Holism and the Laws of Nature in the Healing Process

by Matthew Appleton

The Fulcrum, Issue 74 May 2018

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Holism and the Healing Crisis

The term ‘holism’ was first coined by the South African statesman and philosopher Jan Christian Smuts. His book Holism and Evolution (published in 1926) sets forth his influential philosophy from which the science of holography was to take its name. His definition was profoundly important to the philosophy of holistic medicine. After reading Smuts’ book, Albert Einstein was to declare that Smuts’ concept of holism and his own theory of relativity were the two essential ‘mental constructs’ that would guide human thinking for the next millennium.¹ Defining his concept of holism, Smuts wrote:

‘We find… a great unifying creative tendency of a specific holistic character in the universe,  operating through and sustaining the forces and activities of nature and life and mind, and  giving ever more of a distinctive holistic character to the universe. This creative tendency or  principle we call Holism. Holism in all its endless forms is the principle which works up the raw material or unorganised energy units of the world, utilises, assimilates and organises them, endows them with specific structure and character and individuality, and finally with personality, and creates beauty and truth and value from them.’²

While craniosacral therapists talk about the Breath of Life as an organising force, Smuts talks about holism as a ‘creative tendency or principle’. The use of the word ‘Wholes’ is a coherent expression of this creative principle at work within nature.

‘The creation of wholes, and ever more highly organised wholes, and of wholeness generally as characteristic of existence, is an inherent character of the universe. There is not a mere vague indefinite creative energy or tendency at work in the world. This energy or tendency has specific characters, the most fundamental of which is whole-making.’³

In describing holism and wholes, Smuts seems to be alluding to a principle that resonates with our understanding of the biodynamic forces at work in the living organism. These are just different ways of describing the same thing. With this understanding of holism we can confidently describe CST as a holistic approach.

The terms ‘holistic’ and ‘holism’ have become generally synonymous with complementary medicine and alternative therapy. However their over-use and misuse have unfortunately resulted in a loss of any real meaning. Many ‘alternative’ therapies operate in ways that are more akin to allopathic medicine and have no real understanding of the philosophical foundation of holism. A ‘fix-it’ approach to symptoms does not work when considering the whole person or the movement toward Wholeness.

The expression of symptoms, at least in their initial acute state, can be thought of as an expression of the movement towards Wholeness, not a problem to be fixed. Symptoms arise when the potency at work in the organism tries to free itself of the conditions that have bound it up in inertia. The act of fixating on and suppressing symptoms inhibits this process and only acts to reinforce and further entrench any inertia – regardless of whether suppression is from a natural or synthetic source. A natural suppressant may be more gentle and therefore preferable to a synthetic one, but the essential question is whether we are working with the Intelligence of the organism or against it? Are we supporting the movement towards Wholeness, or inhibiting it?

When we treat specific symptoms without an understanding of how the treatment may affect the organism as a whole, by definition, we are not treating holistically. For example, the skin is an organ of elimination. It discharges underlying pathogenic processes and stress responses through spots, rashes, eczema etc. If these are suppressed, the symptomatic responses are driven deeper into the body, where they will disrupt the functioning of the deeper organs. So, if the skin’s ability to discharge is blocked, such as with eczema, whether by the use of steroid creams or a ‘natural’ product, the disease process often manifests as asthma. The action of the potency has been diverted to the lungs, which are also organs of elimination. However the lungs would not be the organism’s first choice as they provide a less effective and more dangerous route of discharge. Suppression of the original symptoms also confuses and obscures the organism’s inherent Intelligence so that the symptoms then manifest as a chronic condition, rather than an acute one.

If we understand that symptoms are an attempt to move towards Wholeness, then we must also be aware that if we try to treat them by supporting that process, it is likely that the symptoms may initially get stronger. One way to think of this is that the body is trying to tell a story.

Imagine your friend listens deeply and empathically to your story. You feel heard. This supports your connection to your experience. You feel the story more intensely as you tell it. You become more expressive as you feel your friend’s empathic engagement with what you are saying. When you reach the end of your story there is a sense of satisfaction or relaxation. You feel understood. You have released the energy that was pent up inside you. It is this quality of deep listening that we bring to the body when we make our contact in a CST session. We encourage the Intelligence of the organism to speak to us, to tell us what has been going on and what needs to happen. This quality of engagement stokes up the flames of the organism’s vital force and mobilises its potency. This supports the body to eliminate what is restricting and disturbing it. When symptoms become stronger, as more vitality is available to overthrow the body’s inertia, we call it a ‘healing crisis’. As such, a healing crisis can be thought of as an expression of nature’s wisdom at work. It is an acute response resulting from the biodynamic forces finding new strength to eliminate toxicity and pathological conditions. It arises naturally as we move towards a new state of balance. It can be an essential phase of the inherent treatment plan, especially if the condition has been suppressed for sometime. Although the short-term experience may be uncomfortable, as the condition moves from a chronic state to an acute stage, the general direction is towards recovery. This is in accordance with the self-healing, holistic tendencies of the Breath of Life.

