Illness as Opportunity

by Paul Epstein, ND

When we are sick and in pain we try to get well quickly. This is the natural response. We seek treatments to ‘fix’ or get rid of our pain and symptoms so we can get back to our normal lives. When the treatment doesn’t make the symptoms go away, and we begin to suffer physically and emotionally and our search for answers intensifies.

As a naturopathic physician practicing holistic medicine and natural healing, people come to me hoping I can help them out of their pain and suffering. Some have been told that “nothing can be done.” They will tell me, “I don’t know if you can help me, you are my last resort. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired, I’ve got to do something—anything.” They often feel frustrated, angry, afraid, hopeless, desperate, impatient, distrustful and resistant. They’re worn out not just from the disease, but also from the battle to get well.

At this point, illness provides the opportunity to embark on a journey of self-discovery and healing. Instead of supporting continued efforts to get rid of their disease, a new approach and fresh perspective is needed and possible — an approach that asks new questions and allows a shift in attitudes and a new relationship with their disease.

Where's the healing?

"Our disease may tell the story of ourselves, not just our cells. By taking the risk of listening, we may be led to the emotions, both positive and negative, that lie at the core of our authentic being.” - Mark Barasch, author of The Healing Path

I don’t encourage people to adopt an attitude and a relationship with their symptoms that does not work and has not worked. Looking at symptoms as separate from the rest of our lives splits the body from the mind and spirit. When we try to get rid of our pain and symptoms, we deepen the split. Even if we do remove the symptoms, the underlying systemic cause and real message the disease is telling us may not have been addressed. Therefore, only temporary relief is attained and deeper healing isn't happening.

Seeing with New Eyes

“The journey of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes - it is in seeing with new eyes.” - Marcel Proust

“You cannot solve a problem from the same perspective that created it” - Albert Einstein.

Despair can turn into hope, impatience can turn into patience, fear can turn into courage, and resistance can turn into acceptance. In the willingness to look and see with new eyes, healing becomes possible. We begin to see and hear the messages of illness and symptoms. Our bodies are telling us something. Learning to understand these messages can be the key that unlocks the door to recovery. Working with mind-body medicine we explore the question of “where is the healing?” The crisis of illness thus becomes the vehicle for transformation and healing from within. In the words of poet Rainer Maria Rilke,

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something that feels helpless and needs our love.”

When in the throes of an illness, I encourage you to ask yourself, “am I willing to listen with the ears of my heart to the voices arising from my illness?” In all likelihood, upon deeper listening you will find insights hiding within your pain, simply waiting there for you to find them.

Awaken Everyday Blog
Writing to inspire mindfulness, contemplation and wholesome living, by Copper Beech master teachers, students and contributors.

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