In an email she wrote me last week, a client referred to her health as “an ongoing project”.
I could easily have read a defeatist attitude in that descriptive, and certainly, there have been times with that client when the relentless energy it sometimes takes to manage her health has gotten the best of her. However, considering the beauty she shared in the rest of this particular email, I read those words as coming from someone who understands and accepts that what she’s going through is as much a part of her life as the family and friends who surround her, as the work she does, as the food she cooks & eats.
Which isn’t to say that she’s given up on getting better. I have also seen that same person, experiencing the same symptoms, embody the hope of growth and self-discovery as she strives to overcomes the very issues and realities of a chronic condition that threatens to drag her down.
As much as you want to find that miracle solution to cure all that ails you… ever… for the rest of your life, there’s no getting around the ups & downs of healing.
Healing is a journey. There’s no doubt about that. The concept of a healing journey isn’t some new-agey, airy-fairy or lofty notion. It’s a fact.
Like any journey, there are easy steps and rough patches, there are days when you want to call it quits and others when you feel ready to take on the world.
Where you find yourself on that journey speaks about where you’ve been, but more importantly, it offers the map of how to uncover your next steps.
Health & the Healing Journey Demystified
In the linear, Newtonian thinking of our conventional world – the mindset and belief-systems we’ve been steeped in for generations – our ideas of health get caught in the realm of those straight lines, of cause and effect. When you have condition B, take steps 1, 2 and 3 to get you back to healthy state A, by the removal of B altogether.
Some things work like that, with the ease of a light-switch.
Break your leg, set the bone, and it knits back together.
Get a cold, rest and drink clear fluids, and the cold goes. (I want to argue here that a generally healthy body will get through the cold regardless of what you do or don’t do.)
Get a headache, take a Tylenol, and it’s gone. Gain 10 pounds, eat fewer calories, and you’re back to normal.
Which gets into the question of what constitutes the illness. Is the pain in your head a condition? Is your coughing and sneezing the cold? Is your bulging belly the problem?
Those are the signs & symptoms of your condition, illness or problem. They are the outward proof and inner experience that let you know something is wrong. Their progress and decline might even inform you about how much better or worse you’re getting. They are not the disease.
Health itself is a balance. The word stems from the same root as the word whole. It insinuates a completeness – which might be where we get the idea that there’s a final Point A to which we can return.
The fact is it’s a continuum.
Maybe continuum is not the best choice of word to use in relation to healing. It again insinuates a linear journey, a sliding back & forth along one track.
What most people forget is that health runs along several tracks at once. You’ve got the 4 major lines of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, with a few intersections for ease of movement, and occasional expansion outward – kind of like the map of the Montreal Metro system.
The healing journey map however, is more like the map of London’s Underground. Besides the routes that allow you to go east/west and north/south across the expanse of the sprawling city and its suburbs, there are also circular lines that bring you around to the same spot an hour later. There are those that cut diagonally, getting you where you need to go more efficiently. Some have several tangents so that, depending which train you’re on, you’ll end up at a different destination altogether. The number of intersections create countless possibilities – some more direct, some busier at rush hour, some not running on weekends – for getting you where you want to go.
Far from a straight line, the state of your health swings you around the loops of the lemniscate – sideways 8 – the infinity symbol that reminds you that it’s endless.
Your health is a dance that sways to the tune of your life.
Your health can sit steadily like when you and your best friend found the sweet spot between your weights on the see-saw, or it can tip over and crash-land you on your butt.
I can keep going with these metaphors, but I think you get the picture.
To add to that more expansive picture of health, understand that the narrow range of movement which you call “healthy” can shift. The point you aim to regain won’t necessarily be the same place you started.
Your definition of health will change – it should change. If it’s not, you might want to start with examining and exploring your personal definition of health. As you age, as chronic conditions crop up, as the bumps and scrapes of life leave their scars on your body, point A looses its clarity, is no longer one fixed point.
From this perspective, Quantum thinking, the concept of whether energy is a particle or a wave (spoiler: it’s both) takes concrete form in your body. Your ideal health wriggles and dances its way through your life.
Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say that your vision of ideal health can only decline over time. On the contrary! It’s quite possible to seek a state of health that’s an improvement on where you started, or where you’ve always considered “normal” to lie.
All that to say that your healing can be about being on the one little trip that will get you from being congested or overweight or in pain, back to the point of departure. Yet it’s so much more.
Your healing journey is an adventure that takes you around the world and back, only to have you decide to pack up and try again.
