All the readers of this magazine know that its co-founder, Ann Napier, recently passed through a horrific cancer scare and I, for one, rejoice in the fact that she is now well again. Recently, by chance, I met her as she was walking with her family through Glastonbury and it was wonderful to see her walking and looking good, wheelchair and sickness in the past. But even more inspiring was her sparkle and her obviously stronger connection with the energy and wonder of life. The illness had been transformational.
Now I want to be absolutely clear here. I do not want to be misunderstood. I do not wish distress, pain, anxiety or suffering on to anyone, not even as opportunities for spiritual growth. I want everyone to be healthy, happy and well. But, and it is a big but, the reality for all of us is that physical illness and psychological distress are facts of life. They are unavoidable. We cannot magic them away. So it is naive for anyone to pretend that they can create a life that is free of sickness and sorrow. Aging is inevitable, as is death.
So what is the right spiritual approach to health and illness?
Personal transformation during crisis
From one perspective, the right spiritual approach is obvious. We need to give healing, relieve suffering and support well-being. At the same time, however, we need to acknowledge that sickness and sorrow are also circumstances that can enable great spiritual growth, increasing our connection with spirit, opening our hearts and waking us up. During one period of my life, after a back injury, I was for several years wracked with a pain that I would not wish on anyone, but once I had stopped complaining and feeling sorry for myself, it transformed my awareness. This kind of personal development inside pain and illness is not unusual. Many of us grow spiritually during our crises, like pearls stimulated by the grit in an oyster, like phoenixes rising from the ashes, like alchemical lead transforming into gold.
In stories of how people manage their terminal illnesses, we often hear about these startling personal transformations. ‘My body may be dying, but I feel healed and changed.’
Wake up and be conscious
The real issue therefore, for those of us who take a spiritual approach, is not our health but our consciousness. Our real challenge is to wake up and be conscious inside our crises, illness and distress.
This, of course, is a central tenet of Buddhist practice. It is not what we do that matters, but our state of consciousness that is all important. If we are ill, what matters is our attitude towards to it. Are we compassionate, philosophical and aware? In Christianity too, there is no special attention given to people’s health. In fact, in mystical Christianity there is a clear understanding that the whole business of being in incarnation, in a body, is a form of crucifixion and sacrifice, out of which is born a state of unconditional love and Christ consciousness.
In fact, this is one of the consistent themes of all the great esoteric and mystical schools – kabbalah, sufi, rosicrucian, hermetic and more – that there is a built-in friction to incarnation and being alive. Two different energy fields and vibrations are meeting, that of the incarnating soul and that of our bodies. Where soul and body meet there is a friction and a fire, a marriage, and through this hot meeting of polarities is born the flame of human consciousness, compassion and wisdom. This is the inner story of the fallen angels and slain deities of the sun, who rise again, born anew.
Create an atmosphere of healing safety
How fantastic, then, to be a nurse, healer, midwife, enabler and therapist to this process – to be a loving presence, relieving pain and simultaneously encouraging the growth of heart and mind.
PS. A quick thank you to all of you who supported putting ‘holistic’ in the Census Religion Box. In my last column I also said that I would report back on my visits to the House of Lords. A dozen peers expressed interest and two explicitly affirmed that they would be using ‘holistic’. We now have to wait until next year for the Census statistics to be available at which point we can move the project forward some more.
As you will see, this issue of the Cygnus Review focuses specially on healing, with features and books and products chosen not only to appeal to the general reader, but also to the many highly enthusiastic therapists who enjoy the Cygnus Review.
Our vision and prayer for this particular issue is for it to find its way into the hands of as many people as possible who are on a quest either to give or receive healing. As many of you have told us, the Cygnus Review can be a marvellous resource and travelling companion if you are on a healing journey. With that in mind, we’d like to ask your help. You could, for instance,
1. Leave your copy of the Cygnus Review in a therapist’s or doctor’s waiting room once you have read it
2. Ask your therapist or GP if they’d like to have the Cygnus Review regularly for their patients to read and let us know their details
3. Request extra copies of the Cygnus Review for you to pass on to friends in need (we can also send you several copies regularly if you ask us to)
4. Ask your therapist if she’d like to have regular multiple copies of the Cygnus Review to give to patients
5. If you are a therapist, you could ask your umbrella organisation if they’d like to have a batch of Reviews to send to their members and no doubt you will have lots of other ideas, too!