A healing crisis may be mild or severe. It may be physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual. It may take some time to gain momentum and then resolve. In order to support it we need patience and an understanding of the underlying processes at work. We also need to distinguish a healing crisis from a ‘disease crisis’. If toxicity has accumulated over many years and becomes symptomatic in an acute form, the body’s capacity to process it may become overwhelmed. This may be life threatening, as in the case of sepsis. In such circumstances the acute symptoms are an expression of the disease process gaining ascendancy over the biodynamic forces, rather than the biodynamic forces gaining ascendancy over the disease process. This is a ‘disease crisis.’ In a disease crisis the body is not able to maintain the integrity of Wholeness, but moves instead to reorganise at a lower level of functioning. Death is at the extreme end of this spectrum.

In a disease crisis the strong interventional approach of allopathic medicine, with the use of  powerful drugs or surgery, is usually needed to pull us out of danger. Only when the immediate danger is over can the real healing work be done. One of the blind spots of allopathic medicine is that it tends to treat a healing crisis as if it were a disease crisis. The body is treated like a mechanism to be mended, rather than a vital organism trying to move towards Wholeness. Symptoms are dismissed as the failure of a mechanism. As long as we see symptoms as a sign that something has gone wrong, we can never connect with the Intelligence behind them. It is often the treating of a healing crisis as a disease crisis that, in time, turns the healing crisis into a disease crisis.

Conversely, a blind spot that can sometimes give complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners a bad name is when a disease crisis is mistaken for a healing crisis. While not as common as the media would have us believe, when it does happen it attracts the critics like the proverbial flies to s**t! But let us consider what are called iatrogenic or ‘doctor induced’ conditions. In 2004 in the UK adverse drug reactions were responsible for more than 10,0004 deaths, as compared with 3,221 deaths in road accidents. A further 40,000 patients became ill enough to be admitted to hospital, costing the NHS over £400,000,000 a year. These figures are at best conservative. It has been estimated that they represent only a small percentage of the real figure, as they represent only the most obvious and clearly identifiable cases.5 Another study from 1981 revealed that iatrogenic conditions were responsible for 36% of all admissions to a hospital in Boston.6 These kind of figures rarely make the news, but it only takes one or two scare stories about a CAM therapist to circulate and the media is screaming for tighter regulations. The deck is not, as they say, evenly stacked.

Nevertheless, it is important for us as CAM practitioners to be aware of and address our own blind spots. Legitimate mistakes are possible in any approach, be it CAM or allopathic medicine, but ongoing ignorance is not good enough, if we wish to do our best for our clients. There is a wealth of knowledge that we can call upon and the more we can integrate these sometimes diverse sources into a coherent philosophy of healing, the better we can support our clients.

Clients often have responses to sessions that, if we do not understand them, may strike us as undesirable or even make us wonder whether we have done something wrong. This is one of the most common concerns that I meet in newly qualified CST practitioners in my role as a supervisor. The question is: how can we distinguish between a healing crisis and a disease crisis? Healing is not a random process and, if we understand the laws of nature, we can follow the path of true healing.

Constantine Herring (1800-1880), an American Homeopath, formulated what has become known as ‘Herring’s Law of Cure’. It provides a simple but invaluable guide to help navigate through what can feel like hazardous territory. It simply states: ‘Cure proceeds from above downwards, from within outward, from the most important organs to least important organs, and in the reverse appearance of the onset of symptoms.7 Based on observations of people’s responses to homeopathic remedies these laws of cure are equally applicable to CST.

