It is three months to the day since my reverse total shoulder replacement. The surgery’s name still makes me feel like my arm is now attached backwards, waving at what’s behind me, but it actually means the inner mechanics of ball and socket are now bionic and reversed for greater stability. The arthritic pain is gone and a great deal of mobility has been regained. I’m told by my physical therapist that healing will be ongoing through at least the first year post-surgery if I will commit to daily exercises, and I have. My arm still crooks awkwardly at 160° when I try to lift it to 180°. I hope this improves; I know it may not. Trade-offs are part of healing. Healing challenges us to adapt, discover, and recreate ways of being in the world.
The first six weeks or so of recovery were at times grueling, as though I were in a dark tunnel with a very small and distant light calling me forward. I think that’s true of most illnesses, surgeries, and losses. We feel separated from others, alone in a kind of darkness that requires all of our focus to transform through our gradual healing. I took three steps forward and seven back on some days, despite my best efforts. I attempted exercises that for days stubbornly failed to budge the new shoulder’s flexibility.
The encouragement and loving support from Phillip and other beloveds, daily kisses from the 4-leggeds, music, books, meditation, and some crying and cursing bouts all strengthened my focus and hope. These were my lights, the blessings that walked me home to myself again, returning to independent mobility and activities that connect me clearly to my spirit. My ability to both give and take in our relationship, to undertake chores and help with the 4-leggeds has also returned to a recognizable balance, another sign of restored health. I am grateful. I don’t know how Phillip did it all these weeks, but I know he cared for everything with patience and grace. And I know he’s relieved I can do my part again. Now I can shine my light for him as he has so profoundly shone his for me.
I can see I’ve emerged from the post-surgery tunnel to the other side of whatever my new life will be. Surgery, like all change, involves loss, grief, and the entire holistic involvement of mind-body-spirit to create new awareness of our identity and goals.
Healing is re-grounding, resettling into the person we are now. Home again, but the furniture’s been moved, and we must re-route our paths between rooms.
A few weeks ago, a good friend who is pursuing her nursing doctorate in holistic health asked if I could share resources on spirituality and health that might aid nurse educators in designing curriculum. The timing was significant and graced, as it coincided with my own healing breakthroughs and reintegration into a daily life not dominated by physical pain and restrictions.
I retrieved dozens of documents and resources to share with my friend, but one was especially enlightening. Almost 20 years ago (gad), I was engaged in three training programs simultaneously: spiritual care/chaplaincy, spiritual direction, and a Masters in Servant Leadership. It was a challenging but deeply hallowed time in my life, pursuing and exploring the profound healing I sought after the deaths of my parents, a time of reorienting to my own middle age and mortality. This is Jung’s “second half of life,” a journey one of my favorite teachers, Richard Rohr, calls “falling upward.”
The first program of study, CPE (clinical pastoral education), prepared me for healthcare chaplaincy, and at some point in that two-year program, I wrote a paper on healing, drawing from many sources, but beginning with the words of my patients, their families, my colleagues, mentors, artists, and historical sources. It has always been my practice to clarify with those whom I counsel how they define their healing. These are highly personal and fluid definitions, but necessary, if we honor our life’s journey and continual emergence from challenges faced by illness and crises to new growth and creative possibilities. We disintegrate and reintegrate. But who are we now?
At the time, I’d written: These words underscore that healing holds unique meaning for all involved in its creation and sustenance. The chaplain’s job is to know, honor, and evolve our own meaning while helping patients design and reach for theirs. Healing can be miraculous, but more reliably, I think, it begins with a yearning for home and the persistent journey one undertakes to reach it before dark.
I still believe healing is coming home again to ourselves, but transformed into who we’re now meant to be. (We’re always becoming, aren’t we? Every day is an invitation to become more and more authentically ourselves.) Our being is remodeled through healing, but it’s still recognizable as home.
