Published in Acupuncture Today February 2020 Vol 21, Issue 2
What do we think of when we hear the word ‘healing’? For many, the first conclusion is that healing means to get better, or to heal from a disease. But what if this belief and concept about healing isn’t the whole picture? If healing doesn’t just mean to get better, then what does it mean? And how can this help us help our patients?
Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines healing as:
heal - transitive verb
1a: to make free from injury or disease : to make sound or whole // heal a wound
B: to make well again : to restore to health // heal the sick
2a: to cause (an undesirable condition) to be overcome // MEND the troubles … had not been forgotten, but they had been healed — William Power
b: to patch up or correct (a breach or division) // heal a breach between friends
3: to restore to original purity or integrity // healed of sin
Our approach in healthcare focuses on the first 3-4 aspects of this definition - to heal a wound, the sick or overcome an undesirable situation. While it is important to help our patients find recovery from the ailments that bring them into our office, in some cases, this isn’t always possible. Chronic disease, terminal illness or life situations that are permanent are not so simply overcome in the sense that we can erase them from reality entirely. It’s in this case where we have to focus on the last definition of the world healing - to restore to original purity or integrity. And while the sample of being ‘healed of sin’ takes on a different tone, what I believe this definition to point to is simply: to return to our original intention.
The intention of most beings on this planet is to learn, and one of the best routes we have to accomplish this is through pain - pain forces us to pay attention and address something we may have been ignoring, most simply put: we experience pain because it is important. We tend to lose sight of the opportunity to learn when we’re dealing with a problem that is solvable - a broken bone will mend, a cold will run its course, but what do we lose when the focus is only on getting over it, rather than learning through it? Finding the purpose in the pain is what instigates the path of true healing, where healing can be experienced on every level of being - the body, mind, emotional body and spirit and when this happens a new level of awareness is reached, along with a new level of peace with where we are at. This type of healing is what is essential for improved quality of life outcomes, where we may not be able to get a pain level to change, but they are able to find an improved outlook, less anxiety, better sleep and ultimately have a better relationship with their pain, rather than looking at it as something that is ‘bad’ and needs to be eradicated. Shifting the perspective on healing in this way allows our patients to find purpose in any pain, or discourse in life and results in an improved ability to handle stress, and find purpose in the World free from suffering.
Pain is inevitable, but our resistance to our pain is what causes suffering. We may take on the mindset that we even hate our pain, or resist our emotions and hold them back, and while this may be temporarily motivating - to find the solution, it’s actually reinforcing the need for the pain in the first place. If we aren’t listening to the pain, we aren’t learning the lesson in it. It comes down to looking into our pain straight on, facing that darkness we would rather ignore or resolve without awareness, to be able to truly heal and find purpose. Walking that path is rarely straightforward, and is never instantaneous, finding that purpose is a practice in awareness which takes time to build on, and at first begins with reflection on the past.
Helping our patients with this reframing of pain comes in many different sizes and flavors, and it’s important for us to use our intuition when counseling a patient to tune into how to approach their complaint in order to find a path which works for that particular individual.
Taking a Step into Awareness
We can’t heal what we aren’t aware of, just like we can’t fix our finances without looking at our bank account. Cultivating this awareness takes patience and a strong willingness to break free from the common patterns of how we approach healing. It's ultimately about learning how to stop lying to ourselves, which is commonplace for practically everyone, we lie, omit or downplay our true feelings, and most often our intuition. From a space of compassion with an open heart we are able to help our patients start to access this truth within them, where we can see how they might be downplaying something that’s true for them, with gentle coaching we can help them acknowledge it and own their truth in the process. Helping them to begin to pay attention to true feelings, thoughts or desires is a significant step in this process of awareness. Getting to the root of what’s truly going on is essential to help them move through it. Most importantly we must also model this awareness for our patients, by making that commitment to catch our own lies to ourselves, we can not only help coach a patient but also be a model for them to witness in the process.
One of the first steps in true healing is acceptance. In an extension of lying to ourselves, it’s also easy to ignore, or paint a different picture of what our reality actually is, how we are feeling or our reactions to it. By accepting reality, thoughts, feelings, pain and all, we have the opportunity to learn through it, transcend it and begin to find peace with a different perspective. Helping our patients come down from the perceived fantasy about a situation or illness is essential to help move through it, while miracles do happen; ignoring a real problem or wishing it away doesn’t promote ownership of one’s own opportunity for healing and growth, and ignores a vital step in the healing process. We have to own our healing process to fully participate in it, no matter how much we don’t want it to be true. It’s this step in actually facing the problem that gives us the chance to address it.
As a practitioner and a patient, compassion is one of the most useful tools we have, it allows us to simply allow what is, and when we do this we stop resisting and start letting in. Compassion isn’t just being nice or warm hearted, compassion is holding your space while allowing another to have their reality. It’s not about changing anything, it’s about staying true to you, while letting others have their own experience. When we turn this practice inward it’s about staying present in the face of something that causes pain or that we dislike. By not giving up ourselves or our space to a problem, we are able to be fully present with it and effective in addressing it.
Finding purpose in pain is not an easy process, but it is a rewarding one. It will leave patients feeling empowered as opposed to victimized by their diseases and problems, and is a catalyst for instigating the process of true, multi-dimensional healing of all aspects of being.
Dr. Kim Peirano, DACM, LAc is the Owner and Acupuncturist at Lion's Heart Wellness, the San Francisco Bay Area and Marin's #1 Cosmetic Acupuncturist and #1 Holistic Healer.