‘Don’t turn away your head. Keep looking at the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you.’1
There is a curious medical condition that manifests as the loss of sensation in the skin: the nerves of the skin are unreceptive to stimuli. Interestingly, this results in a condition that we tend, in our mental, emotional and bodily lives, to strive towards: painlessness. We often consider comfort and painlessness to be the markers of wellbeing. They could well be the markers of closure, stagnation and imminent danger. The child suffering from loss of sensation in the skin is in danger of serious physical damage; the warnings, experienced as pain, are not registered, so the child can get into threatening situations very readily. Pain is not the problem in our lives; suffering is not the problem. The problem is the disconnection between sensations and awareness that results in unconsciousness.
Pain is the signal that something is going on that is threatening our wellbeing. We often mistake the signal for the threat, and our approach to sickness arising at any level of our beings (thinking that the symptom is the source of the problem) is tantamount to shooting the messenger. Suffering at any level requires us to question what is manifesting, what is going on with us. It is a natural, knee-jerk reaction that sends us into fear or wilful impatience when we experience pain. If only we could override fear and hostility and get interested in the process that is trying to work out through our beings. Pain, suffering or the symptom are not the problem, but the guides that will illuminate our healing paths. They are the signals that something is ready for healing, and if we work with them with rigorous honesty they will direct us on a journey towards greater authenticity and wholeness.
It is the way of mainstream medicine in the West to see disease as the enemy. We talk about being the victims and sufferers of illness. Illness is something that invades us from the outside and disrupts our heretofore healthy lives. Medicine accepts that our mental-emotional states make us more or less susceptible to the agents of illness, but it does not accept that illness arises within us as a direct expression of those mental-emotional states. When our bodies become ill, our spirits need fixing.
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A rudimentary image for expressing the purpose of human life is that of the transmitter/receiver. Occupying our space between heaven and earth we receive star energies from heaven and transmit them into the planetary body; we receive earth energy from below and transmit it out towards the stars. We are agents of the interaction between the above and the below. All energy is consciousness; it is information. At its most dense level the energy of consciousness coheres into manifest physical expression: the physical plane. Just because the energy is dense and physical does not mean that it has ceased to be consciousness, simply that it is vibrating at a lower (and lower is not lesser) level. Consciousness operates at different vibratory rates. Consciousness can have a very high vibration, which makes it refined and extremely subtle; or it can have a low vibration, which results in coarseness and density. The physical plane is where consciousness is so dense that it manifests in form. ‘Consciousness,’ as Dethlefsen and Dahlke remark, ‘is to the body as a radio programme is to the receiver.’2 The experience we get to have on Planet Earth is one of manifesting idea, thought and emotion in the world of form. The invisible realms of consciousness are translated into visibility at the level of the physical plane. The visible mediates the invisible (form mediates idea). When something arises in the body it will have its correspondences, or counterparts, in thought and emotion. A block in the flow of energy (i.e. information/consciousness) at a higher level will manifest in the body. The body is the agent through which the unknown (or disregarded) is made known to us. This is a magical process by which the invisible becomes visible. To seek to eliminate symptoms without hearing their messages is the desire to remain in ignorance, to close our eyes to what is manifesting.
Why do we do this? There are two layers of explanation. One is personal, the other cultural. The personal layer of explanation is that disease (at whatever level) challenges us to change and makes us fearful. Physical challenges are the manifestation of challenges that are occurring in consciousness, because, as we have established, consciousness is continuous with the body. The challenge arises because our energy is not flowing; it is getting stuck and stagnant. The flow of energy information has to be reinstated if we are to keep on doing our human job of transforming energy between heaven and earth. Reinstating the flow will also move us towards greater wholeness and authenticity. Fear and habit are the enemies of change and we cannot over-estimate what a tight grip they have on us. Astrologically they are represented by Saturn and the Moon, which together construct the conditioning and limitation of consciousness that we are seeking to develop beyond. Any development involves us in challenging our fears and habits, and refusing their conditioning. This experience is difficult and painful; the more we resist it the more difficult and painful it can become. When we are confronting illness in our own beings or in the beings of people close to us we really feel fear and habit kicking in. They make us want to give up responsibility, to put ourselves in the hands of experts, to turn our heads away from our wounds. This is entirely natural, but ultimately this is where the challenge lies: in assuming responsibility and looking at our woundedness.
In this approach to illness people often feel that assuming responsibility means saying ‘I have made myself ill’, the inference being that in some way one has failed. This is not the assumption of responsibility but the futile placing of blame. It leads people into judgement of self and others, which only deepens the sense of shame and separation that often accompanies illness. Illness is a necessary component of health and a totally valid experience for consciousness. There is no judgement of illness or of people experiencing illness. Assuming responsibility means accepting that our experiences belong in particular and unique ways to us; we call ourselves into being and our stories come into our bodies. Caroline Myss, in Anatomy of the Spirit, makes the point that biography is biology. Illness merely indicates that there is work to do, a spirit that needs fixing, a story that is creating a distortion. While we may use the wonderful help that mainstream medicine and natural healing methods can give us, if we wish to find healing we have ultimately to rely upon the process of coming to consciousness for ourselves. Fear and habit catch us in a pattern of resisting in some way the ‘tao’ of life, the way it is. Resisting the tao creates the blockage that will eventually, if ignored, manifest in the body. Here, fear and habit involve us in ignoring or suppressing and further resisting the message of life; so it is that we close to life and give even greater potency to our fear. The possibility that we have through illness is of re-establishing an honest and open relation to life and the tao of our beings by hearing the message and opening to its teaching. This is what is meant by assuming responsibility.
