The following question is one I hear a lot and indeed have asked myself for many years. It deals with the whole mind/body issue: If the mind, emotions, belief systems, mental thought and behaviour patterns can really have such a profound effect on the physical body, then why isn’t person “X” ill, when they are obviously emotionally unhealthy?
Here’s what a friend of mine asked me recently:
I’m about halfway through the book, When The Body Says No. Am totally convinced in one aspect from various life experiences, but totally skeptical on the other hand – because if it were 100% true, my mother would have been riddled with cancer or some other chronic, fatal disease long ago. But other than having some kidney issues the last couple of years, she is totally fine.
Here’s my reply:
Yes, I understand exactly what you mean about your Mom – she’s a prime example of the holistic nature of the body: Every single person is an absolutely unique system. And what may cause rampant disease “X” in one person, does not even cause a blip in another person.
This is because illness is not a straightforward, linear phenomena. Rather it is a circular, spherical thing; composed of many spheres, often interlocking, with multiple possible combinations and ramifications. In my experience, some of the main influencing, or contributing factors that simultaneously, or in varying combinations, can produce either health or dis-ease (imbalance) in the body are:
The nutrients you received in utero and during your growth and development years can have a tremendously protective effect for the rest of your life. It’s like the difference between a house built of wood and a house built of stone. On the outside they appear the same, but their infrastructure is incomparable. The closer your mother ate and fed you to a “traditional/primitive” diet, the stronger you are. And therefore, you can withstand a LOT more toxins, trauma, stress, etc. than an inadequately nourished person. Dr. Weston A. Price covers this extensively in his work with tribes worldwide in the 1930’s (www.westonaprice.org).
Next is the importance of emotional health. And this is not so much determined by what happens to you, but rather, by what you think and feel about what happens to you. Again, this is where we get into the specificity of each individual.
Alice Walker writes about this in some of her work about female circumcision in Africa. The girls/women do not break down and manifest the trauma in their physical body – due to the genital circumcision – until they either reach America, where it is confirmed that what they suffered was an atrocity, or, when someone talks to them, hears them and mirrors back to them, that yes, this is a very terrible thing. THEN they break down.
Left uneducated and unaware in their tribe, most show no manifestation of trauma – because in their tribe, it is regarded as normal and NOT a bad thing. Remember, stress can be positive or negative – it is our minds/spirits/individual personalities that define something as positive or negative and either manifest a damaging stress response, or not. And as evidenced by scientific disciplines such as psychoneuroimmunology and psychoneurogastroenterology, emotional stress has been proven to produce marked, measurable biochemical results/events in the physical body. These biochemical responses can then result in increased health, or illness.
Another aspect of the psyche and emotions resulting in health or dis-ease (imbalance) is your emotional attitude towards all the aspects of your life. For example, let’s just take one aspect: Your attitude and beliefs about food. The Dalai Lama once said, “You can eat anything, as long as you eat it with love, and it will benefit your body.” So even though your diet may not be so good, if you are bathed in and radiating love most of the day, each and every day, your health is probably not going to suffer.
Of course, the flip side of this paradigm is the person who, although they eat good, healthy food, they do so with a host of negative beliefs and thoughts, anxieties, recriminations, etc.
Here’s an example of how absolutely muddled this can become: I saw a book on veganism that was written by a fellow who used to be a vegetarian. Originally, he had been diagnosed with some disease (can’t remember what it was) and so became an organic vegetarian and thus cured himself of the disease.
Then after a number of years as a vegetarian, he was diagnosed with cancer. He concluded that he got cancer because his diet was not pure and healthy enough, so then he became an organic, raw food vegan and that cured his cancer. So the book was all about how raw food veganism is the solution to any disease and if you become a raw food vegan you will never be sick again.
Well, here’s my take on what happened with this fellow: I suspect that this person’s health problems are mostly the result of his psychological/emotional issues. From my brief skim through his book, I believe he is a very driven, self-punishing, perfectionistic person, with probably some obsessive-compulsive tendencies in there and some very deep sin/”must purify because we’re dirty” beliefs.