As I celebrate and continue to heal my shoulder, I’d like to share these generous words of wisdom from others, to support and illuminate your own healing journeys and those of your beloveds. (Note this was a clinical paper, so patients are identified by their diagnoses. Names are changed. Religions are identified, if provided, only to gain insight into potential sources of spiritual support.)
Joyce, 92 Christian (Methodist childhood/Presbyterian adult; increasing physical symptoms that indicate the end-of-life is approaching)
I suppose for me it would be a return to optimum health…and if that is a lower level of health than I had when I arrived at the hospital, then healing would mean acceptance. (Long pause.) The most difficult healing of my life happened after my husband’s death. The hardest by far…it took years, although it was the first year that was completely black; it was the heaviest, darkest, most silent year of my life…but it wasn’t until five years after he’d died, when I was 61, and traveled to London with a friend, that the sorrow palpably lifted. I remember the very moment: we were in Piccadilly Square, shopping and having a grand time, and I came out onto the street: bustling and life and people and color and activity everywhere…and just like that: I said, “I am happy. I want to live again.” Just like that. Healing can happen like that. Grace.
Maura, 56 (Catholic family; Mother has had CABG [coronary artery bypass graft] and stroke in past year)
I think it would just be for her to have no more pain…she’s been through so much this year: the surgery, all the hospitalizations, the nursing home, and hospice. (Crying.) I just don’t want her to suffer any more. Healing would be an absence of suffering and pain.
Kate, 51 (Catholic; morbidly obese)
Healing? It would mean I could ride a bike, play in a pool with my kids, walk with them…I could clean house; I’d be normal. That’s what it would mean: I’d be normal. Spiritually, it would mean forgiving myself…finally; I would be able to forgive myself.
Jane, 75 (Catholic; third TIA in past year; grief issues)
Well, healing would mean I could live with Frank’s obsessive control of everyone and everything; I mean, I’d heal faster if he would heal, but I have to heal anyway, right? So I need ways to keep calm and not let him get to me.
Paula, 32 (Catholic childhood/education; now “spiritual; not religious.” Staff member struggling with decision to have hysterectomy)
The definition has changed. Healing used to mean reiki, imaging, meditation…any natural and spiritually-based therapy that would help me release the physical and emotional pain and tension due to my reproductive organs’ malformation or malfunctioning. All I wanted was to preserve the ability to have children. My last relationship was the only time I’ve felt an absence of all that pain, but since we ended our relationship, I’ve been experiencing all the old pains again, and this week it’s just become unbearable. I finally am willing to consider a hysterectomy and accept all that means for my life. So, I think now, healing has come to mean living without pain and seeking other ways to express my procreativity and maternal yearning. And there’s grief that comes with this understanding… I’ve always been content with the idea of adoption, and I receive a lot of satisfaction from healing others; maybe these are some of the answers for me…
Joe, 76 (Lutheran, raised as “holy roller;” complex web of disease including diabetes, kidney failure, CHF)
I just want to make God happy while I can; do what I can for others—maybe help out other old people who don’t have the money or kin to care for them.
Bernadine, 74 (Lutheran; extreme back and flank pain; chronic pancreatitis; grief issues)
Healing would be finding my way to inner peace.
Patrick, 47 (Church of Christ, Vet with PTSD; alcoholic)
I think healing means ridding myself of my addiction and being able to focus on doing good for others; that’s what gives me joy and makes me feel the best I can feel about myself.
Carmen, 82 (Methodist; infected knee implant; “miraculously cured” of bone cancer 8 years earlier. Responded to question regarding healing by applying the concept to her daughter who is now receiving treatment for bone cancer with a poor diagnosis)
Glorious! Healing would be glorious. She would be completely cured, like I was.
Healing is the restoration of physical and mental well-being; feeling life is once again manageable and meaningful…for me, this is what nursing is about.