Your healing journey offers routes to ease the pains that crop up over and over again, until you find one you walk comfortably,…then until you discover yet another option.
Your healing journey derails your plans, leading you down dark alleyways of terror, or turning you around a corner into the most beautiful meadow you’ve ever seen.
Your healing journey takes you to the mountaintop you always dreamt of reaching, and from that vantage point, you see the possibility of how many more places you could go.
Your healing journey happens on the outside with lifestyle choices and professional help and new modalities and a changing body.
Your healing journey happens of the inside with deeper self-knowledge and growing courage and emotional roller coasters and shifting energy.
Your life is a healing journey. What an absolutely exhilarating thought to ponder!
The 3 Stages of the Healing Journey
How exciting, and yet how daunting to imagine so many possibilities for yourself and your health!
Even trying to decide how to eat these days gets overly complicated and overwhelming, with endless experts trying to convert you to their magic formula. Search for one thing, like how to cook Brussels sprouts, and you get thousands of recipes. (1,420,000 actually, I just checked.)
Now that we’ve created a complex image in your mind that resembles a spider’s web, all sticky with places to get snagged, it might be helpful to think about which stage of the journey you’re on.
Are you dealing with an acute condition that needs immediate and focused attention? Have you come out of those woods and are working to stay well away from them? Or have you turned your gaze to new horizons?
While the map for each of those areas of healing might look just as complex as the other, remind yourself that a map is something you observe from above. Imagine instead that the complexity comes from the fact that you’ve got 3 different levels of journeys laid on top of each other. Have you ever seen the transparent layers that make up the details of an animated movie still or a cartoon strip? The big picture emerges when different elements come into play.
Same with your health. Let’s rotate that map of your healing journey so you’re looking from the side, at 3 layers, like a cake. Much easier to swallow!
The first layer, or the first stage of your healing journey, gets back to the basics of that conventional approach to medicine. It’s damage control, the place where you’re trying to overcome or survive an acute issue.
Symptoms → find the cause → take the remedy/undergo the procedure → return to normal
My own healing of different conditions and states have gone through these stages. I can turn any one of my experiences on their side to see how they’ve played out. To make these concepts easier for you to understand, we’ll look at the cross-section of how I’ve been dealing with gallbladder attacks in recent years.
My digestion has often been a weak point in my physical health. About 4 years ago, things were getting worse. One night, what felt like indigestion progressed through the night until I was awake with cramping pain so bad, I half hoped there would be a baby at the end of it. The second time it happened, I realised it must be a gallbladder attack. The 3rd time, in as many months, I cut out certain foods, and started to see a practitioner for acupressure and Chinese herbs. When it happened again, after a perfectly “healthy” vegan meal, the pain settled in for the long haul – dull, thank goodness, but very present – and I knew I had to get more help in case of any complications.
After 24 hours of being poked and scanned and observed and soaked in fear-mongering in the ER, I was sent home with prescriptions for 2 heavy-duty antibiotics and a referral for a surgeon to remove the offending gallbladder as soon as the inflammation subsided. I understood the potential gravity of the state I was in, however, I also knew that removing my gallbladder would open me to a whole gamut of other long-term issues down the road.
Which is when I made the leap to the next level.
The second stage of the healing journey focuses on prevention, in which the impetus for your care becomes about thriving and getting past the issue.
Through psychology, we’ve come to learn that people are motivated by the need to move away from, or towards, something they don’t want, or desire. Preventative medicine and preventative self-care stem from avoiding certain risks. This approach can be as superficial as not eating fried foods to not get a zit, or as extreme as having a full mastectomy to avoid breast cancer.
Up until the time I found myself in the hospital, I was simply using bandaids: staying away from food that clearly triggered the issue, while taking Chinese herbs and going for acupressure when things got out of hand.
The fear-driven intensity of the ER doctor and his conviction that surgery was the only option, as well as antibiotics that did not agree with me at all, galvanized my resolve to never get back to that place again.
While in the first stage of dealing with this, I was merely trying to get past the pain when it hit; now I had become prepared to do whatever it took to avoid having to go to the ER and to keep my gallbladder without putting myself at risk of dangerous complications.
Under the guidance of my acupressurist, I systematically removed any foods that might put my liver into undue stress – for me, that meant all dairy, gluten, sugar, alcohol, red meat, fatty foods, and chocolate. Without the context, it would have been pretty dire and depressing to drop all those at once. Newly motivated by the deep need to avoid a repeat performance made the decision easier. It was a simple question of, did I prefer to have the piece of cake and glass of wine, or to put myself in danger again?
