The story so far...
At a metaphysical lecture facilitated by Guy Williams, Guy made the comment that most people don't really want to heal. What most people want, according to Guy, is to stop hurting. In Part 1, we met the ego, and discovered that the most effective way of letting go of our limiting and outmoded beliefs is to accept that there is no need to change these beliefs because they're actually working just fine. What we have, on the other hand, is the option to upgrade our beliefs and to make more elegant choices.
For most of us, healing is a big, scary, and uncomfortable prospect. Healing requires that we do two very simple, yet incredibly unappealing tasks. First, we must accept that we are responsible for creating our own illness: Our thoughts, beliefs, choices and actions are directly responsible for the imbalance and dis-ease we are experiencing in our physical bodies. Second, we must be willing to change our lives and eliminate the thoughts, beliefs, choices and actions that created and supported the imbalance and dis-ease, replacing them with new choices that support balance and health.
Taking Responsibility For Our Illnesses
The first step to healing is to accept that we created our illnesses in the first place. This can be a difficult concept to swallow. So many of us are invested in the prevailing Western scientific medical view of reality that we can't quite understand how we created our illnesses.
Most illnesses are caused by viruses or bacteria. If we catch a cold, or get the flu, how is that our responsibility? Someone sneezed on us in an elevator, and now we're laid up in bed for a week. We're so helpless against the various flu strains that there's even an annual cold and flu season every year. Every ad for cough medication, every news report on flu vaccinations only serves to reinforce the belief that we're helpless victims of forces beyond our control. The only way to avoid getting sick is to avoid human contact for six months of the year.
But what about the people who don't bother with flu shots, and don't avoid human contact and yet they also don't get sick? Are they just lucky? They're being exposed to the same bacteria and viruses that we are. How is that that they stay healthy? Could it be that their thoughts support perfect health and a strong and functioning immune system, while ours somehow invite illness?
What about hereditary or genetic disorders? How can we be responsible for these? Or is it just possible that our belief in heredity is what creates hereditary diseases? If we believe that because heart disease "runs" in our family that we are "at risk" for a heart attack, how does that belief become our reality?
Of course, in the case of heart disease, there are so many other contributing factors, such as diet and exercise that have as much, or more to do with the health of our hearts than heredity does. It may just be possible that what we inherit is not a genetic predisposition to heart disease, but the nutritional and lifestyle habits that actually result in heart disease. We inherit behaviors from our families as well. We're responsible for our choices, and we're responsible for any dis-ease that results from our choices.
I have a friend who "inherited" a degenerative neurological disorder that affects her feet and makes it difficult for her to walk. Every doctor she saw told her that she would be in a wheelchair by the time she was 40, and there was nothing she could do about it. She knew how her relatives had lived out their lives with this disease, and decided that this was not an acceptable life for her. She refused to accept the diagnosis, and began to explore alternative therapies. She made radical changes to her diet and lifestyle, and very quickly noticed a radical improvement in this chronic, progressive, degenerative condition. According to the best medical experts, she shouldn't be able to walk today. However, because she took responsibility for her illness and changed the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that created her illness, she has been able to reverse it.
Many conditions result from negative thinking and limiting beliefs. Unexpressed anger, regret, grief, and other painful emotions can manifest as chronic, painful, and sometimes terminal illness. In order to heal these conditions, we must identify the negative thought or belief that is at the core. The challenge, however, is to identify and release the negative thought without triggering the ego. All too often, we punish ourselves for having negative thoughts in the first place--we beat ourselves up for beating ourselves up. This only reinforces the negative thought and destructive patterns.
We must accept that every belief we hold, no matter how negative or limiting, serves us in some way. This goes for our illnesses and dis-eases as well. Before we can heal, we must become aware of what benefits we get from our illnesses.
Discovering And Accepting That Our Illness Serves Us
Every choice we make, we make because it meets a need. We created our illness because it gives us something that we believe that we want. What is the payoff we get for being ill? What are we getting out of this situation?
No matter how painful or debilitating the illness, there is always a benefit. Objectively, we may have made a rather unskillful bargain, of course. We may feel that we're paying much too high a price for the benefits we receive. But until we identify the benefit-until we become aware of what it is that we get out of being ill, we can never truly heal.
Healing requires that we identify what it is that we get out of being ill, and then become aware of our beliefs surrounding this need. We must be willing to give up these benefits, or recognize that we can meet these needs in less debilitating ways.
When it comes to minor illnesses such as the cold or flu, often we get sick because we haven't been listening to our bodies. We've been working too hard, and under too much stress. We haven't been taking care of our physical, emotional, or spiritual needs. The only way that we will take any time for ourselves is if we're too weak to get out of bed, so that's what we create.
I have a friend who has a rather intense family history, with enough drama and intrigue to fill a prime-time soap opera. A number of years ago, she experienced a rather significant identity crisis. An inheritance set her up financially so that she could do whatever she wanted to do with her life. The fact that she could do whatever she wanted with her life meant that she had to actually choose what she wanted to do with her life, and this created a great deal of stress. She began to have anxiety attacks, and soon developed acute agoraphobia, finding it very difficult to leave her house. She's struggled with this condition for many years. The payoff of this condition is that she has an iron-clad excuse not to face her fears and do something with her life. All of her time and attention is focused on her condition and her anxiety.
