What is Healing?

Healing is more than fixing the physical body.

For some of us, when we are young, we are far removed from death and dying. The world is new. The sun shines brightly on us. There is so much potential. It can be a time when we can live our life, like the Paul Simon song – ‘The Obvious Child’. The issues of illness, sickness or healing does not concern us and perhaps this is the way it should be.

At some point the other side shows itself to us. For some, it comes very early. For others later, but show itself it will. Sickness and Disease is a part of life. It may be a family member, a friend or ourself that faces it and it can come in a myriad of forms. There are so many ways it affects us. It can be devastating. Or it can be a call to arms. At best it can be accepted graciously.


In this article, I will talk about healing. As an acupuncturist, I have seen many people with different types of health problems and I have worked with the dying. I have also dealt with my own health issues. In this article, I want to talk about ‘healing’ in relation to the idea that it is not just the body that gets sick. The mind, spirit and soul also does so and in fact you cannot help one without helping the other. Also, healing is not just about ‘fixing’ the physical. It is possible to fix the physical body, but still not be healed.

Canterbury, UK – A Truly Spiritual Place

A few years ago, I visited Canterbury in England. Canterbury for centuries has been a Mecca for pilgrimages. In the middle ages, all types of people would do a pilgrimage to Canterbury to visit the beautiful cathedral. If you visit, you should see the old medieval hospital, a place where poor pilgrims could stay overnight during their pilgrimage. The building is steeped in history and even today still allows elderly people to live there who have no home.

The famous novel – the Canterbury tales recounts the journey of different types of people in medieval England undergoing a pilgrimage. Since the assassination of the Archbishop Thomas Beckett within the Cathedral, the place has also become a major tourist attraction and many people visit there today. I would say it is a deeply spiritual place of great beauty. It is one of the few places, where energy can be felt to those that are sensitive. I have felt energy there in two areas of the Cathedral.

Paradigm Shift

In the cathedral bookshop there, I chanced upon a fascinating quote in a book, by the well-known doctor – Rachel Naomi Remen.

“Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you – all of the expectations, all of the beliefs – and becoming who you are.”

This quote, short and simple, struck me with great impact. I had always thought that ‘healing’ is about the physical and that it is simply about getting better. But here Rachel is saying that healing is more about becoming who you really are and letting go of what you are not.

It hit me, because, I suddenly realised that up to then I had been living my life with a lot of beliefs and expectations that were not me. I had carried expectations that I had to be a certain way, act a certain way and follow a certain path. The problem is that my life was no longer following the conventional path but I wasn’t fully accepting life as I was. It was almost as though reading this quote gave me permission to accept me for who I was, including all my life decisions up to them.

Do any of my kind and gentle readers feel this quote relates to them?

Rachel Naomi Remen.

A little bit about Rachel Naomi Remen: Dr. Remen is a medical doctor and author who was one of the first to recognize and document the psychological and spiritual impact of cancer on people and their families. She is founder of the Institute for the Study of Health and Illness and proponent of integrated medicine. She also suffered from a chronic disease – Crohns Disease for much of her life, which I think has given her a deeper understanding of healing and sickness.

Healing the physical. Healing the non-physical

For example in my own private practice – I realise that people may come to me for a specific problem – a painful back, irregular period, stomach upset. This is the physical – but as I ask questions about their life and interact with them, there can always be much more. Sometimes a deeper frustration in life, a past hurt which still cuts today – a painful breakup, death of a loved one, bullying at school, a feeling of inadequateness or lack of direction. I realise that my role is more than dealing with the physical. There is also the mental, the emotional and if you dare to go – the spiritual.

Healing and Non-Curative Patients

As an acupuncturist with experience of working in palliative care, I have worked with dying people. I have encountered people of all ages who have been diagnosed with a non-curative illness. When considering this, I felt that there was a lot of significance to this quote about healing.

For terminally ill people, it can be difficult to achieve outcome measures like reducing pain or other distressing symptoms because the disease process is far advanced. However, if we can look beyond the physical and instead look at the emotional , mental and the spiritual aspects, we may find there is much we can help with. This is where we move away from the concept of curing and more at the mystery of healing. In this respect, healing is much more than healing the physical body. It is about healing the spirit, the emotions, the mind and the soul if you will.

In fact, it is in serious non-curative illness, where the concept of healing needs to be defined more broadly.

Lets look at some dictionary definitions:

Cure: Dictionary Definition
1. Relieve (a person or animal) of the symptoms of a disease or condition
2. Eliminate (a disease or condition) with medical treatment.

