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Spirituality, Art and Healing
by Julia Keel, Aug 7, 2003
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What are the proper conditions for healing? What is health? To make health and sanity my goals I need a vision of what they would look like. Without I will be disoriented and ineffective.

Is health the absence of disease? The problem with negative definitions (e.g. "y" is NOT "x", "y" is the opposite of "z") is that they're not mapping out what we're striving towards. Instead of working towards something, I'm running away from something else. Instead of envisioning something new, I obsess about something old. Yes, it is important to identify what keeps me from being healthy. However, it is even more powerful to create a vision of health and an action plan to work towards it. Then, the next step has to be taking action. If it is not, we're just kidding ourselves.

Different world views offer different interpretations of disease processes and healing. Many of those, seemingly primitive, approaches are rooted in diligent observation over generations and offer important clues and insights. A Shaman who detests modern medicine is just as blind-sided as a Western doctor who tries to treat the symptoms instead of the patient. Both can learn from each other. In both traditions there are some who are only in it for the money and many who seriously strive to help people and make a difference. The body of our society is in itself diseased, greed being its cancer. Let's not concentrate on greedy exceptions, but let's look at compassionate and active approaches to treating disease and developing health. Health cannot be forced. Health needs to be grown. The balance between pain and well-being automatically shifts towards the well-being when the circumstances allow.

There is no such thing as perfection where we humans are involved. Our attachment to perfection is itself a part of the problem. Many of us are raised to be driven by self-loathing. Compulsive perfectionism feeds our self-hate. It makes us work harder, but it mutilates our spirit while doing so.

A wise healer knows of the links between mind and body. A wise healer is aware of technologies to combat symptoms, of the effects those technologies have on the entire system, of the role of the treated system's environment in creating and reoccurrence of the symptoms, and on the mental and spritual state (which cannot be simply "diagnosed" since it keeps changing) of the treated individual. If any of these different aspects is being neglected, healing is impaired and the person trying to help might (in extreme cases) do more harm than good.

Our body has the ability to heal itself. Broken bones grow back together. Flesh and scar tissue covers open wounds. Immune systems fight invisible wars. Those healing processes are imperfect. Healers can help create direction. The broken bone is set, so that it grows together straight. Disinfecting the wound and cleaning it decreases the likelihood of infection. Sometimes medications can restore balance. Many diseases result from imbalances, from over- and underfunctioning of our immune system or of other self-regulatory mechanisms. Much of those are as of yet not completely understood.

Anecdotal evidence (as well as the occasional study) shows strong evidence that our modern, industrialized lifestyles make us sick. Imbalances in our habits create imbalances in our bodies. More than 60% of all U.S. Americans are dangerously overweight. We overschedule and undersleep. Stress is considered a normal part of modern life. Depression, heart disease, and cancer are some of the ways our bodies' use to "pull the emergency brake."

In non-industrialized countries diseases that would be easily treatable, if only the intent and resources were there, continue to cost lives. Our world is out of balance.  How can we find greater balance? How can we learn from each other to live purposeful, healthy lives and deal maturely and responsibly with physiological and psychological crises? How can our physicians and other health professionals help?

I will contradict my above admonition to not argue in negatives by telling you first what I DON'T want us to do:

1. Let's NOT condemn modern medicine, just because there are some practitioners of it who take reductionist approaches. There are entire branches of modern medicine that focus on the whole patient instead of single symptoms. Doctors of Osteopathy (D.O.'s), even though small in number, are trained to use all of modern medicine's techniques, while looking at life style factors and cross-connections between different aspects of a person's suffering. Many, especially younger, M.D.'s are not content following the same old patterns and are developing their own holistic approaches.

2. Let's not fall prey to snake oil sales people, just because their promises sound desirable. Our health system is ailing. Whenever a need becomes visible, you will find people who try to take advantage of that need. Let's sharpen our awareness and learn to distinguish between opportunistic pseudo-scientific ploys and true alternative approaches. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the two. There are quacks who truly believe in their own sales pitches and who do what they do with the best of intentions.

Different wisdom traditions identified a number of factors, which tend to increase stress and delay healing, when out of balance. Those traditions teacher-practitioners developed strategies to influence those factors by reshaping surrounding habits. It is an on-going process. It's never done. Diligent on-going practice takes effort. There's no way around that. If we stop working, spiritual entropy and with it laziness and problems set in. If we live serene, spiritually responsible and loving life, this on-going work stops feeling like torture and starts feeling like a gift that we're giving ourselves.

