Mental and Emotional Aspects of Healing
by Ron Schmid, ND
Originally published in Health and Healing Wisdom, the quarterly journal of the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation.
We often think of the mental and emotional aspects of healing as well as the physical. My purpose in this article is to consider the feelings and thinking involved in healing chronic medical problems, the unity of mind and body that we bring to bear on the healing process.
In his observations of indigenous cultures, Weston Price made some interesting comments about the relationship between the physical and mental aspects of people’s lives. He wrote of the Swiss people in the Loetschental Valley, “One wonders if there is not something in the life-giving vitamins and minerals of the food that builds not only great physical structures within which their souls reside, but builds minds and hearts capable of a higher type of manhood in which the material values of life are made secondary to individual character.”
Commenting on the eastern African country of Uganda, Price wrote, “The happiness of the people in their homes and community life is everywhere very striking. A mining prospector who had spent two decades studying the mineral deposits of Uganda was quoted to me as stating that if he could have the heaven of his choice in which to spend all eternity it would be to live in Uganda as the natives of Uganda had lived before modern civilization came to it.”
Price’s contemporary F.M. Ashley-Montagu, a world-renowned anthropologist and author of various popular and scholarly books, wrote in his article in the June 1940 issue of Scientific Monthly, “The Socio-Biology of Man”: “In spite of our advances, we spiritually and as human beings are not the equal of the average Aboriginal or Eskimo – we are very definitely their inferiors. We lisp noble ideals and noble sentiments – the Australians and the Eskimos practice them – they neither write books nor lecture about them.” Over six decades of genocides since those words were penned makes the truth of Ashley-Montagu’s statement ever more apparent.
In the years since Drs. Price and Ashley-Montagu made those comments, scientists have made great progress in elucidating the physical basis of thinking and feeling. While much remains little understood, it’s nevertheless fair to say that thinking and feeling may well be as biological as digestion. It’s undeniable that our physical state, and everything that affects it, especially perhaps our food, may have a profound effect on the processes we call mental or emotional. The opposite effect – that of our thoughts and feelings upon our physical wellness – is less understood, but equally accepted as being of great significance.
The effect of thoughts and feeling upon the process of recovering from chronic medical problems is what I hope to shed light on in this article. When someone is ill, he or she is rarely at peace with himself. Physical problems cause turmoil. Who hasn’t thought, when ill, “What’s wrong with me? Why is this happening to me?” The flip side of this is that turmoil may cause physical problems – a vicious circle.
Personal turmoil in so many people today is at some level a mirror of the turmoil in modern culture, which in so many ways is radically different from traditional cultures. The term “the diseases of civilization” reflects an understanding of this fundamental principle.
It follows that recovery from any of the diseases of civilization may be facilitated by embracing ways of thinking and living that have roots in traditional cultures. The dietary principles Weston Price elucidated are central to this approach. But how to apply traditional ways of thinking…what is one to make of this challenge? How might you go about changing the way you think to facilitate healing? It’s one thing to consider what we’ve learned from anthropologists about the way people in traditional cultures approached life, but quite another to apply any principles learned TO our lives today.
Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell: “Follow Your Bliss.”
The work of some people seems to me to utilize principles embodied in traditional cultures to help modern people heal. Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychiatrist and scholar and one of the most profound thinkers of modern times, was one such person. Jung described the work of psychotherapy as “the healing of souls.” Like Weston Price, Jung was born in the 1870s and spent his life seeking to understand fundamental forces that shape the lives of people everywhere to determine health and wellness. While Price came to understand the biological laws that determine physical development and resistance to disease, Jung combined his encyclopedic knowledge of anthropology, history, religion, philosophy and mythology with his understanding of psychotherapeutic processes to investigate the forces that drive the human psyche.
Jung’s discoveries in the psychic realm were equally as profound and far-reaching as Price’s in the physical – and as little understood and appreciated. The work of these two great men gives us a basis for understanding how we must be if we are to find health of body and mind and make the most of our time on earth. Price and Jung gave us blueprints for living and specific recommendations based on a marvelous understanding of all that came before us.
People of earlier and simpler cultures developed highly accurate prescriptions for living satisfying and healthy lives, lives generally untroubled by the depression, loneliness, and turmoil that mark so many lives today. They discovered certain truths about food, attitudes, and ways of life, wisdom that may help lead us to health and happiness.
Jung called the search by each of us for his or her own unique path in life the quest for individuation. He saw that quest as the means to reaching an understanding of one’s own individuality, and with it a sense that one could find one’s way with purpose and confidence, embracing one’s own “innermost, last, and incomparable uniqueness.” Out of this comes a capacity for self-love, necessary for healing, and love of others, necessary for relatedness and the feeling that our lives have meaning.
Many people today are as far from this quest for individuation as they are from a traditional diet that follows the principles Price discovered. Our mental and emotional deficiencies may contribute as much to the development of chronic medical problems as our nutritional deficiencies and excesses. Genuine and lasting healing requires disciplined attention to both diet and psyche.
Lawrence Leshan, a psychologist who worked with patients at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute in New York City for many years, described an approach to psychic health in a very simple way. Observing that many of his patients had lost hope of ever achieving a way of life that would give real and deep satisfaction, he often asked them if they were living “the kind of life that makes us look forward zestfully to each day and to the future.” Most were not, and I’ve observed this same lack of joy in many of my patients not only with cancer but also with various other chronic diseases. It is a lack of joy that often precedes the illness by many years.
