Healing can come in many ways. It has dangers. It is also powerful. It can come from a single sentence or an invasive surgery. Obviously different problems need different solutions. Most healing needs ritual.
The dangers are those of dependence and disempowerment. If you believe in another's capacity to heal you, rather than feeling it is a mutually shared process and responsibility, then you can give away the feeling of power in relationship to your body. Your attitude to your body is a chicken and egg situation. And possibly the great lesson of a healing situation is a change in these attitudes.
This is where the power comes in, because a healing situation is a life turning moment. How we handle it decides the future in a more powerful way than many everyday situations.
Even going to a mainstream western doctor is a ritual process. Ritual is a cultural process of meaningful actions which invoke and evoke the power of the emotions, the body, the society and, according to many, the spirit to bring about change or to mark it.
The doctor has been through a qualification which takes a particular cultural form. The room, the uniform, the tools or instruments and the ingestion of affective substances are parts of ritual in almost every healing ceremony in cultures around the world. From a psychological, cultural and anthropological point of view the relationship of the doctor to her or his patients is not much different to that of the priest to a parisher or the witch doctor. The patient is somewhat unusual if they have the knowledge and/or interest to participate in the ritual in any other way.
Each culture has its own rationalizations and, therefore meanings, for each part of the healing process. A lot of what is done by GP's and other doctors is not scientifically tested, it just makes sense, cultural sense. It is ritual. However it is the science behind the rest of what doctors recommend that makes the Western healing ritual so effective compared to other systems.
Western scientists and medicos seem to think of placebo affect as a powerful enemy of true healing and so they organise double blind experiments in order to be able to isolate it from the therapeutic affect. Or else they think it is not worth or possible to include it in the consciously exercised therapeutic process. We hear people, including scientists and medicos arguing against complimentary medicines, saying it's "only placebo affect" but as the ritual process of science shows it is more than 'only'. It seems underestimated in the therapeutic process of Western medicine, for example it is not talked about as a useful technique in medical schools, as a necessary part of the psychology of the healing situation. Science's understanding of the affects of the mind on the body grows quickly, catching up to the East slowly but surely. Some of that knowing is epitomised our changing attitudes to the placebo affect.
The rituals of the visit to the doctor has a powerful placebo elements to it. The authority figure telling you things has amazing affects on stress levels for most people and has an important role in the therapeutic process. For some people if the authority figure has training in Western mainstream medicine he has little credibility, whilst to others having naturopathic training means little.
The importance of the medical ritual is demonstrated by the way that even those who rebel against it, still use elements of it - uniforms (the white coat!), variations of the instrumentation (eg computer sensing systems), the office arrangements and even the scientific and/or pseudo-scientific legitimation - only with different rationalisations and meanings for them.
Traditional medicines in most cultures acknowledge the placebo affect, importance of the mind, through the elaborate forms of associative logic and correspondences they use to explain some therapeutic techniques and substances. Connecting them to the larger systems of cosmology which arrange the world for them. For example, ginseng is said to be an important herbal remedy because the root has a shape similar to a man. It happens that ginzeng has some chemistry that maybe useful as drugs, in the Western meaning of therapeutic substances.
In a way spiritual healing and therapeutic touch are pure placebo because their power comes out of the relationship, the ritual shared. This is not to say that we won't find physiological mechanisms for their power. It is likely when it comes down to it their power will come out of the very real physiology of the emotions and the reality that they are an expression of the core relationship of the mind and body.
It is also likely that spiritual healing and therapeutic touch may arise out of different aspects of the healing process than the scientifically-based systems have yet to examine. In fact the hardest aspects of the therapeutic process to measure are the subjective, or the inner life, parts. For example the experience and idea variously called 'energy', 'chi', 'qi', 'ki', 'prana', 'spirit' so prevalent in New Age thinking and complimentary medicines are expressions for the subjective experience of the physiology of emotional and other experiences married to how we interpret their meaning.
Of course this is a utilitarian or pragmatic definition and does not address the paranormal or non-material - spiritual - explanations used by many. It neither argues against or for these spiritual explanations, it is just an alternative. Like all the definitions generally given in this area, it is unprovable either way - true or false. The problem with explanations which can not be proved is that they are conversation stoppers and argument starters.
Unless you already agree with one particular explanation, in which case you are forced into becoming a student or a teacher, a follower or a leader, depending on how well you've developed the ideas and experiences, the sense of authority you have and the charisma with which you project it. But if you can get independent proof then you can meet as equals, in community, and have a conversation and share. This is probably why the modern spiritual journey is much more eclectic than the traditional version, it is science's effect on mysticism.
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