Healing Through Listening- Part 2
JAMES SENSENIG, ND
RICK KIRSCHNER, ND, VNMI
This column is transcribed from a weekly live conversation produced by the Naturopathic Medical Institute (NMI). The goal of NMI is to preserve and promote the principles of naturopathic philosophy through clinical application, in your offices and in your communities, every day. This lightly edited transcript (by Emily Kane, ND) is a continuation of a conversation between Drs Jim Sensenig and Rick Kirschner at the end of 2017.
Dr Kirschner: I believe that our minds/bodies are recording devices for our experiences. If you hypnotize somebody, they might be able to retrieve an entire experience that they had no conscious access to. This means that it was captured in the body. I’ve concluded that what you don’t experience in your life you hold on to until you can experience it.
A classic example of this would be trauma. Anything that happens faster than you can pay attention to consciously, your system will hold onto until you can come back around to it and pay conscious attention to it.
I came up with this little idea in my own life as a result of a fall I had years ago. On New Year’s morning, my wife and I were invited to a New Year’s Eve party. One of the people at the party had a 13-year-old kid. Before returning to our hotel, this kid said, “Hey, can I call you in the morning? Maybe we could do something.”
“Yeah, sure!” I said.
We were staying in this skinny little hotel room with a tiny little bathroom. The next morning I’m up early, taking a shower, when I hear the phone ring. I call out to my wife, “Honey, the phone is ringing.”
“Okay…” And the phone continues to ring.
I figured it was that kid, so I jump out of the shower and run into the other room, soaking wet, leaving a trail of water behind me. Just as I get to the phone, it stops ringing. So I go back into the bathroom, resume showering, and the phone starts ringing again.
My wife was still asleep, so I jump out of the shower a second time, at which point I hit the trail of water I left the first time, and I wind up doing the “bathroom ballet.” That’s where one leg goes up and the other goes down, the shoulder goes back, and I split open my right eyebrow on the vanity. I’m lying in a heap on the floor, and I have no idea how this happened to me because it happened faster than I could pay attention to. I’m bleeding from my eyebrow and I’m aching all over.
I decide to unspool my fall while lying there. Real slowly, I try to figure out exactly how I wound up on the floor. First I played it backwards, then I played it forwards in slow motion so I could experience the whole fall – including all the jolts that happened along the way.
I swear to you, by the time I had re-lived the entire experience, all the pain had left my body. I went out and spent time with that kid that day, and we had a great time. I came home and had no apparent injury other than the split in my eyebrow, which healed quickly.
I started applying that in my work with people, where I would say, Let’s go to that event and see if we can figure out how it happened. Let’s slow it down, and experience that experience. More often than not, I’ve found that if you’re patient and the person is willing to do this, you can actually take away chronic pain – pain that people may have been carrying around for years because it’s connected to some experience that they never actually “experienced” because it happened too fast.
Dr Sensenig: That’s incredibly interesting to me, because there are many different techniques or methods by which people attempt to get to the root of trauma or pain, but this is a new one for me.
Reliving Trauma from the Outside
Dr Kirschner: One of my preferred methods for accessing this kind of information is breathing into it and letting go. I find that if I say, That’s right. Breathe in. Let go. Breathe in again. Let go. Experience your experience, whatever’s happening right now… just that little bit of coaxing is often enough to bring somebody to a huge “aha!” in their life, at which point they no longer need to carry the pain around.
You’re a veteran, right?
Dr Sensenig: Yep.
Dr Kirschner: A lot of military folks find themselves in very intense situations where they can’t mentally keep up with what’s happening. All they can do is react. Then they come back from the battlefield, and they have PTSD. It’s like their nervous system is trying to bring this information back around.
I worked with a number of veterans with PTSD back in the early days of my career. I repeatedly found that it was possible to take them back to the battlefield in a safe way, through a process called dissociation. That’s where instead of being inside of the experience, they can watch themselves having the experience. It’s a safer way of going through trauma – to see it from outside instead of from inside.
I tell people, Put that on the wall and let it unfold. Breathe in, that’s right; let go. Put it on the wall. Watch that happen. If they couldn’t get to it, I’d say, Let’s go backwards. What had to happen before that? Put that on the wall.
Doing something as simple as breathing and dissociating for a period of time from a traumatic event makes it possible to unspool it, and then to step inside of it with different awareness, not from a place of terror.
