We’ve always known that there’s close connection between the body and the mind. It’s widely recognised, for instance, that people going through tough times get stressed and suffer stomach upsets, headaches, tiredness and so on, and besides how else do we wiggle our fingers or flex our toes?
In the Oriental tradition, mind and body have always been seen as one, an indivisible whole, but until recently Western medicine regarded them as separate, or at most, only loosely connected. Hence for several centuries the emphasis in the West has largely been on ‘repairing’ bodies rather like a plumber fixes the central heating or a mechanic repairs a car. If a part isn’t working, fix it if you can. If that doesn’t work, replace it.
Some doctors still behave as if they think of human beings as machines that just happen to have the ability to think. Of course, car mechanics don’t think of cars as living organisms with thoughts and emotions, and neither do plumbers think of gas boilers that way, because they’re not. And that’s precisely why they are different from humans.
In the 19th Century, medical thinking was still dominated by the Ancient Greeks. Hippocrates and his followers believed that the human body was filled with four basic fluids, the ‘four humours’, black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood. When a person was healthy, the four humours were thought to be in balance. If a person had a surplus of a fluid, their personality and physical health would be adversely affected. Health was resorted by draining the excess fluid, which led to a variety of painful treatments such as bloodletting, purging and induced vomiting.
In addition, the prevailing view of the way the world worked was that of philosopher Rene Descartes and scientist Sir Isaac Newton. Descartes was largely responsible for popularising the idea that the mind and body were separate, although he did recognise that there were connections between the two. Newton described a universe in which was everything was fixed, solid and mechanical. Things behaved in a predictable manner according to certain ‘laws’.
In his writings, he compared a sick man and a badly made clock with his idea of a healthy man and a well made clock. He believed that anything could be better understood by breaking it down into its parts and looking at each part separately. This led to medical researchers concentrating on smaller and smaller parts of the body, eventually right down to cells and molecules. Bones, muscles, cells and organs were studied treated as separate rather than interrelated parts of a whole system. Indeed, dissection had been carried out for centuries and the inner body carefully mapped. There was nothing under the skin that had not been observed, weighed, measured and sketched.
By the seventeenth century, more detailed work was possible because Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694) had pioneered the use of the microscope. He used it to observe the blood vessels and describe the composition of blood itself. Later, Anthony Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) made a number of improvements and was able to see things that had never seen before, like bacteria, yeast, blood cells and tiny creatures swimming about in a drop of water. But this was a long way from what is possible today.
By the time the first edition of Gray’s Anatomy was published in 1858, knowledge of human anatomy was almost complete. Indeed, despite church opposition, public dissections had become so common that there a drastic shortage of cadavers, resulting in the ghoulish practices of grave-robbing and body snatching. By 1900, legislation had effectively this practice, and almost all dissections took place in universities and medical schools.
It’s a safe bet that the great healer P.P. Quimby had no more than the layman’s knowledge of anatomy, but it hardly mattered. He didn’t work directly on the physical body, and yet he changed it. To him, the ‘seen’ (the body) was merely simply a manifestation of ‘unseen’ forces. The ‘unseen’ were the mental and emotional, and correcting these automatically corrected the ‘seen’.
Today, practitioners from both the mainstream and the complementary schools learn about human anatomy in great detail. They study both ‘gross anatomy’ (that which can be seen by unaided vision) and ‘microscopic anatomy’ (the study of minuscule anatomical structures using microscopes). Thanks to new technology such as MRI machines and CAT scanners, anatomists can study live human or dead human bodies non-invasively. They can explain the functioning of glands and structures which were once a mystery. Powerful microscopes explore the structure of cells at molecular and subatomic levels and observe the microbes teeming through the bloodstream and cavities which previous could not be detected. Books and DVDs featuring actual bodily processes and detailed computer graphics are widely available, and those who wish can even watch programmes on human anatomy on television.
