The archetypal role of the physician, and by extension allied health professionals, has historically been cast as the healer. Healing however does not actually mean restoration of health. This recasting of the health professional out of the role of the healer might create cognitive dissonance, until we explore the language of healing further. The NIH is undertaking the considerable task of defining healing. It seems ludicrous that our health care system has not already sought to study healing as a primary objective of health care services, that is until we comprehend that healing is a process driven by the patient that exists outside of the billable deliverable services and interventions that fuel our health care enterprises. One definition of healing is an inner agency that gives a degree of relief from suffering, an inner agency that the patient must find within the depths of his or her own psyche. Another is the human experience of self -discovery and transformation that results in a sense of being whole and connected.

The National Institutes of Health has begun to research factors related to healing. Their work identified the following three primary factors that are considered to be interrelated constructs. They are:

  • connection
  • reflection & introspection
  • trust & acceptance.

The paper describes connection to belief in and relationship with a higher power and includes religion, religious community, and family. Reflection and introspection refer to finding meaning, purpose, gratitude and joy in nature. It includes activities that connect one’s own mind and body, interconnectedness with others, present moment orientation, and an increased sense of awareness about the fragility of life. The third category refers to accepting what is, feeling resolved, feeling at peace, and trusting that caregivers, friends, and family will respond to needs as they arise.

Eastern traditions deeply challenge Western views of healing, starting with the perspective that the patient’s true nature exists as a subtle (non-putative) field of vital energy. This vitality is regarded as intelligent, wise, formless, nameless and not subject to the suffering of the body, mind or emotions. Suffering is understood to come from being born into embodied form, forgetting our formless nature and mistaking our form as our I-ness Therefore, by virtue of these previous definitions of healing as individual transcendence of suffering, Eastern views consider the patient ˜s essential nature as healed. Yoga philosophy predates Buddhism, as well as all scientific literature related to human health and healing. Its teachings and practices create a path to healing via the alleviation of suffering by a process of remembering or awakening to one’s inherent fullness/wholeness.

There are commonalities and differences in these perspectives. An existing model that integrates both perspectives can be found in the Whole Health Model. It represents a contemporary and secular model that touches upon the deep wisdom of Eastern traditions. It illustrates unity through its use of circles, elevates the role of self care in health and posits a non-hierarchical placement of stakeholders.






Intention Setting

Intention setting is often confused with establishing a goal. Discerning the difference is an essential teaching because our intentions continually shape our reality; alternatively expressed as we reap what we sow. Intention describes how we will BE in order to HAVE what we seek. Intention is oriented to the mechanics of the fulfillment of the desire that is motivating our goal. Gaining clarity on what is truly desired is a necessary step in the process of drilling down to the G.R.A.C.E. step to recall intention. To clarify your desire, you have two choices. First, you can reverse engineer an important current goal to understand why it really matters to you. This is desire/what is sought to be experienced from achieving the goal. If you are in a phase of not having clear goals, you can again reverse engineer your way to clarifying your desire by considering what you have been tolerating in life. The opposite of that is likely a desire around which a goal can be established.

Once desire is clear, then we get to our intention by consider what conditions are necessary to support the desire that is the primary motivator for attaining the goal. For example, this pandemic has imposed more time at home for many of us, which may have led to one or more projects. Maybe the project involves decluttering a home office, building a patio or learning to play a guitar. Fast forward and imagine deeply enjoying the benefits of your completed project and experiencing feelings of _____? Several choices may fill the blank, so take the time TO FEEL each one to identify the most satisfying feeling as a clue to desire. Our body is our best ally here, so mindfully observe bodily sensations of this projected future enjoyment more so than using cognitive processes. How is the body responding to each of the five senses within this projection of goal achievement? Is smiling or frowning present? Recall observations of whatever is happening now are made with a spirit of curiosity and kindness, to feel all feelings without judging them as good or bad.

Let’s say project completion would satisfy a desire to FEEL organized or calm or strong or focused or creative. To hone intention, dig deep by looking for a desire may be behind the first desire which is really to BE this way in life as it is right now. Intention is stated in the present tense: I AM ___ (calm, organized, strong, focused, creative etc.). Once intention is stated, then pay attention to all the conditions that could support it, right now. These conditions will map out an ideal self-care plan as they will articulate the mechanics of the fulfillment of the desire motivating the pursuit of the goal. Self-care generated in this way does not create a to DO list but rather an intended way to BE, right now . Perhaps one may BE rested, attentive, creative, well-nourished, playful, etc., as conditional for experiencing the intention statement I AM ___. Recalling intention for self-care in this way makes it sustainable by directly supporting what is valued most.

The When of Self-Compassion

Recall that the act of compassion begins first with recognizing suffering is happening, then responding to relieve it. Here, now in the midst of the disruption of our lives by the corona-virus is an opportune time for noticing your suffering is likely to be present. Using your body-mind as a laboratory, notice the breadth of your somatic experience in response to suffering the uncertainty and separation imposed by this event. What is occurring in your muscular and digestive systems? How does your breath change as you meet new challenge after new challenge in the day? Can you focus your attention? How are decisions being made when your nervous system is likely in sympathetic overdrive? What has changed about your mood and sleep quality? Explore all that is happening within to be able to accurately respond with self-care. This is paramount to support your immune system.

