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.