I’ve watched people let go of heavy-duty pain. I remember working with somebody that had chronic fatigue, Lyme disease, and was almost immobilized. She was open to exploring the roots of her dis-ease.
We did about 3 hour-long conversations. The basic thing I said to her was, What if all this pain that you live with every day is unexperienced experience? What might that be? We wound up talking about her emotional relationship with herself, which was practically nil. She’s such a nice person that she wouldn’t let herself feel anger or sadness, for example. She’d suppress all of that. So, guess what? Her body carried that around.
By doing the things that I’ve been talking about here, she was able to access all these unexpressed feelings. Just having permission to get angry was shocking for her. She said, “Really?”
To me, expressing anger is a no-brainer. But she never knew it was okay. All of a sudden she’s in a place where, instead of going immediately to forgiveness out of the kindness of her heart, first she could go through the feelings that require her to make that choice. Then the forgiveness could be genuine for her, and heartfelt, and resonate through her whole system, instead of some part of her staying out of it because it didn’t get expressed or heard.
Expression, Not Suppression
Dr Sensenig: Think about all the emotional pain, the psychic pain, and the physical pain that people are walking around with! How are we dealing with this in our society? Drugs! Opioids! We’re in the middle of an opioid crisis, and conventional medical doctors are prescribing this stuff all the time. It’s so important to bring awareness and not just cover up the pain. I know there are people in excruciating pain, but there are many ways to lessen or eliminate that pain that are ultimately more effective than an analgesic or narcotic. We need to actually get to the root of the pain, whether it’s musculoskeletal, emotional, psychic, or sometimes even karmic.
Dr Kirschner: Or cultural, or related to a relationship, or familial. We can take on pain from all kinds of experiences in life. The key is that what you don’t experience, you carry with you. If you want to shed that burden, you need to express your experience in a safe, non-judgmental way. But the standard of care is suppression – the allopathic approach to everything – and actually the reverse of what’s required for us to live truly healthy, free lives. That’s why I say that my public practice and coaching work was very naturopathic. To me, it’s not suppression, but expression. Expression is the key.
Dr Sensenig: Now we’re back at the fundamental, vital principles that are the core of medicine and healing. If you’re going to cover it up and sweep it under the carpet, like the doctrine of suppression does, it’s going to get worse, not better.
We have a whole social system based on suppression, which is, tragically, still gaining ground. The opioid crisis, which is literally killing us, is just an example of a wrong solution.
Dr Kirschner: We also have these group dynamics around pain; cultural dynamics around pain; familial dynamics around pain, which get carried over from generation to generation.
People say, “Oh, well breast cancer runs in my family.” I say, “Well, what else runs in your family? How about resentment? Does that run in your family?”
Dr Sensenig: This is exactly the conversation that Kent leads us through when he talks about miasms. A miasm is a cultural, spiritual – whatever you might want to call it – energetic pattern that runs through the race, so to speak, and affects not only those who develop the pattern, but also their descendants and their community members. A miasm runs through the family, the culture, the religious group. You have these different patterns that have to do with belief and communication and unexperienced experience, like you’re talking about.
Dr Kirschner: Let’s play it all the way out. It seems to me that the human story is mostly unexperienced experience. That’s what drives all these planetary-level problems. When people say, “Well, how do you make a difference in something so big?” my answer is, “You work it out 1 person at a time, or 1 family at a time.”
Each person that goes through this transformational shift towards health is another drop in the bucket for the planet to be able to do the same thing – if not in this generation, then in the next one. The work I’ve done on myself to clean me up from all of that cultural and family baggage, I then pass along as an inheritance to my daughter, to make her life a little better. Then she can pass that on through her family. That’s how we change the world. That’s the value of the work we do with our patients, and with each other. We are repairing the world a little bit at a time. It all adds up to a lot.
Humanity is a community of storytellers. We have passed on a lot of learning through the stories we tell. We have the stories we tell that are our own cultural expression, which define who we are based on our cultural experience. Then we have the stories we tell based on our family experience. All of these stories produce the collective expression of humanity.
I have wanted our profession to get off the sidelines, to come out of the shadows and be true to our vital core by changing our story away from “We’re marginal, we don’t count, it’s really old fashioned stuff,” and all the other weird thoughts that have been a part of our community over the years. We need to change that story to get an accurate understanding of why we exist, why we’re here, and how we wound up marginalized in the system. We need to understand that it wasn’t through some fault of our own or some deficiency in our medicine.