I’ve told people that if you want to become well, you need to do things each day that you really love to do, things that make you happy, activities that you care about deeply. I talk with people about their daily lives, their routines, and try to help them see how they can make the time and find a way to do those things they’ve dreamed about doing but pushed aside because of the demands we all face. The difference in many people who become ill is that the demands have become overwhelming. Typically, there is a sense that the demands of family, job, and society leave no room for the pursuit of even modest goals and aspirations – dreams, if you will. I think that without dreams and the capacity to act on them, there can be no recovery from chronic problems, indeed, no real health.
Some thirty years ago, journalist Bill Moyers did a series of extended interviews broadcast on public television with the renowned mythologist and anthropologist Joseph Campbell. Campbell, author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces and many other acclaimed works, was in his eighties, having spent a lifetime considering the role of myths – dreams, stories, fantasies, aspirations, as expressed in oral and written mythological tales – in people’s lives. Asked by Moyers at the very end of the last program to summarize what he had learned, Campbell smiled and then spoke softly.
“ Follow your bliss,” he said. “Follow your bliss.” The show ended.
Joseph Campbell’s advice effectively summarizes Leshan’s approach. The psychic shift that can take place if such advice is followed can profoundly affect a person’s ability to heal.
Friends of Bill Wilson
But that is just one aspect of the kind of change that can transform. There’s another more elemental, nuts-and-bolts change an ill person can go through that can have wonderful consequences. That is the change that may follow what is commonly known in twelve-step circles as “hitting bottom.” Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson wrote about this extensively in AA’s “big book,” Alcoholics Anonymous. Hitting bottom is reaching the point where all hope is seemingly lost, when despair is so great that life seems unmanageable. If out of that despair there emerges a willingness to go to any length to recover, recovery becomes possible. Many thousands of stories of remarkable recovery from the ravages of alcoholism attest to the power of a commitment to personal change that can take place once a person decides that he or she has truly “hit bottom.”
A similar process may be instrumental in getting on the road to recovery from chronic illness. Both alcoholics and chronically ill individuals are often in denial of their problems – they continue their lives as though nothing was wrong, while the problems become continually worse (and may eventually kill them). Most chronically ill individuals are taking one or more prescription drugs and functioning at a fraction of their full capacities, yet insist that they are “basically healthy” and that they “eat pretty good.” For these people, the recognition that something is indeed seriously wrong and that dramatic change is necessary can indeed be the equivalent of the alcoholic’s “hitting bottom.”
Once the alcoholic has accepted that he has a problem and feels that he has fallen as far as he wants to fall, he is usually urged to become part of an AA group and to follow a series of steps that are the accepted wisdom of the group. “Turn it over,” he is told. Simply do what we have done – don’t drink, go to meetings, and follow our time-tested program – and recovery will follow.
While I don’t wish to push the analogy too far, there is an analogy between the recovery path for many alcoholics and chronically ill individuals. Weston Price left us a remarkable prescription for health and recovery from disease, a set of principles grounded in the accumulated wisdom of thousands of generations of human beings. As in AA, a leap of faith is involved. One must believe. But the individual who is willing to make a concerted effort to understand and follow what Weston Price taught may begin a path of recovery from the most serious disease.
What truly is involved is more a matter of a certain kind of courage than a matter of faith – the courage to trust your own judgment, and Dr. Price’s. This courage is the essence of a mental and emotional outlook that best facilitates healing. Weston Price’s work has been ignored or denigrated by the mainstream media and the medical establishment. Embracing Price’s dietary principles means going very much against the grain of almost everything we hear about nutrition and health. Doing so in the face of the usual advice from well-meaning family, friends, and health care professionals requires an uncommon mindset and a strong will. Following a traditional diet carefully and avoiding industrial foods requires the same strong, disciplined will and iconoclastic attitude.
There are two major effects of adapting such an attitude. The first is the effect one’s state of mind has on the immune system. Confidence, a strong belief system, and a positive attitude have been shown in many studies to have substantial benefits for T-cells and various other components of the immune system. Your mind quite literally can increase your capacity to heal. The second effect is that of your state of mind on the way you eat; attitude determines your ability to follow your chosen course with discipline and care. In the first article of this two-part series, I made the case that such discipline and care about diet are for many people with chronic disease essential for recovery.
Of course, if a human being really is a unity, an organism indivisible, the two effects are part of a whole, for the physical and the psychological are one. And what of the spiritual? You might ask, are we not physical, mental, emotional and spiritual beings? I leave this question for others to ponder. Those with spiritual leanings may find great strength – and healing – on their spiritual paths. Others who see life as a self-fulfilling journey that ends with death may find great strength – and healing – on their own earthly paths. For all, healing is a challenge that may be met by living up to one’s own highest ideals.
Occasionally someone will ask me about my own personal spiritual beliefs. My response is that those beliefs are best summarized by what I most remember from my Sunday school days half a century ago: “God is Love,” and “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Good advice, I believe, for anyone who would heal or be healed, whatever spiritual beliefs he or she may or may not hold.