So when he goes on these evangelistic, very strict, demanding food regimens – which also serve to set him apart from the masses (so he can feel superior) – this meets some very deep emotional needs and drivers for him and thus his body (which is very much controlled by the mind and emotions) responds positively for a time. These types of beliefs and their resulting behaviours even have a name: Orthorexia. And don’t forget: there is not a drug or supplement on the planet that can outperform the placebo effect. i.e. belief is the strongest medicine on earth.
I also suspect that this author will become ill with something else in 10 or 15 years and then the cycle will begin again. Because the bottom line (at a purely physical level) is that whilst vegetarianism and veganism are excellent regimens for cleansing and detoxing the body – without animal fats and to a lesser extent animal proteins, the human body simply cannot maintain health in the long-term. See my blog post on vegetarian/vegan diets for more on that, if you’re interested.
Then you have the “straw that breaks the camel’s back” phenomena. You hear this in our culture all the time: “She was perfectly healthy and then, wham, out of the blue, cancer!” However, as a natural health specialist, with the majority of people I come across throughout the day, I can see something wrong with their health.
Modern (allopathic) medicine looks primarily at bloodwork and very obvious, overt symptoms before defining a problem. Holistic practitioners maintain that the blood is the LAST place the body displays an imbalance. Because blood is the most important fluid system in the body, the body will maintain homeostasis there at all costs. So, the holistic practitioner looks at far more subtle evidence of disturbances in the body’s health and balance. Thus, the person who has been “perfectly healthy” has actually been on a downward spiral for the last ten years. It’s just that no one in their entourage is trained to discern the indicators.
Tied in with this, is the community perception of what is “normal” or “healthy”. If 80% of the people around you (maybe including yourself) are actually unhealthy, and have been that way your whole life, are you even going to notice it? Or, will it just appear normal?
What North Americans perceive as “normal” energy levels, skin tone and color, muscle tone, bone strength and density, facial bone and teeth formation, etc. are actually NOT normal at all! But because almost everyone looks and behaves the same and suffers roughly the same amount of illnesses, everyone thinks they are “fine”. But they’re actually not. So when you say, “Well, how come my Mum is fairly healthy even though she practices all these unhealthy behaviours?” Maybe one of the above mitigating factors is in place, or, maybe she’s not actually healthy – it just doesn’t show up on the allopathic radar yet, whose diagnostics are very overt.
Lastly is the “unfathomable mysteries of life” phenomena. Otherwise known as: You cannot know what’s happening spiritually with another person. Depending on your spiritual experience and beliefs, you may understand this factor, or you may think I’ve lost the plot. At any rate, here’s how it works.
Most spiritual traditions or religions say that illness or suffering is a spiritual path. It’s a way of refining or developing our character, it’s a “wake-up call” that makes us evaluate our life’s priorities and return to valuing love and relationships more than money and material things and it’s a way of forcing even the most stubborn of us, to change directions.
For these reasons, someone may become ill even though they are physically and emotionally healthy. God or their spiritual self will allow illness to develop as a teaching tool. As merely a means to an end.
On the flip side, someone who does not need to learn via illness, or who is at the “beginner level” of their incarnations and so has learned enough for this life anyway, will not manifest a disease even though they are obviously living an unhealthy lifestyle. Simply because they don’t need it, or they would gain/learn nothing useful from the process anyway, so what’s the point?
So what do all these different contributing factors add up to? Taken together, what does it all mean?
The summation (as far as I understand it) is that we cannot possibly know all the varied reasons (in all their hundreds of possible combinations) as to why some people become ill and others do not. The only person we can answer this question for, is ourself.
That’s why I call it a Healing Journey. And I repeatedly tell people, Don’t give your power away to anyone else. Because no one knows your body/mind/spirit better than you do. And no one else has the unlimited, direct access to your body/mind/spirit that you do.