We may find it difficult to accept responsibility for having created our illnesses because we created our illnesses to avoid having to take responsibility in the first place. Illnesses and injuries are often cries for attention and validation. When we're ill, injured or otherwise in pain, we're entitled--and even expected to think only of ourselves. We are excused from our responsibilities to others. We don't have to go anywhere we don't want to go, we don't have to do anything we don't want to do. And we can expect other people to do things for us and we're under no obligation to return the favor. We can cancel plans at the last minute, or even simply not show up, because we were in too much pain to fulfill our social obligations--and we don't even have to call to apologize.
Within reason, we're able to complain to others about how we feel, or put on a brave face, enduring the pain (but also making certain that everyone knows that we're a martyr to our pain and we don't want to ruin everyone else's good time). Either way, our illness is making us the center of attention, and this makes deposits in our Validation Accounts. Granted, the deposits are very small, and the cost is extremely high, but for many of us, this is the only way we believe that we can receive validation and attention from others.
Healing means that we will have to give up our "special" status. We will no longer be entitled to be the center of attention at all times. We will no longer be able to demand that other people notice us and pay us special attention. We will be expected to do things that we may not particularly enjoy, in order to meet our personal and social obligations to others.
If our illness is a chronic disability, healing means that we will once again have to work to earn a living. If we believe that the only way that we can earn a living is doing work that we find repugnant and draining, where is the incentive to heal? And, could this belief be one of the primary reasons we created our disability in the first place?
Sometimes it's more important to keep our handicapped parking privileges than it is to heal and have to (or even be able to) walk an extra block to the supermarket.
Please know that there is nothing at all wrong with that choice. We are free to choose to keep our illnesses and our dis-eases. These conditions meet very important needs for us, albeit at a considerable cost. We may not really want to heal, and that's a perfectly acceptable choice.
Of course, once we accept responsibility for having created our illness, and become completely aware of the costs and benefits, we may realize that we can, in fact, meet those needs more effectively in other ways. When we realize this, we are truly ready to heal.
The Courage to Heal
Healing is a very threatening process because it requires that we make significant, often dramatic changes in our lives, and change is always threatening. On the most fundamental level, safe equals familiar. When our most basic, physiological needs are being met, we're often able to overcome minor concerns about the unknown and embrace change without feeling threatened. When we're in pain because of dis-ease, however, our most basic needs are not being met.
When our Physiological Need account is overdrawn, all of our need accounts are put on red alert. When we're in pain, we're most definitely not feeling safe, and any change will be a threat. To make matters worse, the behaviors that we will have to change-often eating, drinking, and/or smoking-seem to be the few reliable ways that we can make deposits in our Safety Accounts.
On an intellectual level, we may understand that the only way to truly heal and be free of the pain of our dis-ease is to alter our behavior. However, when our safety needs aren't being met, we act on instinct. The very thought that we have to give up the few things that give us pleasure makes us feel even less safe.
What happens next is that we often retreat into victim consciousness. We long for the magic wand that will miraculously make the pain go away and let us continue with our lives exactly as they are, because that's the only option we can imagine that lets us feel reasonably safe. When we escape into fantasy, of course, we avoid any personal responsibility. We also give up all personal power, and lose the ability to heal.
In order to truly heal, we must accept each healing crisis as a call to awareness. When we're in pain, all we can do is find some way to alleviate the pain. This is an essential first step. Healing requires that we address our safety needs, and we can't do this until our physiological needs are being met. Healing isn't about stopping the pain; healing is about what we choose to do once the pain has stopped.
Healing is not about pain management; it's about safety management. In order to change our behaviors and allow our bodies to heal, we must learn how to manage our Safety Accounts.
For example, we might have an emotional attachment to sugar. Anytime we feel stressed, unhappy, or otherwise unsafe, we can always rely on a candy bar or some ice cream to make us feel a little better. If we are at risk for diabetes, however, eating sugar poses serious health risks. Of course, the thought of having to give up sugar makes us feel unsafe, and in order to replenish the balance in our Safety Account, we dive into a pound of Godiva chocolates.
The only way to break this pattern is to learn to manage our Safety Account. We must discover other behaviors that help us to feel safe that do not involve eating sugar. We can use the "Present Moment Awareness Safety Exercise" (see The Relationship Handbook: How to Understand and Improve Every Relationship in Your Life, page 48) to manage our general stress levels so that we're less likely to give in to our cravings. We experience the truth that we can meet our needs in many different ways, and so we do not feel threatened and unsafe by the thought of limiting or excluding sugar from our diet. And, of course, we apply AWARENESS, OWNERSHIP and CHOICE to create new behaviors that support our health.
Now, anyone who has struggled with attachments or addictions will tell you that while the theory is very simple, simple isn't the same thing as easy! Throughout the process, we also have to be careful not to trigger our egos (as we covered in Part 1). We must take small steps, validating and rewarding ourselves for each elegant choice, no matter how small, and avoid punishing ourselves for not being able to change our behavior patterns instantly.
We did not create our dis-eases overnight, and we won't be able to heal them overnight, either. We must accept that healing is a gradual process, and in this acceptance is one of the keys to healing. We generally do not need to make drastic, immediate changes in order to heal. We can make gradual changes in our behavior and our beliefs, and the more gentle we are with ourselves during the process, the more successful it will be.
Healing does not have to be difficult. It's just that for most of us, as soon as we stop hurting, we lose interest in actually healing.