Spiritual Awareness as a Healing process
By George L. Hogben, M.D.
From Spiritual Aspects of the Healing Arts
Every day, during my hospital visits and office hours, I see people with a variety of physical and mental conditions. Some have severe catastrophic reactions which threaten imminent death. Others endure chronic degenerative diseases which slowly destroy the individual's will. Many experience physical symptoms without distinct anatomical changes.
Each person, no matter how severe the condition, relates a history of stress generated by the usual temporal stressors: loss of a loved one; job failure; career success; marriage; relocation; divorce; and so forth. The stress provokes an intense maladaptive physical-mental reaction leading ultimately to the disease state.
However, as the ill person and I work through the role of the stress in the illness, we invariably become aware of something within the person which is more fundamental to his becoming ill than the stress itself. This internal state seems to prepare the individual to react to the temporal stress with illness. It may explain why the same stress provokes illness in one person and growth in another.
Spiritual Emptiness: The Ground of Illness
The internal state is characterized by an essential lifelessness at the core of the individual's being. It is as if a light or primary energy had been extinguished or perhaps never burned at all. The individual's vital state must not be confused with other facets of the personality such as light heartedness or apathy in daily life. Ill individuals seem to have an existential weariness which is independent of spirit in daily living.
Let me present a brief sketch of a woman who exemplifies the inner state I am describing. This woman has high energy in conducting her daily affairs. She has a busy schedule and does not tire easily. She is always warm and friendly. Blessed with a good sense of humour, she laughs readily. Her mood is no playacting as everyone feels her genuineness. Yet she claims she feels flat inside. "It seems as if some vital part of me is missing, but I'm not tired or depressed. Just flat. I feel so aimless. I wonder if it's all worthwhile."
This woman is healing from a life-threatening chronic illness and her inner state may have resulted from the condition itself. She does not think so though, since she had flashes of awareness of the feeling prior to her overt sickness. Other people I talk to have also reported the same emptiness before major illness.
The inner state seems related to emptiness in the person's spirituality. Many sick people I have seen do not have an intimate relationship with God. They do not believe that God is in them through each breath they take, waking or sleeping, working or recreating, even during the most mundane activities. They do not sense the Spirit working within them. Even sick people who are strongly religious may be empty of Spirit because for them God is "up there " until the next life. They do not experience the movement of God now! Moreover, people with no religious conviction, or those who do not believe in God may, nevertheless, perceive the reality of Spirit.
I have observed that many factors participate in a person's spiritual emptiness. Most children have a rich and complex spiritual life. Children converse directly with God and see God or, in some direct way, experience God within them. Gradually, as children become older, their consciousness "materializes" and they lose that direct link with God.
No doubt the culture plays a role in this process. The underlying metapsychological assumptions of our culture are rooted in scientific-materialism. Only that which has substance exists for our culture and something that cannot be perceived by the five senses does not exist. Also, intuition, faith, imagination, forgiveness and love, the tools of the soul, are non-rational and, as such, are often ridiculed by our culture.
Development of Spiritual Emptiness
There are also personal experiences which turn growing children away from their spiritual life. Growing up saddles adolescents with increasingly worldly responsibilities. These new burdens unnecessarily compete with spirituality for available development energy. All too often, young adults ignore their spirituality when they don't see adult role models who exhibit a blending of active spirituality and adult responsibility. Moreover, many people have had cruel experiences with spiritual leaders. At vulnerable times during development, when it is important to teach the healing properties of God's Spirit, clergy have acted in ways which portray God as cold, harsh, judgemental and punitive. Young people actively reject their spiritual nature after negative experiences in the confessional or the failure of spiritual teachers to provide healing empathy rooted in the Spirit.
Without experiencing the flow of God's Spirit within us, we perceive ourselves as alone in the world. This percept of aloneness forms our self-image. The absence of the energy and guiding hand of God becomes the animating motif of our consciousness. The consciousness that develops under this condition is one of scarcity, isolation, egocentricity and meaning restricted to the transitory and material. This kind of consciousness spawns a social ethic of closed communication and no-holds-barred competitiveness. It generates affects of fear and anxiety, guilt, anger and rage.
