Paradox & Healing provides fascinating and sometimes startling new insights into the problem of illness. Beautifully illustrated by Miles Lowry, the book weaves science and mythology together in a way that enhances medical thinking. Using myths and folktales in their traditional roles as teaching tools, Paradox & Healing is a lucid and heartfelt advocacy by two physicians of the power of transformation and holistic thinking for healing our minds, bodies and spirits.
Paradox & Healing takes us beyond our usual concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, joy and suffering, pain and pleasure, love and hate and shows us that the true healing must involve a joyful reconciliation with, and a lively coexistence of the poles of opposites that make life a meaningful experience.
Science in this century has shown that common sense is not a reliable guide to understanding how things work. In Paradox & Healing, Drs. Greenwood and Nunn show why this same caution applies to staying well and overcoming illness. Unless we make a place for the paradoxical, we will never understand health and illness. That's why this book is an important contribution.
For anyone in the healing arts who ponders and struggles with patients and their chronic diseases, this is a must read. Both authors re-evaluate the dilemma of chronic illness and pain from a holistic standpoint.
Western medicine has fared poorly when it comes to chronic problems which is frustrating for both "healer" and "patient". However, by reframing the approach to sickness, chronic disease can be viewed as a transformational process. Disease and healing, the authors contend, are one in the same. Conventional medicine fails to acknowledge the emotional side of disease because of its “irrationality”. We only recognize the “structural” aspects of disease because of its inherent rationality. Unfortunately the most perplexing problems in medicine cannot be adequately dealt with by the rational approach alone. As a society, though, approaching from the irrational standpoint is taboo. By embracing both the rational and irrational, patients can begin the personal transformation necessary to heal themselves, a concept quite foreign to the conventional practitioner.
To quote the authors: “Transformation is a profound change of heart made possible by the renewed sense of being which comes from facing the paradoxical nature of our existence.” In order to illustrate the concept of transformation, the authors drawn upon myths. Unlike other teaching tools, myths provide a venue for the irrational to interact with the rational. This offers a valuable opportunity to evaluate the functional and structural aspects of illness. For the western trained mind this book can be a revelation but for some it will certainly be considered heretical. This book matches crisp insight with a fervent mission to challenge even the most “holy” of western medical beliefs.
My intention as teacher/writer, therapeutic counsellor and workshop leader is to encourage our dignity as more open, loving, human beings...to tout ways which prohibit stagnation, non-growth and crystallization
In the interest of our shifting from a paradigm of unsatisfying compromise (victim/martyr/sacrifice) to one of uncompromising satisfaction (which is what the prevailing "regenerate, or else!" energies are all about, there are certain paradoxical notions that best be confronted and dealt with. Only then, are we able to comprehend the true nature of the healing experience and take responsibility for our own healing. Dr.'s Michael Greenwood and Peter Nunn are conventionally trained Canadian physicians, authors of Paradox and Healing: Medicine, Mythology and Transformation. They point out that we only get "better" when we stop trying to "get better".
This book is a 'must read'; a synthesis of their years of meaningful experience, working with patients suffering from chronic pain or illness, and their own personal life experience of unresolved trauma and pain. Many patients find their way to them at the "Meridian Holistic Health Centre" in Victoria because they have exhausted the possibilities of the conventional medical system.
Its clear from this lucid 246 page work, beautifully illustrated by Miles Lowry, that this pair of Docs (pun intended) fully appreciate the capabilities of modern medicine. But the downside of the technological marvels, they eloquently point out, is that people all to often give up responsibility for their own well-being and place their complete trust in a medical system which is incapable of dealing with the very real irrational and emotional characteristics of their illness. They inform us that 20% of all illness is inadvertently caused by doctors attempting to treat conditions that are simply not treatable by conventional means.
Greenwood and Nunn fully explain the holistic approach to well-being and its impact on the patient-doctor relationship...indeed, on the whole concept of conventional medicine. Using myths in their traditional role as teaching tools, what we have here is a deeply heartfelt advocacy of the profound power of holistic thinking and its enormous importance to us all.
As I point out in my own work, in order to participate in the healing process, one must be in relationship with the self, with another human being, with the cosmos...in reality, all one and the same. Greenwood and Nunn know that at the root of everything, all is one.
You may well be astonished by some of the insights this book/tool for transformation provides. "Energy medicine forces us to deal with concepts which contradict many of our cherished beliefs. That a doctor do nothing at all, that patients be their own physicians, or that the patient and disease are one, are ideas that at first glance may seem absurd; and yet..."
In a chapter on "Denial", they write that some psychologists such as Shelly Taylor, author of "Positive Illusions", argues that a certain amount of self-deception is an attribute of a healthy psyche."
In one of my favourite chapters, "Accidents and Metaphysics", they opine, "One of the ideas which seem to permeate 'New Age' thinking is the notion that 'we attract that which occurs to us.' Nothing is more irritating to the average scientific mind than that particular 'causal' explanation of events. It seems that the metaphysician wishes to ascribe causality where no causality can exist. What's more, the idea seems to lay the blame with us for the disagreeable events in our lives. It is bad enough to get ill. If we must also accept that we somehow attracted our misfortunes, we have to add guilt to the burden of sickness and pain.
