“Calmness or harmony is a natural aspect of the mind.” – Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, January 2000
When I think of the term ‘spiritual’ in combination with medicine or healing, it brings forth divergent images. One is the evangelist preacher, gasping on each breath as he talks about the healing spirit of God, palming the forehead of his collapsing follower. Another is the tribal shamanic healer, adorned as an animal, chanting and gyrating around his ‘client’. Alternately, I think of the healing group meditating or praying for a beloved member or a stranger on the other side of the world, or a silent healer, eyes closed, holding her hands over the afflicted individual.
Whether we believe a particular form of spiritual medicine works or not, the term is often used to describe the evocation of a force external to the suffering person that enters them in an often mysterious fashion to create a change. It is often attributed to a subtle energy, exchanged from one person to another or from a higher power (God) to the person to be healed.
Another understanding of spiritual healing exists, however, one in which the healing force does not arise from the outside but instead is the upwelling of the wisdom or spirit of the body itself, restoring functions to areas that were dysfunctional. The body ‘knew’ how to work correctly once so is that knowledge now lost?
If there is an inner spirit, an inner wisdom, for each body part, organ, gland and the abilities or functions of those parts, how does it get lost or subverted into disease? To understand one mechanism at least, we need to look at learning.
Spirit becomes a functional life through learning
Every living organism, from a single celled organism to an insect or a human, has something in common, they all LEARN.
Even the very beating of the heart is learning, passed down genetically. All function, whether it is the secretion of a hormone or a complex act like cooking breakfast, is formatted by learning. Learning is the mechanism the wisdom of the body uses to interact with the complexity of life. Learning may be called the means life uses to express itself.
Of course, this learning isn’t from books; it is picked up automatically, on-the-fly. It is the result making uncounted numbers of tiny decisions at every moment, and organizing those decisions into an automatic behavior that is then repeated and applied to future situations, without any decision when needed.
From the simple act of cooking breakfast we can see many examples of the complexity of learning. The feeling of hunger, for instance, and its interpretation is the sum total of all the times in the past that you were hungry, what foods you like or don’t like, what you learned growing up about satisfaction of needs, what you have come to think of as good food, all of that is learning. The muscles used for cooking, postures of standing and using a spatula, when …