Let us examine briefly, in a very simplified way, the process many people demonstrate in developing the consciousness of scarcity and its negative consequences. When we are alone and isolated from an indwelling spiritual life, we define reality with our senses. The senses deal with the tangible, and the material of the world becomes identified as reality. We see only the surface of our skin, empty space and objects beyond the space. We touch an object outside ourselves, a ball or a friend, and it seems separate. We learn we can move some object or manipulate them in some way. We experience energy and will only as they relate to the objects.
Gradually, we come to feel our energy and actions effect whatever changes we witness within the environment. Thus we assume total responsibility for the vents which surround us and in which surround us and in which we are involved. We place ourselves at the centre of the world and become God-like in our evaluation of our importance in daily life. I can't leave my job now, they can't get along without me. This is the wrong time, maybe later."
Anxiety, Guilt and Rage: The emotions of Spiritual Aloneness
But the material world is transitory and things happen. Objects break, friends move away, financial statements show downward trends. People who do not experience the permanence of the Spirit become terrified lest anything go "wrong" and guilt- ridden at all that does go "wrong." Terror and guilt over loss burns deeply within the individual even though the feelings may exist outside of awareness.
The egocentric person also demands God-like responsibility from others and exists in a near constant state of anger and rage at being "let down" by others. In some, loss may also provoke the thought that the resources of the world are limited thereby evoking intense competitive drives to control them. Perhaps the most destructive aspect of the consciousness being described is the lack of meaning the individual may experience in relation to his or her life. Many people grow despondent after achieving some long sought-after goal in the material world. This depression expresses the individual's awareness, either consciously or unconsciously, that the quest was undertaken to correct a feeling of inner emptiness rather than as a creative expression of the Spirit flowing within.
Constant feelings of anger, fear and guilt take a heavy toll on the individual over time. Spiritually, the negative feelings increase the separation from God and a vicious circle between estrangement and anger, fear and guilt ensues. Mental attitude and self-esteem suffer. Pessimism, thoughts of self-defeat and personal impotence, and the feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness abound. The chronic stress of rage, fear and guilt lead to a prolonged bodily tension and a multitude of negative physical reactions. These physical states are not identifiable as distinct anatomical pathological reactions. Rather, they are dysfunctional processes such as muscular tension which force different parts of the body to function in non-physiological ways. Ultimately, these states lead to distinct anatomical changes and covert illness.
Illness comes to the progressively deteriorating condition as a beacon illuminating the individual's mindless approach to life. It makes manifest in a physical sign that major dysfunction and fragmentation exist on all levels of being, spiritual, mental and physical. Illness urges the person to stop pushing out of awareness, spiritual isolation and emptiness and the their numerous mental and physical concomitants.
Often, the illness provides information which can point out the path an individual may take for healing. It simultaneously expresses the breakdown in an individual's consciousness and contains the seeds for it's healing.
My own illness is an example of this. I had been working in a competitive academic institution that pursued had science and ignored, even actively criticized, spiritual approaches to healing. I had a rich spiritual life during my early development but gradually denied it by turning to a scientific materialism which was foreign to my nature. In this context I developed severe spinal arthritis with reactive spasm of the back muscle. This was so severe I had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. In fact, I had to kneel next to the bed and push myself up. I also had trouble driving to work because I could not turn my neck to see the traffic clearly. As I worked through the meaning of my illness, I recognised how I had turned away from my true nature, the spiritual life. I saw that to heal myself, I had to leave the job where I was not growing spiritually and begin to kneel in earnest.