Emma, Social Worker/Discharge Planner
Healing? It’s getting the hell out of the hospital. Being here forces people to confront the fact that they’re sick. Being “out there” (gesturing towards the outside) gives people evidence, even proof, that they’re able to function and be seen in the world as healthy.
Healing would encompass the complete realm of physical, emotional, and spiritual components necessary for well-being. I don’t know if it’s ever complete…it’s an ongoing progression.
Healing? It depends what you’re specifically addressing. It has to speak to the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the entire person: mind, body, spirit. From a nursing standpoint, it’s the absence of the disease state, meaning physical wellness and the restoration of health. But that’s not always possible, as with types of cancer; so then we address the emotional or mental struggle and the patient’s grieving process regarding what he’s lost physically, his ability to make new meaning and move on. The spiritual facet of healing also has subsets; for example, those aspects that might be termed “religious”: the patient may be angry with God, or perceive a distance in prayer, and the need to find his way back to peace or, hopefully, even grow in relationship; this becomes integral to his healing. Then, there’s the individual’s own spirit—connected with his emotions— that, ideally, would reach a level of healing that would confer contentment, inner peace, happiness. All of these areas need to be addressed and brought into balance. The degree to which this happens can offer a kind of measure of the healing that’s occurred.
Linda, RN, Nurse Educator
The first image that occurs is that of a wound closing; that’s my orientation as a nurse. But healing is also getting better, improving, and returning to your previous state of health and well-being. It’s also moving forward in your life rather than remaining in the place of illness.
Betty, Social Worker/Discharge Planner
Hmmm. My first thought is to regard the patient’s mental and emotional health. I think healing is physical and emotional well-being—the process of getting there.
Dr. Harper, Pulmonary Medicine
How would I define healing? (Smiles and recites) Two pieces of flesh coming together…no, seriously, I think healing involves the recovery of physical attributes that one associates with wellness, as defined by the patient, his family, his physician, etc. As important , is recovery of the spirit and one’s outlook regarding one’s life. So many times, the physical healing occurs, but not the spiritual—a sense of vitality and wholeness isn’t restored. Both are necessary, and the latter is sometimes overlooked. As Director of Pulmonary Medicine, I initiated our directive to ask patients to define their own goals regarding their treatment outcome and it’s always illuminating to hear these: things that would be way off my radar and that I would have no way of knowing if I didn’t ask the question…I’ll always remember one woman, Dorothy, who has since died. She said her goal was to be able to make her bed again. She wanted to restore order and beauty to her home, to gain control of her space and the time she had left. (Smiles, remembering.) I wouldn’t have understood that if I hadn’t asked and listened.
Catherine, Social Worker
How would I define healing? Oh, gosh! So many things…The simple concept would be that healing requires the alignment of one’s mind, body, and spirit; they need to be in balance. I don’t believe that healing is curing—it takes place on a deeper level. Real healing is being in right relationship with oneself; for me, spiritual healing needs to take place before anything else can happen that matters.
My spiritual director told me of a time he sought answers in knowledge and realized knowledge didn’t offer healing; it just made him an enlightened neurotic. How profoundly that resonated with me.
So many of the people I see each day cannot be cured, but I believe that every one of them can be healed. The Greek root “sozo” is related to our words for healing, redemption, and salvation. Illness can create a holy place where the healing of one’s spirit can occur even as the physical existence is altered, incapacitated, or ending. Here, in the midst of great vulnerability, is a sacred opportunity for transformation into the authentic self that life so often buries at the core of one’s being.
Healing? Hmmm. (Long pause.) I guess, healing would entail being at peace with who, what, and where you are now.
Sr. Mary Patricia: Spiritual Director, Leader, Wise Woman
Hmmmm. Well, healing has to be about the whole person; it’s multi-faceted. One’s chakras have to be in order; the spirit has to be whole…healing has more to do with the spirit and a sense of well-being than not. I can have “incurable” physical disease, yet be in a process of healing, of seeking and establishing well-being. It’s more about fully being in the here and now than “getting somewhere.”