Because humans are in fact in a dynamic system of systems in perpetual state of physiological change, it is very instructive to conceptually regard yourself as a happening. This is a simple yet profound teaching I have been most grateful to receive in my yoga and meditation training. What is happening within you and around you are being influenced by your internal and external environment in a co-emergent process. In times of great disruption such as this, wise leadership is essential. Good leaders stay attuned to the interplay of self and others as they navigate new terrain. Creative solutions arise when we are curious, activated and inspired by the challenge rather than paralyzed by fear of failure. So how do we attune to ourselves as a happening?

Radical times call for radical self-compassion which is advocated beautifully by psychotherapist and mindfulness meditation teacher, Tara Brach, PhD. I have found great comfort in following her guidance into a state of self-compassion using this particular practice: R.A.I.N. ( right click to link) It uses both the metaphor of a soothing, soft, cleansing rain and the acronym. In keeping with the groundwork described above, we are encouraged to be present so as to recognize that suffering is happening. Once recognized, then we connect to the somatic experience of what is happening now and actually allow ourselves to feel. Being kind and curious with the quality of our attention, we stay present and investigate so we can nurture ourselves in just the right way. You are encouraged to visit this link for more guidance in this practice of self-compassion. Take the time for self-care amidst all that is happening.

The What & How of Compassion

Life always calls for compassion! Generating compassion for family, friends and community when we are all in this time of disruption may be more challenging than usual. Humanitarian, author and Zen Buddhist scholar Roshi Joan Halifax describes the following four conditions as a map for creating compassion: the capacity to attend to the experience of others; to feel concern for others; to sense into what will serve others and to act in order to enhance the well- being of others. That is the what of compassion and following is the how of compassion.

To be able to follow this map and navigate the terrain to generate these conditions for compassion, she teaches a process of G.R.A.C.E. To begin, we gather our attention. The affirmation Be Here Now is useful. To get here, use the instruction to put your mind and body in the same place at the same time. Do this preferably by placing attention on feeling one place in your body where you are already receiving strong input based on your homunculus (face, hands genitals, feet). Take a few slow breaths, with a long exhale.

The next G.R.A.C.E. step is to recall intention. Connect to what is motivating you to do what you are doing right now and FEEL its alignment with your values. As you prepare to engage, attune to self and other. Using the perspective of yourself as a happening in continual co-creation with your environment (inner, outer, other), pause and sense into your somatic experience all that is happening in your interaction as it unfolds. While we may be conditioned to react to the situation at hand with either helping or fixing, Halifax reminds us to consider what will serve. When we respond with service, we are appreciating the whole context of the situation and acting skillfully to relieve the suffering we have attuned to by sensing what is happening in ourselves and the other person. Engage and end is her final step. Once you are clear on what will serve, take the compassionate action you are able to take with the resources at hand. Sometimes this engagement may generate creative solutions for meaningful change. Other times, engagement is bearing witness together the suffering we experience in the uncertainty of not knowing the outcome of our situation. End with creating some symbolic gesture, such as shaking out your hands, or momentarily bowing your head, to signal to yourself you are closing the encounter to prepare for a next encounter.

Valuing Self Care

Self care is really an act of self -compassion. Compassion arises in response to witnessing suffering in ourselves or others. Suffering is a strong word, but feeling it for ourselves and others is what motivates us to act to change the experience. We can wrap our hearts around suffering if we understand it as what we experience whenever we want something to be happening differently than it is happening right now. Viewed in this way, we are likely in need of self compassion on a daily basis!
Any self-care practices we choose to adopt needs to regarded as valuable to us and be created by us in ways that we find pleasurable in order to be sustainable. Referring to value as described in this graphic by social scientist Dr. Brene Brown, do you value self-care? Determining value for self-care, that is rooted in self -compassion is essential; otherwise, we may adopt a mistaken view that our self-care is one more thing to add to our to do list, or a self-help tool we use to fix what we have come to believe is broken.




Rehearse your ABC’s to introduce yourself to the practicing self compassion:

A: Attitude
Adopt a curious attitude along with an intention to pay kind attention to yourself as you learn a novel skill of experiencing self-compassion. Consider this an introduction to loving-kindness.
B: Be here now.
Pay attention to whether your body and your mind are in the same place at the same time in each activity you engage in through the day. Locating your attention is the first step in training your attention. Consider this an introduction to mindfulness.
C: Connect
Once you have found your body, attempt to stay connected to feeling your body do whatever it is you are doing. Your attention will likely wander repeatedly. The trick of the training is noticing if and when you have disconnected and then kindly re-connect yourself. Consider this an introduction to non-judgement.

Most of us will be drawn to engage in that which we enjoy, so be playful with your foray into new territory.