Healing of Consciousness
Many, many concepts and techniques exist to help an individual heal. These techniques focus on different aspects of the individual's nature ranging from concentrating on the physical through the mental to the spiritual aspects of life nutritional methods, exercise, massage, acupressure, imaginary, meditation, laying on the hands, prayer, healing of the memories, ect. Although numerous methods may be employed by an individual, healing occurs primarily in consciousness.
Healing may be defined as a miraculous unfolding of consciousness for one's being in the world. We learn who we are, what and who really matter to us, how to express ourselves fully and openly. Ultimately, the healing journey leads to an intimate union with God through the experience of the flow of God's spirit within. It is a slow, arduous passage, unique for each individual, filled with danger and risk, triumph and joy, and finally, peace, trust, awe, reverence, love, tenderness.
Healing of the consciousness develops from the dialogue between ourselves and our illness, and the actions we take to make whole our broken bodies, our pain, our sorrow, and our suffering. The dialogue begins in assessing what is wrong and what the disease means about how we are leading our lives. I encourage people who consult with me to use several different approaches in assessment such as descriptions of the phenomena of dis-ease and the context in which it develops, imagination, dreams, examination of metaphors about one's disease harvested from drawings or figures of speech, and reading about the illness in specialized texts. The information generated by these inquiries stimulates insights which develop the person's awareness of him/herself.
The developing consciousness in itself is healing and provides a basis for determining what a person can do to continue the healing process. In the beginning of a healing journey, unless an individual is sophisticated in matters of mind and spirit, most people select physical approaches to follow over time such as nutrition, exercise, massage, ect. As the person works with the healing program, I instruct him/her in being conscious of the changes experienced not only in the body but also in the mind and spirit. I also attempt to educate the person on the relationship of mind and spirit to his healing.
Eventually, the person slows down and detoxifies from longstanding abuse. Calming and detoxification are important, not only from the physical need of ridding the body from stress, but also in preparing the person to fully appreciate mind and to hear the call of God's Spirit within. Many people are just too overrun with fear, tension, anger and pain to practice the quiet necessary to explore mind and spirit. However, the insights are relaxed state that emerge from basic dietary changes often permit the person to continue on the healing path and explore mind and spirit.
God's Spirit: The Healing Force
The spiritual nature of the individual is an essential part of the healing process. Whether we know it or not, God is our healer and God's Spirit is the energy for our healing. The various healing techniques we employ all act by channelling the energy of the Spirit in our behalf. Moreover, we cannot completely give up the anger, fear, guilt and terror of our aloneness and the accompanying stress and tension until we experience the steady deep power of the flowing Spirit within. The healing force of God's Spirit transforms suffering and pain to love and compassion. The experience of God dwelling within provides enduring meaning to our lives. It transforms consciousness from one of constantly worrying about competing for limited material goods to one of awe and reverence for the limitless creatively of the Spirit.
While occasionally an individual's consciousness is transformed completely instantaneously, most of us labour along satisfied with modest, but nonetheless meaningful gains. We work at opening our consciousness by continually examining our dis-ease, acting toward wholeness and being conscious of our experience.
It is important that spirituality be brought into the healing process as soon as possible. Even a faint glimpse of the beauty of non-material reality can provide a person with the meaning necessary to continue a healing path. I have seen many a nutritional regime fail because it was not based in a healing consciousness which included the whole person. Advising someone to "give up" sugar is often seen by them from the consciousness of scarcity and only serves to aggravate the already rampant feelings of guilt and resentment.
In the course of a healing, many changes in a person's life and their attitudes about life are necessary. Dietary changes, work habits and attitudes about spirituality name just a few of the many areas that undergo revision. These changes are extremely difficult to make inasmuch as they often require people to act differently from their internalised image of themselves or the established routines and values within the family and society. The energy of the Spirit can sustain an individual through anxiety-provoking healing change.
Spirit is also crucial in healing distorted, broken self-image. Self-image develops slowly during the course of an individual's life. Unless one is imbued with a sense of union with God, self-image is formed from the feelings of anger, guilt and fear with flows from the percept of aloneness. Self-image is at the very deepest levels of our being and permeates all aspects of our lives. It is essential that self-image be transformed in healing, yet we are powerless by ourselves to change it. God's spirit is necessary to penetrate to the depths of our being with the love essential for altering our fundamental image of ourselves.
