I’m going to start this post by invoking the spirit of Emily Latella and asking, “What’s all this I hear about healing?”
Whether it’s our leaky gut, our traumas, our inner child, our relationships, the nation, the planet, or humanity as a whole, it all seems to be up for a good healing. It is rapidly acquiring the status of a word drained of identifiable meaning as a result of its generalized application across disparate contexts. Healing the planet is perhaps the most dubious one of all, since the planet will attend to its own healing, thank you, and all it needs is for us to stop destroying it.
Not surprisingly, this is also a banner time for healers of any ilk. The prevalence of the word healing in the mass consciousness magnetizes the healer to the forefront, just by virtue of resolving the similar language (healing requires healer). The healer identity needs to find something to heal, of course, and is enlisted to both initiate the healing process as well as judge whether healing is taking place or not. This takes full advantage of our resistance to recognizing that we are our own best healers, and our inability to reverse this conditioning from the systems that own us. We are unfortunately not encouraged to see our practitioners as partners, but rather as those primarily responsible for our health and recovery.
And yet, if all this healing were actually occurring, wouldn’t the world be a much different place? Let’s talk about what may be going on behind this word instead.
The logical starting point is language, because first and foremost we are intellectual creatures regardless of how badly we’d like to believe we’re feeling creatures. Language is occasionally useful for clarification, creative expression, and having a good laugh, but is more often a tool for obfuscation, justification, rationalization, ass-covering, and intimidation. Let’s face it, we’re talking about human beings here.
Language is also the interface between the repository of our acquired beliefs and the reinforcement of those beliefs. It’s a sobering exercise to review what beliefs we hold simply because someone told us they’re true vs. the ones we’ve developed ourselves on an experiential or visceral level. It goes without saying that the former outnumbers the latter by far and language is a key component to holding this imbalance in place.
We’re doing this all the time in many different situations: behaving and operating from our assumptions around language because we believe we understand or know what we’re talking about, when really we’re using language to describe as best as possible our experience of the unknowable, which is human existence.
The original meaning of the word heal is, “to make whole,” but the spirit of its present usage as delivered by our health care system and its associated institutions is “to fix that which is broken, to return to a non-symptomatic state.” The assumption is that we’re broken or damaged and require fixing (by someone else), not that we’re trying to be more whole, which means becoming more of who we are. It is the difference between coming out of the other side of healing an authentically altered person rather than just returning the system to a non-symptomatic state. The typical strategy to return a system to a non-symptomatic state is suppression, in contrast to expression and integration, which results in more wholeness.
The farther a word has drifted from its original meaning the more power it acquires and the more people can be manipulated around it. Ambiguity of language is a powerful weapon for manipulation because it keeps us off balance not knowing exactly what’s being said, while at the same time we’re reluctant to look foolish and admit that we don’t know, or we lazily adhere to a meaning we believe is mutually held.
Until we’ve experienced healing first-hand as something other than suppression, then our mind will continue to frame it as such because it has no other reference point for the word. It doesn’t matter if your choice of treatment is alternative if you can’t get beyond the meaning of “healing” that has been drilled into you by mainstream western medicine and the culture at large.
The belief that we’re broken is a convenient departure point for building and supporting personal agendas. Our pursuit of healing can become another chapter in the life story we’ve meticulously constructed and a distraction from real growth that requires vulnerability and letting go of beliefs and identities. A stable of practitioners may be employed to massage, tweak, medicate, and salve the boo-boos, to demonstrate to myself and the world that I’m a responsible person who really wants to improve and do the right thing for my healing.
We may allow our practitioners to suppress our symptoms just enough that we can bear living with our pain and justify continuing with our healing agenda, because the mind knows just how much pain it will tolerate to be reassured we haven’t completely healed yet. In effect, if we ever completely heal (whatever that means) then it is a threat to our identity of being in healing or recovery mode, and who would we be then? I served that merry-go-round for 10 years as a chiropractor until it began to feel like both myself and the client were missing something much bigger here, like maybe an actual experience of healing.
All of this effort can be a very convincing alternative to simply focusing one’s attention inward and hearing the message the symptom(s) is trying to deliver, which is usually something devilishly simple like, “I’m going to twist your intestine into a pretzel until you admit that you hate your sibling because he was always the favored one.” At least the Smother Brothers worked that out in public.
I’ve seen entire families and hospital staff willingly held hostage by a person’s perceived attempt to heal, simply because everyone feels as though they’re doing the right thing in the whole mess. The ones who persist in the delusion that they are healing are gladly served by those who yearn to be of assistance because it gives their own lives meaning, not to mention a way to earn a living. Meanwhile, nothing resembling “wholeness” is occurring in this love fest.
One person’s trauma is another person’s adventure, rite of passage, or amusing story to tell the grandkids, but we’re being gradually coerced into believing that all trauma is equal. Do we really think that someone who was groped once at a party has suffered the same level of trauma as someone who was held captive and gang-raped daily for months? No, but that is where the language is heading due to the increasingly misguided goal of inclusivity. Pretty dangerous stuff considering how we human beings will milk an angle of entitlement for all its worth.
It has even become standard for contestants on shows like The Voice, American Idol, and America’s Got Talent for contestants to shoehorn in a description of the trauma that they are healing through their music or other talent. What could be powerful in small, isolated doses is instead an exercise in emotional manipulation when it becomes as predictable as the person saying what instrument they play. This is an aspect of American culture that is insidiously dehumanizing: the dulling of our potential to feel compassion through overexposure and subsequent desensitization.
When someone announces to the world that “I’m attending to my healing,” this often implies that there is something positive and empowering going on here and don’t you fucking forget it. Such pronouncements around healing have become dialogue squelchers on par with “She’s a racist,” “He’s a deeply religious person,” “It’s a matter of national security,” and “I have special needs.” The group agreements and unspoken quid pro quos around these statements is deep and far-reaching, as evidenced by the shit-storm that is unleashed if one questions their legitimacy. Rather than voicing an intention to heal, it would be refreshing just once to hear someone say something like, “I’m getting to know myself better,” “I’m trying not to blame my body anymore,” “I think I’m starting to grow the hell up,” or “I’m learning how to get out of my own way.”
There can be a significant difference in what constitutes healing between someone who starts with the belief “I’m broken and I need to find someone to fix me,” vs. “I know I need to stop blaming other people if I’m going to stop this cycle.” There is a little matter of personal responsibility and holding oneself accountable for how one’s life has played out. Believing you need to heal can be a way of being right about the perceived trauma because it suggests something was done to us and misses the point that it was a necessary event in one’s life to get them to where they are today. Indeed, a self-indulgent, myopic focus on healing can result in the erosion of relationships, significant limitation of life experience, abdication of responsibilities, and being a real drag to be around.
Just as those who are truly helping others in need do not need to put out a press release about their latest philanthropic venture, the people who are truly healing are rarely the ones talking about it. They realize the effort they invest in sharing their story with the world subtracts from the precious energy that could be applied toward an honest vulnerability that results in that healing. The ostensible motivation for sharing one’s story is that it will help others to heal. That can certainly be the case provided the overriding motivation is not to be the center of attention or fill the coffers, and the person has come to a different perception and appreciation of his/herself from where they started their healing journey.