The noble and timeless dream of healing is the eradication of all forms of suffering and the attainment of health, happiness, and wholeness. Throughout time and across diverse cultures individuals have continuously sought in their unique ways to heal suffering, aid the recovery of health, and reach towards the highest potential available to humankind. With that aim in mind wise healers, past and present, have sought to unlock the elusive mystery of healing. With great care and precision they have bequeathed us their wisdom.
In the West the mystery of healing is fully expressed in the symbol of the Caduceus. It is said that upon seeing two snakes fighting on the ground the Greek god Hermes thrust a staff between them. The snakes curled around the staff. remaining forever in the dynamic movement of opposition and union. These two snakes represented the two great healing forces – the outer force of external therapies and remedies and the inner force of a fully developed mind and spirit. In life, these outer and inner aspects of healing can be woven into the richness of a comprehensive and fully integrated well-being.
In the East the mystery of healing has been fully expressed in the symbol of the medicine Buddha. In his right hand he holds the Arura plant, which represents the power of external healing remedies. In his left he holds a bowl, traditionally a skullcap signifying the defeat of death that contains the healing elixir of inner wisdom.
What we discover from these inherited symbols is that the traditional dream of healing, West and East, has been precisely the same: an ever changing alchemical mixture of outer remedies and inner wisdom administered with masterly precision by no other than the fully developed healer within each of us.
When combined in a manner that is tailored to each individual’s circumstance, these two powerful ingredients become a singular all-encompassing healing elixir. Outer remedies, are acquired through the use of our usual senses and their extensions — microscopes, x-ray machines, and so on — which provide us with a knowledge of the physical world. This knowledge can then be applied in the form of external therapies. Inner remedies are acquired through the sixth sense, consciousness, which provides us with a different type of knowledge, a special wisdom which can be utilized to heal the most subtle causes of distress and disease that afflict body, mind, and spirit. The outer remedies address the gross physical and psychological aspect of healing. The inner remedies address the subtler emotional and spiritual sources of distress and dis-ease. Properly combined and applied they provide a comprehensive whole healing.
Although the ancient dream of healing was comprehensive in its scope, over time both East and West abandoned the fullness of this vision. The people of the East chose to emphasize and develop the inner remedies while those in the West chose to develop the outer ones. As a result, each tradition evolved an extraordinary understanding of healing. In each case their understanding was one-sided and partial, invariably limiting the reach of its respective remedies.
As a result of its exclusive its focus on the physical, the western approach left largely untouched the subtler and more unyielding inner causes of disease and distress. In contrast, the wisdom of the East has served to alleviate emotional and spiritual suffering at their source, while their outer efforts at healing have remained underdeveloped. Each, because of its one-sidedness, has failed to realize the more comprehensive and universal dream of healing, the alleviation of all suffering and the recovery of our natural state of health, happiness, and wholeness.
The great healers of times past believed that when the causes of suffering are eliminated our natural condition would be revealed to us — a natural state of optimal well-being and human flourishing. As a result they turned their efforts towards understanding and alleviating suffering in its entirety. Aware of its dual nature, its gross and subtle aspects, they developed and practiced a carefully interwoven outer and inner healing that together addressed body, mind, and spirit.
The first, physical suffering, associated with aging, disease, and death – the physical aspect of life – is the most apparent to us. The second, emotional suffering is caused by negative emotions such as unrestrained desire, attachment, anger, hatred, jealousy, and pride. These show up as an overactive mind, stress, mood disorders, worry and anxiety. The third, spiritual suffering, arises when we live our lives mechanically, disconnected and alienated from our deeper self, others, and life itself. This aspect of suffering is the least apparent, but nevertheless it causes the most damage.
Consider a stomach ulcer. If we think the physical pain of a stomach ulcer is our only source of suffering we limit ourselves to the use of pharmacologic remedies. We are satisfied with this biological approach. If we become aware that the physical ulcer may be a biological expression of an ulcerated emotional life, then we have recognized a deeper level of suffering. We can now apply the psychological approach to healing. If we become further aware that what most deeply underlies physical and psychological distress is an unseen spiritual suffering, we open the possibility for a comprehensive healing of body, mind, and spirit. A stomach ulcer, as with any other disease or distress, when completely understood and addressed, becomes the gateway to a vastly larger life and health. When we are “broken” a crack opens up, revealing new possibilities. At the core of physical disease is the ever-present potential for human flourishing.
To see through the veil of physical disease and distress into its subtle causes is not easy for us in modern times. It has taken centuries of an exclusively outer medicine to slowly move us towards developing and accepting the methods of psychological healing and we are just taking a peak at the healing capabilities of inner or spiritual development.
To some extent psychological approaches have been successful in explaining, managing, and diminishing afflictive emotions. There is much to be thankful for, but there is also much to be wary of. We have attributed more to our psychological approaches than they can deliver. Like weeds ripped from a garden, our disturbing emotions will always re-emerge at the most unwanted times until we remove them at their roots. To remove them at their roots requires more than psychological management, it requires an understanding of their subtler causes, which can only be known and addressed through the development of a larger consciousness. To move deeper into the ways of inner healing we must invariably turn to the genius of the East.
As the west has occupied itself with exploring one strand of the double nature of healing, outer healing, the east has occupied itself exploring the second strand, inner healing. Their genius has been in the discovery of the principles and practices of the most subtle aspects of healing, the inner aspects. Although well known and available in the East these systematic and methodical step-by-step approaches to inner healing are largely unknown or distorted in the West.
The healers of the East have told us that for an inner healing we must turn towards our mind and spirit. We are further told that our mind, this “black box” that seems so untouchable and unknowable, will itself, with the proper methods, reveal its mysteries to us. Through use of the appropriate methods we can gain a personal and direct understanding of mind and spirit. These understandings and practices will take us directly to the subtle and tenacious roots that underlie distress and disease.
We can finally discern the necessary elements of a comprehensive and far-reaching inner and outer healing. We have the vision, required instructions, and skilled teachers. So what is holding us back? The answer is simple. What holds us back is our unwillingness to abandon our reliance on an exclusively physical medicine and our failure to grow our consciousness through the age-old methods of study, reflection, and practice.
In modern times we have relied upon professionals to care for our physical well-being. This is as it should be. We don’t need to know the intricacies of biomedicine or alternative therapies in order to effectively use them. But to attain the full dream of healing we must use the capacities of our inner life and for this we need far more of ourselves. For this is not merely a case of following professional knowledge. Inner healing, the foundation of integral health and human flourishing, is something we can only do by our self for our self.
A fully developed mind, open heart, and unfettered spirit are the necessary ingredients that can bring all suffering to an end and reveal the deepest treasures of life. The challenge is to simultaneously sustain and grow the achievements of biological healing, master the knowledge and methods of inner healing, and unite them into a seamless, comprehensive, whole healing.