The Shadow of Transformation
(Note: This article by David McMillin was originally published in True Health newsletter.)
In the last issue we discussed the concept of illness as symbol. We briefly considered the views of Louise Hay, who regards all disease as symbolic of dysfunctional mental patterns. She insists that “we create every so-called ‘illness’ in our body.” We also examined the idea expressed by Edgar Cayce that “all illness is sin.” This is a complex and controversial topic worthy of our investigation.
Do We Make Ourselves Sick? One of the concerns that has been raised about viewing illness as sin is the potential for inappropriate or unnecessary guilt. In the article, “Do We Make Ourselves Sick,” Ken Wilber calls it “iatrogenic guilt.” In medicine, iatrogenic typically refers to illness caused by treatment. Thus, in linking illness to symbolic causes (either mental or spiritual), there is a danger of causing harm (i.e., guilt) if the condition is of a purely physical nature. Furthermore, if illness is falsely attributed to a nonphysical cause, effective and appropriate physical treatment may not be provided.
This question is more than an academic exercise for Wilber. His wife died of cancer after trying almost every alternative and mainstream cancer treatment. Their story is documented powerfully in the book Grace and Grit. Wilber concedes that illness may be symbolic of a nonphysical pattern, but believes that illness is often of a purely physical nature. When such is the case, it should be treated with appropriate (and hopefully effective) physical therapies.
Purely Physical Illness?
One of the things that attracts me to the Cayce information is the complexity and breadth of the material. The material is rich and complicated because reality is complex. Therefore when I encounter contradictions or apparent paradoxes in the readings, I dig a little deeper for I know that there is something of great value if I can stretch myself to assimilate it.
Having acknowledged that Cayce stated that “all illness is sin” in a couple of readings, I have had to struggle with the reality that in the 9,602 readings that are cataloged as “physical” on The Complete Edgar Cayce Readings CD-ROM, many do not contain even a hint of mental, spiritual, or symbolic cause for the illnesses discussed. In fact, a number of readings contain the phrase “purely physical” when describing the cause of the problem.
For example, a man with tinnitus (ringing in the ears) asked Cayce, “What can I do about a disturbing noise that is in my ear (or is this purely physical, requiring physical treatment)?” Cayce responded, “Purely physical and not karmic. Remove the stress by head and neck exercise. Have … corrections osteopathically made in the 3rd cervical to the 1st cervical and 4th dorsal.” (5346-1) In another instance, a woman asked Cayce about the source of her gall bladder attacks: “What mental or spiritual condition brought them about?” Cayce replied, “Neither a mental or spiritual, but rather a purely physical reaction. And, as indicated, keep away from meats!” I have collected an entire file of quotes such as these where Cayce clearly maintains that illness can be purely physical, rather than symbolic of a mental or spiritual problem. In fact, in most of these readings, Cayce responded to direct questions about the spiritual and mental causes of disease. In numerous readings where the question was not posed to Cayce, the causes of illness were described, for the most part, in purely physical terms. In other cases, the mental or spiritual aspects of causation were emphasized. Illness can be a complex phenomenon.
The recognition that the cause of disease can be purely physical has not been easy for me. With my background in psychology and years of study of metaphysical concepts, I was initially inclined to regard all illness as symbolic, much as Louise Hay has done. The Cayce health readings have served to make me more flexible, tolerant, and humble in this regard.
Shadow of Transformation
As I said at the beginning, understanding transformational healing is complex. Apparently, illness can be caused by many factors operating at various levels. Sometimes illness can be symbolic of a nonphysical problem, or it may be purely physical. We must be careful not to oversimplify or we run the risk of iatrogenic guilt or inappropriate treatment (as noted by Wilber). I have seen this happen. I call it the “shadow of transformation.”
I know of wonderful, spiritually oriented individuals who have become ill. In the course of healing, they have struggled with some of the same issues encountered by Ken Wilber and his wife during their healing journey. Just like the Wilbers, these individuals tried almost every conceivable alternative medicine approach (including Louise Hay’s), with only modest improvement. Just like the Wilbers, they also eventually partook of allopathic treatments without being cured. Along the way, some of their friends began to drift away or make remarks to the effect that there must be some unknown or unaddressed spiritual problem at the bottom of the condition. The afflicted individuals actually began to feel like sinners – as if they had failed doubly. Not only had they created the disease, but they had failed to heal themselves. Talk about guilt!
I suspect that the well-meaning friends were beginning to have some doubts about their own invincibility. After all, if wonderful, spiritual people can get seriously ill and not recover, what does that say about all of us? In psychology we talk about the shadow – that part of ourselves we don’t want to acknowledge or accept. If we are unaware or unwilling to deal with our shadow, we tend to project it onto others – hence, the shadow of transformation.
So how do we work with transformational healing in a way that is constructive and does no harm? First, let’s acknowledge the limitations of our understanding. This leads to humility, which is a good thing in healing.
Let’s also acknowledge that we are complex beings in a multidimensional reality, however we may choose to define it. Illness may come from any level of reality, including the physical.
We can help each other to become aware of possible causes of illness without forcing the issue. To force the issue is to trespass on another soul because it violates will. A gentle approach that respects the will of others is more appropriate. We can suggest possible explanations with an open-mindedness and humility that is respectful. I know this is difficult for some of us who enjoy telling others what is wrong with them and what they should do about it; but that issue involves our healing, not theirs.
When working as a consultant, even when I feel quite certain that there is a symbolic or hidden meaning at the core of illness, I still prefer to educate the client about the possibility of such a connection and leave it to their good judgment to determine what they choose to believe. Using the will to choose is the basis for soul development, a profound form of healing.
This simple technique relies on cognitive dissonance. Psychological research has documented the mind’s tendency to want to resolve discordant ideas (dissonance). When the discordant ideas are presented in a nonthreatening way, resistance and defense mechanisms are minimized. A gentle suggestion about the possible symbolic meaning of a symptom can be very powerful, especially when presented with humor that is loving and respectful. Then just leave it at that. Let the mind resolve the dissonance on its own.
If the person is open to symbolic interpretation of illness, then proceed in an open and respectful way, being careful not to instill iatrogenic guilt or encourage inappropriate treatment. If the person is not open to symbolic meaning of illness, just plant the seed and trust in cognitive dissonance – and the divine within.
Regardless of the cause of illness, even if it is purely physical, all healing can be transformational. We can use our wills to make choices, act on our choices, and take responsibility for the outcome (empowerment). We can become more aware and mindful of our multidimensional aspects (enlightenment). We can meet ourselves gracefully as we make our way back to the Source (soul development).