Healing and the Mind – Wounded Healers (6 of 6)

In ‘Healing and the Mind’ Bill Moyers talks with physicians, scientists, therapists, and patients – people who are taking a new look at the meaning of sickness and health. In a series of fascinating and provocative interviews, he discusses their search for answers to perplexing questions: How do emotions translate into chemicals in our bodies? How do thoughts and feelings influence health? How can we collaborate with our bodies to encourage healing?” In the final part of the series, Bill Moyers aptly completes the circle by focusing on real people and their real stories and emphasising the ‘human connection’ that is so crucial in the doctor-patient relationship.

Commonweal: Healing is possible when curing isn’t

Commonweal is a ‘mind and spirit’ retreat north of San Francisco, USA where cancer patients can come and spend one week with others in similar situations.

Its mission: “healing is possible when curing isn’t”.

Though the ages and backgrounds of this particular week’s participants range from a 40-year old nurse to a 74-year old retired college professor, each person helps the other to heal in their own way. The idea is that when one falls ill, one can feel cut off from the rest of the world and therefore, strangers can come together to help heal each other and reignite that human connection through their cancer experience.

It all begins with listening

The program starts with showing each participant the power of listening and just how much their attention is worth.

By sharing their individual stories, they form a close bond and they give the gift of attention to each other – something that many in the outside world would not because they are too afraid to deal with a loved one’s affliction.

Some are quick to share and some take a little longer, but in the end a circle of trust is created when they realise that they are together on this journey. This brings each of them a tremendous sense of comfort and security.

Cancer is an opportunity to look at life anew

With the new perspective that cancer has given them, many of the participants are now looking to repair and deepen their relationships with their loved ones.

The program leader, who has herself undergone 7 surgeries since the age of 15, declares her firm belief in the human will to live. We each have a strong life-force which we can sometimes lose touch with and cancer (because it makes us confront our own mortality) reminds us of this life-force that we may have lost touch with.

“Healing is evoking the will to live”.

How a person feels is important

The wounded healers continue on their journey of acceptance, reconciliation and sharing by understanding that cancer is so much more than just a biopsy report – it is how you feel! Allopathic medicine does its best to ‘cure’ the disease but ‘healing’ requires dealing with a person’s inner resources. With cancer, both are needed.

Healing is a journey

As the week progresses, participants engage in group and individual activities specifically designed to help the healing process. Since research has shown that creativity and healing are related, one of the most beautiful exercises they undertake is a poetry-writing session.

Poetry helps to access the unconscious mind and brings to the surface deep and powerful emotions that may have laid dormant. Tears are shed but the session inevitably ended with hugs and smiles.

Participants also take on art projects like clay sculpting, sketching and sand-tray design. These helped express deep-seated emotions and are useful and insightful in sharing hopes and fears.

Seeing the real me

One patient shares an intimate story about how cancer changed the way people viewed her for the better. Since she was blessed with youthful good looks, people generally identified her as “that pretty girl” but no one paid attention to her intellect.

Due to cancer, she lost her good looks and age finally caught up with her, but now people are able to see her as the insightful, smart person she always was. Cancer enabled her true qualities to be seen and valued.

Death: The great equaliser

The episode ends fittingly, with a discussion on death.

“The worst thing that happens in life is not death”, says the program’s curator, “Health isn’t a goal in itself. It is a means to serving a purpose”.

That is the most important message of the Commonweal program: that one must use whatever time that health provides, to serve a purpose close to one’s heart.

Ultimately, healing oneself cannot always be a conscious, rational activity because real healing comes from a close contact with one’s deeper Self/ Intelligence. This gives the direction to find and fulfill one’s purpose.

A new family

While the entire series is special, this particular episode is very powerful because it shows how cancer-affected human beings can heal and enrich their lives after a week’s retreat.

At the end, they take happy pictures together at the beach and laughingly acknowledge that they have become a new family for each other. At a deeper level they have re-established that human connection and are healthier for it.

One patients asks whether it would be better to die alone or to have others present and share the burden. Her friends remind her that it is not a burden, but an honour. One could say the same about illness.

Reflection

  • Who are your cheerleaders on your cancer journey?
  • Instead of relying only on your loved ones, can you consider parallel avenues like support groups or personal cancer coaching?
  • Nietzsche said, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” What have you discovered about how you deal with adversity?

Resources

Healing & The Mind‘ by Bill Moyers

Author

vidyaAfter obtaining a degree in Psychology, Vidya felt her subject learning had been limited since it stopped with the study of the mind. Believing that humans are “whole” beings, she decided to pursue a discipline which appreciates the inter-connection between body-mind-spirit. She qualified herself as a Clinical Hypnotherapist from the California Hypnosis Institute of India (CHII). Vidya now works with cancer patients on a daily basis as a Treatment-Coordinator/ Therapist at the Ojus-Sampurnah Integrative Medicine Clinic in Bangalore and practices as an independent Hypnotherapist as well.

More from this series

Title About the article
1. Introduction to Healing & The Mind In this landmark series, Bill’s aim is to present his answers to the ever-perplexing questions : How do emotions translate into chemicals in our bodies? How do thoughts and feelings influence health? How can we collaborate with our bodies to encourage healing?
2. The Mystery of Qi In this part of the series, Bill Moyers, with the help of his guide, David Eisenberg, (MD from Harvard Medical School), travels through Beijing and Shanghai, exploring Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and its approach to healing through ‘Qi’ (pronounced ‘chi’), the vital energy force.
3. The Mind-Body Connection How do emotions translate into chemicals in our bodies? How do thoughts and feelings influence health? How can we collaborate with our bodies to encourage healing?
4.Healing From Within In the third part of the series, Bill Moyers offers new insights into how the mind and body are intimately interconnected.
5.The Art of Healing In the fourth part of the series, Bill Moyers examines two therapies – Buddhist meditation and group psychotherapy – that involve neither drugs nor surgery
6.Wounded Healers In the final part of the series, Bill Moyers aptly completes the circle by focusing on real people and their real stories and emphasising the ‘human connection’ that is so crucial in the doctor-patient relationship.

 

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