Often we think that the most recent innovation in healthcare is the most effective form of treatment, and we often forget the rich tradition of healing that is thousands of years old. In the Western world we are particularly prone to discarding older traditions as new technologies and ways of thinking take center stage. Going back to whole-systems medicine traditions of the Eastern world has given me the depth of understanding and integration that has so benefitted my personal and professional development. I hope the ideas put forward here build a cohesive foundation for understanding our holistic universe in which we live so as to incorporate all modes of being into our personal healing process and quicken transformation to a state of mental health and well-being.
To begin with: healing the mind-body split in Western philosophy that has so adversely affected our sense of reality and the current practice of medicine. It was not a short journey from conventional psychiatry to acupuncture for example, as it was my first foray into a new paradigm of mind-body-spirit integration with a concept of energy or Qi(Chi) in the Chinese system and Prana in the Yogic/Ayurvedic Medicine system-a totally different level for conceptualizing health and illness.
So if we understand that mind, body, and spirit, but in addition I add heart also for emotions as they are not the same as mind for thought; all have a common thread to them, an energetic link that manifests differently in the material world, the denser emotional, psychological world, the mental world of ideas and thoughts, and the subtle world of spirit.
The seamless integration in Eastern medicine of these worlds is possible because of ideas about energy: it’s movement and manifestation. So before I go into more contemporary and cutting edge ideas in the field of mental health, I wish to offer the insights from the “ancients,” or as anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss insisted using the phrase “without writing” to describe cultures more directly connected to nature and whose oral traditions, lacking written records, are primarily concerned with nature-how to live with it and within it- and how to discern it’s rhythms and shifting patterns in day-to-day life.
In David Abram’s book, The Spell of the Sensuous, he talks about this in depth and the impact of the written word on the oral tradition, the displacement away from the speaker to the written word, then the text: the taking of the text out of context, repackaging it, and progressively deconstructing the intended meaning of the words. As we have moved away from each other and have super-ceded the value of direct oral communication with another human being by the emphasis on written words, we have become alienated not just from each other but from our original nature. This extends further with the digital age as we become more enmeshed with the silicon world of the computer and more and more distracted away from being present in our carbon-based world of humans “in” nature. Not only are we more likely to be in a state of continuous, partial inattention as we have one eye or ear on our cell phones, monitors, computers as we go through our daily activities. We have lost the deep personal connection to our environment and have come to objectify it to such an extent that we are not able to generate sufficient will to stop the suffering of our planet. Except for those who live close to the land, have a sensitivity to nature and the environment, we the global society have forgotten that nature is a part of us and we are a part of nature. For the many previous generations, humans thought of themselves as part of the wider community of nature and had ongoing relationships with other beings: animals and trees and plants; and rivers and mountains and winds and weather patterns.
In developing a strong sense of ourselves on all levels of being: body, heart, mind, spirit, community, nature; we establish a sacred home for ourselves: a place for our soul to reside. We recognize, identify, and work with the subtle energy forces within us, between us and others, and between us and the natural world. In his poem Coming Home to your True Nature Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, one of the first Tibetan Buddhist lamas in the West illuminates this:
Spirituality is completely ordinary though we may speak of it as extraordinary, it is the most ordinary thing of all.
Spirituality is simply a means of arousing one’s spirit, of developing a kind of spiritedness. Through that we begin to have greater contact with reality.
If we open our eyes, if we open our minds, if we open our hearts, we will find that this world is a magical place.
It is magical not because it tricks us or changes unexpectedly into something else, but because it can be so vividly and brilliantly.