"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Where does Medicine go from here? Are we going holistic?

What now?

‘It’s time we heed the symptoms indicating that our medical system is dangerously out of balance,’ says Joan Borysenko. ‘Modern technology is marvelous and lifesaving, and if we can integrate it with the deep wisdom of the past then we can birth a medicine that exalts and nurtures rather than one that is predicated on the fear of death.’(1)

I truly hope we are at the dawn of a new paradigm in the history of medicine: that we are entering an era where the spiritual healing needs of the patient can be met alongside both alternative and complementary therapies and the very best of the latest clinical medicine. 

There are certainly pockets of excellence across the healthcare establishments, for example the Integrative Medical Clinic of Santa Rosa, California, (2) is at the very forefront of this exciting new world of enlightened healthcare. As in so many fields the UK will in due course follow the lead of America in the full recognition of truly holistic healthcare that is available for all. But much work needs to be done.

At the beginning of this new millennium the American Association of Medical Colleges challenged all North American medical schools to update the teaching of their clinical medicine curricula (3). What progress have we seen a decade later? I shall return to this in the New Year…


(1) Joan Borysenko, ‘Putting the Soul Back in Medicine’ article as chapter 4 in The Health Distinctions of Wealth – compiled by Dawson Church

(2) Integrative Medical Clinic, Santa Rosa.

(3)  McGill in Focus, Medicine Edition, Autumn 2004 Newsletter of McGill University Faculty of Medicine Montreal, article, ‘A Curriculum for the New Century: Donald Boudreau’s Legacy.

For further reading see David J. Hufford, ‘An analysis of the field of spirituality, religion and health.’ At Founded in 1997, Metanexus “fosters a growing international network of individuals and groups exploring the dynamic interface between cosmos, nature and culture.”

Sunday, 29 December 2013

History of Western Medicine contd: Soul Medicine

There have been glimmers of hope in the development of what I like to call “soul medicine” but sometimes they seem to be lost from view.
In its 1990 definition of palliative care, the World Health Organization said that the
‘control of … psychological, social and spiritual problems is paramount’ in the total care package of those with incurable disease.
At the same time, Michael Kearney, clearly not sharing the optimism of Dossey or the W.H.O., was predicting that the holistic focus in palliative care (let alone in the wider medical field) was in danger of being lost under the weight of the biomedical model of medicine (1) and the narrow mindedness of those who paid attention only to physical symptoms, whom he called ‘symptomologists’. His concerns were justified. Only a few years later in a paper in Progress in Palliative Care a leader in the field, Sam Ahmedzai, wrote in his editorial: The view now, within palliative medicine, is that it is okay to be symptomologists, and proud of it …Ultimately, suffering from losses, lack of love, existential doubts as well as from poverty and cruelty are not medical issues, and the response to them is not necessarily the responsibility of any healthcare discipline (2).

Surely those who have argued for the exclusion of psychological concerns from the field of medicine, let alone spiritual elements, must be mistaken? 

Many have campaigned over the years for a greater understanding of suffering and holistic healing in a medical context. This first assumed some recognition in the UK within the field of cancer and other terminal illness care, where an understanding was developed within the hospice movement, founded in 1967 on the ideas of Dame Cicely Saunders. The spiritual theme of medical care is also picked up by Michael Lerner who has a special interest in mind/body health in the care of cancer patients. In his book, Choices in Healing, (3) he explores the very diverse range of mainstream and complementary treatments available to the cancer patient. These include for example the practice of Yoga and the power of prayer, in addition to shamanism, all clearly understanding the importance of the inner life of the mind and spirit to the overall well being of a patient in the context of a terminal illness. Some of this is inevitably out of date in a fast changing world but Lerner’s book is still available as a valuable overview of the wealth of ideas and treatments available. The book is well illustrated from literary sources that delightfully complement the consideration of the technical aspects of treatments.

Michael Kearney, palliative care consultant and former medical director of palliative care at Our Lady's Hospice in Dublin, Ireland, has also long campaigned for medical practitioners to pay more attention to the interactions of body, mind and spirit in healthcare (4). He writes of the ‘deep’ as well as the ‘surface’ elements of suffering, and the patient’s “soul pain” that must be acknowledged in addition to the physical pain. He suggested that the principles of Asklepian healing should be taught alongside the traditional and well-established Hippocratic style training almost universally taught in medical schools today, so that they can again work together as happened in Hippocrates’ day.
Healing, he says, needs to be given the environment in which the natural human psyche can be given the space to take over and do its own healing work. 

The overriding problem in healthcare today seems to be that too often our doctors are ‘Techno-doctors’ (5) and ‘Super Specialists’ in a system that reduces patients to paper statistics and doctors to slaves of machinery, forgetting the importance of the personal, the subjective and the social aspects of care. ‘By their very nature doctors deal with bits and pieces – microbes, hormone deficiencies or tumors – while patients experience illness as the disorders, disruption and possible disintegration of their ordinary lives…Every healing art sees illness in its own terms. Patients need to remember that the illness is theirs and theirs alone.’(6) And perhaps some physicians need to remember this also?

Apart from the palliative care available for patients at the end of life, it still seems that the different forms of spiritual and religious healthcare (S/RH), complementary and alternative medicine (CAMs) and conventional allopathic clinical practice are not working together as well as they could and should. Many of the CAMs are gaining credibility within mainstream traditional healthcare but the influence of S/RH lags woefully behind.

To be contd...


(1) in Foreword by Balfour Mount p viii to Kearney, Michael, A Place of Healing: Working with Suffering in Living and Dying, Oxford University Press, USA (November 30, 2000), p. 31. Now see Place of Healing: Working With Nature And Soul At The End (Spring Journal paperback, August 27, 2009)

(2) Sam H.Ahmedzai (1997) ‘Five years: five threads’ (editorial, Progress in Palliative Care, 5(6), 235-7

(3) Lerner, Michael, Choices in Healing; Integrating the Best of Conventional and Complementary Approaches to Cancer, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press paperback edition 1998, p.123.

