“may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old
may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young
and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile”
One day, many years ago, long before I studied medicine, let alone homeopathy, I heard a man describe himself as a “healer”. I felt myself react in a visceral way, and I didn’t understand why I reacted so strongly. Having grown up in a culture which attributed healing to medicines prescribed by medical doctors, the self-attribution of “healer” struck me as partly presumptuous, partly challenging, and in no small way attractive and mysterious.
Once I became licensed as a Family Nurse Practitioner, a profession in the United States which carries many of the same privileges and responsibilities as primary care physicians, I became accustomed to explaining to patients that, although I took histories, performed physical exams, ordered laboratory studies, made diagnoses, and prescribed medicine, I was not a doctor.
Now, as a homeopath and a teacher of homeopathy, I find myself intrigued by the ways in which the role of the homeopath sits uncomfortably in the characterization of either doctor or healer.
As much as we would like to avoid it, we are confronted daily with the reality of our planetary crisis. As global temperatures rise, our oceans acidify, our wild places destroyed, and countless species of animals and plants lost, humanity is faced with the prospect of irrevocable catastrophe or fundamental change in the way we relate to life and our world. Can homeopathy, the art of healing with the minimum dose, play any role at all in changing our current course? And do the archetypes of doctor and healer have any relevance to the biggest issues facing humanity?
Although “Doctor” originally meant teacher, contemporary usage attributes to “doctoring” the idea of altering, changing, adding some ingredient or other to make a correction.The role of Doctor is that of someone who makes a diagnosis, who fixes or manages a problem in the inner economy and functioning of the patient.When one assumes the role of “Doctor”, one generally utilizes a primarily materialist model of health and disease. The allopathic doctor uses synthetic chemicals to wage war against bacteria, viruses, cancer, inflammatory processes, and metabolic and genetic aberrations. Doctoring is an expression of the Enlightenment impulse. It builds upon the separation of man from nature, upon the division of the world into subjective and objective (hence “SOAP” notes), upon the assumption that progress entails the increasing control and mastery of nature.
Just as rational enlightenment Man has come to dominate, manipulate, and control the earth, the “Doctor” in each of us seeks to dominate, manipulate, and control the body. Whether we use pharmaceuticals or nutraceuticals, synthetic hormones or Chinese herbs, there is an objectification of the body and a drive to compel it towards performance and longevity. Indeed, it is possible to use homeopathic remedies in the same spirit, targeting specific symptoms with the goal of eliminating disturbing messages from the suffering mind or body.
The benefits of doctoring, in this sense, have been enormous. Who among us would wish to live in a world without the security and technology of Emergency Medicine, or the diagnostic tools available through biomedical research and innovation? In addition, advances in surgery, understanding of pathology, and other lifesaving technologies have given humanity possibilities for mastery, autonomy and control of many diseases which previously were barely understood. Not least of all, the assurance (even if sometimes misplaced or exaggerated) that modern medicine can fix most health problems) provides a certain psychological security that reduces the angst of many people.
The ideal “Healer”, on the other hand, sees connectedness between patient and the world, patient and family, patient and healer himself.The word “heal” derives from an old English word hǣlan, which also implies “wholeness”. The healer understands that the cosmos, in its wisdom, has brought an aspect of suffering, embodied in the patient, forward for the purpose of shedding light, bringing to consciousness, integration, and therefore wholeness.
The healer utilizes a model of interconnectedness to harness and apply the cosmos’ will to heal by lending her attention, perception, and point of view to what needs to be healed. This requires a willful setting aside of egoic awareness in favor of an embracing appreciation of the experience of the patient. While the Enlightenment was essential in forging individual consciousness, autonomy, emancipation, and scientific rationalism, humanity is now most in need of reconnecting with a living earth that is itself wounded and in a critical state. The earth is ensouled, and is expressing its dis-ease through a spiritually bereft human race.
