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Illness – An Integral View

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This article explores the different ways of regaining health through illness. It speaks to people in the present world running from doctor to doctor, from allopathy to homoeopathy to Ayurveda in search of a cure. A new way emerges through this search…

Modern medicine has gone beyond gross anatomical lesions to lesions at biochemical, genetic, molecular and even electropathophy-siologic levels (as in epilepsy and certain forms of IHD). Equally, there is an acknowledgment of the role of lifestyle, personality traits, thoughts and emotions in triggering an illness-event. It would not be surprising if, in the next fifty years, we move still deeper and discover that physical abnormality is only a gross reflection of an imbalance in the pattern of consciousness-energy. We may discover, for instance, using techniques of crystallography, that drugs correct molecular aberrations simply by reminding the diseased part of its healthy pattern, by casting its own unique pattern that corresponds somewhere to the part. This realignment or reorganisation can occur not only with allopathic drugs, but also with other forms of therapy (including water molecules) if the crystallographic or, still better, the nature of the energy field matches the part. But for this, we will have to wait a little longer. Our infant science has not yet stopped playing with matter. It is still attracted to its molecular toys and their magic.

The limits of these ways are already beginning to appear. Even infectious diseases whose conquest first appeared stunning are beginning to return, and return with a vengeance. How long shall we remain blind to the fact that our tools are undoubtedly marvellous but not the real thing? The secret of health still eludes us. Death and disease still take their toll and continue to pick and choose their prey. We can only delay death a little. We replace heart for heart and liver for liver; we may even one day replace the physical body with a robot or clone. But even a clone is only a lookalike. The experience and consciousness is different. And unless we learn to replace consciousness, replacing the wrong movement with the right, we shall only move in circles, perhaps bigger and bigger circles, but on the same plane, returning to the same mysterious ‘nought’ that swallows up our best efforts.

One thing all healers would agree is that an illness is essentially a disequilibrium. Thus, we find modern medicine speaking of homoeostasis at the level of cells and organs. The Ayurvedic physician speaks of disequilibrium at a fundamental level of an excess or deficiency of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, ether) in relation to each other. Homoeopaths understand disequilibrium in terms of the vital force and so do many Chinese and Tibetan systems. The pranic healers discover the disequilibrium at the level of chakras in the energy fields. These systems therefore actually complement each other. A day may come when we may understand diagnosis by relating and describing the disequilibrium at each level and prescribe a corresponding therapy. In this way, we may describe a particular patient as having blocked coronaries, reflecting a psychological attitude of blocking his emotions and holding things back. We may go on to see that this has led to a congestion of vital force in some parts and depletion in others and also, we may notice, an altered energy field at the ‘heart chakra’ leading to an imbalance. The healing too will follow at multiple levels of which physical intervention through CABG could be only one aspect of the treatment. The other levels also need to be addressed simultaneously.

In a strictly physical model of disease, we may mock this whole exercise by simply saying that it makes no difference so long as the clot is removed and the heart has resumed its function. But the clot returns and so does the illness, since the deeper disequilibrium has been ignored and it may make no difference for the moment to the man whose limits are set around his body. Such a man is fixed to his physical frame, confined and imprisoned by it, even if he owns half the world as his estate! This condition is akin to a man closed in a space shuttle. He has no access to the immensity of space in which he is moving as long as he is able to look after his body physiology the way he did on earth. But astronauts know better. They know that the immensity of space can be frightening, the isolation threatening and terrifying, taking away the joy of the voyage. And merely satisfying physiological requirements is not enough. One needs to adapt to a different psychological environment. For man is not just a body and except for the most crude, animal side of humanity, we cannot be simply satisfied by our heavy bellies and empty hearts. We need to know more, we need to be more.

Yet, as physicians, we remain strangely secretive. We simply label the patient with terms like IHD or CAD or with more exotic words like bronchiectasis and Sheehan syndrome. These ‘frightening’ words unfortunately make the patient even more helpless. He becomes too passive, feeling unable to fight a monster whose name he has never heard and whose powers he does not know. If any, the word of the physician only makes his fears grow by giving strange powers to this demon of disease. How often do we hear a physician talk about hypertension to his patient in terms like, ‘Be careful’, ‘It can damage your heart’ or ‘You may suffer a stroke or sudden heart attack’. Keep the CCU card and the doctor’s number (and the pills and insurance policy ready too). It will be handy and you might be saved if timely action is taken. Or ‘the cancer is there and it may spread anytime. We can try, but…’ Why can’t we say, “Look, some of your lifestyle and attitudes have led to an excess deposit in your arteries. To overcome this, Nature is trying to push more blood to the organs by raising your blood pressure. We are simply ensuring that we keep your BP within the limits that the blood vessels can take. But you can also help yourself and collaborate with Nature. If you restructure your diet and take a daily walk, the damage will reduce and Nature will stimulate your blood vessels to find alternative routes (anastamosis). In addition, you can learn to relax and let go of this constantly tense attitude. Above all, trust yourself, trust Nature which is a great healer, trust Him who is the sole guardian of our destiny and all that happens to us.”

