We are educated to believe that sickness is normal and natural -- that everyone, at some point, will have something physically wrong with them.
Yet, according to Dr. Patrick Massey, MD, Ph.D., Medical Director of Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the Alexian Brothers Hospital Network, "the natural state of being is perfect health."
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So, if that's true, what happens? Why are so many of us ill? And, how can we get well? And what roles might the patient and the doctor play in the process?
"We screw it up," Dr. Massey explained. "Life style, wrong food, all sorts of bad choices leave individuals unbalanced. We do this unknowingly, and we have to fix it up. Instead of treating symptoms by prescribing all kinds of drugs, we need to treat the root causes. That is what drives me -- to get to the root of the problem. Once you fix that, there is no problem."
Massey also stresses personal responsibility for one's health, and health choices.
"Patients have given to their doctors the authority to heal them. Patients have to realize that everything they need is already within them. The word 'doctor' doesn't mean to heal, it means to teach. So doctors would teach their patients how to be healthy," Massey iterated.
"So instead of me saying to you 'let me take care of this for you; a doctor can tell his patient, 'This [body] is yours. You created it, you're going to fix it, I am going to show you how. Once you know how to fix it (the disease), it will never come back again. Or if it comes back again, you'll know how to fix it.' "
A key element in fixing our bodies, according to Massey, is to change our thinking.
"There has been a quiet change in the thought of what disease is," Massey explained. "We are now finding the powerful role that our emotions -- our thought-processes, fears, hopes and wishes -- play in our health. Truly our emotions create our own reality by what we want to happen. If someone doesn't want to heal, it doesn't matter what you do until you get rid of that thought. Long-term chronic diseases are often suffered by those who perceive they have done something wrong. When you dig into that, and get rid of that faulty thought-process, the healing is almost instantaneous."
Specializing in pain management, he speaks not only from what he's seen in over 30 years of working with patients but also from his own experience.
"For a period of about 15 years, I had increasing back and leg pain, and there was nothing I could do that would make that better. About a year ago, I could not walk across my office, the pain was so bad.
"I went out to Pittsburg, to watch my younger son play football at Carnegie-Mellon University. I was in a hotel room and had a dream. I was in a massive hall full of martial artists, at a long table was a martial artist wearing a red costume. I was walking with a limp. The martial artist looked at me and said, 'Why are you walking that way?' And for the first time I admitted to myself why I was walking that way. I felt guilty about something that I had perceived I had done wrong. He looked at me and said, 'Haven't you punished yourself enough?'
"The next morning, when I woke up, the pain was gone," Massey recollected, "When I got rid of the faulty thought -- the pain was gone instantaneously."
This was so significant, Massey began trying this approach with his patients -- helping them change their thinking to treat their illnesses.
"I had a patient just the other day who had a number of medical problems and she told me her whole story. I asked her, 'Why are you punishing yourself for something that happened years ago?' There was an immediate change in how she looked. She sat up and stated, 'I have been five years in psychotherapy and nobody ever said that.' She further stated, 'I feel really, really good.'
"There are some things that now need to be healed, but the source is no longer there," Massey said.
He explains that a lot of our illnesses are of our own making and that we create our own health.
"It is an amazing thing. There is a quiet shift of consciousness from the solid hard science -- measure this, measure that -- to something that is a lot more spiritually based. It is a major shift in acceptance and understanding. When we make that shift, everything in medicine changes," Massey explained.
"The next frontier is to realize there is no integrative medicine, no traditional, nontraditional, alternative, complementary -- there is only medicine -- helping people find health," Massey said.
"This includes helping people understand the natural state of being is perfect health. I hope to be a better conduit for information for my patients. My role and what I am going to do will be constantly learning and evolving. Medicine should be more teaching."
While much of what Massey shared does not jive with today's conventional medical practices, aspects of it do align with the views of other healers through the ages. Many have considered health to be natural. Some of these individuals have tied that to the idea that we are all part of a larger, universal -- perfect -- consciousness. And some, like Massey, agree that an incorrect view of our own nature is a contributing factor in the nature of health that is often overlooked.
Nineteenth Century Christian healer Mary Baker Eddy, after investigating and practicing a wide variety of approaches to health, came to believe that health was natural because we are the very manifestation of a perfect, universal God.
As a teacher, she wrote in her seminal work: "Realize the presence of health and the fact of harmonious being, until the body corresponds with the normal conditions of health and harmony." (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures).
Massey's modern day experiences and practice challenge us to reconsider how we think about the very nature of ourselves and health. They challenge us to exchange unhealthy thoughts (guilt, anger, hate) for healthy (forgiveness, gratitude, love) ones. It's a challenge worth accepting.
• Thomas Mitchinson is a self-syndicated columnist writing on the relationship between thought, spirituality and health, and trends in that field. He is also the media spokesman for Christian Science in Illinois.