A Call to Live / Torah Guidance on Healing
~Avraham ben Yaakov
The key to health and healing is ultimately simple: keep happy! Simchah -- happiness and joy -- is the elixir of the soul. And the health of the soul is the key to the health of the body.
It can take time and effort to attain true joy and self-fulfilment. The way to start is by making yourself happy with little things. Pamper yourself with small pleasures and comforts, good food and the like. Spend time with people who make you feel good. Lift your spirits with stimulating conversation and interesting reading. Listen to your favorite music. Joke. Laugh. Enjoy yourself!
This may work for a while, but you probably wonder how you can possibly be really happy when you are ill, in pain, confined to surroundings not of your choosing and troubled by many other problems. Even so, you must make every effort to find ways to be happy, even in face of all this adversity. Do everything possible to lift your moods.
For when you are happy, your mind becomes settled. You can then see things more clearly, and you will begin to understand the positive aspects of your present situation and your life in general, and uncover the good that exists even in adversity. This is the way to genuine happiness and fulfilment, which are the key to health and healing.
Why happiness promotes health and healing
Contemporary medicine is rediscovering the ancient truth that our mental and emotional states affect our bodies just us much as our bodily states affect our minds and feelings. The destructive effects on the body of excess tension, anxiety, negativity, frustration and depression are seen daily in heart, cancer and other clinics. Conversely, it is now well established that positive attitudes play a vital role in recovery, rehabilita- tion and long-term health.
To understand the reason for this, you must under-stand what keeps your body alive and functioning. The cells of the body grow, develop, reproduce, regenerate and maintain themselves to form organs and body systems of astonishing complexity and subtlety. Each individual cell and organ of the body goes through its own highly specialized sequences of biochemical reactions at its own unique pace.
The miracle is that all the individual rhythms of the different body cells, organs and systems are perfectly orchestrated. They work together to maintain overall stability and health in spite of constant fluctuations within the body and in the external environment. This balance is vital for the continuation of life.
What is it that makes unity out of the diversity of all the different bodily rhythms and functions? How are they all orchestrated? How is everything controlled? Physiology explains that our heart rate, breathing, digestion, excretory and other functions are regulated by the brain and nervous system. But if the body is under the control of the brain and the nerves, how are they controlled?
The brain and nervous system, and indeed the entire body, are subordinate parts of a greater system: the whole person. As soon as we consider bodily functioning in the broader context of the person as a whole, it becomes clear that, if we are to discover the master control system that ultimately sustains and governs our physical and mental functioning, we must search beyond the body and beyond the conscious mind.
Religion and mysticism teach that the master control system is the soul. It is the presence of the soul that makes the difference between a living person and a dead body. People find it hard to form a clear conception of the soul. This is not surprising, since the soul is not something tangible like the hand, the heart or the brain. But although we cannot see or physically feel the soul, we do experience it directly on the level of our conscious awareness. The soul is "I," the sentient, feeling, thinking, purposeful ego sitting in the driver's seat of the body.
The soul is a complex system comprising a variety of subsystems. Some of them are accessible to our conscious minds, others are not. Thus the soul controls our bodily processes via the autonomic nervous system without our even being aware of it.
Even in the realm of our conscious behavior, we often do not know why we act the way we do. Our stream of everyday consciousness involves complex structures of highly subtle logical and non-logical thoughts, fantasies, intuitions, feelings and emotions that have roots stretching deep into our unconscious minds. In addition, we are usually quite unaware of the way in which higher, spiritual parts of our souls are quietly guiding our lives and destiny in this world.
For although the soul is "in" the body and therefore "in" the physical world, it is really rooted in a qualitatively different dimension of existence. The spiritual dimension interacts with the physical dimension yet it reaches way beyond it. You may have vague contact with these exalted spiritual levels at certain highly significant moments in life, as when you become subliminally aware that you are somehow being guided by a superior force. Such awareness sometimes comes in dreams, only to be lost on waking up.
The higher soul in each person is itself part of a far greater system that has its own master control. The ultimate master control over the entire creation is the mystery we call God.
Bodily rhythms and the music of the soul
How do the mind and soul actually control and influence the body? As we have seen, bodily functioning is a matter of rhythms. The rhythms of the various cells, organs and body systems are regulated and coordinated by other, higher order rhythms. These are the patterns of neural impulses relayed from one part of the nervous system to another. But how are these master rhythms controlled?
This can be understood by considering music. A piece of music is made up of a melody line with a rhythm. Usually the rhythm is the most infectious aspect of the music. Listen to a lively piece of music and see what happens. The rhythms created by the players travel in the form of the pulsating sound waves that cause your ear-drums to vibrate, thus penetrating your conscious and unconscious mind.
Before you know it, your hands and feet are tapping, your head is nodding to and fro, and your whole body is moving in unison under the sway of the rhythm. For the moment, the rhythm is "controlling" you and all your body movements.
Yet the rhythm of the music is itself subordinate to the melody line. Each melody has an inner quality that calls to be expressed appropriately through a suitable rhythm. So the rhythm is governed by the melody, which in turn is created by the mind of the master musician or composer. Through the melody and rhythm of the music, the composer "controls" the movements of all the musicians playing the music, the rhythmic tapping and swaying of the audience, and all the thoughts and feelings inspired in them by the music.
