I’m going to pick up where I left off in my first blog post…I had mentioned that I would be explaining what I mean by healing…Healing is a word and concept I hadn’t thought much about until I was in graduate school, even though I had been symptomatic with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for years.

It was during a somatic psychology course that I discovered a book called Healing Into Life and Death by Stephen Levine. Stephen Levine is a spiritual teacher devoted to Buddhist practices who worked for many years with terminally ill patients in hospice care. The book presents lessons that he learned through his experience of helping people to cope with and prepare for their transition from life to death.

There are few books that have spoken to me as directly and as deeply as Stephen’s book has. It’s not about healing from a functional medical/gastrointestinal problem. It’s about healing, period, and Stephen does a beautiful job of defining healing. Years and many psychology and self-help books later, his definition is what I come back to as I go through my life and as I work with people who have physiological symptoms that seem to have no clear-cut explanation.

Simply put, Stephen writes, healing “is what happens when we come to our edge, to the unexplored territory of mind and body, and take a single step beyond into the unknown, the space in which all growth occurs. Healing is discovery.

I love this quote. For me it evokes my memory of the mentality I had when I was suffering from acute IBS symptoms, the mentality of wanting to feel better, knowing that I’ve exhausted all other options that feel familiar and comfortable to me, and feeling desperate for relief, so desperate that I became willing to open myself to something unfamiliar and uncomfortable. And I wish I hadn’t needed to become so desperate in order to be willing to open myself up in that way.

Healing is taking a risk, and at the very worst, should it fail, you will have learned from the experience. Healing is the act of trying something new and learning through trial and error. When “error” happens, you still learn, you learn that whatever you did didn’t work for you, and then try something different. Healing is a process.

Healing is shifting from a state of dis-ease or symptoms to a state of greater ease or relief from symptoms. Healing typically doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. And sometimes baby steps. Big steps can at times be too overwhelming.

Sometimes you make progress when you least expect it, but most of the time it happens when you open yourself to trying something new or different. Not just anything new and different, but something that you sense (with your body, intuition, or inner wisdom) has the potential to generate healing. Believing that something has the power to heal is key. This is the very heart of the placebo effect.

Healing on any level is healing. I don’t distinguish among psychological, emotional, mental, physical, physiological, relational, spiritual healing because your body does not know the difference. Your body is integrated. More on this next time.