The Homeopath and the Soul
As I connect with my inner healer I become interested primarily in the shape and health of my patient’s soul. By soul, I am following James Hillman, who recognized that beside the Mind and the Body, there is a factor in our make-up that resides half-way between mind and body, that encompasses both of these aspects of ourself, and that reaches out beyond our skins to shape our lives and experience of the world. (3)
Homeopathic anamnesis of an individual’s experience provides a way of understanding the relationship of mind to body in each and every individual’s case. The perception of a curative remedy is a creative act which names and summons a particular aspect of consciousness which has been expressing itself morphogenetically (4) through the patient’s symptoms bidimensionally: through the mind as well as through the body.
This triumph of homeopathy frees us from having to decide whether illness is primarily “organic” or psychological. The naming of the Field, the choosing of the remedy, also breaks through the seemingly insurmountable Enlightenment-induced separation between human interiority and the “objective”, external world. The remedy links the inner movement of the patient’s soul with the consciousness of some mineral, plant, animal, or imponderable energy of the cosmos in which we are embedded. It recreates the “Participation mystique” in a way that does not abolish individual autonomy, but rather deepens it.
Homeopathic Remedies are Transformative Metaphors
James Hillman notes that symbolic experience has transformative power. Homeopaths know that this extends not just to psychological matters, but to the very cellular expression of disease.When the homeopath understands the patient’s experience to the depth of recognizing the shape of a transpersonal shaping force as the source of the personal experience, she becomes empowered to offer to the patient this remedy as a mirror which will hold and help resolve the fracture, wound, split, or sense of incompleteness in their mind and body.
Hillman wrote that Soul is not a thing. It is a perspective. As homeopaths we are interested in what is unique and particular in the individual….and what is most unique and particular is the mode in which we each experience our life. Thus, beyond all our variations and nuances in physiology and pathology, it is the quality of our souls that most distinguish and characterize us as individuals. Soul is a quality, a lens through which the journey through time is filtered and imbued with certain colors and flavors, a proclivity towards loving in one way and not another, towards reaching out to the world and others in yet another idiosyncratic and characteristic way. Soul is what enlivens; it is what turns events into experiences, and what makes meaning possible.
The Paradox of Population vs. Individual Models of Disease Causation
We are born into a world of disease. Where does it come from? As our world becomes increasingly polluted, it is clear that much pathology is induced by humanity’s destructive impact upon our world. Let’s take just the example of pulmonary disease. Figures just released by the World Health Organization indicate that seven million lives around the globe were lost in 2012 due to air pollution (1).
While ecological destruction is an increasing factor in the development of pathology, the way each individual experiences symptoms, when explored in depth, is revealed to be individual. Thus asthma in Delhi or Beijing is certainly attributable to dirty air. But the experience of asthma in any individual will be shaped by their energetic state. Predisposition and susceptibility, which lie in the realm of energetics, play important roles in determining who will develop pathology, and who won’t. (2)
We have a paradox! Disease is caused by material factors such as pollution, nutrient-deficiencies, bacterial and viral pathogens when viewed through a public health or population lens. But when we take individual cases of dis-ease we can perceive that illness, in a way, is an expression of a perspective that doesn’t quite see things as they really are. Symptoms – whether they are produced by the mind or the body – arise when a manner of perceiving life fails to serve the individual, when it limits or prevents the patient from living in as much freedom as possible, from fulfilling an unactivated potential.
One way of understanding this paradox is to differentiate between pathology, on the one hand, and the symptom totality, or state on the other. While pathologies can be classified strictly according to material (chemical, genetic, cellular, even economic) criteria, symptoms are by definition subjective. They are experiential, and each individual will bring her or his own subjectivity to shape whatever pathology may develop.
How does this relate to the Doctor/Healer polarity? Clearly it is the Doctor archetype which is invoked to resolve questions of pathology, of diagnosis. But when we are called upon to bring about a resolution of the individual factors which have allowed the patient to become fertile ground for this pathology, which archetype must be embodied? And when we turn our attention to the earth itself, when will humanity move beyond quantifying the damage and turn to a fundamental shift in its relationship with our planet?