They then go on to make plain, "Laying the blame is not the intent of such a belief. Instead, it suggests a restoration of the sense of personal power, which an accident, if seen as 'victimizing' necessarily removes. This sense of personal responsibility, in the sense of power, not blame, is the fuel of the transformational journey. If we could step back and observe the high ambient stress we all carry, it would be easy to understand the reasoning behind the 'attraction' principle of metaphysics."
This is what I've learned from 31 years of metaphysical research, practice and experience.
"The truth is that healing implies wholeness, and wholeness implies the totality of perspectives. When we refuse to embrace all points of view, illness is the reverberation which brings us back to the truth."
In 22 chapters, the authors look at the problems of chronic illness and pain: "chronic" because, by definition, the illness and pain do not respond to usual treatments. In their introduction, the authors suggest that chronically ill patients face the problem of paradox: the existence of something such as an untreatable illness that conflicts with out preconceived notions of what is reasonable or possible. The simplest way to avoid paradox is to deny its existence by denying one-half of its self-contradictory proposition. Thus, denial drives us to avoid the reality that no matter how unpleasant it may be, illness is a real part of us and ultimately must be confronted. In their introduction, and at greater length throughout the book, the authors note that this kind of collective denial is at the root of our medicine and of modern Western society. It is this denial that allows us the conviction that reason is somehow superior to emotion, because feelings are irrational – they do not obey the dictates of logic. This in turn permits the rational to create the world in its own image and thus to dismiss the role of the "irrational" in either the disease process or its treatment. The authors declare that, as practicing doctors, they have come to believe that the denial of our feelings – that "irrational" part of ourselves – will eventually lead to chronic pain and illness.
They conclude that a profound change, one which would embrace the whole being and emphasize transformation over treatment, is needed in our society's approach to medicine. Modern medicine finds it difficult to deal with fear and anxiety – something the holistic approach addresses more readily because it accepts both the rational and irrational in us and thereby faces the paradox. The experience of a renewed sense of being that arises from facing the paradoxical nature of our existence is the process of transformation this approach would facilitate. Since our early history, this paradox has been a motivating force at the centre of many of the ancient myths that have inspired us.
Each chapter opens with a cogent maxim that provides a guide for the chapter content. This is followed by a mythological tale, which the authors explore, analyse, interpret and relate to questions of living – whether to choose "intellect dominant" solutions or "put away our illusions about life and simply get on with living". Then they illustrate the applicability of these metaphors to the dilemma of chronic illness and pain by expanding on the theme that modern "Western" medicine is a discipline of logic and rational intellect, which cannot conceive as important the irrational, emotional factors in the disease process. This attitude further confounds the individual who is suffering from chronic pain and illness, especially when he or she is told that traditional medicine has no cure. The paradox inherent in chronic illness is that at the very time when no cure seems possible and all efforts at treatment have failed the patient has the most renewing choice of all, that of transformation: to "die to our illusions about life", to accept the reality of pain and illness as part of our reality.
In keeping with their mythologic themes, the authors deal with such universal issues as disempowerment, the inability to engage our emotional natures, internalizing our own locus of control and the traumas of abandonment and helplessness. They illustrate points with brief case histories, which further illuminate the rich metaphors. Also, they discuss theories and stances such as systems theory, Cartesian thinking, Gaia theory and "alternative" or, to use their term, "complementary" medicine which includes traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and energetics.
Paradox and Healing is an interesting and thought-provoking book. I recommend it, particularly to those whole life or work includes exposure to chronic pain and illness.
Michael Greenwood is an AFCI member who lives and works in Victoria, B.C. Last year he sent me a copy of this soft-covered book, which he had co-authored with Peter Nunn and first published in 1992. Since I enjoyed reading the book, I thought I would try my hand at doing a review for the newsletter:
In the introduction, the authors state, in one sentence, their focus:
Paradox and Healing takes a look at the problem of chronic illness and chronic pain and offers new insight into their origins, their meaning in our lives and the very real opportunity they present for our profound and far-reaching healing.
This book came about as a result of the author’s experience working with chronic pain sufferers, using acupuncture and bodywork techniques. It helps the reader understand the processes of body-brain behaviour relationships, and the multiple factors influencing the perception of pain, by using paradoxes posed in mythological stories as analogies for pain behaviours. For example, the first chapter deals with the intellect-dominant solutions and uses story of “The King and His Three Sons”, a Russian fairy tale which, when analyzed, demonstrates the choices we face in life.
In the following chapters, the reader is shown that current Western science with its objective evidence paradigm has major limitations when it comes to dealing successfully with chronic pain. It goes on to illustrated the possibilities for finding other perspectives which can help the client manage his/her pain including behavioural and complementary medicine, acupuncture and energetics, transformational process, diet, and exercise. The authors take the readers through the process of shifting perspectives and learning the importance of transforming their fundamental outlook away from denial and illness to a conscious awareness of their responsibility for their own lives and health.
A statement in Chapter 20 nicely summarizes the content of the text: “The book documents a series of insoluble but richly instructive paradoxes and has postulated that underlying chronic illness is a culturally induced mind-set.” The authors urge the reader “to visualize the body as a dynamic process which includes both structure and energy, intellect and feeling.” A structure in constant flow which is able to transform illness to health through personal growth and understanding.
I would recommend this book not only for chronic pain sufferers, but also for professional involved in pain management programs. It would be an excellent addition to the library or resource section of any pain clinic, medical office, or physiotherapy department.