Physician, Heal Thyself
Jim Massey, ND
The Latin phrase, “cura te ipsum” (physician heal thyself), is often attributed to Hippocrates, the man considered to be the “Father of Medicine.” “Physician, Heal Thyself” remains one of the basic tenets in naturopathic philosophy. This saying was inscribed in a stone at the Oracle of Delphi, as well as being found in the New Testament and attributed to Jesus Christ. In the Talmud, it is interpreted to mean “physician heal thine own lameness.” However you interpret the poignant principle, it is rooted in the ancient wisdom that pronounces “Know Thyself.”
So, how are we to interpret this poignant phrase that has triggered so much critical thinking about this noble quest? What are the means to actually heal oneself?
My intention here is to review, recognize, and present how we as physicians can better heal ourselves and use this knowledge to grow and evolve and better serve our patients. I will be approaching this subject from a psychological point of view, integrating the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects.
Hippocrates also recognized the moral and spiritual aspects of healing, and spoke of taking personal responsibility (ownership) for both our attitude and our life. In naturopathic medicine, the doctor practices the art of treating the cause of a disease by concentrating on and addressing the mental, emotional, and physical components (body, mind, and spirit) of the patient. Hippocrates, with his unique wisdom, believed human beings could do well to heal themselves by paying attention to cultivating their moral and spiritual makeup. Taking personal responsibility requires stepping up and figuring out how to achieve one’s own healing.
Mastering this art of healing is obviously easier said than done and comes with no easy cookbook recipe for success. Wouldn’t it be nice if every physician was a realized being and had their life together before ever attempting to treat others? When physicians are open to doing their own healing, they become more empowered and capable of better helping their patients. Our main priority should be to first heal ourselves. This is a tall order, and I refer to this as our real work.
Spiritual Beings in a Human Body
How do we go about doing our own healing? As physicians, we know how to eat and what to eat, and we realize the importance of diet and exercise and the importance of what we think about, fixate upon, and put our energy into. Many of us realize the fact that we are spiritual beings living in a human body. We all receive various forms of education about spirituality throughout our lives, from personal experiences, family and societal mores, schools, churches, self-introspection, and reading. Some may not choose to address the issue at all because of some innate fear. We all have our own way.
Goethe and Faust are both credited with the quote, “Man errs as long as lasts his strife.” How to eliminate strife? Difficult times are omnipresent, especially right now in today’s world, and it comes with just being alive. Good times, bad times, abundance, scarcity – we all experience peaks and valleys. What makes some people prevail over hard times while others succumb to them? What we do with the circumstances of our lives reveals who are. The most important element is who we are and how we respond to the circumstances with which we are faced. It is our responsibility to create what we can with what we have. What we do with what is offered to us is our opportunity to reveal who we are and who we can become. The opportunity and the responsibility are ours.
So, how do we step into our power and grow more consciously? How does a physician, or anyone for that matter, go about healing him or herself? I’ve had the honor of teaching classes and workshops on the topic of Physician Heal Thyself, and I’ve learned there are many ways to nurture and truly heal oneself. The list seems to be endless and ever-growing. Additional new and fascinating ways of healing ourselves are added with every class.
10 Ways to Heal Yourself
I want to share the top 10 suggested ways of healing ourselves that most resonated with those of us attending these classes. Here they are.
Start Where You Are
We need to begin where we are at right now, and go forward from that point. Everyone is on their own special journey in life. We must be aware and have faith that we are exactly where we are supposed to be. There is no purpose served in beating ourselves up because we are not as “evolved” as we think we should be. We need to pay attention and be mindful to create the life that truly fulfills us and brings us heartfelt happiness. We all have our own journey in life, and how it unfolds is up to us. This is our real work.
Live By Your Codes & Values
Change requires taking action. Before taking action, we would be best served by having established a set of codes, rules, and values to live by. Truth, compassion, gratitude, patience, integrity, honesty, peace, love, and forgiveness are just some of the core values many people share. These values you so cherish must become woven into your tapestry of how you live life. Not living by one’s codes and values is deeply incongruent with one’s basic essence and spirit. This is a primary cause of dis-ease within us. Most of us realize we need to walk our talk, be authentic, and live an honorable life. Live your truth. This simple realization allowed me to better understand the health-related importance of living one’s truth. I also found that when people were not living in accordance with their values, all sorts of clinical conditions seemed to present themselves. This was a prime reason that my practice eventually evolved into primarily focusing on the psychological aspect after treating a patient’s initial chief complaint. The term “psychological” includes the spirit, heart, and an honest awareness of one’s own individual mindset. In order to experience well-being, we need to experience being well, and that begins with celebrating and feeding our spirit.
