Healing is a funny thing. My friends and I have thought a lot about healing over the years. Anyone who has any kind of faith probably does, and indeed anyone who has had someone dear to them who is ill, naturally thinks about it. But we all tend to ask: ‘Why them/me?’ And next we ask:”How can they/we be made better?” We rarely ask: “Why should anyone ever need to be ill in the first place, or for that matter why should they be become well once they are ill.”
Well, of course, I hear you say; that is a stupid question, and not at all helpful.
Bear with me. We are biological organisms, no more than a medley of chemicals which, for some reason, have come together over millions of years, in just a certain way, such that we replicate much the same, humanoid, ugly old forms; we are just different enough from other species that we don’t go breeding with wombats, and close enough to each other so that we find another ugly old human in the jungle with whom to make families, and friends and communities. And sometimes we get sick.
I don’t think wombats give much thought to disease or ill health. You don’t get your average wombat discussing their arthritis over the garden fence, they don’t worry about where to put uncle Albert when he gets too dippy to remember to switch off the gas, and they don’t compare cholesterol levels over the diner table. They live, they die, the next generation carries on.
We, on the other hand, do. We believe that we have a proper way of functioning. We have standards, and when they are not met, we discuss, study, mend, fix, help, support , replace, and remove… or if we see it coming, we even prevent it. Sometime we succeed, sometimes we don’t; why do we bother? It comes down to the idea, in my opinion, that we believe we need to be in perfect condition because we have a ‘job to do’. We are here for a purpose. We all believe we are uniquely special.
Now people will act all humble, “Oh, I’m nothing special.” Some have low self esteem, some are just being polite, some are genuinely given to seeing others as better than themselves, but it does not alter the fact that we have some sense that what or who we are, matters. And when we are not functioning properly, whether due to illness, or disability or bad fortune, it matters. We worry about out own pain and the things we want and need to do, we have compassion for others who have pain or are hurting, but more than that, no matter how unimportant we may look to the rest of the human race, we think we matter, as individuals, and a species. I may be wrong, but I don’t think an ant has the same conscious understanding, neither does the wombat.
So, when we devote thought and effort to our heath, we are doing something the wombat would never do. Maybe, to the wombat, disease is a mere evolutional turn of fate, but to us it is much more. So, accepting that we do ‘fall short of perfect,’ let us hypothesize then that to US this may actually be necessary. Maybe it helps us in some way? Just remember, we are not considering the disease itself, wether it serves a useful purpose, (frankly finding a useful use for a brain tumour, or even a bunion is a pointless excise), No, rather we are considering the benefit of OUR NEED to suffer it. For our good?
As a junior doctor, I met people who had ‘given up on the will to live’. Not as depressive or psychological cases, just as ordinary people with illness. I remember gentleman in his sixties telling me he was going to die, and when. He had no reason to, he was poorly but was recovering as normal from a routine surgical procedure, and I tried to reassure him, but true to his word he died more or less in the moment he has predicted. I also met people clinging to life by a thread with the most appalling disease and no ‘quality of life’ when all those around them, if honest, wanted nothing more than ease their passage out of the world, and put an end to their ‘suffering’. Do these extremes throw light of any of this?
My guess is that for as long as we feel we still have still something to ‘do’ or ‘learn’ or ‘give’ in this earth we want to stay and do it, no matter how hard, or slow, or painful it is. It can be about loved ones, it can be ambition, it can be altruistic or selfish, it can about contribution to society or knowledge or even a tiny insignificant personal pleasure; it can be positive or negative, making something right, or un-making something we believe is wrong, but the moment we cease to see our selves as insignificant, the moment we give in to defeat and decide someone else may as well do it instead, the moment we give up on the idea that we have a residual purpose, that we are no longer special as an idvidual, we may as well just pop our clogs.
Of course, it would be horribly ovesimplistic to suggest that nobody dies who doesn’t want to. But the fact of the matter is that, unlike the wombat, we have an opinion on weather we die of not, whether we get better or worse. If you read my ramblings on faith and spiritual aspects s of treatment you will see how I believe there are profound influences over our healing and wellness that are unrelate to knowledge, science and physical treatments. And this special insight we have, this ‘need’ to be healed, may in some way be there for our good.
When we look around ourselves, what matters? Yes, our personal lives and families matter, but they only exist in the wider context. We really only matter in the grand scheme of things. Look at the night sky and see how tiny we are. Look at down an electron microscope and see how huge we are. Look at how the dodo and the duckling are part of our lives and how the trees give shade on a summer day. Behold the oceans, the mountain ranges, tectonic plates. Think of the cumulative knowledge of mankind, contrast it with your own life, the story books you read your children (the wisdom of the gruffalo or the mister-men), remember the triumph of conquering the two-weel bike, cringe at your teenage self, laugh at the haircuts, remember emotions: excitement, anticipation, happiness, pain, disappointment, ecstasy. Think of of love. We have nothing without all of that extra stuff. For better or worse it’s NOT all coming from us. And yet it ALL matters to us in a way that it doesn’t to the wombat.