(4) This is explored in much more detail in Michael Kearney, A Place of Healing, 2000, foreword by Balfour Mount p. iv. Now see Place of Healing: Working With Nature And Soul At The End (Spring Journal paperback, August 27, 2009)

(5) Helman, Cecil, Suburban Shaman: Tales from Medicine’s Frontline, London: Hammersmith Press, 2006, pp. 5.

(6) Ted Kaptchuk and Michael Croucher, 1986, pp. 26, 37, cited in Mayne, Michael, A Year Lost and Found, London: Darton Longman and Todd, 1987, p. 38.

Friday, 27 December 2013

History of Medicine contd: Dossey's ERAs of Medicine

Last post on this blog I wrote about Eric Cassell and Leslie Weatherhead, both active in the 1900s in trying to educate the medical profession towards a greater “healing” ethos in medical practice.

When I started researching for my book on the Wounded Healer (Healing This Wounded Earth) information on Weatherhead was not so easy to come by and I had to satisfy myself with a very old secondhand copy of the revised 1955 version of his thesis, which I treasure as being an important influence from which much of my early research progressed. It is surely a positive sign of change in our attitudes towards spirituality and a resurgence of interest in the links between spirituality and medicine that Weatherhead’s thesis has been made available again as a reprint in 2008.

And now, forty years after Weatherhead, we have Larry Dossey who has looked back on what he saw as a new era in medicine from the 1950s, but said that the then prevailing study of the mind/body question within medicine would be more accurately described as the brain/body question to reflect the widespread scientific attitude of the time. This was the medicine of physicians such as Eric Cassell, a phase that Dossey calls ERA II in the development of medicine to follow on from the first 100 years or so of what he called mechanical medicine which he identified as ERA I.

Like Weatherhead,
Dossey foresaw and hoped for the start of a new era, ERA III, when the importance of the soul would properly be recognized and even the field of ‘non local’ approaches to healing, such as prayer, would also be seen as a respectable further therapy within mainstream medicine (1)
Dossey of course continues to expand on and develop this theme to this day although there is a long way to go in gaining wider acceptance of these views.
Weatherhead was not only a renowned preacher who regularly packed the church with up to 1000 people who came just to hear him. He was also a true visionary, with ideas ahead of his time, exploring as he did the mind/body aspects of healthcare within the spiritual paradigm. At the time those who supported such ideas must have felt like voices lost in the wilderness of the inexorable march of scientific progress and medical positivism. To an extent we still do!!


(1) Dossey, Larry, Healing Words - The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine New York: Harper Collins Publishers 1993, p. xv Preface and p.44. This is one of his early books.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Healing and Curing: Eric Cassell and Leslie Weatherhead

A brief recap on posts to date may be a good idea here: I am fascinated by the movement to bring the treatment of the mind, soul and spirit back into mainstream Western medicine. I yearn for a wider recognition that technology and pharmacology cannot provide all the answers where wellbeing and healthcare are concerned. Over the last week or so and for the next few weeks in this blog I am tracing the history of Western medicine, showing where we lost sight of our souls in our treatments and then offering signs of hope all around us for those who are looking for healing for our dis-ease as well as cures for our illness.

I really don’t want to imply that during the 1900s there were no physicians who understood the importance in their work of a sympathetic interaction, a sensitivity of feeling between the doctor and the patient. One notable American physician, Eric J. Cassell, had a mission in the 1970s
to help physicians understand the difference between curing and healing in the relief of suffering.
Cassell wrote a great deal about the need to combine the practice of medicine as a science with the need to address the overall illness of the patient, the need for the patient to be made whole, the need to address all the other complex interrelated factors affecting the patient’s overall well being and the all important need, the ultimate purpose of all medicine, to relieve the patient’s suffering. He developed this theme in many books throughout his career and by the 1990s was still lamenting that in his view modern medicine was generally still failing to relieve suffering. Throughout his working life Cassell has emphasized that mind, body and soul or spirit are one and cannot be viewed in isolation.

Then there was the extremely popular, if sometimes controversial, English Methodist Minister and legendary preacher Leslie D. Weatherhead  in London in the 1950s, who wrote an important thesis on the links between psychology, religion and healing. This was a subject that had come to intrigue him immensely. In this thesis he wrote eloquently and in detail of
a perceived new era in medicine, when faith and soul would again be widely recognized as a vital part of the mainstream medical practice. 
He saw the limitations of the average medical doctor, in terms of time constraints and training, for healing more than the physiological body. In relation to patients for whom he thought the illness was rooted in the mind or the soul, he wrote:

‘the ordinary doctor is usually of little use in such cases. He tends to interpret physical symptoms only in terms of physical origins. He works on what I have described as the ‘garage level’. He is skilled to repair the machine. It is no disparagement of the general practitioner to say that he has not the time or, often, the skill, to interpret physical symptoms in terms of psychological, let alone spiritual, disharmony. If he had, in the latter case at least, he usually would not know what to do about it.’(1)

Seeing the potential for using the combined skills of the psychologist, doctor and pastor in the healing process, by 1935 Weatherhead had established the City Temple Psychological Clinic in the heart of London, where these principles were successfully put into practice (2). Weatherhead wrote extensively of the spiritual and religious aspects of medicine as foreseen in Jung’s work. Although certainly controversial in his preaching and healing, he was also widely regarded and respected for much of his work and insight. But he was of course trying to reintroduce the soul into mainline medical practice in the broadly secular climate of that time and his work failed to capture the combined and co-operative imaginations of the public, the pastor and the doctor. After his death in 1976 Weatherhead seemed to all but disappear from public awareness and his thesis of the integration of psychology, religion and healing was largely forgotten, or so it seemed, in the continuing inexorable march of scientific knowledge.... to be contd.


(1) Weatherhead, Leslie D, Psychology Religion and Healing, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1951, reprinted with further revision 1955, p. 482. There is a new edition published by Stewart Press: 2008.

