One of the reasons I’m an acupuncturist is because I’m interested in what ails us as a people. Bodies are excellent at showing us what’s not working for us on cultural and social levels. They are clear reflections of things in our lives we’d otherwise ignore.
Though I don’t love the term mind-body connection, I haven’t come up with something I like better… so I’m going to use it in this case. Some people are dismissive of the mind-body connection, using it as a way to minimize or invalidate symptoms and conditions as psychosomatic or stress-related.
Well, I get migraines – but that’s just from stress.
My high blood pressure goes down when school’s not in session, so I know it’s just because of that.
It’s worry that gives me insomnia; it’s always worse when my kids are at their dad’s house for the weekend. He’s so unreliable.
Many people are quite ready to connect illnesses like headaches, sleep conditions, and mood disorders with environmental causes – and somehow in the process write them off as all in the mind, psychosomatic, or otherwise not real.
Tell me one last thing, said Harry. Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?
Dumbledore beamed at him…
Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?
When “Mind-Body” Becomes Blame
A frequent consequence of the “psychosomatic” dismissal in medicine is blame – by the patient, by his/her family, and even by the medical practitioner (regardless of his or her chosen modality of medicine.)
It looks something like this:
Susan wouldn’t get migraines if she weren’t so sensitive.
I just need to quit caring so much; then my blood pressure will go down.
Carole, stop being such a worrywart and take a sleeping pill.
Do we do that with other diseases – ones that have visible “causes?”
(1) Do we say things like:
Well, Phil’s heart attack was just from stress.
Maybe, but we’ll probably also throw in some comments about blocked arteries, diet, HDL, and impeded bloodflow.
(2) What about this:
Matt’s such a hypersensitive guy – that poison ivy spread because it’s all in his head.
Probably not… but if Matt had hives, it might be a different story.
(3) Or this one:
Cancer? Again? Really? Why doesn’t Daphne get a grip?
It may be easier to see in cases like heart attacks, communicable diseases, and cancer – but it’s true across the board: there’s no place for blame in a healthy medicine.
I take this to what some might call a radical extreme: I do not blame the smoker for lung cancer or the alcoholic for cirrhosis. The drive to engage in such destructive habits is part of the illness. Or maybe the guy with heart disease who won’t lay off the onion rings and KFC chooses it, knowing the risk. I think that’s his right.
Regardless, blame does nothing to relieve the burden of acute illness or the suffering.
Our entire experience as people is a psychosomatic one.
Every disease is reflective of and related to our lives.
And not one disease is blameworthy.
We Are in Relationship with Our Environments
In terms of health (and most other things,) it really makes zero sense to attempt to extract an individual from his/her environment in order to understand “the problem.” It may not make all people comfortable, but there is no question that we are all in relationship with our environments. The question is, is that relationship healthy or detrimental?
Illness is always a stress response that causes harm. The “healthiest” humans on the planet are those who can train their stress responses to become helpful to the whole system, and who can ultimately override the stressful conditions themselves.
Now ask yourself – does this seem more credible now that I’ve cited Harvard research and Tibetan monks by providing a link to an article on the Internet?
Why? Why do we need Harvard and Tibetan monks to legitimize our “mind-body” connection?
What disconnect has happened to make us crave sound-bytes of double-blind placebo research, instead of actual investigation?
How have we become so defrauded, alienated, and disinherited that we seek external authority to sanction our internal authority?
That Relationship Includes Stuff
Understanding that our environments and habits are directly related to our states of health means taking stock of what we fill our environments with.
I was reminded of this over the weekend as I cleaned out my (tiny) closets to make room for the new addition to the family. I came across some nice shoes and found myself thinking I *should* either keep or sell them – instead of giving them to our local clothing closet. I could probably get $50 for these, I thought. That would be handy. So I guess I should do that.
My instinct, though, is to give them to the clothing closet. I’m a big believer in wide-open generosity for lots of reasons. One of which is that it’s a natural combatant to avarice, and it opens up a greater vision of how things can fit together. It’s Mary Poppins v. Mr. Banks.
Truth be told, I’m not happy with *lots* of stuff. I’d rather get a high-quality, beautiful thing I love, use the hell out of it till I’m done, give it to someone who likes/needs it, and then move on. For me, keeping stuff keeps me feeling bound.
Is this just an excuse, I’ve wondered? Am I actually hiding? Is my aversion to accumulation really a shield that “protects” me from having?
And the answer is no.
The reason I don’t like having a bunch of stuff is because it weighs me down.
It’s clear, of course, that “a bunch of stuff” is a subjective term. Determining what qualifies as “a bunch of stuff” is like looking at my index finger and trying to figure out if it’s a “big ” finger. Well… yeah… when compared to my pinky. And… no… when compared to my ring finger.
The actual question, I think, is more along the lines of “is my index finger a big enough finger in this case?”
If the case in question is app selection on my iPad, yes. If the case in question is picking a gorilla’s nose… maybe not. They have large nostrils.
So, too, with stuff. The actual question is, “How is this level of stuff affecting me?”
For example, I realize I have a “bunch of stuff” when I start having neurotic internal conversations about what I *should* be doing with it. That’s my indication that fearful lack is running the show. The *should* is the tagline of the fearful belief that I won’t be able to get what I need in the future, so I’d better hold on to everything that’s in my sphere now… JUST IN CASE.
In reality, the only thing I *should* be doing is living my daggum life, and spreading the wealth and love in the ways that I can.
I don’t want two pairs of running shoes; I don’t run. So I’m done talking with my shoes. I’m sending them to the clothing closet. I’ve seen the people in my town who need them, and they ain’t me.
Getting those shoes out of the way and to their rightful owners is a way of clearing my own clutter and making space. Maybe that space stay cleared, maybe it will be filled with something new. I don’t have to know the outcome. But I do have to be smart enough to know that I can’t keep inhaling if I’m still holding onto my most recent breath.
These writings are an exploration of what it means to be human – to be sick, to be well, and to heal – viewed through the lens of acupuncture and, occasionally, herbal medicine.
My words aren’t medical advice. And they aren’t meant to be the final word on… well, anything. Rather, I hope they are a beginning of a conversation you have with someone in your life. Thanks for reading!