Direct Your Focus
We become what we think about and focus on. There was a very popular book in the 70s – Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer – by Kenneth Pelletier. It presented the simple premise that our minds can either destroy us or set us free. The book pointed out that stress and life are very much determined by what and how we think. I believe we all realize this, but somehow we don’t take it to heart and put this principle into our daily practice. An earlier 20th century author, Napoleon Hill, wrote the classic book, Think and Grow Rich, which enlightened millions of readers to the simple fact that what we put our thoughts into is what we ultimately create. For example, thinking about not ever having enough often produces that result. There was an apt quote from Richard Bach in his best selling book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull: “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough you own them.” If you think and believe you can’t succeed, guess what? – you won’t.
Make Peace with Your Past
One of the most difficult things to accomplish is making peace with one’s past. How many of us and our patients are stuck in what happened to them in their childhood? Those painful past events often stay with us and keep us from enjoying the present. Tara Brach, author of the book, Radical Acceptance, writes, “We long to belong, and feel as if we don’t deserve to.” What past experience would allow someone to feel that they don’t belong? We somehow have to learn effective ways of dealing with such gremlins and moving on from the grip they hold on us. Mother Teresa was quoted as saying, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy, malaria or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted.” I believe strong and healthy communities can go a long way in both addressing and curing the feeling of not belonging.
If you change how you look at things, those things usually change. So, try another perspective in terms of how you look at situations and circumstances as well as how you perceive other people. This is basically a spinoff of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over again and somehow expecting a different result. As outside observers, we cannot know all the factors affecting other people’s behavior. Remember to not judge people and have expectations about them or for them. Expectations set us up for being let down and disappointed. Keep in mind assumptions are premeditated resentments.
Be Here Now
The only thing that’s permanent is change. Therefore, however good or a bad a situation is, rest assured – it will change. One would think we would have all realized this basic fact of life by now. As I mentioned earlier, there will be peaks and valleys throughout our lives. Breathe through your ups and downs, stay calm, do not overreact, and know that this moment will pass. Ram Das advises us to “be here now” and the importance of being in the present moment. Learn how to savor and appreciate the highs and learn from the lows. Life can be most unfair; there is so much injustice throughout the world today. It’s here, it’s real, and we do need to pay attention and acknowledge those harsh realities, but not dwell on them. Being fixated on them brings us down, overwhelms us, and makes us feel powerless; it can also keep us from being a part of the solutions that move the world forward.
Celebrate Your Aliveness
Times and situations can often drag us down, if we choose to give them that power. I find that people love to tell and repeat their story. All too often, this results in keeping their story alive, which may not serve them. That is, as long as people keep their story alive and active, they’ll miss the opportunity to work through it and get to the other side that allows in new life experiences. On some level, many of us are aware that we have the power to create the life and the outcomes we want. Why is it that more people don’t accept this reality? Life could and should be more of a mystery to enjoy than a problem to solve. How do you choose to frame your life? We would serve ourselves well to celebrate being alive. Remember, it’s not what happens to us that counts, it’s what we do with it.
Embrace Each Moment
We’re all doing time, whether we are in school, on vacation, riding a bike, or even in jail. One of the few ways that we are all created equal is that everyone is given 24 hours every day. How we choose to use these precious moments of time determines our lot in life. It is our God-given right to enjoy the passage of time. These 24 hours provided to us everyday represent an opportunity to use each hour consciously to bring joy into our life and others’ lives.
Love is the greatest gift we can share. Unconditional love is everyone’s desired destination. I know that when I’m there I’m truly home. Om is where the heart is, and meditation, yoga, Qi gong, and conscious breathing exercises are all paths to greater self-realization. We have all heard the saying “practice makes perfect,” and although it may seem trite and somewhat boring, it holds a simple truth. What we consciously focus our energy on, usually comes to pass. For example, the practice of meditation has many levels of learning and experiencing. Some will say riding their bicycle, golfing, or a morning walk in the great outdoors is their meditation. Those experiences are all well and good; however, they all require some physical activity that makes it notably different from the distraction-free experience of just being still with oneself. Taking time to practice meditation allows us to clear the mind of all outside distractions, and brings an inner peace that nurtures our soul. In focusing our attention on the present moment during meditation, we can become one with ourselves and our unique spirit and essence.
Be the Change You Want to See
Our lives deserve a purpose and a plan that helps us evolve and heal ourselves. We have choices every day that affect the happiness and joy we bring into our lives. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.” Enjoy the passage of time – it’s our mission and birthright this time around. Carpe diem!
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Jim Massey, ND, is a naturopathic physician licensed in Oregon. He graduated from NCNM in 1985. Dr Massey cofounded the North Carolina Association of Naturopathic Physicians in 1986. He was a board member of the AANP from 1994-1996, chairing the Public Affairs department. Dr Massey has taught clinical nutrition, homeopathy, and mind-body medicine. He and his wife, Karen, founded Mountain Peak Nutritionals in 1996, which specializes in “condition specific formulas®” for healthcare professionals. He cofounded the Naturopathic Psychological Collaborative in 2014 and continues to explore the contributions of spirit, consciousness, and awareness to vital health. He and Karen live in Portland, OR.