My daoist teacher, Jeffrey Yuen, says that healing is a very solitary pursuit. True, we may need other people around us: health practitioners, therapists of various kinds, and sometimes home-health aides, and of course friends, family, neighbors, but the process of healing is essentially solitary.
Jeffrey says the person who seeks 'healing' is really seeking a certain feeling within him or herself, 'about' him or herself. And it's true that one can meet people living very vital, busy and even extraordinarily full lives, only to discover that they have some handicap or disease that would cause another person to put the brakes on! It's all about how we feel about ourselves and within ourselves.
Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig, author of Power in the Helping Professions, has written an article for 'Spring' journal, called 'The Archetype of the Invalid.' He says that people possess strengths and weaknesses within themselves but often identify with one or the other pole of the spectrum of 'health/strength' or 'illness/weakness.' He has some interesting things to say. For one, he remarks that 'the invalid' offers us the gift of time and reflection. (By the way, 'invalidism' has nothing to do with the actual state of our health or illness, it's more an identification of oneself with the part of ourselves that wants to rest and recuperate/recreate.) He writes,
"I have a good acquaintance who suffers from a chronic backache. He is always somewhat depressed, complains of tiredness and he has bad varicose veins. Actually, it is pleasant to have him around; he makes one feel helpful and useful. One can do something for him, give him a comfortable chair, a sturdy bed, and he appreciates it. He is not threatening; he is weak, rather helpless, and not competetive. He evokes kindness, relaxation. The archetype of the invalid, when lived out, leads to reflection and to discussion. For instance, when one suggests a run through the woods to this man, he declines saying: 'I have a backache, and I would rather sit by the fire and chat."
"The archeype of the invalid for the person living it out can also work positively. It counteracts inflation; it cultivates modesty. The human weakness is fully realized by these people, and so a kind of spiritualization is possible.
"[The archetype of] Health [on the other hand] is suitable for the Gods - and therein lies the danger. The God-complex connected with the archetype of health shows in the fanaticism with which health is cultivated. It is pursued with religious conviction and dogmatism. Invalids, however, only rarely try to convert you."
"According to the contemporary health fantasy, we must become whole; every defect, every malfunctioning has to be overcome. Because we all know deep down that we are partly invalids forever, we try all the more to reject this knowledge and to deny this archetype. We work endlessly and uselessly at keeping healthy by all means. I know a married couple who were so fascinated by the archetype of health and did such heavy gymnastics during the day that in the evening when they went to bed they were too tired to make love."
I realize that I am inclined towards the invalidism end of the spectrum. I always feel that I am a functional invalid. I have a chronic condition, and I take all sorts of herbs and vitamins and exercise routines to counteract the ill effects of the condition. I spend a lot of time alone, swimming, walking, mixing herbal powders and refilling my daily vitamin-containers. I enjoy the solitude, and find many gifts there.
I haven't received much help from doctors, and so I've gone the alternative route, but I feel inestimably better, have no more pain, etc, so I think my ayurvedic protocol has worked! I've had some cutting-edge 'conventional' dental work that has helped a great deal too - who knew how central the mouth is to health and happiness - well, the chinese knew. When I studied chinese medicine they always stressed the importance of the mouth, the stomach and the entire GI tract.
I read a book by Henri Nouwen called The Wounded Healer back in the early 1980's. It really formed my conception of my own healing work. I am not consumed by the archetype of health, but feel rather sympathetic to the archetype of the invalid. I work well with the chronically ill, and even terminally ill people, because I identify with them. I am aiming for a reduction in suffering and an increase in functionality and sense of well-being in my own life, and in theirs. Like Jeffrey Yuen, I believe that those who seek healing seek a certain feeling within themselves.
When we are grieving, we are, in a sense, seeking healing, too. The loss of a loved one is like an amputation. We still feel attached to the missing limb, sometimes we feel phantom pain. Solitude isn't 'everything' but it is a large part of healing from bereavement. Certain understandings pass between ourselves and our conception of our loved one, or between God and ourselves, or between nature and ourselves, between memory and ourselves. It's all about the deep springs of ourselves. It's a path of solitude, and it's good.