My self-care routine expanded to include regular appointments for acupressure and emotional/spiritual sessions, to maintain the better flow of energy through my digestive tract and in my life.
These steps worked wonders. Not only did my symptoms subside, I started feeling more energized than I had in a while. I was sleeping better. My usual nasal congestion had all but disappeared. My digestion flowed, so I was able to enjoy food more freely again, even while sticking to some restrictions. I had everything under control.
When things slackened so much that the subtle symptoms cropped up again, I recognised that it was time to refocus that resolve.
Recently, my habits slipped further still and I felt things block up like they hadn’t done in a couple of years. Problem was, I couldn’t muster what it took to get fully back on the wagon of those good habits anymore.
This approach worked until it stopped working.
Slowly, gradually, I found my way into the 3rd stage of this process.
The last level of the healing journey looks at the same problem from the other side of the motivational coin. The difference can be subtle, but extremely powerful.
The 3rd stage of the journey – the icing on the cake – is when you start creating the health that you want, and blossom into your full healing potential, by moving in the direction of what you desire.
Looking after yourself from this angle means that you’re making decisions from the point of view of the person you want to become, how you want to eventually feel.
How would “Ideal Me” eat? What would She do for exercise? How does Ideal Me want me to deal with that relationship issue? How does She pray?
Where the act of preventing illness has a huge element of control, creating what you want requires a large dose of surrender, as you open yourself up to the possibilities that come your way. It requires you to trust the answers that arise to the questions you pose, because there’s no concrete proof that your intuition – yes, this is your intuition working in its full glory – is steering you right.
I wish I could say there was some defining moment that sparked the shift in mindset for me. With so many huge transitions in my life over the last 2 years, it’s difficult to pinpoint, but the fact is that this has been a gradual shift – more a whimper than a bang.
Sometimes the knowing is crystal clear and I make choices with absolute ease. Other times, there’s a struggle as fear and doubt creep in again.
Ironically, many of the decisions I make now, especially when it comes to food, are exactly what I had done under the guise of prevention. The difference is that where I had been making those choices to avoid a gallbladder attack, now I am trying solutions that might possibly dissolve the stones altogether.
As the paradigm flipped from one side to the other, the conscious feeling and movement of my emotions started to become a regular habit – or maybe it was that emotional play and release which allowed the tide to turn.
The more deeply I settled into the vision of where/how/who I wanted to end up, the more I noticed the breadcrumbs of synchronicity showing up to lead my way. Unless, it was the light I shone on those breadcrumbs that guided me to this new awareness.
In this part of the world, it doesn’t matter which is the cause and which the effect. The upshot is that I am letting the possibility of yes take me where it might, when before I was guided by the limitations of a no.
The most remarkable thing about being in this place is the strong sense that I am healing, regardless of whether those gallstones go away or not. Perhaps one day I will need surgery to remove the physical residue and eliminate dangerous risks, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t healed in the meantime.
I am constantly healing. This is a journey, after all – one that constitutes many trips and adventures. Some longer than others, some that end and some that never will.
Healing is as unpredictable as life itself. How you approach it depends on who you are in a given moment as much as the severity of what you need.
The healing journey, that convoluted map, has as many intersections connecting the layers, as it does along each plane. You will find yourself travelling it up & down as well as back & forth and all around.
Though I’ve laid this out in a linear story for ease of telling, the journey itself isn’t linear. In this particular experience, I move up & down through the stages as time goes on. Though I spend a lot less time in damage control than before, it doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally find myself back on that station platform.
Like life, healing is not a 1-2-3 experience. You might start with prevention and move into creation with a certain issue without ever having to do any damage control. Chronic issues might have you swimming from one to the other and back again in a seemingly endless cycle of flare-ups and remission.
And remember, you can go through these phases with your mental, your emotional, your spiritual health as much as your physical.
How daunting, how terrifying and how exciting. Yes, it’s a process. Are you up for the ride?
The client I mentioned earlier is someone who has poured a good dose of creativity on this project that is her healing journey. She has grown to explore it in a way that allows her to shine fully as one of the most warm, generous and beautiful souls I know.
She has proven what I believe at my core: Your healing journey is self-love in action, and the straightest path to a better life.
The divine Amanda Marshall sums it all up so beautifully in her song “The Gypsy”:
“The finest tapestry takes patience and the ability to wait
For each thread to support the bigger picture and the larger purpose
And in the fearless, reckless pursuit of intimate love
It is not the destination it’s the journey.”
Where are you on your healing journey? Where do you get snagged in that complicated web? When you share your thoughts and questions in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.