‘Diagnosis’ in Life Medicine and Life Doctoring does not mean seeking a medical label or ‘cause’ for one’s symptoms. It means getting to know oneself in an intimate feeling way (gnosis) through (dia) one’s symptoms. Illness symptoms not only ‘affect’ one’s life and one’s overall mental, emotional or somatic state. They are themselves the expression of a ‘self state’ or ‘body identity’ – a particular way of feeling oneself bodily in a particular life context or situation. Every bodily state or condition in other words, is not just something ‘physical’ but is at the same time a state of consciousness – and vice versa. It is also a ‘self state’ or ‘body identity’. That is why through giving ourselves time to simply feel our symptoms more intensely rather than less – we can come to understand them in a new way – not as signs of some possible ‘disease’ but as symbolic expressions of a felt dis-ease relating to one or more aspect of our life – and also constituting a distinct state of consciousness, ‘self state’ or ‘body identity’ in its own right.
The key to self-healing is to feel and sense the symptoms we experience in a new way – not just as localised physical sensations or mental-emotional states however, but as self-states – as ways of feeling oneself and one’s life. Any symptoms, if fully felt and followed in this way – meditated rather than medicated – will lead inevitably to healing insights into one’s life and to a renewed and transformed sense of self. This is not because we are ‘curing’ ourselves without biomedical treatment, but because it is our very existence – our relation to life – that is what is most essentially calling for healing.
As in the ‘Process-Oriented’ work of Arnold Mindell, ‘healing’ can take the form of actively encouraging the patient to amplify or ‘aggravate’ their felt sensations of pain or discomfort – to feel them more intensely or acutely rather than less. What Mindell found was that this could bring about the release of emotions, mental images and inner comprehensions that expressed the felt meaning of their symptoms. Mindell has applied this method to all types of symptoms, and to all dimensions of the patient’s experience of illness – mental, emotional and somatic.
If a patient fears or wishes for death for example, he might ask them, there and then, to die – thus encouraging them to fearlessly feel and face the ‘death process’. He understood also that for some patients, as in essence it is for all of us, death itself is nothing to be fought against in principle – as biological medicine does – but it is an intrinsic part of life and is invariably a healing in itself i.e. a way of finding life meaning and fulfilment in other dimensions of reality in ways that might be or have become impossible in an individual’s physical life and existence.
Like Life Medicine, Mindell’s work challenges the historic and hitherto unquestioned premise of all forms of medicine – the fundamental belief that its purpose is to treat and if possible ‘cure’ disease and thereby also to prolong physical life and the life of the physical body. Ideas of a ‘life after death’ are considered to be a mere matter of personal ‘belief’ rather than a scientific question – not surprisingly given that current ‘science’ ignores the fact that the ‘soul’ itself has its own innate bodily form, and that our felt body, as a body of awareness, is indeed also an eternal ‘soul body’ which, like our dream body, has its source and reality in other dimensions of awareness beyond the physical. Indeed Mindell speaks of what I term the felt body or ‘lived body’ – in other words our eternal soul body or body of awareness – as the ‘dreambody’ or ‘dreaming body’.
This is a significant term for another reason. For it reflects also a deep comprehension that symptoms of illness emerge in the same way as dreams do and that illnesses can be understood as ‘body dreams’ – as embodied dreams – or nightmares. From this point of view it makes no more sense to regard sickness as an ‘unnatural’ deviation from a ‘normal’ state of health than it does to regard dreaming as an unnatural or abnormal disruption of sleep, or to regard nightmares in particular as an ‘unhealthy type’ of dream. The biomedical model of illness on the other hand, based as it is on the premise that illness is a meaningless deviation from health, is as outdated as certain pre-Freudian ‘scientific’ beliefs that dreams are meaningless discharges of neurological energy. Instead of seeing dreams as a mere function or by-product of some organ of the physical body – the brain – Life Medicine understands the so-called ‘physical’ body itself as an embodiment of our subjectively felt or lived body, itself a subjective body or body of feeling awareness – our ‘soul body’. It is this body that we experience directly both in our dreams and after death – and that expresses itself in and as our entire dream environment and every other body we experience in it. The terms ‘dream body’ or ‘dreaming body’ thus points to a fundamental truth – namely that we do not first ‘have’ a physical body which we then come to feel and experience subjectively. Instead what we call ‘the body’ is most essentially a specific field pattern of awareness or pattern of feeling awareness – one which bodies itself in both the process of dreaming and through its physical embodiment in waking life.
Dreaming on the one hand, and what Heidegger called bodying on the other, are thus intimately connected. In dreaming we body our feeling awareness in non-physical forms. Conversely, in waking life we ‘dream’ that feeling awareness into a specific physical form. Yet our ‘felt body’ – our subjective feeling awareness of this ‘physical’ body is in reality a distinct body of awareness in its own right – a ‘soul body’ that we both manifest physically and also give manifold form to in our dreams. Hence the type of connections between dream symbols and physical symptoms that Freud was aware of and that revealed themselves in the following example of what Mindell calls ‘healing through feeling’ – a basic and innate capacity of our feeling awareness or ‘soul’ and its body.