Dr. Jody Stanislaw, ND
In holistic medicine, patients are encouraged to change the diet to improve digestion; undergo cleansing protocols to improve liver function; take herbs to balance hormones; exercise to improve cardiovascular function…
Yet science tells us we are more empty space than actual physical matter. Furthermore, the particles that make up the bits of space we are can change based on thoughts, or even via mere observation.
Treating the physical has its merits. We certainly cannot deny that. However, if one’s focus ends there, a huge opportunity for a much deeper level of healing is missed.
Making space for communication about our emotions, as well as our past and its likely unresolved emotions, is not only powerful medicine for healing present physical ailments, but can often be where the root cause of physical ailments reside.
Case in point…last week I had a patient who came in for ‘minor GI complaints.’ As I started taking her history, it was hard to keep her focused. She was very intent on telling me about her romantic struggles…she was dating men she didn’t like, just to have a date, and deeply hungered to find her soul mate. I thought she was coming in for gas and bloating.
As she embarked on telling me her woes, I found myself frustrated we were going off on this ‘tangent,’ and not addressing her GI concerns. I reminded her that I was not a relationship therapist and apologized that I had nothing to say, yet she continued. The emotions behind her dialogue were so intense I decided to not interrupt again. I surrendered my agenda and decided to just listen.
By the end of her appointment thirty minutes later, her appearance had changed. She was calmer, more at peace, and had a beaming smile. She gave me a big hug as she said, “I feel so much better! Thank you! I’ll come in another time if my gas and bloating are still bothering me.”
All I did was listen.
Furthermore, she called me the next day to tell me of her huge breakthrough in clarity of what to do about her dating life after talking with me and how she feels better than she has in months.
My unintentional but very effective treatment plan was to surrender my agenda, let her guide the appointment, and listen.
The healing power of simply having someone to verbalize emotional charged situations to, without the need to judge it as something negative or even to fix or change it, is well documented in the teachings of Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is Professor of Medicine Emeritus, a student of the great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, and creator of the Stress Reduction clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
A quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn: “To be in relationship with what you are going through, to hold it, and, in some sense, to befriend it—that is where the healing or transformative power of the practice of mindfulness lies. When we can actually be where we are, not trying to get rid of it or swear it off and find another state of mind, we discover deep internal resources we can make use of. Coming to terms with things as they are is a powerful form of healing.
Appreciating this kind of awareness can have virtually immediate effects on health and well-being. As crazy as it sounds, it is possible to befriend your pain or your fear—rather than feeling that you can’t get anywhere until this thing that bothers you is cut out or walled off or shut down. That is a really profound realization for someone to come to. It’s very healing to realize, if only for a moment here and a moment there, that you can be in a wiser relationship with your interior experience than just being driven by hating it.”
In today’s world, we tend to get into action and fix things, especially if we deem them as ‘bad.’ Alternatively, this practice of simply accepting-what-is can feel counterintuitive or even irresponsible. Of course, the line of when to take action versus when to calmly watch and befriend-what-is is unique for every person and presenting symptoms.
How I use this in my practice is, I design the treatment plan of action, which gives my patient hope for things to improve, but I also talk about the importance of being with what is for now; to do their best at letting go of postponing feeling peaceful until some future date when their symptoms abate; to help them find peace right now, in the midst of their symptoms.
I often invite my patients to close their eyes, take a few deep breaths to tap into letting go of tension, and then have them bring to mind things they are grateful for in that very moment. Once they do this even for 1 minute, they usually have a smile on their face. They feel better, calmer. I then remind them that this simple exercise is powerful medicine that they can do at anytime…to find peace within the midst of their discomfort. I invite you to do the same.
If you are ready for deeper work, I suggest you make time at home to have a dialogue with your pain. To get a journal and ask your pain questions such as: “Why are you here? What do you need? Are you here to teach me something? If so, what?”
This is the process of ‘befriending’ your pain, which may not only be more effective than any supplement you could take, but can be incredibly transformative, mentally and physically.
Dan Siegel received his medical degree at Harvard and is clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute. A quote from Dan: “To help people be with their pain, or with knowledge of their metastasis, or of their mortality, it’s so valuable for them to discover a spaciousness of mind where they realize they’re part of a universal flow of things—people get ill, people do die, and they’re part of that big picture. Within that spaciousness, there is a great clarity that isn’t the same as relaxation. It’s not just hanging loose. You get beyond your internal dialogue of “I want to be better now.” You can be in the midst of great difficulties and yet find immense composure and clarity.”
So the next time you are struggling with physical pain, look to see if you can sense any emotions held behind your pain. Ask yourself open-ended questions, and just see what comes up for you.
Find a trusted friend or practitioner and ask them just to listen. Be okay with the ‘not doing’ as you let go of pity, fear, or any negative judgment about it, and instead have compassionate curiosity for yourself and what you are experiencing.
Practice finding peace in the midst of your challenge; shift away from any frustration and fear of your situation, even for a moment, and imagine seeing your pain as a message that is hungry to be heard and even befriended.
We humans are complex beings and are more ‘nothingness’ than matter…A wise way to address physical symptoms often resides in this nothingness.
Dr. Jody Stanislaw is a 2007 Bastyr University graduate. She works entirely via phone with patients all around the country.
Being a type 1 diabetic since the age of 7, she specializes in Diabetes care and is an expert at helping patients achieve optimal glucose control. She also works with the general population, advising patients on the naturopathic approach of treating today’s most common ailments.
Her focus on mind/body is present in every appointment. In her very popular intensive program, patients receive weekly calls with her over a 3 month period, allowing them to make dramatic transformations in their overall health & wellbeing. This structure allows the many levels of a patient’s needs to be addressed…physical, emotional, nutritional, and more…leaving them happier and healthier than ever before. Sign up for a free introductory phone consultation with Dr. Stanislaw here: www.consultwithdrjody.com.