Why do we get sick? In this age of microscopic, high tech science, we've been taught that we get sick because of germs, viruses, genetic predispositions, chemical imbalances, and toxins in our air, water, and food.
We've also been told that it's our lack of taking responsibility for our behavior by eating too much fat, not eating enough fiber, not getting enough exercise, smoking and drinking too much that makes the body breakdown.
This is a simplistic, materialistic view of illness that is unlikely to be the whole truth. In fact, this modern Western perspective is not entirely shared by more experienced sciences around the world. It has been the prevailing view in older cultures that we get sick because something about our environment, lifestyle, beliefs, or patterns is out of balance with our true nature. And, perhaps more importantly, out of alignment with our spiritual life-purpose.
Weeping Life Blood: A True Story
Years ago I counseled a woman who was in an unhappy marriage, contemplating divorce, and feeling like her life energy was draining out of her in buckets everyday. In the classic way that women do, she stayed married for the children, feeling emotionally numb and professionally stalled, just going through the motions of her existence.
As the years went by, she developed uterine fibroids which produced heavy and nearly constant menses for more than a year, despite medication. She said it was as if her body was weeping for her.
After months of work on decoding what her body was trying to tell her metaphorically in this constant flooding away of lifeblood, she came to understand that it was her very soul that was dying from being trapped in her circumstances.
One afternoon, as she was dialoguing with the fibroids, a question came into her mind: "What are your teaching your children by staying in a loveless, dead relationship that makes you so achingly unhappy?" She realized the answer was that she was implicitly teaching them not to have self-respect, nor courage to change, nor willingness to pursue their own dreams. These weren't the lessons she wanted to teach her kids.
Discerning the Message
Discerning the psychospiritual message in a chronic illness can be a complex process. For those who haven't yet developed a strong intuition "muscle," discernment starts with developing self-awareness of your own range of normal, and altered states of consciousness, through practices such as vipassana meditation, hypnotherapy, attending to bodily felt sensations, and shamanic journeying.
Illness has its own language systems that we have to learn to decode. Often it speaks through our body’s sensations but it also communicates by impressing thoughts and questions into the mind, and by giving an unexpected sense of knowing in the consciousness. Sometimes it speaks through imagery in dreams or daytime visions.
For practice in discerning psycho-spiritual messages, ponder questions such as: What nourishes your heart and spirit? Of what are you in awe, or what do you have reverence for? Don't try to answer with your intellect. Let your emotions and inner sensations inform you.
Finding the Meaning in Illness
Attempts have been made by Louise Hay (Heal Your Body A-Z) and others to catalog illnesses and their generic psychospiritual cause or meaning. Some scientific research seems to indicate that illnesses do have some broad correspondence with generalized meanings.
Heart disease has been related to suppressed anger. Cancer has been related to grief or resentment. Diabetes has been related to chronic, deep disappointment and longing for an idyllic past.
But ultimately our illnesses have personal meaning, derived from the role they play in our individual lives. We need to decipher what the illness is trying to tell us in order to know how to bring ourselves back to balance.
We can use explanatory systems such as the one Hay proposes as a place to start in making meaning of our illnesses. The woman with uterine fibroids, for example, read that the uterus is associated with being at home in the body. She wasn't at home in her body, or in the body of her home.
She read that the lower back is associated with beliefs and attitudes about financial support, and understood her chronic back pain as her body's confirmation of her emotions about having given up her career and feeling without resources to move on from her marriage.
We must be careful to seek meaning in healthy ways, and not to take on blame where doing so deepens the psychospiritual imbalances, since that is counter-productive to healing. Health is always a combination of many factors on multiple levels of body, mind, emotion, spirit, genetics, environment and lifestyle.
Psychospiritually speaking, your genetic make-up is your energetic nature and the life purpose or plan you've come to work on in this lifetime. Environment includes people, situations, and places we surround ourselves with and whether those are toxic or healthy for supporting healthy development. Lifestyle is attitudes, beliefs, thought patterns, interactions with others, and coping styles --- all the things that we have individual control over and choice about.
Learning to Understand
Start when you feel well, and take an illness meaning inventory. Ask yourself what was going on in your life six months to two years prior to major illness. Think about what your beliefs and attitudes were then, and note the patterns you discover.
For minor illnesses like colds and the flu, ask yourself how you've been out of balance with your true nature in the last 2-3 months. Figure out what the chronic toxins are in your life, and eliminate them. Examine your psychospiritual coping and lifestyle habits. Change the habits that don't contribute to joy, trust, love, self-nourishment, creativity and reverence.
Overall, learn to hear or feel spirit's voice within you and use it as your guide. Learn to travel your inner landscape where your spirit lives. Cultivate non-ordinary states of consciousness through guided imagery, meditation, trancework, and creative expression-----these are all ways that illness speaks to us.
Gain new tools for reducing suffering due to a chronic illness or debilitating conditions through meditative journaling, intuitive insights, decoded metaphors, discussion, and alternative resources in the Finding Meaning Circle with Dr Deah. Meeting on 2nd and 4th Wednesdays from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., you'll identify the spiritual purposes within your health challenges, and explore psycho-spiritual ways to improve living with illness. Call 425-814-9083 for location.