The following, first list gives a few examples for areas of human experience that easily fall prey to imbalance. Those are just a few of many. All of them cause stress and tension and worsen the effects of existing (external) stressors. Different people struggle with different extremes and need different remedies to find balance. Unless these causes are treated, the person will get sick again and again.


A.) Inadvertendly projecting one's own power onto revered people, techniques, or sacred objects and trying to control/manipulate others (responsibility-surrender-imbalances). Example for related diseases: eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, dictatorships

B.) Over-intellectualizing and missing the present moment and being ignorant/belligerent (judgmentalism-naivite-imbalances). Example for related diseases: depression, aggressive behavior, intellectual fragmentation

C.) Over-reliance on others/clinging and lone-rider-syndrome/indifference (independence-interdependence-imbalances). Example for related diseases: heart disease, co-dependency

D.) Selfishness and self-loathing (self-centered perceptional imbalances). Example for related diseases: greed, self-destructive behaviors

E.) Suppressed emotions and getting swept away by emotions. Example for related diseases: lack of impulse control, morbid obesity, soap operas

F.) Indecisiveness and compulsive risk-taking (choice-related imbalances). Example for related diseases: serial relationships, drug addiction  The second list gives some examples for remedies that help heal the above imbalances:


a) Prioritize.
b) Forgive your own and the world's imperfections. Let go quickly of what's bothering you and focus on what makes you happy.
c) Be compassionate and generous with your time, efforts, and resources.
d) Challenge destructive thinking patterns (extreme judgmentalism, over-generalizations, worrying about what is beyond your control).
e) Be present. Be aware of the difference between your stories/ interpretations/ preconceived notions and your actual, present experience. Take action when needed.

Ultimately, spirituality and science have the same objective: creating peace between you and the world. They work this goal from different angles. Science tries to change the world. Spirituality tries to change you. AA's serenity prayer asks for the wisdom to discriminate being what can be changed and what needs to be accepted, and for the courage and serenity to do either. Science helps with the former. Spirituality helps with the latter. Art allows those two to communicate with each other. Either of the three, science, spirituality, and art, needs to be inspired by ethics, lest it turns from a blessing into a curse. Ethics themselves are affected by what science, spirituality, and art teach you.

There are no eternal laws. A specific balance that is appropriate, given one set of circumstances, can cause terrible damage in many other situations. It takes a high level of awareness and experience to determine what is appropriate when. No matter how much awareness and experience there is, mistakes will be made. There can be no perfection in what we do, just loving intention, whole-hearted effort, and calm acceptance of and learning from the outcomes.

Many different religions present different expressions of spirituality. They use different terminology. The Buddhist says the "Noumenal," when the Christian says "God," while the Pagan talks about "Goddess" and the Jedi speaks of the "Force." The Buddhist advocates letting go, when the Christian talks about forgiveness etc. There are as many terms for each concept as there are traditions. To fight which expression is the best, is a waste of time. Our time is used best by understanding and learning from each other. Each of us has different strengths and weaknesses. Western traditions of science are skillful means for overcoming ignorance. Eastern traditions of meditation are skillful means for overcoming delusions. Southern traditions of tribal ritual are skillful means for experiencing connection. There are overlaps. Jungian psychology, Buddhism, and Wicca, when used wisely, all have scientific, spiritual, and tribal-ritualistic aspects.

Art is meta-science and meta-spirituality. It accompanies growth and creates symbols to express the previously unexpressed. It develops vision. It creates new words, concepts, perspectives, and interpretations and can, in its highest form, transcend opposites and initiate transformation. Art is an ideal. Different artists come more or less close to this ideal. Artist's work expresses mankind's hopes, dreams, desires, and strategies to create inner peace and a better world. Different works of art connect with different audience member's minds, hearts, and spirits. What touches me can leave you indifferent and vice versa.

Most of the above mentioned imbalances boil down to disturbances in the rhythm between oneness and difference. Inspired artists spend their lives surfing the waves that the fluctuations between both create and milking them for growth and creativity. All of our lives are pulsations between finding connection and experiencing separation. Isles of oneness in oceans of difference. Puddles of difference in isles of oneness. Pebbles of oneness in puddles of difference and vice versa. Oneness and difference embracing each other, dancing their eternal dance. Sometimes one is leading. Sometimes the other. The music keeps playing.

Julia Keel, writer, painter and martial arts instructor is a passionate student of life. She was born in Leverkusen, Germany, and spontaneously make San Francisco her home nine years ago. Growing up, she dreamed of becoming a circus clown, a secret agent, a healer or an actress. Today she feels she has grown into an "integral totality that feels surprisingly simple."

URL: http://www.wnrf.org/cms/health_spirituality.shtml

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