(2) Weatherhead led the City Temple church from 1936-1960. There is a Healing and Counseling Centre at St Marylebone Parish Church opened 1987 combining innovative health care through an NHS doctor’s surgery offering many complementary therapies

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Wounds as a source of healing in pastoral and medical care

I love the idea of the Wounded Healer, the concept that a person's own suffering can be a source of healing for others. I believe this has enormous social significance for us all, in many different ways. 
This idea was reflected in the consolatory ministry with its accompanying literature from Ancient Greece onwards. I'll write more about this consolatory ministry later. Suffice to say here that by the seventeenth and eighteenth century in Western Europe the idea was well established in pastoral healing, mostly among the clergy of the time, but also in use by some physicians. Men such as George Fox, who founded the Society of Friends (or Quakers), George Trosse and Timothy Rogers, both Nonconformist English clergy of the seventeenth century and the English Physician George Cheyne, these and more used their own personal stories of suffering in their successful healing ministries. They were all reflecting the power of the wounded healer to heal others. 
But it was only with the development of the modern psychological schools of Freud, Adler and Jung, picking up the threads of pre Hippocratic holistic care, that the concept was first articulated, by Carl Gustav Jung (1875 – 1961), as a recognized healing archetype. Research papers and specialist textbooks on the concept of the Wounded Healer are plentiful, but these are mostly within the realms of analytical psychology. Both Jung and Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) were at certain periods of their lives deeply disturbed psychologically. By submitting themselves to their own styles of self-analysis, they both came to understand their own sufferings more clearly and were able to appreciate and treat their patients more effectively.
Jung introduced extensive self-analysis as an essential part of the training of a psychotherapist, to be followed up by continuing clinical supervision, because, he said,
"The patient’s treatment begins with the doctor…in any ongoing analysis the whole personality of both patient and doctor is called into play. There are many cases that the doctor cannot cure without committing himself. When important matters are at stake, it makes all the difference whether the doctor sees himself as a part of the drama, or cloaks himself in his authority. In the great crises of life, in the supreme moments when to be or not to be is the question, little tricks of suggestion do not help. Then the whole being of the doctor is challenged…the Doctor is effective only when he himself is affected…‘the wounded physician heals.’ But when the doctor wears his personality like a coat of armour, he has no effect." (1)

Elsewhere Jung wrote:

"Without too much exaggeration a good half of every treatment that probes at all deeply consists in the doctor examining himself, for only what he can put right in himself can he hope to put right in the patient…It is his own hurt that gives the measure of his power to heal. This, and nothing else, is the meaning of the Greek myth of the wounded physician." (2)

Jung’s followers proceeded to give the term special significance in their work and thinking and it was Jungian analysts who apparently started referring to the Wounded Healer Archetype as a recognized tool in the healing process. Jung’s ideas were specifically developed in the context of the doctor and his patient in psychotherapy, but this wisdom is surely just as relevant today within the context of the general medical practitioner’s relationship with his patient.

It was the Dutch priest and successful spiritual writer Henri Nouwen who did so much to popularize the use of the term Wounded Healer in his own works in the context of pastoral healing. In the introduction to his book The Wounded Healer he wrote; ‘nothing can be written about ministry without a deeper understanding of the ways in which the minister can make his own wounds available as a source of healing.’

Like Carl Jung, Alfred Adler (1870 – 1937), a pioneer Austrian Psychiatrist, was a prominent member of Freud’s psychological group, before they both broke away from Freud to develop their own psychological theories. Jung developed a more analytical psychology, introducing the concept of the introvert and extrovert and the Collective Unconscious, with a description of the various archetypes of man’s basic and inherent psychic nature. Adler on the other hand developed his own ‘individual psychology’ theory, and introduced the concept of the ‘inferiority complex’. ‘The method of Individual Psychology begins and ends with the problem of inferiority,’ he wrote. Adler believed that all human motivation was power induced, for example by the drive to be superior or the drive to control others. Somehow that rings very true in much that we see around us today!

But these psychological theories and the treatments arising from them were developing apart from rather than in cooperation with clinical medical practice. 

Indeed in many medical circles the new psychologies were viewed with suspicion and regarded as nothing more than ‘quackery’. 

Science was coming to be regarded as the supreme truth: that nothing could be real unless scientifically proven. 

The scientists thought that there was no room for an intangible global value to exist alongside the material and capitalist values that were reigning supreme. Indeed in many academic circles today the writings of Freud and Jung are still regarded with scorn, on the basis that their theories are too anecdotal and can therefore be of little value to any furtherance of understanding of the human condition and the mind/body problem.

But these ideas should not be dismissed so carelessly. Those of Carl Jung in particular seem to me to be very much in line with some recent developments in the fields of consciousness and intuition, ideas which are slowly gaining some credibility and significance in modern medicine, as I shall explain later on...

to be contd......

(1) Jung, Carl G., Memories, Dreams Reflections (London: Fontana Press, 1995) pp.154-156.

(2) Jung, Carl G., Fundamental Questions of Psychotherapy, in The Collected Works of C G Jung, 1953-1979), vol. 16: 111-25, on p. 116.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

How Western Medicine lost its soul...

