I had a fascinating conversation with a patient the other day. This patient had been in a few days prior, and on that first visit, they were feeling “on top of the world.” On the subsequent visit, their mood was low, and I could tell they were struggling. They wondered what had happened and why their symptoms returned. They thought maybe something I did made them worse. While anything is possible, I assured them that in this case, nothing had gone wrong at all and reminded them that the healing process is often pretty messy and not every day is going to be great.
The Real Healing Process
I know that is a tough pill to swallow. As patients, I know that you want to show up to my office and have me do my magic on you, and then you get off the table all fixed. Unfortunately, that just isn’t how it happens. When viewed on the whole, my role is rather small, significant but small, compared to the patient. The illusion that doctors heal people is a fallacy that doesn’t serve us anymore. A more mature understanding is that doctors can’t heal people because the healing power comes from inside of each of us.
Think about how many variables there are in our lives that impact our healing, diet, sleep, exercise, and attitude, just to name a few, and the physician influences only a few. I’m not saying that good doctoring isn’t relevant, but there is much more controlled by the patient in the final analysis than is controlled by the doctor. Because of that, the healing process is NEVER smooth. By design, it has ups and downs. Good days and bad days. Positive trends, plateaus, and periods that seem to be lows. WHEN WE FORGET THIS SIMPLE TRUTH, we miss out on the growth that we are entitled to experience through our own healing.
The Mountain and the Valley
If any of you have hiked to the top of a tall mountain like I have, you will probably recall that there isn’t much up there. Tammie and I just hiked to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park this weekend. What an amazing climb it was. I noticed that the closer to the top we went, the more barren it became. Maybe a few sparse patches of vegetation, one tree, and a lot of wind. There was very little “life” up there.
The vista was breathtaking, and our vision seemed limitless.
As we looked around, it seems that nature is teaching a valuable lesson. It’s hard to survive “on top of the world” every day.
Life is about cycles of ups and downs.
One of the great deceptions in life is that we think being “down” is bad, and when we’re down, it is easy to think that we’ll never be “up” again. I’ve certainly had that experience. I’ve been through some pretty rough patches in life. In the past, my default behavior during those rough patches was to put up a facade that “all is well” so I wouldn’t have to be vulnerable. I didn’t want anyone to see me struggle. I somehow picked up the notion that it was a sign of weakness to acknowledge that I needed some help. In my practice, I feared that if a patient came in and I wasn’t pretending to be super happy, they wouldn’t like to come back. Almost like they were buying my energy as part of the adjustment. I didn’t realize that by not being real, I may have prevented someone from teaching me what I needed to know at that moment to heal. Can any of you relate?
Real Healing Relationships
I love this season of my life and my practice because I am waking up to the beauty of “real” relationships. Those are based on openness and genuine concern. I’m waking up to the beauty of “real” healing. Embracing the cycles, patterns, and lessons hidden in the process for the patient (and for the doctor). I’m waking up to the value of not only being on the “top of the mountain,” where my vision is clear, and my ambition is high, but also the beauty of the valley, teeming with life and opportunity for growth.
Rene Daumal said it this way:
“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.”
This principle was taught to me originally by one of my favorite early chiropractic mentors, Dr. Arno Burnier. I thought I’d share this video clip from that event with you. (You’ll notice that he is speaking to a group of chiropractors, but of course, this is a universal principle. Also, he’s got a pretty thick French accent that I just love, but you might have to focus a bit, so you don’t miss anything.