In my role as a “mind-body” physician for the past three decades, I’ve come to recognize a person’s symptoms as a kind of admission pass that entitles the bearer to a few moments of a doctor’s attention. And I’ve come to realize that if I can hold a safe space for the sufferer, an underlying story – a story that at its heart is about giving or receiving love – will be revealed to me. Only when I can coax the hidden meaning of the illness into the open, does true healing begin.

Like a young child, the body communicates its needs in a relatively simple and straightforward manner. When you listen to these signals and address the basic needs they represent, your body responds by producing chemicals of comfort. When you fail to heed your body’s message, its calls become louder, until at some point, it will not be ignored.

When a doctor “fixes” someone without exploring the story behind the illness, the symptoms may subside but the unmet needs will persist, and the person’s mental, emotional, and physical health will remain vulnerable. A migraine sufferer’s headaches may be less intense with medication, but her insomnia becomes more troublesome. The pain relievers prescribed to reduce a lawyer’s backache lead to an escalation of his digestive complaints. Pharmacologically suppressing a stay-at-home mom’s anxiety shifts her focus to chronic fatigue. The body is trying to tell us something, but rather than hearing the message, conventional medicine’s tendency is to use drugs as more effective sound barriers.

There is rarely a simple explanation for physical or emotional illness, and looking for the deeper story does not mean assigning blame when your body becomes ill or your mind becomes distressed. Pursuing the answer to why people become ill is only of value if it leads to more productive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The last thing a suffering person needs is the additional burden of thinking that they caused their illness or could have prevented it if they had made other choices. Responsibility and blame are not the same. One uplifts and empowers, the other weakens and depletes.

The essence of responsibility is recognizing that regardless of what has happened up until now, we are capable of making new choices that can improve our situation moving forward. We always have the ability to respond in creative ways that allow for something new to emerge.

Each week at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, I see guests struggling with challenges that at times seem overwhelming. Serious physical or emotional issues are exhausting, but when people are willing to look at the story behind their illness (which ultimately is a story they have been telling to themselves), do the work of releasing the toxic emotions they’ve been carrying, and begin thinking and doing things differently, healing and transformation occur.

To reach this level of awareness, it can be helpful to recall how human beings become who we are. Each of us has a unique story to tell, and yet there are universal themes that shape all our lives. In the next two weeks, let’s explore the basic themes that define the human condition. Once you understand how you came to be who you are, you will be in a better position to become the person you want to be.

Ready to start your journey? Post your intent and blog about your journey!

David Simon, M.D. is the Co- Founder, CEO and Medical Director of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Dr. Simon is dedicated to catalyzing the evolution of the prevailing health care system into a healing system that encompasses the emotional, spiritual as well as physical health of the individual. His new book Free to Love, Free to Heal: Heal Your Body by Healing Your Emotions comes out on June 25, 2009.

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