I showed in the last post how the possible values of holistic medicine had been all but lost sight of in the scientific gold rush following the work of men such as Sydenham and Harvey, and the dualism idea of Rene Descartes. 
There were many great medical scientists in the following centuries in Western Europe, for example Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister (the fathers of bacteriology and antiseptics respectively), Simpson (anesthetics) and Robert Koch who discovered the Tubercle and Cholera bacilli.
The physiology of medicine was being enthusiastically pursued but alas this was largely at the expense of any attention to the health of the mind or soul of patients. 
At Lluc Monastery
Their bodies came to be regarded simply as a mechanism to be cured, much as a mechanic might fix the engine of a faulty car. This attitude was made even worse by the development of cellular biology by the German pathologist Rudolf Virchow, who showed that disease was something that invaded the healthy cell. The physiology of the disease was triumphing over the care of the whole person. Throughout this period the health of the Western European population was improving dramatically. This however was in spite of rather than because of the dramatic increase of medical knowledge. The reasons were more attributable to the prevention of the main diseases of the day, for which no cures were yet known. Thus for example, smallpox, cholera and tuberculosis were actually eliminated or drastically reduced by the improvements in social conditions such as sanitation, housing and water supplies in the late nineteenth century. The mid 1800s up to the mid 1950s saw the significant development of clinical medicine, when doctors wanted nothing but the predictability and precision provided by scientific advances. Medicine became wholly science based and drugs, surgical procedures, radiation and other technical treatments were dominant. It was not until the discovery of the sulphonamides in the 1930s that real advances were made in the ability of a physician to cure disease. Ironically the improved health of the British population during the 1939-45 Second World War has been attributed more to the better nutrition of the nation, as a result of shortages of unhealthy sweet products, than to medical advances.
What was happening in the more recent history of North American medicine?
Here spirituality and healthcare had a strong connection from the mid eighteenth century until the late nineteenth century, when the medical profession began to be more formalized. Then in 1910 the Flexner Report was published, requiring the complete overhaul of the profession and suggesting that its medical schools needed organizing on a strictly scientific basis.
With these changes any link between medicine and spirituality was largely abandoned, at least for the time being. The soul had been disregarded.

to be contd...

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The History of Western Medicine: Goodbye to holistic medicine!

Just imagine being told that the cure for your “senile decrepitude” was to share your bed with a “vital young person”! 
This was one of the quainter remedies of a certain English physician Thomas Sydenham who, alongside the French philosopher, Rene Descartes, fuelled the massive advances in medical science from the early 17th century, advances which had been stirred by the work of William Harvey. Sydenham lived in the latter half of the seventeenth century. During his career he took it upon himself to revive the Hippocratic School by beginning to catalogue all known diseases of man in extreme and objective detail. Throughout this work he stressed the importance of observation rather than theory in clinical medicine. He was not however always respected for his views – perhaps not surprising really!
By the time that Thomas Sydenham had written his Observationes Medicae, the French Philosopher Rene Descartes, usually regarded as the father of Modern Philosophy, had set out his own philosophical theory on the duality of the mind and the body. In his Meditations Descartes developed the basic philosophy of Plato regarding the dual nature of the mind and body, into what has become known as Cartesian dualism. While Descartes saw the brain as the seat of intelligence, he regarded the body and brain together as simply a machine, quite separate from the soul or mind that Descartes saw as non- physical in nature. He did though believe that the body and soul in some way influence one another, in a way not yet understood.
This was just the excuse which Western medical scientists had waited for, to divorce themselves totally from the mystic element of the life forces.
It enabled them to pursue their medical researches in the context of the body alone, aided immeasurably by Harvey’s legacy.
pilgrims' lodgings at Lluc Monastery Mallorca
The mind and soul could now be left entirely to the cure of the church, which was also losing its grip on the healing nature of its ministry.
The scientific study of medicine was able to advance without having to worry about the possible influences of mind and soul that were intangible and not scientifically measurable. Thus in the excitement of scientific discovery, medicine lost sight of any causal links between mind and body, let alone soul or spirit and any essence of healing, as opposed to caring and curing.
The possible values of holistic medicine were all but lost sight of in the scientific gold rush.

to be contd...

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The History of Western Medicine: Hippocrates to Harvey

I am fascinated by the movement to bring the treatment of the mind, soul and spirit back into mainstream Western medicine. I yearn for a wider mainstream recognition that technology and pharmacology cannot provide all the answers where well-being and healthcare are concerned.
Over the next few weeks in this blog I shall be tracing the history of Western medicine, showing where we lost sight of our souls in our treatments and offering signs of hope all around us for those who are looking for healing for our dis-ease as well as cures for our illness. So far in the last two posts I’ve brought us from primitive man to Ancient Greece where Hippocrates was born in the 5th century BC and where the Asklepian healing temples lasted through to the 5th century AD.
There were few changes in the basic practice of Hippocratic medicine until in the second century AD the Greek physician and philosopher Galen came on the scene. Galen developed the theory that the heart generated the heat of the body and that air from the lungs then regulated the body temperature and stopped it overheating. What an amazing thought now, with the benefit of all our scientific techniques for understanding the workings of the human body! Galen’s was a very theoretical physiology, in marked contrast to the objective, factual medicine of Hippocrates. He was however held in very high regard and when he later moved to Rome he was engaged as physician to the Gladiators, a privileged role indeed. His respected theories, born more out of philosophy than from science or theology, served to stifle the further development of medicine as a science for fifteen centuries until the seventeenth century.
We need to bring the early Christian Church into the story here.

The spread of Christianity with its ministry of healing and compassion was influencing the practice of medicine in the first few centuries AD and was also inhibiting the advance of scientific medicine.
Before seeing why this was so, let’s just spend a moment looking at the concept of the Wounded Healer. I love this idea. In our own healing it is possible for us to discover that we are uniquely equipped to understand the healing needs of others, to walk alongside them and assist them in their own healing process. We will feel a profound and healing compassion towards others. The origins of the concept lie in the Greek myth of Chiron the physician and in the earliest indigenous shamans, or medicine men. But for a Christian Jesus Christ is seen as the greatest Wounded Healer of all time. Christ’s healing powers were manifest in many stories throughout His ministry and were carried through into the early healing missions of the Christian apostles. The methods they used included prayer, the anointing of Holy Oils and the laying on of hands, methods that are being reintroduced into healing services in the twenty first century. But the influence of these healing powers in the very early Christian church diminished over time. The apostles were not Jesus and they lacked the confidence or faith to impart His very special healing gifts to the afflicted. There was a gradual reversion to the earliest religious beliefs that illness was in some way caused by man’s sins, that it was mostly in his own power to heal his afflictions.
Reflection in the font at Salisbury Cathedral
Any possible link between the healing methods of the early church and the clinical methodology of Hippocrates were short lived.

