Healing Crisis - How should we navigate illness?
Updated: Jul 25
From the perspective of soul evolution, the ‘healing crisis’ is an auspicious event, and while we may be deeply challenged, afraid and disturbed, in evolutionary terms, things are getting very interesting, because we are entering a threshold of change.
It's hard, given our cultural fixation with the material world, to see disease as anything other than a physical problem. It doesn’t matter what illness we have, the predominant mainstream view is that the body is somehow failing to function properly, and physical interventions whether surgical or chemical, are seen as the only way to manipulate the body-machine towards better functionality. Even mental health is seen this way; a malfunctioning brain must be put right with chemical inputs, often indefinitely, unless an individual chooses to opt out.
The notion of ‘healing crisis’ is rooted in a very different approach. There is no incentive for the body to be reduced to a mere machine. Instead, an illness is seen as an opportunity, through an openness that doesn’t seek specific outcomes, even if a part of us wants one; we are not fixed on a cure as such, just a willingness to open our senses to what is really happening on all levels of our being.
Disease is commonplace in spite of recent technological advances, and when one stops to think about it, this means that many souls are experiencing serious life threatening health issues all the time, many of whom will die, either of the disease itself or of treatment. In fact a recent John’s Hopkins study suggests that conventional surgical or drug treatment is the third leading cause of death in the USA, and the stats are similar for European countries as well. Clearly conventional treatment is a hit and miss affair, and a much higher risk than we are lead to believe. It seems probable than many people today pursue conventional medical treatments because they have a limited view of their options, and don't feel confident enough to direct their own healing processes.
How we approach illness is profoundly significant, and in this ‘thought-food’ offering I am going to explore what it really means to follow a truly holistic healing path.
The word holistic is popular in the alternative healing sector, but my impression is that people jump on the bandwagon and like to use the word even if they don’t fully understand it. Buzz words may well evoke something that sounds good, but what does it mean to be holistic?
Is herbal medicine holistic if we visit a practitioner and get prescribed a mix of herbs and take them much like we might take pharmaceutical medicine?
Is acupuncture holistic, if we turn up at our local acupuncturist, get a ‘balancing’ treatment, and do nothing else?
Is juicing therapy holistic, if we zealously adhere to a detox protocol, and in all other areas of our lives, do nothing different?
The answer is no; these actions toward health and wellbeing are not in and of themselves holistic. The practioners may well be following a holistic approach, but unless we do as well, the benefits are limited and may not solve the problem we are trying to sort out.
So what is holism really?
Holism is a multi-elemental approach to life that acknowledges a very obvious part of human existence: that we are emotional, mental, spiritual and physical beings. These four aspects of the human experience are not separate things; they co-exist at every moment of every day.
To practise a holistic life approach is currently counter-cultural, and to do so takes determination and effort because we are surrounded by a cultural paradigm dominated by reductionist science and capitalism. The two together make a powerful team that conspire to control the narrative on health and wellbeing, in order to maximise profits. It doesn’t really matter whether it's pharmaceutical medicine or alternative medicine, both sectors are now deeply influenced by market forces and profit incentives.
At the heart of any healing crisis, in my view, is a call to holism; illness invites us to look long and hard at everything we have not been paying much attention to. From a soul evolutionary perspective, health issues provide the necessary friction that stimulates deep self-inquiry. For those not hijacked by the medical system, a health crisis can initiate a healing journey with high rewards.
So how should we navigate health issues from a holistic perspective?
We need to accept the challenge as an invitation to change. We can’t expect to stay the same, and in truth virtually no one undergoing illness is ever the same even if they fully recover. I’d say that recovery occurs because necessary change happens, and those that don’t recover do so because they resist deep change. Healing is fundamentally about balance, and in principle recovery occurs only when the needed balance has been met; this generally happens through real changes in the way we think, feel and operate in life.
It helps, if we let go of the need to get better as quickly as possible, and it helps if we keep an open mind as to what recovery really looks like. It's a common reaction to cling to a very limited view of what is happening and what is possible and we may wish we weren't ill at all, and want things to go back to how they were. If the illness is cancer for example, we’ll have a picture in our minds already about what cancer is, and the odds of recovery based on other people’s stories - but we are not those people, we are not the past, and should cultivate an open neutral perspective as much as possible. Fear is immensely unimaginative, and if we don’t master fear, we can restrict the potential of every moment to a very grim set of probable eventualities.
