Photo by Joshua Coleman on Unsplash
By Kellie Mox
I remember asking a lot of questions in school. The existence of God was suspect after studying the Bible as literature in ninth grade. I was always asking “Why?” in math classes, which I loved because the subject offered definitive right or wrong answers. Science, specifically medicine, drew me in because I wanted theories to be proven and people to be helped.
Only now have I begun to understand the complexity of my early desire to be a doctor. There was the altruism—my 18-year-old self wanted to make a difference in the world and help others. Those intentions largely haven’t changed, although now, as a personal coach, I see myself less as a helper and more as a catalyst in service to others. Another component was the desire to control and fix that which seems uncontrollable or broken. However, I realized early in college that Western medical training wasn’t right for me, so I moved on to psychology.
Years of training and jobs in health psychology, health behavior, and complementary and alternative medicine followed. But it was my own healing process, along with other healing women, that taught me what I needed to know to make a difference and serve others. This school-of-life training showed me that we do not need to be fixed; that we are whole, mysterious beings who need to be cared for as such, and that we are our own best healers. This is our natural medicine.
Fixing or Serving?
We gratefully turn to a physician to fix our bodies if we need stitches or shatter a bone. But what do we do about chronic physical or mental distress? Many of us look to our Western doctors, hoping they can fix this, too. It makes sense—they’re highly trained, and insurance companies will cover their treatment. This approach may be fine if it’s working. But is it?
The rates of chronic physical and mental illness in our culture are remarkable and rising. Six in ten adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease, and four in ten have two or more. One in five adults lives with mental illness. Our children are increasingly plagued by chronic illness as well. Our healthcare system is, quite literally, a sick-care system that spends 3.3 trillion dollars annually on managing heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, diabetes, asthma, ADHD, and more. It seems that all our attempts at fixing might not actually be working.
I’m not suggesting there’s one way to remedy these healthcare woes. I do, however, think that we all benefit from considering alternative perspectives and approaches, especially when it comes to chronic physical and mental ailments. One of my favorite authors and medical doctors, Rachel Naomi Remen, shares wise words on the topic of fixing as it relates to medicine and life:
“Helping, fixing, and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.”
What if we (and our healthcare providers) stopped seeing ourselves as weak and broken? That is, what if we stopped suppressing every symptom and started viewing them as messengers, here to shine light on the wounds that ask for our attention? What if we stopped avoiding pain at all costs and allowed it a place at the table so we can ask it questions? What if we, as Remen suggests, serve ourselves and others by strengthening wholeness instead?
Whole and Mysterious
By my late twenties, I’d embraced some aspects of Eastern traditions—that we’re energetic, whole beings whose hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits are intricately connected to one another. Our life-force energy (otherwise known as chi, prana, or ki) is invisible and, in scientific terms, immeasurable. I had yet to tangibly feel this energy until I found myself dozing under the skilled hands of a masseuse in Mexico. Toward the end of the massage, I startled out of my relaxed state. It felt like something had been pulled from my abdomen. A lifting? A release of an emotion? I asked the practitioner what she had done. “Reiki,” she replied. I knew I’d felt this energy for the first time, and I marveled at it.
This became one of many experiences that challenged my earlier worldviews and allowed me to see beyond what I could perceive to embrace all kinds of medicine for my own healing. Now I know, beyond what my degrees taught me, how the body stores emotions and trauma, how our feelings and thoughts impact our physiology, and how our bodies, in turn, impact our minds and hearts.
In Western philosophy, body, mind, emotions, and spirit are often viewed as distinct and independent of one another. Chronic indigestion, back pain, or migraine are physical symptoms or pathologies, often medicated and suppressed. Similarly, anxiety and depression are viewed as issues of brain chemistry. Pharmaceuticals may help us feel better for a time, but all too often they don’t address the underlying causes of our ailments—or even create new problems.
An Eastern healthcare practitioner such as a homeopath, naturopath, Chinese medical doctor, or functional medical doctor will likely spend time listening and asking questions to learn about a patient’s diet, job, family life, social support, and emotions. Further exploration reveals that the back pain started after the death of a loved one, the indigestion began with a stressful job change, the migraines began six months after a traumatic car accident, and the anxiety is worse when eating certain foods. Treatment may consist of energy work, supplements, homeopathy, diet changes, emotional support, and trauma healing, to name just a few.
When we view ourselves as complex, integrated beings whose health is built on the energy of mind, body, heart, and spirit, we can begin to see a breadth of opportunities for healing that strengthen all the parts of the whole.
You Are Your Own Best Expert
Having decades of education and training might make another’s expertise seem more valid than our own. Certainly, it’s important to have trusted experts in our corner who can advise us and guide us. Yet too many of us have given away our power to those experts, and we don’t know how to trust our own inner guidance. In addition, our society loves the magic pill. Everyone wants a fix, but not everyone is ready to do the hard work required for deep and lasting change.
We are the only ones who can tune in to our body’s signals, and when we do this, we live more in alignment with what our body truly needs. This is both good prevention and treatment. But if we’re stuffing our feelings down with food or medicating away our chronic headaches, our natural state of health can’t flourish. When that state’s equilibrium is disrupted—by toxins, infection, trauma, limiting beliefs—we must be the ones to restore it.
We can embrace ourselves as our own healers. What if we surround ourselves with the wisdom and experience of trusted others while giving ourselves permission to make our own decisions about healthcare? What if we welcome the fact that healing is our own work, and that even the best doctor or alternative healer cannot mend our deepest wounds?
I’ve learned that while there’s no one right way to heal, there are some critical components that will catalyze it. I’m still asking questions every day, but those questions are motivated less by my desire to control or fix and more by my curiosity about and appreciation for the mystery of our wholeness and healing capacity. We are our own best medicine, naturally.