We cannot cure chronic illness, but we can heal

I am a big fan of Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen. Remen founded The Healer's Art at  theUCSF school of Medicine and she heads the Institute for the Study of Health & Illness.  Remen's work is dedicated to helping health professionals dig for the deeper expression of their work - to heal where there is no cure.

Remen is the author of three books and a gifted storyteller. She tells stories of what she's learned from her cancer patients during their last months and weeks of life. How we shift our priorities and values; our very identity. Remen has also had Crohn's disease for more than forty-five years.

Currently I'm reading her book, My Grandfather's Blessings. Her grandfather was a Rabbi and scholar of the Kabbalah, the mystical study of the wisdom of the human soul. Like Remen, I believe physicians are taught to cut and cure, but not to heal. Today, more and more people live with incurable chronic illnesses. We need to equip health professionals to understand  the art of healing where curing is not possible. To understand the magic of empathy, connection and listening.

Here's a sneak peek from My Grandfather's Blessings, page 29. 

"In the sixties when I went to medical school, the meaning of illness was seen as irrelevant. We did not know then that there is a healthy way to have a disease, a way to use this difficult experience to come to know more intimately who we are and what is important to us. Our focus was on cure and not healing. Science and its expertise cures, but often it is meaning that heals us. Such healing is highly individual. The same disease means something different to every person touched by it. Over time, meaning heals many things that are beyond cure.

Finding meaning does not require us to live differently; it requires us to see our lives differently. Many of us already live far more meaningful lives than we know. When we go beyond the superficial to the essential, things that are familiar and even commonplace are revealed in new ways. Meaning may change the way we see ourselves and the world. People who have felt themselves to be victims may be surprised to realize they are heroes

Through illness, people may come to know themselves for the first time and recognize not only who they genuinely are but also what really matters to them. As a physician, I have accompanied many people as they have discovered in themselves an unexpected strength, a courage beyond what they would have thought possible, an unsuspected sense of compassion or a capacity for love deeper than they had ever dreamed. I have watched people abandon values that they have never questioned before and find the courage to live in new ways. Often these ways are more soul-infused.

When I first became ill with Crohn’s disease more than forty-five years ago, I felt profoundly diminished, different, and even ashamed. I had not known then that what challenges the body can evolve and strengthen the soul. I had focused on the curing of my disease and despaired when this was not possible. It took years for me to recognize the movement toward wholeness that was happening in me while my attention was elsewhere."