So let’s look at Herring’s first observation: ‘Cure proceeds from above downwards’. What this means is that symptom relief is usually felt in the upper part of the body first. For example, someone with arthritis may experience relief in the joints of the upper body, before it is felt in the lower body. Knowing this helps us differentiate brief periods of relief from a truly curative process. The logic behind this is that the organism is prioritising the most vital organs, such as the brain, heart and lungs, by pushing the stress or toxicity into the lower body. Pre- and peri-natal therapy with babies and adults in regression reveals that prenates do this in the womb. When noxious substances are conveyed through the umbilical cord, the diaphragm is utlilised to ‘shunt’ these substances into the lower half of the body to protect the more vital organs in the upper half of the body.8

Herring’s second observation states: ‘cure proceeds… from within outward, from the most important organs to the least important organs’. This recognises that the organism tries to externalise disease, driving disease away from the deeper, internal levels, where our vital organs are located, to the more superficial, external levels. So, for example, someone with asthma may develop eczema as part of the healing process. This is a reversal of the process described earlier whereby suppressed symptoms manifest at deeper levels. I have had clients who believe they are healthy because they have not had a cold for years. In fact they have not had enough vitality to manifest a cold. After the first session they report they have had their first cold in years. Knowing that this is because there is now enough potency freely available to shift some of the toxicity that has accumulated in their cells, I celebrate the symptoms of the cold. It helps support the process to be able to explain to clients that this is good news.

Herring’s third observation is that: ‘cure proceeds… in the reverse order of the appearance of symptoms’. As more recent symptoms are healed, old symptoms – which may not have been properly processed, particularly if they were suppressed by medication – may briefly reappear as part of the healing process. For example, a client comes in and says: ‘I had an uncomfortable stomach after the last session. It’s funny, but it reminds me of the kind of stomach aches I used to get as a teenager. I haven’t had one of those for years.’ Getting a full case history from clients always helps me track their progress and to make sense of their responses to treatment. Old aches and pains may surface or a symptom may arise that has not shown itself for years or even decades. One client, in his late fifties, developed a bruising across his face in the shape of the forceps that had been used at his birth. How the body holds on to the memory is a mystery, but I have witnessed the emergence of an old injury or illness many times. The “memory” is not as intense as the original issue, but is more like a shadow, or an imprint that has remained dormant in the body until such time as it could be completely cleared. Each times it happens more potency becomes available and the client may have a sense of a weight being lifted, usually followed by increased energy, greater well-being or inner freedom.

As a general rule psychological problems are viewed as the deepest level, followed by emotional problems, then physical symptoms. When physical symptoms are suppressed they may then begin to manifest as emotional and then psychological problems.

We know through clinical experience that some physical symptoms resolve or improve after dealing with emotional issues. It is well known by health care professionals working in psychiatric hospitals that schizophrenics rarely get ill, even when everyone around them is coming down with colds or influenza. They are not able to manifest the vitality to detoxify through colds and flu. Whether this is down to the psychosis, a result of medication or a combination of both, is not clear.

Nevertheless a lifetime of suppressing symptoms with medications will accumulate toxicity and drive disease processes deeper into the organism. This is almost certainly a factor in the prevalence of senility and Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. I have met enough sprightly and spirited old people who have avoided the path of suppression, both medical and emotional, to be personally convinced that these are contributing factors to our quality of life as we get older.9

Whenever we consider any of the principles outlined by Herring, we always need to do so in the light of the individual. It is never wise to apply a principle mechanically. We need to always consider the Whole. The severity of symptoms and the frequency with which they occur is also a factor in assessing the level of health a client is manifesting. A degenerative disease that is severely diminishing or even threatening a person’s life is obviously operating on a deeper level than a mild psychological or emotional problem. If there is cell necrosis or tumour formation, we know that the body has used up its vital resources and is losing coherence.

Palpation can tell us more than any cognitive assessment can. It can inform when we are with a disease crisis – there will be a lack of potency, a high degree of inertia or chaos. An understanding of the laws of healing does not replace our palpation skills, it supports them by helping us to make sense of and track the inherent treatment plan as it unfolds. It also helps us to support our clients. Instead of feeling like a backward step when old symptoms reappear, we can remember that it is in fact a forward step along a trajectory that nature has prepared for us.

1. Letter from Einstein to Smuts (24th June 1936) Volume 54, Folio 33, Cambridge University Library
2. Smuts, Jan Christian (1996) Holism and Evolution. The Gestalt Journal Press. New York. p.107
3. Ibid. p.99
4. This excludes errors, overdoses and suicides.
5. Patrick Holford (September 2006) 100% Health Newsletter. No.35.
6. K. Steele et al (1981) Iatrogenic Illness on a General Medical Service at a General Hospital. New England Journal of Medicine, 304; 638-642
7. Vithoulkas, George (1986) The Science of Homeopathy. Thorsons, p.231
8. Terry, Karlton & Team (2007) Umbilical Affect.Institute of Pre and Perinatal Education. p.1-22
9. The day after I wrote this a report was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association linking over-the-counter medication for sleeping problems, hayfever, tricyclic antidepressants and bladder control with the raised likelihood of developing Alzheimers disease and other forms of dementia. Reported in The Guardian, 27th January 2015.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the CSTA.

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