. If you believe you have to do everything yourself and you can’t dare to rely on anyone else’s love and support, that’s a recipe for illness. No wonder your body would feel the need to force you to receive care! Even if you’re an introvert or a monk, you’ll need the right kind of community support. You might need experts, whether they are doctors or therapists or energy healers or shamans. Or you might just need a circle of peers who are also on a healing journey. (Read my vision about Healing Soul Tribes here.)
Step 4: Diagnose the root cause of your illness. The Whole Health Cairn wellness model that I introduced in two TEDx talks and in Mind Over Medicine expands on the Whole Health Cairn, which is still the foundation of Step 4. What many people find when they work through this step is that trauma lies at the root of this diagnostic process. You can often find the root cause quite easily by asking your body or your illness or your symptom, “Why are you here? How do you think you’re protecting me?” Then listen deeply and receive what your body communicates. After seven years of research, I’m now convinced that many illnesses are the result of trauma, especially those mysterious illnesses that are either hard to diagnose, have no known treatment, or do not respond to conventional medical treatment. Some people have experienced the Big T traumas, the ones researchers call the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s). But 100% of us have experienced what might seem like smaller traumas, such as the developmental traumas that interfere with our healthy individuation, capacity for intimacy, and natural full expression of our authentic selves. Such trauma, which Buddhist psychiatrist Mark Epstein, MD calls “the trauma of everyday life,” affects every one of us and impacts our health. Talk therapy is not enough to heal these wounds. Healing requires not just talking about traumatic events in our lives; it requires clearing those traumas from our energy systems (researchers like Shamini Jain, PhD call it “the biofield”), so life force can flow freely. This natural flow of life force can sometimes cure disease and prevent future disease or disability. I’m not saying all disease is the result of psycho-spiritual trauma. Perhaps it’s the trauma of eating crap or poisoning your body with cigarettes or living next door to a toxic waste dump. But I am suggesting that trauma plays a far more significant role in the development of illness than most doctors and scientists are acknowledging. And if we want to optimize the chance for full cure, we need to get to the root of these traumas and treat them with effective trauma clearing modalities like Advanced Integrative Therapy (AIT) or Internal Family Systems (IFS).
Step 5: Write The Prescription for yourself. Tuning into your Inner Pilot Light, allow yourself to be guided to the action steps that you intuit will help you heal. This inner doctor will help you choose between conventional treatment options, if you sense that will help. It may also guide you to start working with a trauma therapist or energy healer. It may guide you to end your marriage, change careers, write the book you’ve dreamed of writing, and start a yoga class. Write it all down so you can see it in one place. You may only know the first step, and that’s fine. One intuitively guided action step may lead to the next, and if you trust the process, all you need to know is your next right step.
Step 6: Treat your resistance. 100% of the people I’ve worked with, myself included, have at least some bit of resistance to the Whole Health healing process. You might be afraid to follow through on what your Inner Pilot Light is guiding you to do. You might have one foot on the gas and one foot on the brakes because of the secondary gain you’re getting from your illness. You may also see a whole series of steps that overwhelm you. This is fine. Most of us have resistance to change, even positive change. Treating your resistance takes some guidance, which we’ll be facilitating in the Mind Over Medicine workshop I’ll be teaching in Mill Valley in June. (Register here by May 1 and save $200.) If you can’t make the workshop and you don’t know how to address your resistance on your own, you may need expert help treating your resistance. But don’t resist your resistance! It’s natural and nothing to feel ashamed about.
I hope to see many of you at the Mind Over Medicine workshop so we can work these 6 steps in a healing community of people who can help each other heal. Register here. If you can’t make it, I’m considering writing a revised edition of Mind Over Medicine so I can make these changes to the process and flesh them out some more, but until then, I wanted to update you on how these steps have changed over the years. I’d welcome your feedback. What do you think? Share your wisdom or ask your questions!
With love and wishes for healing,
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