With the help of this analogy we may begin to grasp how the intangible, spiritual soul controls the tangible, physical body. Just as the body movements of the listener are influenced by the rhythms of a piece of music, so the functioning of individual body cells and organs is governed by the rhythms and patterns of the brain and neural impulses. These in turn are governed by a higher order control system: the melody sung by the soul.
The soul is the creator, conductor, player and singer of amazing "music." You may not always hear it, but it is this music that controls the rhythms of your brain and nervous system, sending you your thoughts, your feelings and your very life. In short, it's the music of your soul that makes you and your body tick.
What kind of song are you singing? Is it a happy song that is sending energy and vitality into every fiber of your being? Or has your inner music become hushed, muffled, sad and plaintive? Or is it tense, angry, aggressive and destructive?
Your mental states, your attitudes and general outlook have a direct effect on your body. Excess tension, anxiety, insecurity, anger, frustration, depression and other forms of negativity can cause distortions in your physical posture; they may restrict your breathing; they may drive you into poor dietary patterns, substance abuse and other destructive habits. Over time these may take a heavy toll on your joints and muscles, your arteries, heart, lungs and other vital organs, your digestion, nerves, immune system, general metabolism, resilience and vitality.
The weaker and more depressed the music of the soul, the more sluggish the metabolism becomes. This leaves the body less and less able to withstand regular wear and tear, let alone the ravages of illness or injury. But with happy music -- positive attitudes, cheerfulness and joy -- the entire system becomes invigorated and the functioning of all the cells and organs of the body is enhanced, bringing heightened physical immunity, increased stamina and greater wellbeing on every level.
You must feed and nourish the cells of your body with the right songs: the happy, healing songs! The songs of life! This applies quite literally. Get into the habit of singing a happy tune. Hum inspiring melodies. Try! Experiment! Choose a favorite tune and work with it for five minutes. See what happens. At first your singing may feel a little uninspired, but if it's a good melody and you are prepared to "get into it," you'll soon see how the melody will start to lift you up, bringing you new vitality, greater optimism and more positive thoughts and feelings. Do this regularly! When you don't feel like singing yourself, have others sing or play to you, or listen to recordings of your favorite music.
The melody of life
It's not only tunes and songs in the literal sense that bring health and healing. You must turn your very life into a melody.
What is music? Music is made up of sequences of notes. To play music, you have to hit the right notes in the right order, one after the other. Each note is produced by air vibrations. If you don't know how to play, you may produce little more than a succession of strident noises. But a skilled musician can create profoundly stirring and inspiring music simply by moving artfully up and down the scale.
So too in all of life, every one of our thoughts, words or actions also produces "vibrations." Each one is a "note" in the total symphony of life and creation. How much "bad air" can be produced by one careless, cruel or selfish act, a single cutting remark or even an evil thought! Our syndromes of worry, fear, anger, frustration, depression and gloom create soul- grinding rhythms and melodies that destroy our bodies and our lives and those of the people around us.
But all this "bad air" can be dissipated, purified and sweetened by thinking good, positive, generous thoughts, by smiling, sharing a kind word, offering a helping hand.... There's always something good you can think, say or do.
The art of happiness is always to go for the good: to see the good points and pick out the good notes rather than harping on the bad. This applies to how you view the various situations you face in life and to the way you play out your roles in them. It applies to the way you look at and deal with the people around you. And it applies to the way you look at and deal with yourself. Each good point you find is a note in the melody of life.
Rejoicing in the good
It is natural to be happy in good times, when things are good and when you're feeling good. And if things are bad? In bad times, you have to search for the good. Have faith that good exists even in the worst adversity. Know that there is a way in which everything can be turned around for good. As King Solomon said, "On a good day, enjoy! And on a bad day, you must look" (Ecclesiastes 7:14). In other words, when things are bad, you must look around and search until you discover the positive side.
Being positive does not mean you have to deny the truth. If you are in pain and discomfort, your suffering is very real. You don't have to pretend you're fine if you are far from it. Being positive means keeping yourself from sinking into a quagmire of morbid negativity by having faith in God's goodness even at the hardest moments.
You may face seemingly intractable situations in your life. You may feel locked in deep problems within yourself. But in many cases one of the best ways to improve a situation is by learning to look at it dif- ferently. The way you view things plays a major part in whether you experience them as good or bad.
Use your mind and all the inner resources you possess to break out of negativity and depression and to be positive. You have the power to control and direct your thoughts. Don't allow yourself to be drawn into syndromes of negative thoughts and feelings. Find new, more positive ways of looking at yourself, other people and the various problems and difficulties you face. When bad thoughts come into your mind, make every effort to direct your thoughts elsewhere. Often the best way to put yourself in a better frame of mind is through humor and joking or acting a little silly.
Your laughter is the best medicine of all. Your happiness is vital. The life of your body and soul depend on it. For keeping happy is the key to good health, as it is to healing.
Having become sick, you must now make a special effort to pick yourself up and make yourself happy again. Turn the search for good into a way of life, because this is the key to happiness and fulfilment. Joy will enable you to focus on your true mission in this life and accomplish all that you must.