|Drawing by Jo Lawrance|
Do we become what we believe? How much do our views help determine our destiny?
In this blog I hope to touch on some of the wider beliefs that come from our culture and our conditioning. Many of these we generally don't question. Such values and beliefs are spread by our society, in part to help us maintain social order; control cannot be maintained by physical means alone. These values and beliefs play a huge role in shaping our perceptions of our reality. We grow up with this, so it is hard to step back and see what is influencing us.
Lama Nicholas Packard, author, teacher, healer and a regular visitor to my home town, Stroud (i), describes this saying;
“People, like fish who cannot see outside of the waters where they swim, cannot see outside of the culture in which they have been brought up. As a result they find themselves unable to question their values and beliefs because they are products of their own conditioning."
|Drawing by Jo Lawrance|
So what are some of these broader influences on our lives in the West?
The first I will mention probably wont be new to many reading this blog; the mind-body split. This dates back to ancient Greeks, but it was Descartes who is credited with creating the scientific separation of mind and body. This was, in part, to avoid being accused of challenging the Church whose domain included mind and soul.
The separation of mind and body has been part of our culture ever since and while things are changing it still plays a powerful role. The NHS continues to distinguish between mind and body; services are segregated and there often little interaction between them. For example not one of the doctors I’ve seen regarding my prostate cancer has mentioned anything about how the mind can impact on health, one even seemed dismissive when I tried to start a conversation about what else I could do.
A second key influence on our lives has been the discoveries of Isaac Newton and how he saw the world in terms of mechanics. This has led to human beings also being considered in terms of mechanics. We are seen more as machines than as living beings, hence cancer treatment is seen in terms of chemical interventions, surgery or some form of technology. Lama Nicholas outlines the consequences of this. He says:
“...taking responsibility for one’s community, one’s welfare, and one’s health and wellness - as well as taking care of oneself in terms of nutrition, disease prevention, and exercise; healthy living habits; calming the mind; and self-healing - have been deemphasised, discarded, and ignored."In terms of illness (mental, social or physical) we too often seek and see 'outside causes' of disease. We are not invited to look inside for causes; our mind, thoughts, ego and desires are not seen as playing a part in our destiny or health. Yet in ancient times things were very different; human thoughts were seen as playing a key role in the causes of illness.
A Revolution is coming
Today many are waking up to seeing things differently, seeing mind and body as one. Complimentary and alternative medicine already hold a more holistic view, but some would argue a revolution is now taking place in the Western medical community. Candace Pert, nearly twenty years ago (ii) established the biomolecular basis for our emotions and the connections between mind and body that were not imagined before by Western medicine. More recently Dr Lissa Rankin’s excellent book (iii) highlights how changing thoughts can change behaviours, which change your biochemistry. For example the study of epigenetics has now proved that our genes are actually fluid and influenced by our environment.
Professor Oliver Howes, a consultant psychiatrist, writes about emerging evidence that schizophrenia could be a disease of the immune system (iv), while there is new research linking low levels of chronic inflammation to depression. He says;
“In the past, we’ve always thought of the mind and the body being separate, but it’s just not like that. The mind and body interact constantly”.Cancer charity, Penny Brohn, note that UK oncology services are also seeing changes from the impact of holistic palliative care services, directives from central government and increasing pressure from patient-led groups and other cancer charities.
Earlier in the year I was fortunate to join Penny Brohn's two-day residential ‘Living Well’ course with my partner (v). This was all about integrative care or “whole person cancer care”. They use the Bristol Whole Life Approach which looks to address the needs of the person as well as treating the disease - and I love the way it takes account of all aspects of our lives. It is a great tool to help build our own ‘treatment’ plans. Indeed I can recommend folk with a cancer diagnosis signing up for the course (and very wonderfully they are available free of charge although they welcome donations).
|Copyright image of Bristol Whole Life Approach with permission from Penny Brohn|
More recently I have joined the exercise group of the Gloucestershire Next Steps programme (vi), an NHS specialist cancer rehabilitation service, but what is interesting is that it is also looking wider at what can work alongside treatment like surgery, radiation or chemo. The course covers nutrition, stress, exercise and more; a recognition that we can play active roles in our healing and that the mind has a key part to play. The Next Steps team are hoping the NHS will now extend this two-year pilot programme, which I understand has already seen significant positive outcomes for participants.
It really does seem a revolution is underway, Western medicine is shifting, all be it very slowly. Many more of us are finding we can play an active part in our journeys to wellness.
(i) Read his book "Riding the Dark Horse, And the Fall of Man” by Lama Nicholas Packard (2017) and see more including videos of his talks at Hawkwood College near Stroud: https://lama-nicholas.com/
(ii) “Molecules of Emotion” by Candace B. Pert (1999). See more at: http://candacepert.com/
(iii) “Mind Over Medicine” by Dr Lissa Rankin (2013). See more at: http://lissarankin.com/ and here's a link to a great hour long talk by Lissa: https://youtu.be/gcai0i2tJt0
(iv) See more re Professor Oliver Howes at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/12/mental-physical-health-link
(v) See more about the Approach at: https://www.pennybrohn.org.uk/why-choose-us/what-we-do Also 'Integrative Whole-Person Oncology Care in the UK' by Catherine Zollman with Axel Walther, Helen E. Seers, Rachel C Joliffe and Marie J Polley (published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Volume 2017, Issue 52 November 2017); https://academic.oup.com/jncimono/article/2017/52/lgx002/4617817?guestAccessKey=947aa9d2-c100-4927-85b1-6006d5edb3d0
(vi) See more re Next Steps at: https://www.glos-care.nhs.uk/our-services/specialist-care/macmillan-next-steps