Yes, there is a lot more we can do for patients, if we understand the rationale behind illness and take charge of ourselves. We can and must collaborate in the healing process, provided of course we understand it. And this is a crucial task of the physician. Merely sticking a label and prescribing a pill is not enough. But one can’t blame the physician. Our medical schools based on the reductionist model teach us nothing more. In fact, a contemporary modern physician is not only brainwashed and conditioned into thinking solely in terms of physical pathology. S/He almost comes out with an air of vanity that refuses to admit any grain of truth in any other
system.

And, by doing so, one closes the doors. One isolates oneself in one’s ignorance. Let us therefore put aside all that conditioning and look into the heart of the matter. We find that an illness is a pointer. A pointer to what? To a deeper imbalance, a more fundamental disequilibrium, a deeper malady in our psyche and soul. When we are not able to see or to stop the malady at these subtler levels then we have a gross pathology, as a reminder to our soul of the ‘yet to be achieved perfection’, lest we forget to evolve and shut ourselves inside the comforts of our civilisation. The deeper malady is not merely recording an imbalance at mental-vital-physical levels. It is not even an imbalance in the energy fields and the chakras. All these are only pointers. These subtle imbalances are also only a pointer. They are not the source. And unless we correct the source of the problem, the malady will return, under one guise or another. Even intervention at subtle levels would only be temporary, only a help in ‘buying time’, just like the physical remedies. The source of the malady is within us, in the many contradicting and conflicting wills, in each element that chooses to cut itself off from its divine origin and so suffers diminution, disease and death. Each element that is cut off becomes a free-floater creating the climate for disease and even inviting it. It creates the imbalance at the level of consciousness and hence at the energy level and chakras. This in turn results in disease and illness. And this is the secret significance of the body: that in this physical body alone, we find all the planes, forces, movements and energies of Nature trying to manifest themselves. The body is the seat of the difficulty. And the body will be the last crown of victory. Not the body as we understand it today. But the body as a symbol where all forces come to manifest.

“There are internal quarrels among the different parts of yourself. Supposing there is an organ (it happens very often) that needs rest and there is another that wants action, and both at the same time. How are you going to manage it? They begin to quarrel…. And then, at times, if you add to the physical the vital and mental; …well, if there is a dispute between them,…you have a battlefield, and this battlefield can become the cause of all possible illnesses. They fight violently. One wants something, the other does not, they quarrel and you are in a kind of internal whirlwind. That can give you fever — you do get it usually — or else you are seized by an inner shivering and you have no longer any control. For the most important of all causes for bodily illness is that the body begins to get restless; it trembles and the trembling increases more and more, more and more and you feel that you will never be able to re-establish the balance, it eludes you”.(1)

“You see there are reasons! — many reasons, numberless reasons. For all these things combine in an extraordinarily complex way,…

“But the difficulties that are within are also without. You can, to a certain extent, establish an inner equilibrium, but you live in surroundings full of imbalance….You give and you receive; you breathe in and absorb. So there is a mixture and that is why one can say that all is contagious, for you live in a state of ceaseless vibrations. You give out your vibrations and receive also the vibrations of others, and these vibrations are of a very complex kind….

“Unhappily there is much bad will in the world; and among the different kinds of bad will there is the small type that comes from ignorance and stupidity, there is the big type that comes from wickedness and there is the formidable one that is the result of anti-divine forces. So, all that is in the atmosphere (I am not telling you this to frighten you, for it is well understood that one should fear nothing — but it is there all the same) and these things attack you, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally”(2)

“Therefore most microbes have behind them a bad will and that is what makes them so dangerous….The microbe is a very material expression of something living in a subtle physical world and that is why these very microbes…that are always around you, within you, for years together, do not make you ill and then suddenly they make you fall ill.

“There is another reason. The origin of the microbes and their support lie in a disharmony, in the being’s receptivity to the adverse force…”(3)

“You may have opened the door through spiritual error, through a movement of vanity or anger, of hatred or of that violence;”(4)

“In the ordinary life of man progressive dislocation is the rule. The mental and the vital beings of man follow as best they can the movement of the universal forces, and the stream of the world’s inner transformation and evolution carries them a certain way; but the body bound to the law of the most material nature, moves very slowly. After some years, seventy or eighty,..—the dislocation is so serious that the outer being falls to pieces. The divergence between the demand and the answer, the increasing inability and ir-responsiveness of the body, brings about the phenomenon of death.”(5)

An illness is essentially a breach in our equilibrium and can therefore be understood on many levels, each complementing the other. So seen, it becomes an opportunity to open a door to inner discovery. While one should never welcome an illness, however when it comes, one can still absorb the lesson and move forward. It is almost like the cry of a child (one part of nature) drawing the attention of his parents (more developed parts) to help him keep pace with them. It is indeed a cry for help but as much a cry for inner help as outer assistance. The outer help is sometimes like a milk bottle which an ignorant mother thrusts into the baby’s mouth, at other times like a violent slap, to stop the baby from crying, without really understanding the need. The bottle and the slap may work instantaneously, but only for a while. They confuse the child. The need returns and so does the cry. So humanity is caught up in a vicious cycle of illness, recovery-illness-recovery-illness, rather than, health-illness-greater health.

 

References

1. The Mother. Collected works of the Mother, Vol. 5. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust. 1976, p. 176.
2. Ibid., p. 179-180.
3. Ibid., p. 182.
4. Ibid., p. 187.
5. The Mother. Collected works of the Mother, Vol. 3. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust. 1979, p. 87.