Braving the Void is a book about the profound and powerfully unpredictable process of deep healing. At the heart of the book are the amazing stories of what happened to 20 chronically ill people as they struggled with their healing process.
After seventeen years of practising general medicine, this book, as much as any new publication, has changed how I appreciate and approach my patients. Dr. Greenwood, through the presentation of case histories, provides significant illumination to the complexity and mysteries involved with chronic painful conditions. He provides models for understanding and 'techniques' for intervention, but more importantly, provides hope through the 'awesome' healings he has witnessed and recorded.
In this fascinating book, Dr. Greenwood provides the reader with many insights which point toward the true heart of healing. He compassionately and powerfully recounts the unique journeys taken with his patients as they move together towards a deeper understanding of health. I would highly recommend Braving the Void to all my patients as well as colleagues.
This book is a communiqué from the frontiers of healing. Dr. Michael Greenwood invites us to journey beyond the traditional domain of orthodox medicine to those areas of consciousness where healing originates.
Dr Greenwood breaks new ground at the frontier of medicine.
Braving the void clearly and vividly describes how our memories are not only stored in the brain, but are widely distributed throughout the body. This has important implications for illness, since post-traumatic stress disorders can be deeply stored within this body- mind memory system, and may be expressed as intractable symptoms such as chronic pain. This memory storage system may be viewed as a holographic field or pattern of energy. "Unblocking" the abnormal energy pattern can restore health by releasing the memories. During this process, the patient can enter a space termed the "void", where the abnormal patterns of consciousness are exposed and released.
Dr Greenwood uses various techniques such as acupuncture, forced breathing, kinesiology, and massage to release the memory patterns. He provides fascinating case histories of patients who were suffering from chronic pain, and other manifestations of ill health, being transformed back to wellness through manipulation of the body-mind systemic memory system.
This is an excellent book for healthcare professionals who wish to learn more than they were taught at medical or nursing schools, and for patients with chronic illness and pain secondary to past physical and psychological trauma. I highly recommend it.
For physicians and health care workers who are interested in Energy Healing and holistic approaches to health care, this book is a landmark work. Dr. Michael Greenwood's second book "Braving the Void - Journeys into Healing" is a well written, easy to read account of his experiences and insights as a physician and acupuncturist at the Victoria Pain Clinic.
Physicians in primary care reading this book will immediately resonate with some of his ideas on chronic pain and chronic illness. For example, the discussion of the doctor- patient relationship and the increasing trend of modern medicine to practice by protocols and algorithms using "evidence based" treatments is very relevant.
To suggest one form of treatment is good for all people in all situations seems patently absurd, yet physicians have allowed fear to provoke them to abandon their inner strength and relinquish their authority when dealing with patients
The concept of the void, which was initially developed in his first book, "Paradox and Healing", co-authored with Dr. Peter Nunn, is one which is best experienced to be appreciated and understood. Having experienced the void myself in therapeutic situations it is something I believe all holistic physicians and healers must experience and enter into periodically to be fully aware of what is happening both for themselves and their patients. Michael Greenwood has embraced this belief and together with his other staff members has developed a model for energy healing for conditions as diverse as chronic back pain and chronic fatigue, to breast cancer and multiple personality disorder. Other areas I found extremely interesting were the case histories on phantom limb pain, electrical burns and shamanic possessions.
Dealing with these "energies" can be extremely fatiguing and at times frightening, and Dr. Greenwood has been very modest about his experiences. He should be considered the James Cook of the human psyche, beginning to chart new continents and oceans of human energy which have been previously "Terra Incognito" to western minds. His medical training is the navigational equipment required to prevent him landing on the rocks and his skills as a humane physician and acupuncturist the gift which provides safety through the gale-force winds and ocean storms.