The second layer of explanation of why we ignore what is manifesting in us pertains to our cultural experience. Culturally, we have tended to denigrate the physical realm of experience. Religious attitudes have regarded the physical realm as the place of sin and separation from God. We have polarised spirit and matter, idealising one and demonising the other. The sacred is immaterial; the material is profane. In these deep-seated attitudes we neglect the value of the physical level’s role in the development of consciousness; we forget that sensation (at the physical level) is continuous with awareness (at the spiritual level). It seems absurd to the point of tragedy that we incarnate on Earth, where the principle of experience is manifestation on the physical plane, and then seek to identify only with the ideal and immaterial. When we reject the physical or resist engaging with it, we miss the point and the opportunity to learn the amazing lesson of life on Planet Earth: consciousness is manifesting here; god/dess is here made flesh.
In a real sense this denigration of the physical realm and its artificial severance from the higher realms of being constitutes our sickness. We have polarised heaven and earth; we have severed our heads from our bodies, and our bodies from our souls. These polarities are false. Heaven participates in Earth, they do not exist without each other. Likewise, sickness and health do not exist without each other: they are in a dynamic, continuous relation of interchange. Our minds are distributed throughout our bodies; soul quickens and gains experience through the body. As human beings we stand between Heaven and Earth transmitting and transforming energies between them. Our healing, as individuals and as cultures, will rely upon our ability to reintegrate spirit and matter in our understanding. There is a work of invoking our forgotten connections to be done.
This work will involve us in patient listening as we cultivate a relationship with our bodies and with the body of the Earth, the planetary consciousness. We need to develop intuitional understanding of the physical plane. In her book The Subtle Self, Judith Blackstone makes the simple point that sensation never arises in the body without counterparts in thought and emotion. Wherever there is sensation there is an accompanying thought and emotion. Where there is an emotion there is also a thought and a sensation in the body. It is through interrogating the emotional and thought content of our physical sensations that we will be able to begin to develop a dialogue with the physical realm and to infuse physical experience with consciousness and intelligence:
Polarities are actually contractions of continuums. For example, the body-mind dichotomy is a contraction of the underlying body-mind continuum, or spectrum. We experience the mind as separate from the body because we have defensively withdrawn our consciousness from our body. As we release our defences, we realise that there is nowhere we can definitively draw the line between physical and mental experience. Because polarity is conflict and contraction, resolution is experienced as expansion. In this example of the body-mind dichotomy, both our physical and mental experience become richer as the dichotomy is resolved.3
The great usefulness of the physical plane is that it is totally undeceptive. We can be very unrealistic about how things are in the invisible realms of being. We can lie, cheat and steal at the levels of thought and emotion without it even occurring to us that we are handling things falsely. The body, however, does not lie. It tells us (and others) what we are longing and needing to be made known. The body expresses our truths with total honesty and unerring appropriateness. Therefore, it can teach the spirit truthfulness and self-acceptance in such a way as to reconnect us with a wider sense of meaning through making our suffering conscious and understandable. From the point of conscious suffering real progress in development can be made.
Astrology, as a system of knowledge and a mode of understanding, has the capacity to describe the interchange of consciousness that is occurring between Heaven and Earth via humanity. It suggests that each of us participates uniquely in this interchange, as we are all designed to channel different aspects of the energetic exchange. The birth chart represents the energy matrix with which the individual is impressed. This matrix conditions the quality of consciousness and predisposes us to certain experiences in form life (at the level of physical manifestation in the world of bodies and events), depending on our rate of vibration. Astrology offers us a frame of reference through which to interpret and understand the world of form as we experience it, thereby regaining meaningfulness and the faith bestowed by having a context for making sense of life. Such a context can be redemptive – and there is a real need to redeem the massive cost of our unconscious suffering. We need to find the gods in our flesh and in the rubble of our personal, cultural and political experiences. We need to re-member our connections to Heaven and Earth and to each other, and recover the deep significance of our lives: ‘Our existence is deeper and vaster than both our suffering and our memory of suffering.’4
Illness is always the expression of a desire to reconnect to meaning, wholeness and authenticity, and the possibility of any illness is nothing less than initiation. If consciousness is to become more inclusive, then life requires that we locate the stagnant areas within our energetic beings, where energy is not flowing fully; it asks that we restore the flow of information or awareness to these areas. Life requires we draw ourselves into alignment with it, rather than insisting that it gets into line with how we think it should be. Life includes everything; it rejects or excludes nothing. As our undertaking is the development of consciousness, nothing (however unpleasant, frightening or painful) can be excluded or rejected. What is the point of accepting this, but not that; of liking this aspect of experience and disliking that? All forms of challenge are grist to the mill of consciousness and can be engaged with as such. Life requires nothing less than everything.
Lowering his voice to almost a whisper, he said that if I really felt that my spirit was distorted I should simply fix it – purge it, make it perfect – because there was no other task in our entire lives more worthwhile. Not to fix the spirit was to seek death, and that was the same as to seek nothing, since death was going to overtake us regardless of anything.
He paused for a long time and then he said with a tone of profound conviction, ‘To seek the perfection of the warrior’s spirit is the only task worthy of our manhood.’5
1 Rumi, ‘Childhood Friends’ in Lion of the Heart (tr. Coleman Barks; London: Arkana, 1998), p. 39.
2 Thorwald Dethlefsen & Rüdiger Dahlke, The Healing Power of Illness (1983; Shaftesbury: Element, 1990), p. 6.
3 Judith Blackstone, The Subtle Self (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1991), p. 72.
4 Ibid. p. 64.
5 Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan (1972; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), p. 124.