In 1215 Pope Innocent the Third condemned surgery and all priests who practiced it. Then in 1248 the dissection of the human body was declared sacrilegious and anatomy was condemned as a subject of study. 

A split of medicine away from the healing ministries of the church was inevitable.
Little then changed in the development of Western medicine until 400 years later when in 1628 the English physician William Harvey, after nine years of painstaking research, was able to present his theories on the circulation of the blood. This proved to be the most significant medical event since Galen. It opened the way for massive advances in medical science…but at the expense of healing therapy, as we shall see...

Friday, 13 December 2013

Hippocrates: the Father of Western Medicine

Considering that Hippocrates has profoundly influenced the development of Western medicine we rather surprisingly know very little about him!

In my last post I introduced the idea that in the context of medicine I believe we need to de-mechanize our bodies, to consider the healing needs of soul and spirit alongside the modern and often wonderful scientific advances, to develop a truly holistic healing opportunity for the patient.

the Lotus flower - divine symbol in Asian traditions
Over the next few weeks I shall trace the history of Western Medicine, showing how we lost sight of this important truth and how we are beginning to pick up the traces again.

We continue the story in Ancient Greece with Hippocrates, widely and popularly regarded as the father of Western medicine as we now know it. Hippocrates was a Greek physician born in the fifth century BC on the island of Cos. The Hippocratic Oath or a modified version of it is still taken by physicians on first qualification at some Universities. Hippocrates developed and worked with a physical model of the human being, looking for cures to physical conditions and following a rational, evidence based medicine with recourse to external agents to effect the cures, much as science is applied to medicine today.

His medicine was based on observation and objectivity, placing more emphasis on the body that could be measured and described, rather than on the subjectivity of feelings and senses. The Hippocratic physicians were not very interested in the opinion of the patient and distanced themselves from any of the charms and incantations of the many traditional and ‘unconventional’ healing methods of the time based on magic and religion. This is why Virgil described the medicine of the day as the silent art. Indeed Hippocrates is still sometimes blamed when people today say that doctors do not communicate well with their patients!

Hippocrates was however said to be good at diagnosis and prognosis. Perhaps, who knows, he used his intuitive skills, that we now see in the modern day medical intuitives. The Hippocratic School believed that all disease had its origin in the yellow and black biles, blood and phlegm, which were the four fluids of the body. These fluids were believed to parallel the natural elements of air, earth, fire and water and their varying proportions in the body influenced the emotional or physical attributes of the patient, or their ‘humors’. At that time medicine was by no means the respectable profession that we recognize today.

A Buddhist shrine in Bangkok
Medicine had no status and anyone was able to practice in whatever form they wished.

Hippocrates gained respect in this environment with his more detailed methodology. That is not to say that he lost sight of the holistic approach to medicine, which he is said to have still regarded as important in the overall treatment of the person.

It seems though that he believed in a natural and unknown healing power of the mind rather than a divine or spiritual healing force. 

Hippocrates insisted that the body could heal itself naturally and that no treatment should interfere with that healing process. The predominant philosophy in Hippocrates’ time regarding the relationship of the mind and body was that of Plato, who broadly speaking believed that humans had an external soul, linked to the physical body but existing before and after the life of the material body. Certainly the influences of the mind and emotions on physical health were recognized.

One of the less conventional methods of healing that was already well established in Greece at that time was to be found in the Asklepian Temples, named after Asklepios, the Greek God of Healing. Hippocrates was said to respect this hugely popular treatment of the day.

Asklepios was the son of a union between the nymph Coronis and the great Apollo. Because Coronis had been unfaithful to Apollo Apollo’s twin sister Artemis killed her during her pregnancy. The baby Asklepios was removed from his mother’s dead body on the funeral pyre, probably by his father or Hermes, and handed over to Chiron the Wounded Healer to raise him in the art of healing. Asklepios looked towards psychological and spiritual healing, of the mind and soul, for what were otherwise regarded as incurable and chronic conditions. The Greek view of the day was that such conditions were caused by the gods and needed divine healing and that this had to come from within. The Island of Cos had an important Asklepian healing temple and would be visited by such invalids. The patients would be fasted, rested and cleansed in sacred springs under the supervision of the priests. They would then be left to sleep in special resting places, where they would dream. The essence of the healing was that this process of dreaming worked within the psyche of the patient rather than at his conscious level. In the morning the dreams would be discussed with the temple priests and the patient would then leave an offering before he went on his way. Snakes played an important role in this healing process in the temples. It is possible that their healing power was attributed to their ability to slough their skins regularly. This would have been seen as rejuvenation, although of course we know now that this is a natural stage of the growth process.

Snakes are still symbolized in the Caduceus, the international medical symbol that shows a serpent entwined around Asklepios’ staff. 

The Caduceus has also become the popular symbol of the Wounded Healer. It is known that Hippocrates worked in co-operation with the Asklepians and may have referred some of his patients to the temples. There was clearly some integration of these different schools of healing. The Asklepian Temples and their healing methods had disappeared by 500 AD although of all the pagan cults of the time these treatments lasted longer than any of the others into the Christian era. This was because they were enormously popular with the ordinary citizens. With the demise of these healing temples the Greek recognition of the influence of mind and spirit in the healing process was lost to Hippocratic medicine. Although aspects of the Asklepian healing method are seen again in some of the complementary and alternative therapies of today, there is widespread resistance to these ‘soft’ therapies among many ‘mainstream’ medical clinicians. Meanwhile into that ancient Greek culture a new genre of healing literature was appearing. It was being recognized that writing about one’s own afflictions could be a source of comfort for others with similar suffering. This ‘consolatory ministering’ flourished from around the mid fourth century BC to the Renaissance of the fifteenth century.

There were few changes in the basic practice of Hippocratic medicine until in the second century AD the Greek physician and philosopher Galen came on the scene. I shall pick up the story with Galen in my next post... 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Where are we going wrong in Western Medicine? Has it lost its soul?

