When we talk about healing, what is it that we actually mean? According to the Oxford dictionary it means “to become sound or healthy again,” to “alleviate a person’s distress or anguish,” or “to correct, or put right.” Each definition implies that something has been lost that must be found again, or “put right.” When we think of the word healing, often images of wounds or illness come to the forefront of mind. Why is it that we have taken this beautifully complex word and reduced it to its lowest form….that of loss, injury, or brokenness?
In religious traditions, we speak of healing as a path to deliverance or as an alleviation of sin. The word emerges countless times throughout scriptures. Notably in Isaiah 58:8, “Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.” Beautifully written and uplifting, it seems to capture something of the nature of healing in that appears to spring from within, but we are still left with the idea that there is something lacking in us which requires fixing or nudging back to righteousness. Does this capture the full truth?
Modern medicine has attempted to lay claim to the field of healing and health, and with all of our advances in pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, treatments and procedures, it sometimes appears as if we have found the magic healing bullet we have been seeking. Yet, with the U.S. spending higher amounts on healthcare than other industrialized nations with less positive health outcomes in terms of chronic illnesses and life expectancies (Squires & Anderson, 2015), our medicine, at least in this country, appears to be more of a band-aid than a healing salve.
And so we are left with the original question, what exactly is healing? Maybe full use of this wonderfully complex word requires a little creativity and a return to its origins. One origin of the word heal is the Old English word hāl, meaning “whole.” Wholeness feels like it provides good, strong, healthy foundations for the word. And perhaps we can go further. Healing as a return to wholeness implies that there is some state that exists for us in which we have never lost anything, never felt broken or ill or sad. This state conjures images for us of purity, of beauty and youth, of innocence….of perfection, perhaps. But is that really what we seek….perfection? Those of us who’ve been on that merry-go-round understand the futility of that expedition (hands raised please!).
So, are we to throw our hands up in the air and claim the quest for healing to be a lost cause? Let’s not give up that easy! Let’s expand “wholeness” for a second to include the broadness of that concept. Wholeness means fullness, totality, all. And when we think of the concept of “all,” all necessarily includes all of the bad parts of life, the pain and the hurt and the mistakes, along with the joy and celebration. And so perhaps we can broaden our understanding of healing to encompass all of that wholeness, all of the bright and sorrowful experiences in life, all of its ups and downs and ins and outs. Healing may be less of a fixing than we previously thought and more of an experiencing, an experiencing of all that life has to offer us… and perhaps the getting lost part is just as important as being found. Getting lost or ill or feeling a little broken is just one more expansion of what was previously known to us in our quest to reach that totality of ourselves….and the upswing is all the sweeter for it. So perhaps all we need to understand of healing is that it only requires that we be present, right here, right now, in the heart of our experience.