December 23, 2002
The Healing Environment - Part 2: The Wisdom of Pain
Every cell contains the knowledge of what a healthy life is. This knowledge works like a blueprint or a map that informs cells to divide, produce hormones, and do whatever helps them fit into their environment. Whether the cell is an amoeba in a swamp or a neuron in your brain, this inner wisdom/map acts as an essential guide.
From the scientific perspective, this guiding component is often thought to be the DNA in every cell, but some scientists are proposing that other structures, such as cell receptors, may play an even more important role than DNA. Given that these are unproven physical models, metaphysical theorists propose that this inner cellular map is the reflection of an broader active principle of universal balance.
In any case, these are just theories, and it may not matter if we ever know "the truth." We do not have to know the molecular structure of a banana in order to enjoy it, eat it, and be nourished by it. Similarly, we do not need to know how or why our inner guide works in order to recognize and follow it.
When the inner or outer environment is not in alignment with this guide, the imbalance is experienced by the cell. Something is "wrong" and the reactive signal is a certain degree of pain or discomfort. In this respect, pain is a "good" thing that points to a "bad" thing. Pain is an important messenger that needs to be heeded.
When our inner guide sends a pain signal to indicate misalignment, it also reacts with a response to correct the imbalance. The cellular intention is not to alleviate pain, but to alleviate the cause of the imbalance. When the clash that causes the "friction" is removed, then the pain message disappears automatically, since it is brought into being by the action of the misalignment. When you stop banging two sticks together, the noise stops.
Think of it this way. You are walking barefoot on a narrow path of soft grass that winds through a plain of sharp rocks. When you get tired or inattentive, you stumble out of line and step on the sharp rocks. The cells in your feet send a message of pain to your brain, which signals the muscles of your legs to contract and move back onto the grass. Once you are off the rocks, the pain - which emanates from the collision of rocks and cells - stops. The pain signals the misalignment and the cellular organism reacts appropriately to realign itself according to its inner nature/need. This is the most basic yet profound intelligence of every living thing.
This may seem simplistic and obvious, but most modern humans are so out of touch with their inner guides that they don't do the obvious. Rather than respecting the pain and "getting off the rocks," they use substances and activities to block the pain or distract themselves from it - so they can continue to walk on the rocks! Some people eat french fries, get heartburn, take antacid pills - and then continue eating food that is destroying their stomach lining. Other people work for abusive employers, get discouraged, take antidepressants - and then continue to work in the same stressful job that is undermining their emotional health.
Some of the most common painkillers and distracters used for this destructive purpose are coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, ecstasy, excess food, chocolate, candy, donuts, shopping, television, radio, telephones, sex, magazines, Internet, shopping, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, mood stabilizers, sleeping pills, and common painkillers. When we don't listen to pain, its cause continues and can lead to serious, chronic, and even fatal injury. In other words, we continue to trample on the sharp rocks and become permanently crippled.
Modern society is prejudiced against pain. Pain is misunderstood, abused, and mistreated. Pain is not death - pain is our guide to life. If we listen to it, we avoid further injury and eventual death. It is the strongest message from our inner guide. When we suffer, it is a signal from our inner guide that something is out of alignment with our inner nature. It is a call to action so that we can rediscover balance, health, and joy.
When we are physically or emotionally ill, it is usually a sign that our needs have been chronically abused or neglected by ourselves or others. We have been injured over and over and the damage has reached a crisis. At these times, the situation is usually complicated and difficult to remedy. We can't just hop back on the grassy path, because we have wandered - or been pushed - miles into that rocky desert.
At times like these, the first thing our inner guide calls for is an environment in which healing can take place. This environment can be created by many things - a physical location, another person, a group, or even an inner attitude. It is a re-creation of the harmonious environment we are inherently intended to be part of. In a sense, it is a "patch of soft grass" where we can momentarily rest. For those of us injured by neglect and abuse in childhood, it is a parallel to the caring and protective place we needed from our parents and family.
This environment is not an opiate or a fairy-tale escape from pain. It is a place of rest and support where we can come out of the fog of denial and feel the pain we have been avoiding, the pain that will direct us back into alignment.
In this cold, divided world it may seem that finding a real healing environment is a hopeless task, a search for something outside ourselves that we may never find. Nothing could be further from the truth. The healing environment is not outside us, it is a reflection of what is inside us. It is the inner guide, the blueprint, the map that resides in every cell - even when we are ill. Without it, all our cells would stop functioning and we would drop dead. It is definitely there, although our thinking minds may be unfamiliar with its call.
Its loudest call is pain. We hear it every day. It says, "We're hurting. Listen to us. Don't turn away with your pills and your distractions. Find people and a place where you can feel this and not hide."
Where there is a will, there is a way.