I can always rely on the local branches of the Scientific and Medical Network to organize stimulating and refreshingly different meetings which push the boundaries of our understanding of the nature of reality – within their overall mission objective of exploring and expanding the frontiers of science, medicine and spirituality.

(why not go across to their website to see their mission, aims and values for yourself – it is a very worthy organization for all who think that there must be something beyond the totally materialistic and reductionist world which we have created for ourselves in the West.)

Sea of Galilee
Last night certainly didn’t disappoint our expectations, as many members and non members gathered to hear the medical anthropologist Dr Natalie Tobert speak to us about Alternative Psychiatry, based on her fieldwork in India on bio-medical, religious and spiritual strategies for mental health. Natalie Tobert is course director of the educational programme, Medicine Beyond Materialism, education director of Aethos and has run workshops worldwide as well as publishing many articles and two books.

She showed us how in India there is no dominant medical paradigm for ill health, and the practitioner draws on social factors, cultural and religious beliefs which are all critical determinants of health and well being. The discussion which followed concentrated on how we can bring these ideas into the Western medical health system, not only for the benefit of the ethnic minorities who are quite clearly not well served by our allopathic medicine but also for the benefit of us all.


Now this is something I have been really interested in promoting for several years. I believe firmly that in the context of medicine we need to de-mechanize our bodies, to consider the healing needs of soul and spirit alongside the modern and often wonderful scientific advances, to develop a truly holistic healing opportunity for the patient, so I am very much on the same wave length as Natalie here.

Very early on in its history Western medicine lost its soul to scientific advances and we can learn so much from the Eastern traditions of which Natalie spoke so eloquently. There are glimmers of hope. Slowly but surely we are beginning to realize the importance of the whole person again in our healthcare systems, but progress is slow, although as with many things the USA are ahead of the UK and the rest of Europe in this regard.

For earliest man physical illness was inextricably linked with the mind, with spirituality and with religion. The original belief was that disease came from the gods as punishment for invoking their displeasure in some way. Amulets found alongside the remains of Paleolithic man were almost certainly used as charms for healing purposes, a recognition at that time of the importance of the mind to the cause of illness, a precursor of modern psychology long before it was known as such! Later, but still long before the birth of medical science, man called on his religion to heal his pain and suffering. He sought wholeness of the body, a holistic approach to healing.

Now I'm not saying that all of these beliefs stand the test of time and education, but I am saying that we ignore the lessons we can learn from indigenous wisdom at our peril.  

Western medicine largely lost this holistic wisdom with the advancement of medical science, and it was not to be rediscovered until the second half of the last century. In this new millennium I believe that in time we will come to marvel at how we could have ignored this sense of the soul’s healing significance for so long. Over the next few weeks I am going to trace the history of Western medicine and see how and why the importance of the soul, spirit and mind was lost sight of in the enthusiasm of technological and pharmacological advance and how we are now beginning to rediscover this vital element in our health and well being. And I will be discussing why I think that this has enormous social consequences for us all.

Tomorrow I’ll start with Hippocrates, Asklepios and Galen…

Thank you Natalie for helping us spread the debate...

Monday, 25 November 2013

Why Religions Really Do Matter

There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.
George Bernard Shaw

view from the Saffron Monastery
in East Turkey south towards Syria
Someone had written "They Don't" under the title on the front cover of the book.
I looked at it with a touch of sadness. I wondered if the person who had written that had actually read any of the book to find out why religions do indeed work? Because the "work" in the title, Why Religions Work has three different meanings: first to reflect all the amazing good work that religions do in the world,  thereby cancelling out many times over the negative aspects of religions (because of course anyone can find the negative in any thing that they themselves have no time for.)
The fact is that religions are social capital writ large. 
Secondly, religions do all of this because it is within their teachings to do so; to care for creation and each other, for example.
Thirdly, and somewhat subtly,
they "work" in the sense that they satisfy a spiritual need that is inherent in the human condition and in the sense that science is perhaps beginning to show us some of the reasons for some of our religious beliefs.
If there were no religions established to worship a "Being" mightier than ourselves then we would have to invent one. And there is exciting science emerging that helps us to understand some of the beliefs the religious among us hold dear: discoveries about the nature of consciousness, the way the brain works, and the existence of empathy neurons, for example; together with mystical experiences and evidence from near death and out of body experiences of another existence beyond this one, even evidence for a "soul." These give us ideas as to why religions "work" in that sense.

St Albans Cathedral UK
In this book Why Religions Work: God's Place in the World Today, I wanted to approach the God and religion argument from this new and challenging angle. I wanted to address the lack of respect for religions, particularly in the Western world. I wanted this to be a serious yet accessible contribution to understanding why we all need to support religion as well as spirituality. I wanted to explore the global spiritual awareness we are now beginning to see, that comes with an appreciation of spiritual human inter-connectivity and shared responsibilities. Are ideas of spirituality and advances in the scientific understanding of empathy and consciousness closing the gap between science and religion, between spirituality and religion? Could these same ideas help us find better inter-religious and interdenominational understanding? Perhaps so. 
Such questions matter for the future of our world 
and I try to answer them in the book.

So I could have called the book Why Religions Matter. But that would not have conveyed fully what the reader will find within its covers. Religions WORK. And there are very many reasons why they do!

So I hope that person comes back and reads the book. But I fear he won't!

From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,
From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth,
From the laziness that is content with half-truths,
O God of truth, deliver us.

sunset over the canary islands

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Wounded Healer: Healing This Wounded Earth

People so often ask me what inspired me to write my book Healing This Wounded Earth, so here goes - adapted from the Preface:

Aktamar Island Lake Van Eastern Turkey 
"The idea came to me while on holiday in Turkey in 2004. I was in the middle of a long process of healing following a devastating mental breakdown and burnout that for a while had turned my life upside down. I was receiving excellent professional help for mind, body, soul and spirit, and to supplement this healing I had turned to the contemplative books by the Roman Catholic priest Henri Nouwen, including his short bestselling gem, The Wounded Healer.

