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Heal Thy Self

Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine

Heal Thy Self
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"Perhaps our real work, whether offering or seeking care, is to recognize that the healing relationship--the field upon which patient and practitioner meet--is, to use the words of the mythologist Joseph Campbell, a 'self-mirroring mystery'--the embodiment of a singular human activity that raises essential questions about self, other, and what it means to heal thy self."        
--Saki Santorelli

Today we are experiencing extraordinary technological advances in the diagnosis and treatment of illness while at the same time learning to take more responsibility for our own health and well-being. In this book, Saki Santorelli, director of the nationally acclaimed Stress Reduction Clinic, explores the ancient roots of medicine, and shows us how to introduce mindfulness into the crucible of the healing relationship, so that both patients and caregivers begin to acknowledge that we are all wounded and we are all whole. His approach revolutionizes the dynamics of the patient/practitioner relationship. In describing the classes at the clinic and the transformation that takes place in this alchemical process, he offers insights and effective methods for cultivating mindfulness in our everyday lives. As he reveals the inner landscape of his own life as a health care professional and we join him and those with whom he works on this journey of human suffering and courage, we become aware of and honor what is darkest and brightest within each one of us.


From the Hardcover edition.
Crown Publishing Group; April 2010
252 pages; ISBN 9780307556608
Download in EPUB
Excerpt
From Part One: Convergence

We are all substantially flawed, wounded, angry, hurt, here on Earth. But this human condition, so painful to us, and in some ways shameful--because we feel we are weak when the reality of ourselves is exposed--is made much more bearable when it is shared, face-to-face, in words that have expressive human eyes behind them.
--Alice Walker

Anything We Love Can Be Saved
The Myth of Chiron

Long ago, in ancient Greece, the great hero god Heracles was invited to the cave of the centaur Pholos. Chiron, a wise and beneficent centaur and a great master of healing, was also present. As a token of appreciation and hospitality, Heracles brought a flask of heady wine to the gathering. The rich, fragrant liquid attracted other centaurs who, unaccustomed to wine, became drunk and then began to fight. In the ensuing melee Chiron was struck in the knee by an arrow shot by Heracles.

Then Chiron instructed Heracles in the art of treating the wound. But because the arrow had been tipped with poison from the Hydra--a many-headed monster nearly impossible to slay--the wound would never fully heal. Capable of healing others, the greatest of healers was unable to completely heal himself; and, being immortal, Chiron lives forever with this wound as the archetypal wounded healer.

Following his wounding, Chiron received and trained thousands of students at his cave on Mount Pelion. It is said that one of these students was Asclepius, who learned from Chiron the knowledge of plants, the power of the serpent, and the wisdom of the wounded healer. It was through the lineage of Asclepius that Hippocrates began to practice the art and science of medicine.

Living Myth
It's Wednesday night at six o'clock, and I'm sitting in a circle with thirty people engaged in their first class at the Stress Reduction Clinic. For the first thirty minutes we talk, skimming the surface, remaining suspended over the deep pool of a yet unspoken but nonetheless shared human experience. And then, shoulder to shoulder, we slip into this vastness.

I ask, "Perhaps you can say your name . . . something about what brings you here . . . what expectations you have . . . what you hope for, as you sit here tonight." The man on my left begins. "My name is Frank. I have colon cancer. I've had surgery . . . I've been through radiation and chemo . . . But something's not right with me. I know it. I feel it. I feel stuck, kind of numb . . . everyone in my family feels it, too. I want to live my life differently . . . with more appreciation." The class becomes still and alert as he speaks. Everyone knows that, in his own way, Frank is speaking for all of us. The faintly audible yet unmistakable collective sigh when he stops speaking confirms this. Frank looks around, perhaps hearing and feeling as never before the reverberating impact and echo of his own words. Hopefulness brightens his eyes as he turns and looks my way. There is a silent nod between us. He closes his eyes, slides deep into the back of the chair, his cheeks wet with the tears of this pool.

Bill is on his left. He shuffles in his chair, leans forward, looks down, then begins. "My kids and I are fighting. There's tension between us a lot of the time. I really care about them. I love my work . . . it's a pressure cooker. Now I have high blood pressure. I don't like who I've become." He places his face between his hands, bends forward from the waist, and rests his elbows on his knees. His body seems momentarily enfolded in a wide, primal stillness, his eyes wrapped around years of accumulated memory. Then, drawn back into the room, he reconnects to the faces across from him and declares, "I've got to do something about it."

While Bill is speaking, the woman next to him crosses and uncrosses her legs. Right over left, left over right, unceasingly. Her head bobs up and down, matching the rhythm of her legs. Her hair falls forward across her face. She lifts it back behind her ears three or four times, then speaks in breathy, clipped bursts.

"I'm Rachel." She's quivering, trembling.
"I'm in recovery . . . I was clean." She begins to cry.
"For ten months . . . three months ago I used again . . . I've been clean three months." Now, she's sobbing.
"I've just been diagnosed HIV positive."

There's a shudder through the room. We are all sitting together, listening maybe to what our ears have never heard before--at least not at such close quarters--and do not want to hear now. I choose to console Rachel with neither words nor actions but instead to honor her truth by remaining still within the swirling water crashing against the coastline of our hearts. There is a long silence. Eyes look her way, dart my way. Closing. Opening. Silently speaking. Filling.
There are twenty-seven more stories to be with tonight. Twenty-seven more people. They know something about why they are here. Yet, as we listen together and speak, their knowing deepens. So does mine. I don't have colon cancer. I am not HIV positive, don't have high blood pressure, am not recovering from a heart attack. Yet I know that I too am addicted to a plethora of habitual emotional and mental states, sometimes obsess about my health, fight with my kids. Sometimes feel shame in the face of my perceived weakness and imperfection. Lose myself in the maelstrom of conditioned history, and know in my chest that there is really no substantive separation between them and me. For now, the present condition of our bodies is different. But behind this thin, temporary veil of demarcation, we are all patients. Patients, as captured in the Latin word patiens, whose root, pati, points to both our condition and our capacity to "undergo, endure, and bear suffering." This is our common ground, holding within itself
enormous potential. If we use it wisely, it can become a seedbed, bringing forth an awakening into the fullness of our lives.


From the Hardcover edition.