“Calmness or harmony is a natural aspect of the mind.” – Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, January 2000
When I think of the term ‘spiritual’ in combination with medicine or healing, it brings forth divergent images. One is the evangelist preacher, gasping on each breath as he talks about the healing spirit of God, palming the forehead of his collapsing follower. Another is the tribal shamanic healer, adorned as an animal, chanting and gyrating around his ‘client’. Alternately, I think of the healing group meditating or praying for a beloved member or a stranger on the other side of the world, or a silent healer, eyes closed, holding her hands over the afflicted individual.
Whether we believe a particular form of spiritual medicine works or not, the term is often used to describe the evocation of a force external to the suffering person that enters them in an often mysterious fashion to create a change. It is often attributed to a subtle energy, exchanged from one person to another or from a higher power (God) to the person to be healed.
Another understanding of spiritual healing exists, however, one in which the healing force does not arise from the outside but instead is the upwelling of the wisdom or spirit of the body itself, restoring functions to areas that were dysfunctional. The body ‘knew’ how to work correctly once so is that knowledge now lost?
If there is an inner spirit, an inner wisdom, for each body part, organ, gland and the abilities or functions of those parts, how does it get lost or subverted into disease? To understand one mechanism at least, we need to look at learning.
Spirit becomes a functional life through learning
Every living organism, from a single celled organism to an insect or a human, has something in common, they all LEARN.
Even the very beating of the heart is learning, passed down genetically. All function, whether it is the secretion of a hormone or a complex act like cooking breakfast, is formatted by learning. Learning is the mechanism the wisdom of the body uses to interact with the complexity of life. Learning may be called the means life uses to express itself.
Of course, this learning isn’t from books; it is picked up automatically, on-the-fly. It is the result making uncounted numbers of tiny decisions at every moment, and organizing those decisions into an automatic behavior that is then repeated and applied to future situations, without any decision when needed.
From the simple act of cooking breakfast we can see many examples of the complexity of learning. The feeling of hunger, for instance, and its interpretation is the sum total of all the times in the past that you were hungry, what foods you like or don’t like, what you learned growing up about satisfaction of needs, what you have come to think of as good food, all of that is learning. The muscles used for cooking, postures of standing and using a spatula, when and how your stomach churns, the amount of acid your stomach produces, the timing and amount insulin that your pancreas makes in expectation of the coming meal… it’s all learning.
But while learning is the key to the very survival of an organism as it adapts to its environment, it has a dark side, a way in which it absolutely hinders the spirit and wisdom of the body and mind.
How does an organism designed to express spirit and wisdom get sick?
The problem (ignoring, for now, all the toxic chemicals, heavy metals and pathogenic organisms we are exposed to from conception onwards) is that while the nervous system easily and automatically accumulates learning, it doesn’t readily forget it. This is particularly true of learning that comes as the result of stress or trauma. As a part of our inherent wisdom, we create patterns that may be used over and over again, and to (unconsciously) set up expectation that those situations will happen again. This is also called conditioning.
One of the odd things about conditioning is that, even if the behavior we learned was not necessarily the best one, we still repeat it. How many times do we find ourselves living out the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result? It takes directed energy and often great courage and willpower to fight this repetition syndrome, even when we are looking at trying to change a known conscious behavior.
When it is the very function of the body that has learned, the resultant adaptive postures affect muscles, joints, organs and hormones. Every behavior, function or movement our bodies enact can get locked into a less than optimum programs, and these various programs may conflict with other programs, putting one part of us in cross purposes with others. It is like what happens when you open a lot of programs on your computer, they begin to conflict, to eat up memory, and your computer gets ‘sick’.
The cure? Reboot.
Rebooting your computer restores the underlying correct function of its operating system, restoring its essential spirit or wisdom, we might say, by eliminating extraneous outdated memory allocations that interfered with each other.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could reboot ourselves, eliminating the learning which is no longer adaptive, eliminating memories which are interfering with the proper function of the body and mind, and restore control to the original wisdom and spirit of the body and mind?
This feature is not an add-on that you can to purchase at Circuit City or Best Buy. It is not for sale at any price.
Rather, it comes, factory installed, built right into our brains!
Spirit meets science in the brain
In 1999 an amazing discovery was made about the way our brains really work. When we activate a memory, the memory is like a book taken off the shelf; if it is not put back it may be lost, forever. If that memory happens to be an association that causes fear or self-judgment, or a memory of altered muscle function and pain that followed an injury, we may want to remove the book from the library altogether. If it is maladaptive learning that has altered the function of our hormonal system, or disturbed organ or endocrine function, well, bring on the bookburners!
How do we reboot the nervous system to eliminate outdated, maladaptive memory? If activation of a memory is followed by certain inputs or treatments to the body, the memory will not be stored again. Once eliminated, correct normal function, which was hidden underneath may be restored – instantly! The true spirit, the fundamental, function is thus re-established, often permanently.
This library book-like memory process, called reconsolidation, has been found to in many kinds of memory, including emotional memory, muscle/movement memory, and, clinically at least, learning that affects organ and glandular system function. If we can access a maladaptive memory and alter the condition of the body, we can change it.
Choosing the best memories to eliminate is the key to healing
While we can’t reboot the whole brain at once, and I don’t think we would want to, (I suppose that electro-shock therapy is a crude attempt at this) we can reboot it piece by piece. This may be called a neurontogenic process, which means restoring the fundamental, ontogenic function and behavior (wisdom or spirit) of the nervous system, the condition that was present before the now-inappropriate or maladaptive learning occurred.
A number of therapies, (search on EMDR, EFT and Neuro Emotional Technique, to name a few) use neurontogenic principles mostly to eliminate emotional stress and PTSD. NeurOntogenics is a system which eliminates the maladaptive learning that sustains unhealthy thoughts, beliefs and emotions as well, but also eliminates learning that affects organ, gland, muscle and joint function.
Given the right conditions and setup, many different types of therapies including spinal manipulation, massage of appropriate muscles, tapping or other stimulation of acupuncture points or alternating activation of the right and left hemispheres of the brain, all seem to be able to interrupt the reconsolidation of unwanted memory and induce the neurontogenic effect of restoring the obscured correct function.
Since every illness, pain or disease will necessarily have some component of learning involved, ‘rebooting’ should be a part of all treatments of the body and mind, especially including treatment of any type of pain.
We may now begin to speak of an actual new field of medicine, neurontogenic medicine, which is based on the understanding that there is a built-in wisdom in the body and mind which becomes obscured over time by the weight of learning that it has absorbed. Neurontogenic medicine uses various means to determine, access, treat and erase learning that is not conducive to optimal function of the body or mind. It is differentiated from other treatments of various specialties, which begin with the assumption that there is something missing, and it is the job of the practitioner to determine what that is and provide it.