Heal: Dictionary Definition
1. Cause (a wound, injury, or person) to become sound or healthy again
2. To restore (a person) to spiritual wholeness
3. Alleviate (a person’s distress or anguish).

From looking at these definitions, we can consider that the medical profession is focused on ‘cure’ more so than ‘healing’. Medications and surgeries are based on removing symptoms and relieving pain by following an external action approach. It wants to ‘fix’ you. This fits with the definition of cure.

Western medicine does not consider “spiritual wholeness” and is limited in what is does to alleviate a persons distress or anguish, although it does tie itself in with counselling which can help this. Nonetheless, if we look at the definition of healing, we can judge that healing is not a key-driver of Western Scientific medicine.

Don’t say the word ‘Heal’!

I think that in the medical profession – there is awkwardness behind using the word “healing” and it will avoid it like the plague. In some cases, they seem also to have a problem with words like “cure” and prefer to use somewhat neutral and unemotional words like “remission” or “inactive”. I much prefer the word healing to the word ‘remission’.  The word ‘healing’ has a pleasant sound. The word ‘remission’ is much colder and implies you are always sick, but that you are just having a short break from it. Words have great power over our subconcious minds.

The one curious exception is in relation to cancer. It was my understanding that a patient would only get an ‘all clear’ if there were no signs of cancer for 5 years after a person had undegone a conventional treatment with no signs of re-occurance. Then they would be declared as ‘cured’ of cancer. However, I have heard of cases recently where this declaration of ‘being cured’ is made much sooner, sometimes a few weeks after a patient completes chemotherapy and surgery.  But then a few months down the line, suddenly a new tumour appears in the same area, for some patients. It strikes me then, that this kind of declaration is a little premature.

There is a reason why Western Scientific Medicine favours ‘cure’ over ‘healing’. Curing fits more with the mechanistic approach of attempting to repair the body or reversing a physical disease state as though the body is a broken engine. But we are not machines. We are human beings with a deep range of life experiences, emotions and levels of consciousness.

The word ‘healing’ has a much broader meaning. The word can be less clear to define  and open to more interpretations. This can makes the concept of healing difficult to apply and certainly it is a word that can be abused. But healing implies a greater power than curing.

Healing and Curing

Naomi Remen discusses:

Question: – “What is the difference between healing and curing?”
Answer: “Basically curing is about repair and healing is about growth”.

Naomi goes on to say –

“So curing is something we do to others and healing is something we evoke in others. Curing happens at the level of the body and leads to a re-normalization of physiology. Healing happens at the level of the person and involves an evolution and refinement of the individual, a deepening of the capacity for emotional life, mental life and spiritual life – the furthering of personal wholeness and not physical health. Healing promotes the quality of life and the capacity to engage with life”.

I like this definition – it is quite simple, yet it implies something so much deeper. It implies that the process of healing encapsulates an evolution of the person and recognises that healing contributes to the persons journey as well as a deepening relation to life. This also implies healing is a process that can be invoked by someone else but that the process is carried out by the sick person. The implication is that we still have power and responsibility over our own health.

Naomi asks:

Question: “Can a patient be healed in the absence of a cure?”

Answer: “It is possible and even common to heal in the presence of disease and even to die healed“

Healing goes further than curing.

Attempting to only ‘cure’ the body misses the greater picture. Curing is not always possible but healing enables a greater possibility for our spirit and being to grow. Also it can lead to a person developing internal growth, compassion, wisdom, courage and to discover their true selves. By doing so, we can live a more meaningful life, despite any ongoing illnesses even if our life may be short. That is true healing.

If I consider a  really sick or terminally ill patient – they may have the best medical care, the most advanced surgery, the most up to date medications, a comfortable bed, a wide choice of food, 24 hour nurse care and regular doctor visits, but they can still suffer physically. For them, curing is no longer an option.

But perhaps healing of the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual self is still possible and in some ways it is the ultimate form of healing . If we look beyond the physical, we see that life consists very much of the immaterial. Our thoughts, our feelings, our emotions – anger, love – are all immaterial – yet we may become aware that these have been a significant part of our lives and wellbeing.

We can all begin the healing process at any time in our life

To finish, I wish to repeat Naomi’s quote:

“It is possible and even common to heal in the presence of disease and even to die healed”

And it is this, that we should all hope to attain, whether we are sick or healthy in body. To heal ourselves.

Next Post

Unleash the Inner Healer


YouTube Video

Here is a video adaptation of the above post – What is Healing? It is shown on The Genki Health Channel

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