The importance of being ill
NYR Natural News
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Illness as meaning
The concept of the milestone illness is an important one, physically and psychologically. In his groundbreaking book the Healing Power of Illness, Thorwald Dethlefsen offers this opinion: “Time was when all parents knew than when a child survives a children’s illness (all ‘children’s illnesses’ are infectious illnesses) it takes a step forward in development or maturity. After the illness the child is no longer the same as before. The illness has brought about a change that has made it more mature.
But then it is not only childhood illnesses that have such a maturing effect. Just as the body emerges strengthened from each infectious illness that it survives, so the whole human being comes out of each conflict with greater maturity. For it is only challenges that make us strong and fit.”
A mind/body connection
We are all familiar with the idea of psychosomatic illness. Often it is used to describe someone who isn’t really ill at all, but whose illness has been brought on by a weak mind or emotion. But another way of looking at it is that the mind-body connection in humans is so strong that all illnesses are really psychosomatic (that is affecting both psyche/emotions and soma/body).
This is as true or children as it is for adults. In the book Natural Childhood, Dr Michaela Glockler reminds parents, “In illness we become a physical picture of what we still have to learn. In health, by contrast, we have an image of perfection we will achieve in the not too distant future.
The healthy body is an image of the nature of human beings: upright, open, exercising free choice, with the heart in the middle and all forces working in the right place and at the appropriate time, well ordered and controlled. Furthermore, as human beings we can have experiences through suffering and pain, provoking new questions and learning processes that transform us as individuals.”
The body speaks
Dethlefsen maintains a similar perspective on the subject of chronic conditions such eczema and the rashes he says “Rashes always indicate that something which has hitherto been held back (repressed) is trying to break through the repression in order to come to the light (consciousness). A rash allows something which was previously invisible to show itself.
This makes it perfectly understandable that nearly all childhood diseases such as measles, scarlet fever and rubella (German measles) should express themselves via the skin. With every childhood illness something new is breaking through into the child’s life, which is why so often childhood illness also brings with it a powerful stride forward in personal development.
The idea that the body speaks your mind is not new. Today it is increasingly gaining ground among alternative practitioners. Dethlefsen’s view may be hard for some of us to take on board. To do so requires a substantial shift in thinking and the way we act towards our children both in illness and in health. Yet, for those who believe in holistic health, there is no denying the validity of much of what he says.
Taking ideas such as this on board can change your world view dramatically. In a world full of sensory stimulation is the peace and quiet necessary for recovery when we have a cold, or example, just another way of switching off, a rational response to stress and tiredness?
After all, Dethlefsen reminds us, how often does a person with a cold say something like “stay away from me”. Initially it seems like a protective gesture aimed at those around us, but keeping people away may well have a protective effect for the sufferer as well. Other practitioners liken the alternately blocked and runny nose and watery eyes of chronic “colds” as an outpouring of otherwise uncried tears.
By starting to look symptoms in this way we can gain valuable insight into the things which we may find difficult to express and find all important meaning in something which might otherwise seems random and meaningless.