This kind of work, dealing with chronic pain and the failures of so many other "so called" orthodox treatments also brings up the shadow work that a healthy society must engage in for its survival. As Michael suggests, our health care system is all too ready to focus on the "light" and "positive" aspects of our culture but reluctant to approach the "dark" or "negative" aspects. This is not the kind of work for the faint-hearted. A willingness to explore one's own shadow side and belief system is essential if one is going to navigate the unpalatable places of the client's psyche. Fortunately for us, there are pioneers like Michael Greenwood who are giving us frameworks to work with such as the void from which we can spring-board into the unconscious material which lies stored in the body/mind continuum.
I would thoroughly recommend this book to all health care professionals involved in holistic and energy healing.
In this book, the author provides an easily digestible account of where the "art" of medicine comes from. Dr. Greenwood shares case histories and treatment results with the goal of demonstrating the deeper levels of consciousness that must be unlocked before the doors of healing can be opened. Throughout the book, the healer is presented as an active bystander while the patient must actively find awareness of spirit and body to embrace health and well-being.
The interpretation of the fairy tale "Rumpelstiltskin" in Chapter 4 was particularly enjoyable, with parallels drawn to deficient Qi and the necessity for both patient and healer to disengage from "bargains with dwarves" The constant thread throughout the book is that pain and wellness are best accessed through emotional exploration. Chapter 13 suggests that symptom patterns often evolve from personality traits that are extremes of either Yin or Yang gender characteristics. This construct is a comfortable extension of the biopsychotypes represented by the Priincipal Meridians and can be used by the healer to guide the patient's self-exploration.
The self-exploration described is not suitable for every patient, nor will it be embraced by every physician. The best that we can hope for is that receptive patients will find able physicians. Braving the Void is an excellent starting point for both patients and physicians embarking upon this journey.
Confronting Pain Takes Courage
For those trained to think in polarities, the distance between the practice of conventional family medicine and a doctor sitting in a circle of colleagues with a talking stick to debrief a client's healing process, is inestimable. Such, however, is the nature of polarized thinking. It creates situations of opposites and precludes any possibility of integration. Historically, Eastern and Western healing modalities have been viewed as discrete entities. With more and more people seeking healing on a holistic level, there has been a growing disillusionment with standard medicine and a recognition that healing practice must embody aspects of both traditional and complementary medicine to be effective. In Braving the Void, Dr. Michael Greenwood shares his personal journey of integration and new passageways of healing.
For seventeen years, the author practiced conventional family medicine, fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming a physician. Throughout those years, he became increasingly aware that there was something vital missing in the traditional "Aesculapian authority" model which assumes that the doctor always knows best. Too often, he found himself prescribing medication to a patient for a recurring malady and, although the symptoms were masked temporarily, he felt there had to be something else going on. Blindly following doctor's orders did not seem to facilitate a patient's return to overall health and he became deeply interested in seeking out a more holistic approach to helping people heal. He eschews the idea of "the magic bullet...I now question the validity of intervention and no longer believe that diagnosis, as such has much value in chronic illness."
Robert Bly stated that everyone has a wound, and through our wounds our greatest gift can be realized. For healers outside the Western medical model, the concept of the "wounded healer" is very familiar. At 22 years old, while still a medical student, Dr. Greenwood had a motorcycle accident that left him with chronic physical pain, he states that "no event could have been more meaningful in the context of my life, given that I now work wholly with the sort of chronic conditions with which the accident left me." His wound had become his gift, with the accident having laid an early foundation for his forays into alternative medicine. It also formed the basis for his belief that "to deal with another's wounding adequately, a practitioner must be fully aware of her own personal wound and how it manifests.
An integration of body, mind and spirit in the healing process is widely embraced by other cultures. Yet Western medicine ignores our minds and spirits are part of bodily health and illness.
For over ten years, Dr. Michael Greenwood has been Medical Director at the Victoria Pain Clinic. His practice is devoted to patients with chronic illness and treatments encompass acupuncture, bodywork, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Ayurveda. He has developed a number of techniques which integrate body, mind and spirit and through being helped to enter "the void" patients revisit earlier physical traumas in a safe setting. In case after case, patients arrive at a level of understanding as to why and how pain has been stored in their bodies and how energy has been blocked. If we hold that "physical pain can become a screen for emotional pain which is too difficult to grapple with," it makes sense that confronting those emotional issues will inevitably lead to wholeness.