In the final analysis, healing is the experience of the love and forgiveness from the working of God's Spirit rushing in to take its place, we learn that God's love is here now. Gradually, we learn to accept the love and claim it for ourselves. This teaches us that we commune with all that is through the Spirit. Any ideas of separateness between people were tricks played on us by our limited consciousness. We become able to love others and forgive just as we are loved and are forgiven by the Spirit.
Spirituality: Challenge to the Healing Arts
The great challenge facing the healing arts is to bring spirituality openly and consciously into our work with people. It is not enough to mouth vague theoretical ideas like "holistic health is being healthy in the Spirit" or "holistic health treats the whole person" and then proceed with the business as usual. How do we move from concepts of spirituality and health to working models that fully liberate us from dis-ease?
Healing of consciousness may be practiced by everyone in the healing arts no matter what one's basic approach. It is not necessary to be a rabbi, Zen monk or cloistered nun to foster health through spiritual awakening. Every methodology from physical examination to healing prayer groups provides opportunities to show the healing power of God's Spirit.
In order to help another person heal in consciousness, it is crucial that the healing art practitioner be immersed in his or her own spiritual journey. Developing awareness for the relation between sickness-wellness and spirituality requires direct experience. Matters of the Spirit are non-rational and non-material. One flash of feeling the love of God's Spirit undoing the tension from years of stress is worth more than all the books on the subject. By working on spiritual consciousness, the practitioner develops models to use in healing encounters.
Becoming whole requires role models that show how to live in the Spirit and how this life style promotes wellness. Practitioners who talk about spiritual health without being radiant with their own spirituality do not make their point. Consciousness of God's Spirit develops through love and love heals the pain of dis-ease and the confused twisted inner state that causes it. We heal others when we share the love we receive from God's Spirit.
Practitioners who grow in personal knowledge of the healing power of God's Spirit become emboldened to teach others about it. Very often, sharing knowledge about health and spirituality can lead to profound healing. I have found that many people are struggling to establish an intimate relationship with God but feel awkward and alone in their search because they lack information about the spiritual quests of others. Furthermore, many have been led to believe that a direct experience of God's Spirit is impossible or wrong. Discussing these issues openly with others frequently brings a flood of relief in discovering that they are not alone or crazed.
People who follow a spiritual path may be faced with taking seemingly great risks in their lives and work. As consciousness changes and the individuals move closer to God, they may be stimulated to act in ways foreign to their old consciousness. When we work with the Spirit we realize we do not do the healing work but act as channels for the activity of Spirit. This realization causes us to open ourselves to the spirit without setting limits.
When I first began committing myself to the spiritual aspects of healing, I intellectually understood the need to be open and not hold back in transmitting the action of the Spirit. This we relatively easy until one day I was confronted to act on this concept rather than intellectualise about it. As I sat talking with a client, I become aware of an intense electrical activity in the room. The patient had been suffering from a severe prolonged cold which had defied conventional remedies. I intuited I should stop our conversation and make the client aware of the energy so that together we could meditate on it quietly. I was made quite anxious by this awareness since it was outside of anything I had experienced previously. Nevertheless, I acted on my intuition and we meditated for some time, both gripped by a strong and deeply moving power flowing within us. After the experience the client felt dramatically better and within hours the cold was gone.
Although our society is trying its best to deny it, we are whole people with spiritual as well as physical and mental natures. Spirituality plays a major role in some forms of healing within our society. However, many healing art are not practiced with spiritual consciousness. This is unfortunate since healing that does not awaken the individual to the health-giving fire of God's Spirit is incomplete. Hopefully, the growing consciousness for living in the Spirit will develop our knowledge and acceptance of spirituality in the healing arts.