As I described in my personal health journey, I was once a doctor suffering from a wide array of health conditions before I finally woke up to the fact that the root causes of my illnesses were more emotional than biochemical, and that the only way I was going to get well was to treat the emotional, psychological, and spiritual sickness that was manifesting as physical symptoms in my body.
After leaving medicine to spend time healing myself, my body was responding to the treatment the wise, knowing part of me I call my Inner Pilot Light prescribed, but at what price? We were running out of money; I still had no plan, and ever since I left my job, something deep and important was missing from my life.
I realized that you can quit your job, but you can’t quit your calling. I had been called to medicine at a very young age—the way some are called to the priesthood.
Medicine is a spiritual practice—you practice medicine. You don’t give it or deliver it. You practice it, like you practice yoga or meditation, like you’ll never fully master it. Medicine is about love, about God. Doctors are here to be vessels for Divine love, to use our hands to touch the spirits that live in human bodies. I have been a healer since I was seven years old, and as my body grew stronger and my heart healed, my soul yearned to get back to my life’s work. I finally realized I had to go back, even though it took me two more years to find my way back to medicine in a way that wouldn’t make me sick.
I wound up working at an integrative medicine center in Marin County, California, where our patients were the most health-conscious people I’ve ever had the pleasure to treat. These people were the proverbial choir. They drank their green juice every day; they had personal trainers; they slept eight hours a night; they took twenty supplements, and they spent a fortune on their health care. They did everything “right,” but they were sicker than ever.
I was baffled. Nothing they taught me in medical school prepared me to take care of patients like these.
So I started asking my patients: “What does your body need in order to heal?”
At first, I thought they’d give me treatment intuition, things like “I think I’ll try the 5-HTP supplement instead of the Prozac” or “I think I’ll try changing my diet instead of taking that pill,” and, sometimes, that’s what they’d say. But more often than not, they answered me with:
- I need to leave my husband.
- I need to quit my job.
- I need to move to Santa Fe.
- I need to put my mother in a nursing home.
When my patients listened to their intuition and had the guts to follow through on what they prescribed for themselves, seemingly incurable diseases sometimes disappeared.
I was in awe. These patients weren’t responding to conventional medical treatment. They were healing themselves in ways I couldn’t explain. That’s when I discovered a database compiled by the Institute of the Noetic Sciences, which is called the Spontaneous Remission Project. This database compiled more than 3,500 case reports from the medical literature of patients with seemingly incurable diseases that got better—stage-4 cancers that disappeared, HIV+ patients that became HIV-, people with diabetes or high blood pressure or thyroid disease whose disease went away, even a patient with a gunshot wound to the head who refused treatment and got better.
Call these miracles or call them inspiring examples of self-healing. I was riveted.
That’s when I got really curious about exactly what makes a person healthy and what predisposes them to illness. To find my answers, I dug deep into the scientific literature.
What I discovered blew me away. The research proves—without a doubt—that without even being intentional about it, you can heal yourself of about 18-75% of them. We call it the placebo effect, when patients in clinical trials are given sugar pills or even fake surgery, and the simple belief that they are getting the real treatment results in cure.
But from my own experience, I suspected that the ability to heal yourself goes deeper than some sugar pill. So I dug deeper into the medical literature, and what I discovered is that for the body to be healthy, you need to be healthy in all aspects of your life.
- Healthy Relationships
- A Healthy Professional Life
- A Sense of Spiritual Connection
- Creative Expression
- Healthy Sexuality
- Healthy Finances
- A Healthy Environment
- A Healthy Mind
And, of course, not to be completely ignored (biochemistry does still matter!) you need to care for the biochemistry of your body with diet, exercise, sleep, addiction avoidance, and the traditional “healthy” behaviors.
What I learned through my exploration into the scientific data led me to write my book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself. What I learned led me to create a new wellness model, inspired by the image of cairns—those balanced stacked stones you see marking beaches and sacred landmarks.
I’m a professional artist, so I love the sculpture of cairns, but what I especially love about cairns is that they are all interdependent on each other. If one stone in the cairn is out of balance, the whole thing topples over, with the stone on top usually being the first to fall.
That’s how I think of the body. The body is the most precarious, the most fragile, the most susceptible to imbalances in the rest of your life.
WHOLE HEALTH CAIRN
As I described in a popular TEDx talk, the Whole Health Cairn is built upon the firm foundation of your Inner Pilot Light, with all the facets of what makes you whole and healthy balanced upon it in a way that is deeply true for you. Wrapped around the Whole Health Cairn is the Healing Bubble of Love, Pleasure, Gratitude, and Service, which help balance all the stones in the cairn.
The Whole Health Cairn is both a diagnostic tool and a tool for guiding treatment. You can use it to assess your life and diagnose the root cause of your illness so you can write The Prescription for yourself the way I did.
When you think about your health in this way, you’ll realize that health is primarily an inside job.
The Prescription for living a wholly healthy life must come from you. Nobody can diagnose the real reason you’re sick or prescribe exactly the right treatment better than you.
I’m not suggesting that your illness doesn’t have a biochemical component. But I am suggesting that illness is rarely purely biochemical, and as such, purely biochemical treatment rarely leads to cure when emotional, psychological, and spiritual factors that contribute to illness are left untreated.
What Can You Do to Optimize Your Health?
What’s out of balance in your Whole Health Cairn? What might be contributing to any physical symptoms you experience? What is your body trying to tell you?
Try inviting your body to write you a letter. (Dear You, Love, your headache). Write back. Have a conversation. What does your body want you to know?
Pay attention when your body speaks in whispers. Please darling, don’t wait until your body starts to yell.
Listening to whispers,
Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself. Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities—HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.
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*Image by Chris.VioletteSeptember 26, 2013