II: Healing leads to changes in the way we perceive
March 23, 2016
The process of sustainable healing, which is absolutely essential in the experience of recovery from and resolution of chronic illness, is accompanied by a peculiar set of changes in subjective and objective perception; it shouldn’t be controversial that the mind and person undergo growth along a learning curve which is steeper later than earlier, and it is this growth process we call perception reframing. Witnessing this learning process in people who were recently absolute strangers in our lives is one of the most intimate and rewarding aspects of the work we do, and makes the work of the physician & alchemist incomparably unique. It is as a result of our witnessing the perception reframing within the selves of both my patients and ourselves that we are able to discuss and articulate the nuances of the topic.
The patient associates his “self” more intimately with his body; this translates to greater accountability in choices, less victimization, enhanced participation in the healing process, more compassion towards the suffering and imbalances incurred by the body, more emboldening towards the process of healing, which is a process in which homeostatic physiologic mechanisms move towards optimum performance and functioning (not merely the ‘not sick’ type of functioning). “The transient state of imbalance I was experiencing was due to _____________” replaces the experience of “_____________ illness is happening to me.” The person clearly has experienced a shift in self-compassion and self- knowing.
The greater compassion towards the vagaries of physiologic systems and how they can so easily enter a state of imbalance and un-wellness leads to the generation of proactive systems of living that are investments in the person’s future self; this is Prevention 2.0 and if enacted on a public health level, would lead to the widespread eradication of chronic noncontagious illness.
The person experiences their life with a greater sense of joy, and this joy is palpable to others; relationships are consequently enhanced, dishonesty in relationships is rooted out as the person refuses to waste his/her time on anything that lacks integrity and truth quality; as a result of this enhanced social connectivity and emotional health, the person’s emotional well-being becomes more balanced. The person reacts to life’s stressors less emotionally, less reactively, and more from the “wise self” (a self that combines both cerebral and emotional ways of perceiving).
As a result of dawning human maturity from Changes 1-3, a calmness enters the lived experience of the person. This calmness leads to less erratic / jumbled mentation, less jittery and anxious experiences, all of which lead to a sense of time not moving too fast nor too slow. The present expands to a fullness of experience that allows for a richer tapestry of perceiving; the person may have aesthetic, intellectual, emotional, and visceral experiences all at once, all while physically doing something very simple such as sitting in a public square listening to music or waiting for a train. Such a person engages life in a more wholesome, less fear and anger – based way.
By this point symptoms accompanying chronic illness are gone, and the person experiences life without the constant reminder of suffering and pain. This allows for a burgeoning spirituality, born from compassion, which may explain why those who have experienced healing are often the strongest voices advocating spiritual themes.
1: The Family History
December 10 2015
We extol the tree whose roots intermingle deep in the environs of the earth, whose trunk is sturdy and firm, whose branches confidently offer arms to hold birds, nests, insects, and rodents; whose fruits robustly are offered back to the earth to encourage a new generation of such grace…
At The Columbia Center for Integrative Medicine, each patient we serve undergoes extensive family history assessment by our clinical team, consisting principally of an Integrative Physician and an Integrative Alchemist; each offers an assessment that together lead to a three dimensional understanding of the person, in the context of their unique experience, upbringing, conditioning, cultural background, genetics, and family imprinting. Understanding the patient’s perception of his/her own family and the inter-connected and inter-dependent attributes of family dynamics and relationships can help create proactive approaches to healing. For example, knowing that both parents of a thirty year old young women demonstrated tendencies towards weight gain and depression, both of which were witnessed by the young woman throughout her youth, enables the CCIM team to almost predict how the young woman will respond to severe stress and what illnesses to expect during times of imbalance…
Physician: The mainstream medical model recommends taking a family history during clinical encounters because of the importance of being alert to hereditary / genetically-linked associations of certain illnesses, most notably premature coronary artery disease and breast cancer.
Alchemist: That makes sense, but the impact of familial imprinting on a person’s health goes far beyond the somewhat infrequent amount of hereditary illness we see today- isn’t that correct- hereditary illness is relatively rare right?
P: Yes indeed- the big ones grab media spotlight- breast cancer, Huntington’s disease, etc. Most illnesses are not hereditary, but genetics are involved- in the integrative medicine world we refer to this as epigenetic associations- genes are involved (as are hormones, cellular health, inflammation, etc) but are not causative.
