In traditional medicine the goal is to heal, whereas in modern medicine the goal is to cure, the Grandmothers say. Curing aims to make a disease go away, but the goal of healing is to return the patient to “wholeness” by restoring or enhancing harmony and well-being.
The opening words come from the book, Grandmothers Counsel the World by Carol Schaefer. This book is a collection of wisdom from grandmothers around the world, offering their vision for our planet at this critical time. It is a powerful book from powerful women…signifying the need for this feminine strength in our times.
I was reminded of this distinction between curing and healing in my daily rounds in the nursing home. So often the goal seems to be to “cure” even though there may be no actual cure for some diseases, like organ failure, or other illnesses that beset us as we age. But it is clear that healing is possible! Through the nurturing touch of the nurses and other staff members, as well as, family members, patients are able to experience moments of wholeness and harmony. Despite these efforts, though, at the end of the day, often patients are left alone…forced to endure many hours by themselves…in isolation from their families and friends. We can see clearly what Howard Thurman describes in his book, Search for Common Ground…
The human spirit cannot abide the enforced loneliness of isolation. We literally feed on each other; where this nourishment is not available, the human spirit and the human body – both – sicken and die.
Thurman is describing our need for one another, for in his words, “interdependence is characteristic of all life”. In the absence of this nourishment, we do indeed sicken and die. We have seen it in orphanages across the globe…we see it in the death of a seedling which has not been watered or cared for…we see it in the dog that has not been given love and companionship. I am reminded of the experiment done with young monkeys, where they are offered two “mothers”; one just a wire cage with access to milk, and another “mother” that is covered in a soft cloth, but without milk. The monkeys invariably chose to spend more time with the soft covered “mother” even over the one that provided milk. Although this experiment was flawed and certainly was not compassionate to the infant monkeys involved, it illustrated the importance of the nurturing aspect of the caregiver…beyond the necessary food and drink. The baby monkeys were in search of more than food: they were in search of the nurturing power of the mother. And it is this “mother” that we are all in search of…the source and goal of our longing…the womb from which we sprung…that balm that heals.
Of course, in this Women’s History Month, I would not neglect the teachings of Hildegard of Bingen. In her last book, she outlined the way in which healing occurs.
· physical healing with natural remedies and nutrition
· healing with spiritual healing forces of the whole
· healing with the power of the four directions
· restoration through “oneness” with God
Hildegard was not under the misconception that healing occurs only spontaneously through faith in God…or the Goddess. She believed that we, as human beings, have our own part to play in this healing. We must seek the companionship of others, including plants, animals, other people and the “cosmic forces” in order to become whole. Yet, this healing has everything to do with our “oneness” with God…our ability to be at one with God as we seek a oneness…this wholeness with each other.
And this is what I speak with patients about on a regular basis…yet to some it is not enough. The concept of God varies from person to person, but my work is to find the common ground…the table around which we can experience that at-one-ness that Hildegard spoke of. In trying to describe this to a patient, I was reminded of the
first time I attended a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I walked in, not knowing another soul. I was allowed to be alone with my thoughts, since no one is forced to speak at one of these meetings. My thoughts were separate to be sure. I was thinking how little I knew about the world…how little I actually thought of myself. I was suffering, I thought, from a lowered sense of self-esteem…a lower sense of my own value. At some time during that meeting, it dawned on me that my thinking of myself as small was a sort of forced isolation from the group. I gradually started to see this table at the meeting as a Welcome Table…one in which all people are welcome…a place where we can come together and break out of our self-imposed isolation in order to acknowledge our shared humanity.
This was a moment of illumination that I often have to revisit in order to connect to others…and to remember that I too am included at this welcome table. And at times this is not easy…at times I fail to remember this table where we have the common ground that Thurman spoke of. I have had to search, much like Thurman did, in our beginnings, in living structures, in the dreams of the prophets, in our common consciousness and our own identities, even my own. I am not always able to find that common ground, but I have not abandoned the search, for if we are all children of God, then we are all capable of healing…we are all capable of the wholeness that is the universe that birthed us. I still believe that there is something that undergirds our common plight…our common history, our present and our future. This is not only important for us personally…for without it we will die, but is important for us as a community, of people, animals, plants…everything…rocks, water and wind. We need each other…we need the nurturing that, in our early days, keeps us alive.
I think this is the spirit of the Divine Feminine…a spirit that the grandmothers speak of…the spirit that Joanna Macy talks about in the Great Turning of our world…the spirit of healing that Hildegard describes. Some would call this feminism, though that may not give us the full picture. A teacher of mine, Starhawk, puts it like this…
My spirituality has always been linked to my feminism. Feminism is about challenging unequal power structures. So, it also means challenging inequalities in race, class, sexual preference. What we need to be doing is not just changing who holds power, but changing the way we conceive of power. There is the power we're all familiar with — power over. But there is another kind of power — power from within. For a woman, it is the power to be fertile either in terms of having babies or writing books or dancing or baking bread or being a great organizer. It is the kind of power that doesn't depend on depriving someone else.
Starhawk is able to give us a broader view of feminism. She says that it is about challenging unequal power structures and that we must change the way we view power. We must learn that there is indeed a power within capable of healing our wounds and bringing about the Great Turning of our world. Accessing this power is our work each day and helping others to access it as well. It is our journey toward wholeness that includes all of the resources outlined by Hildegard…our physical healing, including good nutrition and exercise…our spiritual healing when we access the healing forces of nature, as well as, the healing power of the four (or five or six) directions, and the restoration that is possible when we recognize our connection with the Great Spirit of Life…the All. It is time…time for the healing of the whole…for sitting at the table together…time to catch the train of common ground. People Get Ready!