Monday, October 27, 2014

Illness and Nature

Upon hearing of the premises in The Garden of Healing,  a colleague of mine wrote that he was  astonished that I could possibly view illness as anything other than a natural phenomenon.  To quote him:

"In all respect, neither the Black Plague nor Ebola are "divine messages" to the afflicted, although certainly they call on us to bring forth the best traits in ourselves in our care for the other, rather than fear and much worse.  Disease IS a natural process, living leads to dying, and from saber-tooth tigers to filoviruses, nature is "red in tooth and claw." 

I responded that  as convinced as he was of his opinion, I was at least as  convinced to the contrary, for the following reason:

As an observant orthodox Jew, among the basic tenets of my observance are  2 statements made by Rabbi Doctor Moses Maimonides:

1.   "I believe with complete faith that the Creator, Blessed is His Name, creates and guides all creatures, and that He alone, made, makes and will make everything." 
2.   "I believe with complete faith that the Creator, Blessed is His Name, is not physical,  is not affected by physical phenomena, and that there is no comparison whatsoever to Him.  

As such, we observant Jews believe that nothing occurs arbitrarily and nothing, specifically, not disease, illness or suffering is by chance. Far from being some old man who created the world and left it to its own designs, or some Olympian god who plays with people like some large soap opera,  we believe that nothing, not even the seemingly most insignificant event such as  a falling leaf occurs without being commanded to do so and regulated by G-d.   The fact that we may not be able to understand as physically and temporally limited beings as to why a certain illness or epidemic occurs, and  who gets sick and who doesn't,  is merely a reflection of our fallibility and lack of spiritual sensitivity.  For our goal as human beings should be to sensitize ourselves to all the events in our lives and reflect upon them, in order to begin to understand the messages that we are clearly given.  This takes work and focus.  We live in world of sound byes, quick one-liners and very limited attention spans.  ADD is rampant.  It is my firm conviction that we can fine tune our spiritual receivers (with proper guidance, of course) and  just like with radios when one is not precisely tuned in to a specific channel  hears static and it's hard to hear the message, so too, we have the ability to tune in in a more refined manner, to clearly hear the very personal messages from our Creator, who created us to connect with, to commune with  and to develop a loving relationship with Him.  

Judaism, and more specifically, Chasidus and Kabbala further teach that we have a choice: We can, indeed become beholden to nature and its rules; to  defer and become swept away, as the existentialists teach, to its tide.  Or we can view this short sojourn that we have been given as an opportunity to develop relationships:with ourselves, with those that we interact with, with our environment and  with our Creator.  Most importantly, it is through clearly hearing these messages, and developing these relationships, that we are able to determine our jobs and purposes that we were brought into this world to accomplish.  

We practitioners, who are the inheritors of the brilliant legacy of Chinese medicine have been taught of the importance of looking at the larger picture and seeing relationships.  And as the great Chassidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches, there is no such thing as neutrality or detente.  The concept is inherently flawed.  Rather, in all  areas of interaction, there can only be  balance and harmony or conflict.  This holds true internationally,  inter-personally, and internally.  He tells us that when there is internal conflict there is illness.  This is  exactly consistant with Chinese medical theory.  We have been given  wonderful diagnostic tools.  So we are able  to determine that if there is vacuity,  we nourish and boost, if there is repletion or superfluity we reduce or moderate.  If an outside force (which the Chinese call "Wind") invades, we expel it, and so on. If one aspect of the body is replete and another is deficient, we take therapeutic steps to bring balance to the whole person.  So too, as with Judaism, we look at the emotional, mental and spiritual manifestations of illness and imbalance related to specific organs and organ systems.  The founder of Chasidus, The Baal Shem Tov, would say that "if someone has a small hole in their body, they have a large hole in their soul."

Indeed, as my colleague suggested,  one can take the path that Western Biomedicine has taken, looking with greater micro-detail at disease, play with molecules and tweak genes in order to attempt to confound and trick disease.  But I'm telling you, it won't work.  I remember, growing up in the 50s and 60s, hearing that soon the war on cancer would be won. What a lie that was and how deceitful Western medicine has been to con innocent people into shelling out billions of dollars with nothing to show.  Nobody gets well from disease without addressing the  fundamental aspects of our lives:  How we eat, how we hydrate ourselves, how we move our bodies, how we breathe, how we sleep, and how we nurture ourselves spiritually and make ourselves happy.  150 years or so ago, a great debate took place in France between Louis Pasteur and Antoine Bechamp as to the cause of illness.  Pasteur claimed that microbes were the cause of disease, whereas  Bechamp contended that microbes only become virulent in an environment which is toxic and out of balance.  Visualize, if you would, what happens to a river which stops flowing:  Fish die, algae proliferate and the river becomes toxic and foul smelling. So, too, with the human body.   At the end of his life, Pasteur admitted that he was wrong.  

To try and tell you why epidemics or global tragedies occur would be to arrogantly say that I can see the larger picture. That would be a lie.    But for myself, for my patients and for those whose live's impact me, yes, I believe I can begin to tune into the "Divine messages," we are given.  The point is that we are given the choice:  if we choose to address it as such, disease can be a process of nature, and to fight nature we are not only not  going to succeed, but we'll die miserable, empty and alone.  But I choose to take a very different approach, and am constantly learning,  growing and connecting from the remarkable messages I am sent on a daily basis.  (and no, I'm not nuts, and I'm not hearing voices!) 

Hope that you have the opportunity to read and learn from the book.

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