A: Exactly! However we see such concordance of imbalances in families. We all experience this. I’m not referring to eye color, hair color or height- there’s not much that can be done about these things- but I’m talking about imprinted tendencies towards imbalance: the person who witnesses their mother manifest her unresolved imbalances in depression, anxiety, and mental illness is imprinted right there with a way to deal with the world and the self- it’s a way out, a maladaptive approach to dealing with what life throws at us. The mother in a sense, is teaching and reinforcing a way of being, a behavior. It is absolutely expected for a child to grow into an adult whose behavior is fundamentally informed by this way of being.
P: That word imprinting – reminds me of behaviorism and conditioning- I think the mainstream medical world would accept imprinting when it comes to animal and social behavior, but is still scratching the surface in application of this concept to clinical matters. I am grateful for the burgeoning worlds of psychoneuroimmunology and psychoneuroendocrinology which are articulating the true science behind psychosomatic illness- its far more common than we think isn’t it?
A: Absolutely- and we all experience this- our perceptual apparatus creates new understandings constantly, and the ones with emotional tone leave residues that last a long time, until they are experientially or energetically resolved; in Sanskrit the term for this is samskaras, which is loosely defined as behavioral tendencies which are “stuck” in the behavior of a person as a result of conditioning.
P: Something you said a second ago – that while not much can be done about one’s biologic eye color, skin color, and height, etc. that implies that something can be done about these other things you are saying with which we are imprinted; these tendencies towards imbalances which cause disease- this is a science which helps us create customized therapeutic solutions for our patients.
A: Exactly- the beautiful thing is that the brain and human potential have unimaginable capacity for generation of new patterns of perception- new neural networks- and with reconditioning, those newly generate neural networks will have experiential consequences.
P: From a functional medicine perspective, that’s top-down therapeutics; we know that the brain controls the immune system and the endocrine system (hormones), and is intimately connected to the GI tract and enteric nervous system, as well as the vital organ performance- liver, kidney, spleen, etc. By getting to fundamental patterns of being and perceiving, we can have direct impact on physiology, and that will affect people in a medical context. I’m reminded of the great psychiatrist Milton Erickson, MD, who used clinical neurolinguistics programming techniques to delve into the subconscious of his patients, helping move stagnating patterns of perception. His clinical results are breathtaking- from phobias to neuroses, to autoimmune illness, he was able to catalyze lasting healing!
A: As a teacher specializing in special education, I saw imprinted tendencies which originated at home every day: children with mood disorders would act out, expecting reactions from everyone else which would reinforce that behavior. Refusing to reinforce behavior that we wanted to condition out, I would respond in ways that the child couldn’t predict, arresting his/her attention, thereby helping channel that imbalanced energy into a new way of being- I could see new neural network pathways being carved out as these kids learned new ways of responding to the world.
P: That may explain why occupational therapists emphasizing tactile learning are so effective with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders- they must facilitate the creation of new neural networks that offer a way for the child to connect in a manner that makes sense to him/her.
A: And I use this approach in our Integrative Alchemy program- we both see how our patients ultimately realize that responses (behavioral, emotional, linguistic, energetic) lead to maladaptive ways of living which lead to…
P: …Physiologic imbalances which lead to chronic illness/disease.
A: By teaching healthy responses to life’s various stressors, by using various customizable self-care strategies, we can create proactive strategies which lead to wellness. The great thing is that wellness has a great side effect: happiness!
P: So what I’m hearing from you is that just because a person has two parents with cancer and heart disease, a brother with obesity and diabetes, and a sister with depression, that doesn’t mean that he/she is destined for misery and disease?
A: I’ll remind you of what you taught me about epigenetics- genes are one component of the cellular health picture, and our lifestyle, habits, thoughts, attitudes can do much to inform the genes how to perform…
P: …What proteins to make and what to do…
A: Exactly. Imprinted tendencies can be resolved. It may take a lifetime – or more, but the nature of the human experience is flux; our atoms are different with each passing decade; we destroy and create brain cells constantly; it is only when we are convinced of a conditioning which is “real” is when we start experiencing a reality which never changes- such is the illusory nature of experience!
P: One of the things I love about CCIM is the opportunity to be of service in such a deep way in people’s lives. Helping people resolve symptoms and balance physiology is a portal into real emotional healing and spiritual unfolding- both for our patients and for us!
A: I agree. How about we do a 3 minute meditation before we start our afternoon seeing patients?
P: Sure! What do you have in mind?
A: Ok- sit in half lotus and…
The Columbia Center for Integrative Medicine