Knowing that We Don’t Know
When we act out of our inner “Doctor” archetype, we are encouraged to take on the posture of “knowing”. The requirement that we place on ourselves, to KNOW the answer (i.e. remedy), puts us at great risk of compounding the patient’s problems.
•68% Dark Energy
•27% Dark Matter
•5% Ordinary Matter
This distribution of matter and energy in the universe reflects, in a holographic way, the limits of our own understanding of who we are, and what our role is, in the Cosmos. We know and understand perhaps 5% of what there is to know! And that is a generous estimate!
One model proposes that humanity is one expression of God, or the Cosmos, coming to know and understand itself. If we choose to align ourselves with this model, it follows that the work of coming to deeply understand the consciousness of another human being is a way to deepen our own humanity. We are fulfilling a cosmic function of enlarging consciousness, as well as of creation and mending of soul.
The greatest obstacle to reaching that understanding is, paradoxically, our need to know. It’s difficult to be in a place of not-knowing. It creates anxiety, impatience, insecurity. We want to project confidence to our patients that we know what’s wrong, what they need, and that we can help them. It is this energy which fuels the impulse to mentally fit our patient into the box of a known remedy picture. We ask leading questions, we prematurely search for confirmatories, ask for keynote symptoms. We may want so much for a patient to speak the words of a remedy we like and know, that we hear only what we want hear, and disregard the rest (5).
Over the years I’ve discovered that the remedies that are most likely not to have much effect are the remedies that I decided upon early in the process. I seized upon an idea that seemed brilliant, and then failed to pick up on the signals that didn’t conform to my idea. And conversely, the antidote seems to reside in listening with the heart, engaging all the senses, and practicing with immense patience.
Are we homeopaths doctors or healers? It seems to me that we must embody both roles, but also hold each role with some detachment. We must be familiar with pathology and conventional medical tools and medicine, but refrain from the assumptions, conclusions, prognoses, and therapeutics of modern medicine. We must aspire to be true healers, yet at the same time recognize that it is not us that is doing the healing…it is the vital force of the patient upon which all potential for wholeness rests.
What is our role with regards to our wounded earth? It seems to me that by demonstrating the power of a healing modality that is based on a non-objectifying relationship with the plants, animals and mineral substances of this world that reflects back to us our very souls, we may yet pull back from the brink of destroying our home.
(1) Jacobs, Andrew and Ian Johnson. “Citing High Risks, Report Finds Pollution Killed 7 Million Worldwide in 2012”. New York Times, March 26, 2014. P. A6.
(2) Of course, when overwhelming external factors prevail we develop epidemic disease, and there the consciousness of the pathogen or noxious influence may be less evident than then direct physical trauma (e.g. victims of an atomic bomb blast)
(3) What is the relationship of the Soul, in this sense, to Hahnemann’s Wesen, the Vital Force? I consider the Vital Force to be a fundamental property of the Soul.
(4) Morphogenesis, literally means “the giving of shape”. The term is used by Rupert Sheldrake to describe the evolution of consciousness. Each and every homeopathic remedy may be thought of as a unique Morphogenic Field, a charged realm or sphere of consciousness which orders the sensations, perceptions, emotions, and physiology of any organism under its influence.
(5) See Alan V. Schmukler’s Editorial, Hpathy Vol. 11, Issue 3, March 2014, “Steering the Patient”.
To understand the “soul” part in Healing, a reading of Edward Bach would also help. Many of the Acupunturists are practising Flower Remedies prescribed by Edward Bach along with their needling/ touch therapy techniques.
Thanks Doug, for the thoughtful article.
thank you for giving words to this “healer” part of the homeopathy. It’s so difficult to explain it,because when you do, it is immediatey “stuck” like a theory. While the not-knowing area is a centre of it.
thanks from the heart, it touched me , reading what I feel.