These books became such a valuable and reliable source of comfort and support in my pain. So I was lying by the swimming pool at that Turkish villa reading Michael Ford’s The Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J.M.Nouwen. As I thought more about what I was reading it seemed to me that the compassion and vulnerability of the Wounded Healer could have a significance for healing our dangerously fractured world far beyond the realms of the pastoral and medical professions, where it is primarily researched and understood as a means of healing and where most of the literature is to be found. And I had one of those Eureka moments!
Where else, I was thinking, can we find the Wounded Healer in our lives? 
How, I thought, could we hope to heal this world when so many of us have our own unhealed spiritual and mental wounds, and so much of our destructive behavior is because of those wounds; when for so many of us it is not regarded as appropriate in our working lives to show too much compassion, let alone vulnerability.

I really never gave a thought to just how big this project was going to be as I started on my research and this took me deeper and wider into so very many other fields. It was all so fascinating. Meanwhile the wounds of the world become ever more serious and the healing needs more urgent. It took me five years of research, and numerous abandoned drafts along the way, before the final carefully crafted version went to the publishers.

In this book I address all those who over the years have bemoaned the state of the world and asked ‘But what can I do?’

Any bias towards Anglican Christianity is simply a reflection of my own faith but the book is written for all those who are ‘of good faith,’ those of any faith or none who have the honesty of intention to work alone or together to help heal the world. 

This week in the UK is Interfaith Week, and never have spirituality and faith and the ancient wisdoms of all the great religions been more relevant than in today’s fractured world (I tackle this subject in more detail in Why Religions Work).

We need to appreciate these in a spirit of mutual respect and understanding. More than that, I believe there is an urgent need to integrate ancient spiritual wisdom and philosophy with modern scientific endeavors and rediscover the spiritual in all our material experiences. This is our responsibility and we have no choice if we are to halt the destruction all around us. This is a matter of faith for many and an obligation for all humankind.

I hope you enjoy the book!

Beautiful Turkey - view across Lake Van from Aktamar Island 

By the way, I am now working on my latest book, on A Spiritual Journey through Depression, and on the experiences of our pilgrimage through Eastern Turkey this year, the subject of my current blog over at Why Religion: The Wisdom of  Tolerance.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Litter, trash,garbage, rubbish, refuse, junk: Revisited

The city of Bangkok is amazing - vibrant, colorful, noisy, chaotic, and wonderful in many ways. All the street food vendors, the Buddhist shrines everywhere, the flood water when the monsoon rains fall, the traffic, the taxis which always seem to take you to the wrong place, the tuk-tuks, and the street food! There is fast food everywhere, cooked at the pavement, eaten at rickety tables sitting on sometimes tiny chairs. People seem to be living on top of one another. The population density per Wikipedia is said to be 5300 per km2, pretty much the same as London. (OK I know that we can debate which area of a city is used for these calculations, but for the sake of argument let's take these figures to be pretty roughly comparable.) Why then is Bangkok so clean? And London so dirty?
I am talking mainly about litter. Of course in Bangkok the street food avoids the plastic wrapping that is so much a part of fast food London and its suburbs. But surely there is something more to this? Is it the pride that people take in their home town? Of course you see plenty of rubbish in the streets of Bangkok, but it is largely the piles awaiting collection by the public services or whoever takes this away for them.

Albany in Western Australia is so clean. Litter really is a minor problem. And the whole place is clean. The pavements are clean. The bus stops are clean. The parks are clean. And people get annoyed with other people who leave cigarette butts at beauty spots -they leave notices - and butt-bins - and clean up after them!

a besmirched mosaic in the Oxted subway - disgusting!
Oxted in Surrey UK is filthy. And it has a real litter problem as well. Population? Albany has 281 per km2, not that far different from Oxted with c. 330 per km2. So how can Albany be so clean, Oxted so dirty? Is it simply that Albany cares?

Come on UK. Let's start having a little more pride in how we look.

And this is chewing gum all over the pavements in Oxted.  Disgusting? Yes!!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Time for a new era of responsibility?

In his Nobel Lecture, on December 11th 1964, Peace Prize Laureate Martin Luther King reminded us:

 Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’ Deeply etched in the fiber of our religious tradition is the conviction that men are made in the image of God and that they are souls of infinite metaphysical value, the heirs of a legacy of dignity and worth. If we feel this as a profound moral fact, we cannot be content to see men hungry, to see men victimized with starvation and ill health when we have the means to help them. The wealthy nations must go all out to bridge the gulf between the rich minority and the poor majority...

In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied in a single garment of destiny. All life is interrelated, and all men are interdependent. 

The agony of the poor diminishes the rich, and the salvation of the poor enlarges the rich. We are inevitably our brothers’ keeper because of the interrelated structure of reality”.
Three centuries earlier the Renaissance author and Anglican priest John Donne famously wrote in 1624:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. 

Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”. (1) 
The Apostle Paul, writing in his first epistle to the Corinthians, on human worth, likened the worldwide body of Christians with the human body. All parts of the body are essential for the complete welfare of the whole. In the same way we all need each other and the loss of any part weakens us all: there should be no discord between us. He taught his followers that the members of the church should ‘have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.’ (2) The ‘body’ in this biblical context is translated from the Greek Soma, related to Sozo meaning ‘to heal, preserve, be made whole.’ We are not whole: we are wounded or spiritually impoverished if we are not a part of the greater body of faith in our community. 

We all need to feel that connectedness, that relationship. We need to find unity within the wide diversity of all our individual gifts. We all need each other and we all are special in the eyes of God.

Followers of the Baha’i faith see Earth as one country of which we are all citizens. (3) One of their guiding principles is that ‘the oneness of humanity is the fundamental spiritual and social truth shaping our age.’

Whatever our faith, or none, we can all be guided by these truths.  

In this fraught age, isn’t this our personal responsibility

Adapted from "Healing This Wounded Earth: with Compassion.Spirit and the Power of Hope".


