The Message of Illness

The part can never be well unless the whole is well.

Though many of us may have heard this axiom, we may not see or understand its applicability to our own health. We have become quite accustomed to treating our kidney, our anemia, our vertigo, or any other issue with our various “parts.” In fact, it is increasingly rare for health care providers to even ask us how we are doing in an overall sense—usually, the focus tends to be on the “malfunctioning part.”

While our marvelous progress in science and medicine has brought many life saving technologies and has indeed improved our physical health in many ways, one of the questions we still grapple with—even in something as minor as a cold—is why an illness chooses us, and why it manifests so differently across different people. Two children in the same house may have a cough at the same time: one of them dry, hacking and painful; the other one full of phlegm. One person’s respiratory allergies show up as incessant sneezing, while another has hardly any sneezing, but a constantly running nose. Due to our generic labeling of ailments as colds, allergies etc., we often tend to ignore these differences. However, they do beg the question— what is the meaning of all these variations within the same broad type of illness? In fact, it is only when we pay attention to “our own headache” as distinct from anyone else’s that we can truly begin to heal it. It is this very uniqueness which shows us what our body is trying to tell us and how it is guiding us towards wellbeing.

Almost all holistic therapies—homeopathy, ayurveda, acupuncture and the like—place a strong emphasis on healing ailments by first understanding what ails the person as a whole. This is not as much a psychological assessment, but a way of looking at the sickness itself as an expression of the entire system. In general, our bodies are very good at healing themselves, as we can see in the case of cuts, bruises, minor stomach upsets etc. It is when the body is not able to restore balance by its own efforts that it produces symptoms. Viewed in this way, our symptoms are our body’s call for help. A middle-ear block with temporary hearing loss may make you wonder— what is it that I don’t want to hear? An attack of flu with disproportionate tiredness—is my life balanced in terms of rest and activity? A tendency towards constipation—what am I holding on to that I can’t seem to let go of? And so on.

These are just generic examples. Each of our bodies is unique, and so are each of our symptoms. We each need to learn this language for ourselves and how it applies to us. It is, actually, quite easy to learn it—all that is needed is some creativity, lateral thinking and patience. Happily, if we can understand what is being communicated to us by our body, we are likely to be able to heal better, while also tacking the underlying imbalance which brought about the symptoms in the first place.

If you would like to understand this more, join us at our workshop in July — Let Your Body Speak: Discovering the Messages of Illness.