I think having a story about yourself that informs and lifts you up has great value in life. Something I love to explore with people is the story you tell yourself about who you are, where you are, why you are, and where you’re going. If that story isn’t adding value to your life, you’ve got to change the story and change your life for the better.
That’s why I made a documentary on the history of naturopathic medicine. (Here is a link to it: https://tinyurl.com/y9k5rcfc.) We need to learn our story. This story changes the dynamic for us, because when your story supports you, you can do great things in the world. But when your story inhibits you, you can’t get much traction.
Dr Sensenig: That’s what we’re trying to advance or promulgate through NMI. Those of us who feel that we have a connection with our predecessors, and those of us who understand what Vitalism can represent, know that we have an exciting, inspiring, and spiritually nourishing story to tell.
For many of us, that’s what keeps us going. It’s a joy to see these principles applied in a way that changes people’s lives and experience for the better. Yet, it seems there’s an element of that story missing, because I’m not sure we are being clear about what we’re trying to reconnect with.
If you were to describe the story of this profession, the story that we really need to understand and believe so we can leave behind the insecurity that some NDs have, what is the story? Who are we, and what is the song that we should be singing to ourselves?
Dr Kirschner: The story comes down to this: For over 100 years now, there has been a war on nature, which includes a war on human nature. This war is waged in the name of money and power. Our medicine is the medicine that kept humanity alive and brought it to the 20th century. Our medicine was beloved by humanity. It was effective for humanity. It allowed stagecoaches to cross the West. It allowed the native communities to thrive.
The founders of our profession tried to bring the best of all of that, and elucidate what it is, why it is, and how it works. Naturopathic medicine was a brilliant invention because it took what worked best and defined it. That hadn’t really been done very well until Lust came along, and his successors.
At the very time of our founding, another competing system gained access to unlimited funds (through Rockefeller, who commissioned the Flexner Report), and used it to do what it does best, which is suppress. Pharmaceutical-driven “healthcare” aimed itself at suppressing all other systems. What has changed today is that we are now in the age of information. It’s harder to suppress and hide the truth because people can now explore and share information and ideas with much greater depth and ease. As a result, we’ve seen a blossoming of interest in natural medicine. Informed people once again see that there’s another way!
It’s a very exciting time for our profession if we step into the light and claim this inheritance of ours. It’s a gift that we have to offer the human race. It’s a gift that we offer in defense of nature, if you will. I always think of our profession as being advocates for the whole earth, which obviously includes humanity. We’re the advocates for our connection to life. We’re necessary. The universe didn’t create us by accident; we are a necessary piece of what it’s going to take for humanity to get out of survival mode and into thriving.
I’m not thinking it’s going to happen overnight, although you never know. But the work is happening; naturopaths are experiencing a revival, because we won’t make it without a return to nature. We are advocates for the empowerment of nature in our lives. It’s a profoundly powerful time to be alive. You can’t suppress nature. You can pour concrete over it, but nature will find a way to break through that concrete. We have a glorious inheritance. The more of us that claim that inheritance, and bring it into actualization, the better off the entire human race and the planet is.
Dr Sensenig: That’s the kind of thing that everybody needs to hear, and that’s what we at NMI are trying to do as advocates for naturopathic medicine.
Dr Kirschner: I’m so grateful that NMI came along when it did. And I’m so excited about what it brings back to the profession. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of it.
This column, based on the Vital Conversations of the Naturopathic Medicine Institute, will continue in next month’s NDNR.
James Sensenig, ND was a 1978 graduate of NCNM in Portland, OR. For over 40 years he maintained an eclectic practice in Hamden, CT. Over the years, Dr Sensenig held prominent positions in the various naturopathic colleges and the AANP. A champion of classical naturopathic medicine, Dr Sensenig received an Honorary Doctor of Naturopathic Philosophy degree from CCNM, and received numerous awards for his dedication to teaching the principles of naturopathic medicine.
Rick Kirschner, ND, VNMI is a best-selling author and coauthor of numerous books and multimedia programs. A 1981 graduate of NCNM, Dr Kirschner is a naturopathic physician, a senior vitalist, and past-president of the NMI, a long-time faculty member with the Institute for Management Studies, and a thought leader with Athena Interactive. In 2015, he produced and directed his documentary film, “How Healthcare Became Sickcare: The True History of Medicine, available for viewing through NMI. Dr Kirschner has delivered his expertise in thousands of radio and television appearances, interviews, newspaper and magazine articles, including CNBC, CBC, FOX, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.