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Wellness or Medicine?
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd

"As doctors especially, especially when paying attention to ow greatly bodily health is dependent upon spiritual health... The healthier the soul is, the greater is its control over the body and its ability to correct the body's failings." -  The Rebbe, Mind Over Matter, p. 311.
    
 


Suddenly I realized I was stuck.
 
All the course work was behind me - the botany, zoology, statistics. My thesis topic was approved, I had read all the relevant background literature, my hypothesis was stated, methods chosen, data collected over four years, results analyzed, and conclusions made. In the emerging discipline of Applied Ecology, this doctoral thesis had all the ingredients of a significant contribution.
 
There was only one problem. It wasn't written. All the information was ready to go, but the words just wouldn't come. Not even the first words. I'd write a sentence, scratch it out, try again, nix that. I'd go for a walk, get a coffee, try a different workspace, do some other stuff, and try again the next day. And the next and the next. Weeks turned to months and then to seasons, but no progress. At all.
 
I visited the campus services office and described my plight. The counselor there put a name to it: Writers Block. There. That felt better, but what to do about it? Surely hundreds of people had gone through the same at the University of Toronto over the years. Is there a coach? A self-help book? No, came the reply. You have to go see a psychiatrist.
 
"A psychiatrist! For writers block?" I was incredulous, but at this point I was ready to try anything. "Do you have any suggestions?"
 
"Try the yellow pages."
 
Over the next little while I spoke to three psychiatrists who all turned me down at the first meeting. The reason: I wasn't mentally ill.
 
"But what difference does that make? You are supposed to understand how the mind works. I want you to help me figure out why my thesis is not moving so I can overcome whatever mental block I've got and help me get my life back to normal."
 
"I'm sorry sir. We don't deal with normalcy. We deal with pathology."
 
That was an eye-opener. We only deal with sickness, not health. Hmm.
 
Eventually I did overcome my mental block and the thesis did get written. The solution was actually to become a baal teshuvah but that's a story for another time. The point here is this: What's the right approach to health? Is it remediating illness or achieving wellness? And is there a difference?
 
The materialistic medical sciences, so it seems to me, implicitly defines health as the absence of illness. But for most of us that's just the beginning of what we want. We want energy, fitness, alertness, a sharp mind, a great night's sleep. We don't just want to avoid falling apart, what we really want is joy and that's a qualitative value, not a quantitative one.
 
The past half-century has seen an immense paradigm shift from curing sickness to creating and sustaining wellness. We are more focused on prevention and health enhancement than ever before. We are turning away from pills and procedures and embracing healthy eating, exercise, nutrients and supplements, anti-oxidants, anti-ageing, stress reduction, meditation, yoga, in short anything that boosts our quality of life, not just our number of diseaseless days on the planet.
 
A perfect example is biofeedback. Thousands of scientific and medical studies have demonstrated conclusively that people have the ability to literally will themselves into better health. Through trial and error, patients mysteriously yet effectively learn to manage a variety of biological processes such as brain activity, pulse, blood pressure and skin temperature by "trying" mentally to control computerized displays that mirror their physical condition. And it works!
 
In this way tens of thousands have already learned to effectively treat conditions such as bronchial asthma, drug addiction, anxiety, tension and migraine headaches, cardiac arrhythmias, hypertension, incontinence, irritable bowel syndrome, ADD and ADHD, epilepsy, menopausal hot flashes, chronic pain syndromes, and anticipatory nausea associated with chemotherapy.
 
The risks are negligible, the gains very significant. Medication requirements diminish and often vanish. The patient takes control of his own care, and the body is trained to heal itself.
 
Biofeedback is but one small component of the emerging trend toward mind-based medicine in general. And mind-based medicine is but one component of a much broader trend in science as a whole, and that is the replacement of the old materialistic view of man and nature with a more holistic integrative perspective that celebrates consciousness as a cornerstone of reality.
 
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains, for example in Likutei Sichos Vol 15, that the ultimate goal of science is to prepare the world for the times of Moshiach. The wellness, sustainability, consciousness and unity that we will attain in that era is already being foreshadowed now, thanks in part to developments in science, technology and medicine. (The other part is Chassidus.)
 
We only have to open up our eyes, especially our mind's eye, to see that real progress is being made in this direction. And just as with biofeedback, if you think good it will be good, really, practically and tangibly, for us and for the world at large.

Moshiach NOW!

Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To read more or to book him for a talk, visit his website at www.arniegotfryd.com.

 

 


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