What if illness was in fact your best friend in disguise? What if it were asking you to dance? I use the notion of dance to infer the idea of a process, a journey, and a conversation. Perhaps only through the imminence of illness, are we willing to stop everything for a moment and actually take stock of who we are, where we are in life, what we really feel about ourselves, about where we are going, and about the quality of the life we are living. Healing processes are to some extent like conversations; we need to open dialogue with ourselves in order to grasp where we are truly ailing. In this sense, physical symptoms end up being what got us connected with the underlying cause, often mental and emotional in nature.
Although an illness most often affects our physical body - or at least an illness that we are willing to acknowledge as a problem - it’s fundamental that we acknowledge that physical issues can be rooted in mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of being human. So jumping into physical based therapies alone, whether orthodox or alternative, should not be considered in itself an answer. These strategies most likely will form only part of the answer. After all, pharmaceutical drugs, herbal medicine, and nutritional inputs, won’t touch directly the nature of our thoughts and feelings and connection with life. A good health plan must address as many levels as possible; we must be actively engaged with emotional health, mental health and spiritual health, while paying attention to any physical supports we are drawn to.
It is essential to take stock of one’s life and to evaluate as honestly as possible all aspects of what it is to be human. Are we happy? Are we lonely? Are we sad but trying desperately to avoid feeling sad? Are we angry, while feeling guilty for being angry? Are we bored? Do we feel connected or disconnected? Have we really resolved past hurts? Or have we simply moved on from painful situations and hoped for the best? Taking stock of one’s reality isn’t a simple task, and sometimes we have to develop the skill of self-inquiry and learn to be honest with ourselves. Seeing therapists can be useful, but we have to remain in command of our process; we shouldn’t hand ourselves over to someone we think ‘knows’ best. Therapy sessions, or deep conversations with trusted friends, can help us to get in touch with our interior, and if we have been busy ignoring aspects of ourselves like our emotional reality, then its going to take time to open up access to whats really going on inside.
Healing journeys have a life of their own. This means that it's more effective if we learn to cooperate and flow with the process, rather than think we need to have a super clear plan and stay in constant control. If we demand to be in control, then we won’t be open to any answers beyond our current ability to know, which will inevitably fail because if we already knew the answers we wouldn't be ill in the first place.
It is powerful to frame a health challenge with the question: “why is this happening for me?” It puts us in a position of power rather than victim, and it instantly opens us up to the mystery in a way that assumes a benevolent and loving universe. It also sets us up to cooperate with whatever is unfolding for us. Can we trust in the healing process to bring us to a better place in life?
Very often, astrological transits coincide with the manifestation of illness, and by looking at the symbols involved, one can get helpful insights about why the health challenge is occurring and what might be needed to resolve and bring balance for recovery. In my practise of Evolutionary Astrology, I have found the planetoid Chiron to be a recurring symbol in those experiencing health issues. For example when a friend I knew was suddenly diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma some years ago, transiting Chiron was conjunct his karmic lunar south node, and set to make conjunctions with three other planets. From this it was clear that it would take some years before the crisis would be over, which proved to be true and to his surprise he survived and went into remission. When my brother was diagnosed with cancer in his early thirties, transiting Chiron was conjunct natal Neptune, while opposing natal Jupiter and in aspect with natal Pluto - he was being asked to evolve beyond a fixed and limiting idea of what life was all about. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, transiting Chiron was opposing natal Saturn, in the middle of her second Saturn return. During that period she was able to rebirth a spiritual life and reclaim her sense of indentity after many years lost in the role of mother and wife.
No matter what kind of help we employ, it is important to cultivate ownership of our life as an ongoing journey, and it helps to embrace a transcendental belief system that ventures beyond the confines of material life and survival patterns, into transpersonal realms that offer greater meaning to current challenges. The moment we choose the immature position of letting authority figures dictate health care choices on our behalf, we lose power over our situation, and can only live with the consequences of other people's decisions. Within health care systems that are fundementally profit orientated, it is very easy to lose personal power and be swept away in a wave of perspectives and expectations from other people that may not be in our best interests no matter how well intentioned.
There are many evolutionary reasons for the manifestation of a healing crisis, but they do all have something in common; at the heart of the matter is a soul need to break free from the past and open the way for more growth and expansion into new life experiences. Illness can represent resistance to soul growth, but it can also represent a time when past unresolved issues connected to pain, suffering and trauma, can somehow come to light and integrate through the experience of illness itself.