Image of Health, Image of Disease

//Image of Health, Image of Disease

Image of Health, Image of Disease

When the Jews were in the desert, on the way out of Egypt, there was a point in time when they lost faith in G-d, and were attacked by fiery serpents. G-d told Moses and Aaron to prepare brass serpents on poles, hold them over the people who were bitten, and they would be healed by gazing at the brass serpents. The Ramban, a medieval commentator on the Torah, said that G-d heals with what He afflicts. So by gazing past the image of the serpent towards G-d, one is healed and faith in G-d is restored. He goes on to say that with a man bitten by a rabid dog, when he urinates in a pan, the image of the dog will appear in the urine. The man has been ‘infected’ at a deeper level than the physical wound, his ‘faith’ in wholeness has been damaged as well.

So what do we draw from this in the practice of medicine? While we may be able to relieve symptoms of illness, unless we can heal the patient’s consciousness and emotions from the IMAGE of the illness, that patient cannot be healed at the deepest level. When a patient identifies with a disease after a diagnosis of cancer, multiple sclerosis, or depression, that belief leads to a need for a physical intervention to treat it. The less belief in oneself, and the more fear, the stronger the physical intervention needs to be. The alternative approach is for the consciousness of the patient to be subtly ‘nudged’ into a different point of view, where the patient doesn’t identify so strongly with one’s illness.

Many years ago I met a Taoist teacher in Colorado, Jia Fu-feng at the Stillpoint Center in Manitou Springs. I recently read his biography (thanks to Ken Cohen), and in his later years he developed a lung condition that he refused to diagnose by conventional medicine, and he would only consult and be treated by Chinese medicine. While most people today would think he was foolish, I think he was more in touch with himself and life, in that he refused to be tagged down to a diagnosis that would enslave him to the possible intervention of toxic drugs, surgery, or radiation. I was very inspired by this.

Recently I have experienced something that has been building in my mind over the last thirty years of clinical practice. There are some patients who do very well in either overcoming or living with a deep-set autoimmune disorder, and others who fail despite intensive treatment, either with biomedicine or an ‘alternative’ approach. I now see that the difference is in how seriously the patient identifies with their ‘disease’. Those who do well are flexible, willing to change their life habits and patterns, and ‘stay ahead’ of the disease so that it becomes a more background concern in their life. Their lives have limitation and pain, but they continue to live and function by reframing their illness or pain in such a way that they can ‘shift’ into a different perspective about it.

This is perhaps how homeopathy works. It treats the essence of a disorder with an essence of a natural substance, and changes the ‘image’ of the disease. Such homeopaths as Rajan Sankaran work primarily with images of remedies, and even use music, words, scents and other impressions as homeopathic remedies. When the patient experiences a shift in perspective, not seeing oneself as being enslaved by an illness, they can continue to function and operate in the world in such a fashion that gives them room to heal. In other words, the focus is on maintaining health more than fighting disease.

In Chinese medicine, there are basically two components to health and disease, zheng qi/correct qi (the bodymind’s ability to maintain health and repel illness, from both internal and external sources), and xie qi/’evil’ qi, caused by climatic factors, environmental toxins, poor diet, emotional imbalance, and constitutional factors. In essence, treatment strategies of Chinese medicine seek to ‘outsmart’ evil qi, outrunning it by strengthening correct qi. One changes one’s thinking, lifestyle, patterns, works with diet, season, work and family environment to create a stronger foundation of health without which disease cannot be overcome. Then in this context, we can address an illness in a much better perspective than rescuing the patient from an external overlord and master.

2017-09-20T16:35:21+00:00 April 5th, 2011|3 Comments


  1. Eric Grey April 6, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Z’ev – what an awesome post. I really resonate with all that you’ve said, and have seen this at work in my patients. I feel I spend the majority of my time helping patients to see themselves and their situation in a different light, instead of just being resigned to a particular condition or diagnosis.

    What, though, of the ravaging effects of denial? I have a patient with whom I’ve been working for about 2 months. Only now is she coming to understand, and admit, that she is actually much worse off than she thinks. How can we encourage a frank and thorough understanding of one’s state (and one’s own contribution to that state) without causing disease identification on the part of the patient?

    Thanks for this…


  2. Zev Rosenberg April 6, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Funny, I was just speaking about my student and close colleague, Eti Domb, about denial, how there are layers of ‘denial ice’ covering the true, raw experience of life in all of its conflict, pain, joy, confusion and disruption. As in your case example, it takes time and patience for both practitioner and patient to work through different levels of emotional and physical pathology, and unfortunately we cannot help everyone with this. The famous homeopath, James Kent, once said that he had three levels of patient: 1) the ‘inner circle’, who were truly friends who were seeking spiritual growth alongside him 2) a middle group who had some interest in deep cure, but weren’t quite ready and 3) those who just wanted symptomatic relief. So this has always been an issue in medicine, and we simply need to humbly keep this perspective. We cannot force people to grow, it is hard enough for ourselves, but we can ‘make room’ for growth with love, compassion, and patience.

  3. Holly April 7, 2011 at 6:17 am

    Hey Zev…..I remember in class when you spoke to this…and being the daughter and the niece of two woman who have MS….I have seen what you say to be true in every sense of the word.

    It’s a profound moment when one witnesses the evil qi, that for whatever reason, has become the part and parcel of the soul.

    Thanks for your post…it is beautifully written.

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