Ed: Personal Spiritual Director, Anam Cara
Healing is a lifelong process that’s available to the degree one is open to trusting the Spirit’s work and is accessible to Divine Action, or Love.
ARTISTS: POETS, WRITERS, MUSICIANS, ACTORS, PHILOSOPHERS, HISTORICAL FIGURES
Dr. Walter Alvarez: Listen to your patients; listen and they will tell you what’s wrong with them. And if you listen long enough, they will even tell you what will make them well.
W. H. Auden: ”Healing,” Papa would tell me, “is not a science, but the intuitive art of wooing nature.”
Sai Baba: Love one another and help others to rise to the higher levels, simply by pouring out love. Love is infectious and the greatest healing energy.
Barbara Brennan: Any illness is a direct message to you that tells you how you have not been loving who you are, cherishing yourself in order to be who you are. This is the basis of all healing.
Ivy Compton-Burnett: Time is not a great healer. It is an indifferent and perfunctory one. Sometimes it does not heal at all. And sometimes when it seems to, no healing has been necessary.
Samuel Butler: A physician’s physiology has much the same relation to his power of healing as a cleric’s divinity has to his power of influencing conduct.
Lord Byron: Always laugh when you can. It’s cheap medicine.
Richard Carlson, Ph.D.: Wholeness or health is our natural state. The nature of healing involves removing obstructions to this natural state and bringing individuals into alignment with themselves and their world. Free of these obstructions, an individual’s innate intelligence and self-regulating capabilities will guide him toward a state of well being.
Willa Cather: The miracles of the church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.
Norman Cousins: It is reasonable to expect the doctor to recognize that science may not have all the answers to problems of health and healing.
Sarah Fielding: The words of kindness are more healing to a drooping heart than balm or honey.
Matthew Fox: Beauty saves. Beauty heals. Beauty motivates. Beauty unites. Beauty returns us to our origins, and here lies the ultimate act of saving, of healing, of overcoming dualism.
Lester Bowie: Music is very important. It’s important as a tool for learning, it can be a tool for healing, it can be no telling what, as long as we remain free to be able to create the music, to be able to experiment and to really research, and to really get time to develop the music.
Catherine Drinker Bowen: For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.
Brad Garrett: Humor is healing.
Stanislav Grof: Coming to terms with the fear of death is conducive to healing, positive personality transformation, and consciousness evolution.
Marilyn Hacker: I have experienced healing through other writers’ poetry, but there’s no way I can sit down to write in the hope a poem will have healing potential. If I do, I’ll write a bad poem.
Hippocrates: Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.
Alice Hoffman: Part of the healing process for me was, what would I want to read if I was newly diagnosed? I would want to read a story of possibility…
Jean Houston: With subtly developed body awareness, it is possible for the individual to become the conscious orchestrator of health.
David Hume: It’s when we start working together that the real healing takes place… it’s when we start spilling our sweat, and not our blood.
Hubert H. Humphrey: The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.
Susan Jeffers: The joy of becoming whole is always accompanied by tears. Every step toward a healthy body, mind and soul asks that we say goodbye to something familiar.
John 5:6: Do you want to be made well?
Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: In her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard wrote that she could not cause light, but she could put herself in its path. The same may be true of healing. Maybe in the end we cannot make healing happen; perhaps it is, after all, a grace. But we can put ourselves in its path.
Clyde Kilby: Myth is the name of a way of seeing, a way of knowing. Systematizing flattens, but myth restores. Myth is necessary because of what man is because man is fundamentally mythic. His real health depends upon knowing and living his mythic nature.
James Miller: Healing is a sign of life’s desire to refresh and renew itself. It is evidence that life has been infused with a vitality that allows for regeneration, sometimes even resurrection. Healing is an energy that pulses through all living matter, leading irresistibly toward wholeness. Even death does not exhaust it. Death is an essential part of the cycle of healing but not its final word.