This has undoubtedly contributed to our healing knowledge and enabled doctors to develop some effective and sophisticated techniques. To the basic methods available to surgeons half a century ago – cutting, burning, stitching, strapping, massage and manipulation and so on – have been added less invasive and more easily targeted techniques such as keyhole surgery and lasers which can target and operate pre with absolute precision. Major organ transplants which began tentatively in the nineteen fifties (kidneys) and sixties (liver, heart, heart and lung, pancreas etc.) are now commonplace and generally successful. They keep people alive and give them a better chance of an active life.
In these respects, those who argue that the body is indeed just a machine comprised of many parts do indeed seem to be justified. But wait a minute… is surgery the only way? Is it always necessary? Do we always understand the repercussions? And anyway, who or what exactly is doing the healing?
Today, the mechanical approach to healing is well established, routine and generally accomplishes what it sets out to. There are times when this is all they can do – if a tooth is completely rotten, for instance, it has to come out, because rotten teeth don’t re-generate like, say, a broken bone regenerates. But to return to our earlier questions, is surgery the only way? Is it always necessary? Do we always fully understand the repercussions? And anyway, who or what exactly is doing the healing?
Lots of people have surgery and heal without complications. It can and does work, and when it does, it’s a cause for celebration. But sometimes it doesn’t – why? Are we missing something? Yes, we are, and it is this. The body is not just a dumb machine. It is a system with intelligence and consciousness. Every cell, every organ has intelligence and consciousness. Modern medicine is beginning to appreciate this – and any healing method that doesn’t take this into account will only have limited success. A purely mechanical view of the body has long since lost its credibility.
The repercussions of this are enormous. Take heart transplants, one of the major advances in mechanised medicine in the past forty years. There’s increasing evidence that some people given new hearts receive much more from their donors than just a new lump of meat – they receive traces of the previous owner’s personality too. Scientists who have examined the evidence believe that the heart does more than pump blood – it plays a role in energising the body and has a major role in the way we experience of emotion. Some have even gone so far as to state that the heart has the ability to think, through a mini-brain contained within its cells.
Cutting edge researchers are convinced that the heart is involved in our intelligence and emotions, just as the poets and playwrights always said it was. It radiates a strong energetic field thousands of times more powerful than the brain’s. It is connected to the brain neurologically, hormonally and by this electro-magnetic energy, sending ten times as much information to the brain as vice-versa.
Moreover, the HeartMath Institute believes they have found ‘neural’ cells in the heart similar to a ‘little brain.’ If it’s true, out of the window goes any outdated notion that the organs of the body are merely mechanic objects like car parts, that can be removed and replaced at will without affecting the body’s ability to think.
Changing our physical habits can affect the body from a mechanical point of view – that’s common sense. Even smiling more often can make a difference! Better posture, breathing, relaxation, sleep, exercise patterns and so on all make a difference to our general health, and in some cases these alone can heal some quite serious conditions.
A splint, a plaster cast, heat, cold, a syringe, an incision, a few stitches, skillful touch, the insertion of metal pins and so on (coupled with due regard for biochemical factors too) can all help the healing process along. Given half a chance, the body will initiate the healing itself. So who or what does the healing? Not the doctor – they are merely facilitators. All they can do is create the conditions where the body’s natural healing processes are allowed to work better provided they do what the body needs, not necessarily what you think it wants.
What does this tell us? All healing methods simply facilitate the body’s natural healing processes. There are invisible forces at work which hold it together, keep it functioning and repair it when it goes wrong. When these invisible forces cease to play their part, we die. We can help the process along, or we can hinder it, but ultimately we are not in control. Every great healer knows this. It is time the rest of us caught up.
 In medical parlance, human bodies are called ‘cadavers’.
 HeartMath is a respected and innovative research institute that specialises in emotional physiology and stress management. For further information, www.heathmath.org
©David Lawrence Preston, 24.4.2016
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