Wombats, ants, earth worms, dogs, whales, condors, earwigs, humming birds, bacteria, dinosaurs and dodos come and go. They all have purpose, they live, they love (?) they have pleasures and pains within their lives and their species survive (or not). But they don’t realise how amazing they are. It is WE who treasure them most.
If once in a while we begin to understand , though illness or disappointment, what it means to take all that for granted, then that pain, that hurt, that disease, has got purpose. In imperfection, we step back an understand how insignificant we might just be in the grand scheme of things, and in doing so, realise how special we actually are. Because only when we realise how awesome our very existence is, can we really want to live it all it: every morsel, every bit of good ,every bit of bad, every long minute, every passing second, every absolute delight, every painful expectation…for as long as it goes on, until one day you look back and say, hey, I loved it all but now I need to go. I have done enough.
In the Bible there is a book that folk often associate with the problem of suffering. But I see it a book about blessing. It is the book of Job. He has a pretty blessed life, riches, wife, family, respect, and on top of that he was a really good guy. And it all went. Bit by bit, God let it all be taken away…ON PURPOSE!
Then, to make matters worse, Job has a few ‘close buddies’ who try and help him understand why. Why? Why You? What must you do to get to get it back? Where did you do wrong? They really are trying to help and they are doing everything we all do to try and make sense of out predicamants: who’s fault, what went wrong, what must we do to correct it all? But all these questions presume that any of us has ANY say, any influence, in anything of anything significant in the universe. WE DO NOT.
Job, for all his confusion, sort of stands up to his mates and stands by his guns and says, “No, I don’t think any of that is it.” Instead, he accuses God of not giving neat answers. And in the end, he gets it: “Shit happens!” (to quote Forrest Gump)
Job’s epiphany is summed up in one sentence: “My eyes had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5) It is the moment when Job finally realises he knows nothing about anything; he has witnessed the wonders of God’s creation, and yet all Job’s knowledge, his wisdom, his good works, his reputation, his ideas, were irrelevant. What he has lost , the things he valued, were nothing to what he had failed to noticed all around him, always, and still, and for all eternity. He had heard what was good and be desired, he heard what resources were at his command, he lived in the world, he had used it, manipulated it, tried to own it, built a life in it, he though he knew it all, he had it as good as it gets, so he thought. But it was ‘hearsay’. He heard. But he did not SEE it.
So, in some ways, Job became more wombat. He saw that he had no more control over his misfortune, than the wombat. So, why keep trying to be in charge? Is that defeat? No, unlike the wombat, once we have given up on the perception of control, we can begin to notice that (this present hiccup aside) far from everything all falling in random array around us all our life, needing our attention at every step of the way, it has rather miraculously fallen in place, despite everything. And before you start going on about the bad bits, honestly, how much better would your life have been made by anything you did? Was that new bicycle better than never knowing a duck? Which would you forego: that degree ceremony or never seeing a rainbow? Want to trade that aeroplane trip for never seeing a mountain view? How many true friends did you find through a rigorous interview process? Who did all that cool stuff for you? You can deny ‘a someone’, you can deny a ‘micriracle’ you can deny any kind of plan, but you can’t deny that, by and large, you had nothing to do with anything truly lasting or worthwhile.
Job had a happy ending; with his realisation, he stopped looking at what he had lost and why, and his fortunes were restored. In fact, what he got was better. But it’s not about waiting for fate to serve your your hand, waiting for it to be dished up ion a plate. I’d like to bet Job worked every bit as hard, or even harder at restoring his life, but this would have been a whole different work ethic. It would have been a joyful realisation that everything he did was valuable. He was part of life, not author of it. When you see that every tiny little contribution you make to life, regardless of your status, your position, your talents, your likes and dislikes, your achievements, your abilities, is as important an anyone’s, and indeed is indispensable, you can not help but to enjoy it. There is not such thing as failure, only participation. (Didn’t Yoda say something along those lines: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” So in other words there is no such thing as failure, the only failure is is if you don’t do it, and just leave this wonderful gift of life it on the shelf.)
Life is a perfect, personalised, eternal gift. It is is to be used to the full, not put on a shelf for a special occasion, while you muddle on with the second best china. And such a gift will be always trump something you cobbled together under your own efforts using a broken soldering iron.
So, when misfortune strikes, stop in your tracks. Let go. Stop and see what is staring in your face. Not death: life! Wake up and see the power all around you, and feel both humbled and honoured. It is not from you, it’s FOR you.
That is the power of healing.