Braving the Void is an intriguing, thought provoking work and comes highly recommended by this reader. Authored by a man who spent many years practicing conventional medicine, he braved his own void coming to terms with his own healing and ultimately became a "wounded healer" to many. He speaks from personal experience and therein lies his power. "Somewhere along the line, we become the architects of our experience, and by loitering in our own story we perpetuate any illness we might have...there comes a time when we must get into the body if we want to heal the body."
Acupuncturists are often asked to diminish pain, and in fact acupuncture can - by means of diminishing stagnation or otherwise - often be of help in this regard. The author of Braving the Void - journeys into healing, Michael Greenwood is an acupuncturist and one of the forces behind a pain clinic in the Canadian city of Victoria. Being trained as a physician he gradually understood that his way was to lead him somewhere else, and the Victoria Pain Clinic is the tangible result.
This is a surprising, refreshing and disturbing book. It is hardly about acupuncture. It is much more about the experience of people with severe, chronic pain. For the author, acupuncture is only one of several ways to help people “brave the void”.
Having said this we get to the important question: “what is this ‘void’?” The author writes: “One of the cornerstones of the healing process is the appearance - whether it be sudden or gradual - of a profound attitudinal shift which might best be described as “transformational”. (...) the shift is much more than a change from one perspective to another. It is rather a shift toward a positionless position. As impossible as it may seem, to begin the healing journey we have to discover that non-place within ourselves which I have chosen to refer to in this book as “the void” (...). As we move across its threshold, our sense of dichotomy (female/male, subject/object, body/mind) and separation which seem so self-evident in our everyday reality recede until finally even the distinction between observer and observed dissolves and uncharted territory seems to explode in all directions.” (p. 27). Were this an advertisement for a meditation technique or some psychotropic substance you could either lose yourself in it or brush it aside, but this book is about people with chronic pain who have undergone countless operations, swallowed kilograms of painkillers and lost their jobs, with no improvement in sight. You won’t find any unworldy floating-away but you will find a genuine desire to know that which is inside this Void. You’ll also find a description of the many ways practitioners and patients usually avoid this Void, and many impressions of what people encounter once inside the Void.
Through this all runs the author’s conviction that “deep inside everyone who is ill, (...) is a contradiction so crucial that it would seem that annihilation would accompany full expression of the soul.” (p. 67). Facing this inner contradiction in the Void can open a path to increasing expression of the soul, thereby making visible someone’s inner qualities.
Most often, if not always, underlying such an inner contradiction is a ‘wound’. Only by facing this wound healing becomes possible. By doing this the physical pain - which could be regarded as a way of not feeling the deeper wound - seems to become superfluous and to diminish a great deal (there are some impressing graphics on the clinic’s website, that of course only reflect outer changes, not the inner changes depicted in this book). However, a tremendous lot of courage, often the courage of despair, is needed to face the wound or wounds. The motto for a chapter named “The Grail” reads: “The central issue of the healing journey, which stops all but the most committed, is that the task involves healing a wound which won’t heal.” (p. 123) In other words: how is it to be aware of a wound for the rest of your life, and saying ‘Yes’ to it every single moment?
In this book Michael Greenwood shows the importance for practitioners to wholeheartedly say ‘Yes’ to the wounds of their patients. By doing so you seem to create a place in which someone can enter the ‘void’. But aware! This ‘Yes’ also means wanting to know the violence someone was exposed to, the violence someone carries in him/herself, the loneliness, the qualities, the experiences someone would rather not be aware of oneself, and it also means abstaining from trying to cut what you get to know into easily digested bites.
That the author has succeeded in depicting the experiences of his patients without obscuring the sight of the ‘void’ is in my opinion a formidable piece of work. Highly recommended!