Ultimately, healing is rooted in the Source of life itself. It is the original act of creation taking place again and again, in bodies and minds, in people’s stories and dreams, in their relationships and accomplishments. It is the same act that takes place each time you reach out to another in reverence and openness. And it is what happens each time the other responds.
Caroline Myss: How important is becoming healthy to you? Healing has its price, just as seeking to understand the nature of one’s consciousness does. The price of becoming healthy is, in many respects, similar to the answer to another question I could have asked: What are you willing to give up to meet God?
Christiane Northrup, MD: If you have a headache every Monday morning when it is time for you to go to work, perhaps you’re driving the wrong car, perhaps you’re taking the wrong route, or you may be in the wrong line of work. Obviously, only you can figure out the message. The more you move toward what makes you feel good, and move away from those things which bring you distress and pain, the healthier you will be. The work I do to let go of my suffering diminishes the suffering of the whole universe. When I have room for my own pain, I have room for the pain of others. Only then can I be transformed into joy. As I heal, the Earth heals.
Henri Nouwen: The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.
Yoko Ono: Healing yourself is connected with healing others.
Philipus Aureolus Paracelsus: The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician. Therefore the physician must start from nature, with an open mind.
Max de Pree: We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.
J. B. Priestley: We may not ourselves find the right healing symbols, but, just as a first step, we can at least believe that man lives under God in a great mystery.
Rachel Naomi Remen: …Fixing and helping are the basis of curing, but not of healing. In 40 years of chronic illness I have been helped by many people and fixed by a great many others who did not recognize my wholeness. All that fixing and helping left me wounded in some important and fundamental ways. Only service heals.
John Robbins, Reclaiming Our Health: Unlike much of orthodox medicine, alternative approaches to healing typically honor the wisdom and capability of the human body. Their goal is often to support and strengthen the powerful healing forces already at work within us.
Anne Wilson Schaef: There are so many ways to heal. Arrogance may have a place in technology, but not in healing. I need to get out of my own way if I am to heal.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca: The wish for healing has always been half of health.
Duncan Sheik: I actually think sadness and darkness can be very beautiful and healing.
Fritz Smith, Inner Bridges: In natural healing, illness is viewed as part of a broader process in a person’s life. The illness is seen as having a long preamble and an epilogue, and its own evolution (Herring’s Law of cure*) as it resolves. (Herring’s Law of Cure: A person heals from deep to superficial, from “more important” to “less important” organs and systems; old symptoms return in the reverse order of their occurrence, and we heal from the top of the body toward the feet.)
Dr. Randolph Stone: True health is the harmony of life within us, consisting of peace of mind, happiness and well-being. It is not merely a question of physical fitness, but is rather a result of the soul finding free expression through the mind and body of the individual.
Rabindranath Tagore: When I stand before thee at the day’s end, thou shalt see my scars and know that I had my wounds and also my healing.
Paul Tillich, The New Being: The gospels, certainly, are not responsible for this disappearance of power in the picture of Jesus. They abound in stories of healing; but we are responsible ministers, laymen, theologians who forgot that “Savior” means “healer,” she who makes whole and sane what is broken and insane, in body and mind.
J.R.R. Tolkien: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.
Carl Townsend: All healing is first a healing of the heart. Healing is not an issue of faith, but rather an affair of the heart. If the romance and passion is there in the heart, we will have faith. People are the gatekeepers of change and healing; God trusts his visions to people.
Ben Vereen: I love sharing my story. It’s endlessly healing.
Marianne Williamson: The only work that will ultimately bring any good to any of us is the work of contributing to the healing of the world, and the practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.
May we use our gifts to serve our healing and the healing of others. May we tend our spirits, our bodies, and minds with the love they deserve. May we shine our healing lights, walking one another home before dark. Joy and gentle peace to you.
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