Magazine article Tikkun

Spirituality and Medicine

Magazine article Tikkun

Spirituality and Medicine

Article excerpt

Spirituality and Medicine

Raphael Kellman

Raphael Kellman, M.D., practices holistic-integrative medicine in Manhattan at the Center for Progressive Medicine. This article emerged from a set of conversations with Michael Lerner and some of its formulations reflect ideas that emerged in that context and will appear in Lerner's forthcoming book Spirit Matters.

A spiritual approach to health care must both ensure that everyone who needs medical care can have access to it and reflect a holistic, ecological, humanistic perspective based on meaning and spirit.

Spiritual medicine is based on a different perception of ourselves and our world than we currently have. It is based on the belief that the world can also be perceived from the perspective of the heart. Just as interconnectiveness and interdependence is vital to the natural world, it plays a vital, not merely an ancillary role, in spiritual medicine. Indeed, spiritually based medicine can be better termed a medicine of meaning, rooted in an ecological orientation with a simultaneously transcendent and imminent relationship to the world. From the standpoint of a medicine of meaning, nutritional imbalances, environmental toxins, and an unnatural relationship to food and the food chain are secondary to the loss of compassion and meaning. Our culture's escalating medical costs, rise in chronic disease, and financial inability to provide some level of health care to all are precisely due to the fact that we have not taken a spiritual or meaningful approach to medicine.

In short, a medicine without meaning will always be bankrupt-figuratively and literally. We cannot resolve problems of accessibility without at the same time addressing problems of content.

Recent advances in various disciplines of science are more consistent with a medicine of meaning approach than with the framework on which modern medicine rests. In modern physics, for example, the boundary between subject and object is nebulous at best, shattering our belief in a mechanistic understanding of life and of the human body. In the study of life systems as well, scientists now employ a non-linear model in which the parts of a living system contribute to, but do not define, a living system, and the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

In medicine itself, we are beginning to realize that the mind is not localized in the brain. We know that the heart can send messages to the brain and might have its own mode of perception. Indeed recent studies are beginning to make us wonder if the connection between love and the heart isn't more than metaphor but represents something physiological. Even the gastrointestinal system has more neurons and neuropeptides than the spinal column; perhaps the medical community has not digested the fact that the gut has its own mode of perception as well.

Spiritual medicine is, in fact, more consistent with science and is rooted in the belief that we live in a vast, interconnected, interdependent world.

In order to achieve such a medicine of meaning, however, we must first understand the philosophical orientation of the modern medicine most of us experience. Modern medicine is still deeply rooted in a mechanistic model. In medical school, aspiring doctors learn to think of human beings as machines. Medical science itself was developed through the study of the anatomy of a corpse. But a human being is not a corpse--we are something else that needs to be understood in a different way.

Take, for example, the mechanical model of a pump used to explain the heart, first proposed by the scientist William Harvey in 1628. This model has helped doctors understand heart disease, but does not and cannot explain the true nature of the heart or give us a deep understanding of the causes of heart disease. Recent studies in fact have shown that meaning, job dissatisfaction, compassion, and interconnectiveness are more important variables than all the known risk factors for coronary heart disease. …

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