1. John Donne seventeenth century English poet died 1631. Famous words of prose taken from the final lines of his 1624 Meditation 17, from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions.
2. Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 1 Corinthians 12. 25, 26.
3. From Baha’u’llah’s Revelation, as he enjoins his followers to develop a sense of world citizenship and a commitment to stewardship of the earth. From Palmer, Martin with Victoria Finlay, Faith in Conservation: New Approaches to Religions and the Environment, The World Bank Washington DC 2003 p. 72.

Friday, 6 September 2013

It seems the World is short of compassion...

Imagine travelling in a vehicle crammed so full with other passengers that you have no space to sit down – OK, underground transit systems in rush hour tick that box. 

But then imagine that the journey is 18 hours long, over hundreds of miles, perhaps involving a sea crossing which could be bumpy and uncomfortable. It is stifling hot outside and within the vehicle and you are given no comfort stops, for loos and refreshments.

Then imagine that we are talking about sheep, or cattle. The stench within the soiled truck can be overwhelming, the pitiful bleating heartrending. By the end of the journey there are up to a hundred or more sickly, exhausted, and stressed animals, that may even on arrival at their destination be unloaded into overcrowded “fattening barns”, devoid of sunlight and green pastures, perhaps for up to a month or so before being taken for slaughter.
What a fate. No animal should be allowed to suffer like this.
Farm animals can experience pain and distress just like us, and they can also know contentment and well-being.
According to the website of Compassion in World Farming, over 40 billion animals worldwide are confined in factory farming systems which prevent them from doing what animals do naturally. How cruel is that?
If we insist on eating animals we really do owe it to them that they do not have to suffer so much in their lives. 
But this is what happens all the time when animals are forced to travel may miles before slaughter. In the UK live exports are a particular horror that is currently being addressed by Compassion in World Farming.  

It may seem almost irrelevant to be worried about animal suffering when we cannot even deal adequately with the immense suffering of fellow human beings, innocent children in Syria for example.

But both matter. A truly compassionate heart doesn’t differentiate – a compassionate heart must hold a deep concern for all sentient beings, human or otherwise.

It seems we are very short of compassion in our world.

For more information you can go to the websites of Compassion in World Farming and The Humane Society of the United States.

Please care about our animals. Please consider supporting organic farming if you must eat meat. Please consider eating less meat, even going vegetarian. Please find compassion in your heart for these creatures that do not have a voice, other than a pitiful bleat or bellow when life is not treating them well.

Oh God Come to my assistance O Lord make haste to help me

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.   Einstein

Our priest did a very brave thing in our church service last Sunday. He called for 5 minutes silence at the beginning of the sermon!

What a powerful experience it was: just over one hundred people all united together in silent thought and prayer. The church was so quiet, save only for the occasional and delightful accompaniment of a young toddler gently burbling, experimenting with his own sounds and his own first words!

The spiritual connection between us all was palpable. And I’m sure God was listening.

Fresh from Greenbelt, and inspired by Fr Christopher Jamison, former abbot of the English Benedictine Worth Abbey, our priest told us of the prayer used by the Benedictines, and others, based on Psalm 69: “Oh God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me”.

He asked us to prepare for 5 minutes quiet time every morning starting with this prayer, as a life giving rule, not as a puritanical chore. Even attach it to a pleasure, to a nice cup of tea! Then, he said, listen and let God answer.

In the general ‘busyness’ of many church services there is simply no opportunity for such contemplative spiritual experience. And there is a very real need for more communal silent reflection, prayer and meditation in our services. Churches seem so very busy doing all they can to encourage young families into services, with child friendly music and liturgy, and that is a wonderful and essential thing. But they must also make time and space for the spiritual silences, to nurture our souls and enhance our relationship with God.. 

But I think there is much more to this. Carl Jung introduced the idea of the "collective unconscious," and in his Answer to Job, wrote of a God Consciousness, an awakening consciousness in the universe. This echoes the higher levels of consciousness recognized within various mystic and meditation practices.

Isn’t it possible that when we have our spiritual experiences we are all tapping into the same spirit, higher level of collective consciousness, transcendence, whatever we may choose to call it, even the Holy Spirit? This spirituality could be the common thread that binds and unites all religions in a true spiritual oneness of humanity, a global spiritual interdependence. Indeed this is available to everyone, whatever our belief or otherwise in God. Because, after all, this indefinable global consciousness, soul, spirit, empathy is presumably of the same character whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jains, atheists, agnostics, black, white, Scottish or Zulu or whatever our faith, color or culture. Perhaps we may find here the links we need to build a greater respect and understanding between all humanity, essential for the future healthy evolution of this planet and indeed for our own flourishing and survival.

What a dream! How do we achieve this? 

Having five minutes prayerful or meditational silence in our religious service every Sunday and in our homes every day is surely a good place to start!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Earth Overshoot Day

20th August was Earth Overshoot Day, and it passed by with barely a media comment. OK, there are some very pressing political affairs taking up much media time at the moment, mainly Syria and the Middle East, but that doesn’t mean we can afford to ignore the groans and pains of the earth itself which supports all of us.
This year on 20th August the world used up, in just under 8 months, the resources of the earth that it takes one year to renew. We have run out of the earth’s income for the year. We are in overdraft. The earth is not big enough, productive enough, for our greedy needs.

If the whole world lived like the greedy, high consuming Western world we would need far more than one earth to supply our needs unless we are to go into ever spiralling resources debt. But we only have one earth, and it is finite!

And we go on about the continual need for growth. Why must we grow? Because our capitalist economy demands it. Without growth we die, says the capitalist mantra. And so we continue to put more and more pressure on food and energy resources.
But there are other ways to run our economy, based on co-operation rather than competition, based on social justice and supplying the needs of all. We have to explore other ways of living, for the sake of the earth, and those who live and breathe on it.

When the last tree is cut, the last river poisoned, and the last fish dead, we will discover that we can't eat money... Greenpeace message on one of their longest banners.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Are the rights of women and children a key to world peace?

My last post was about our violent behaviour and the link with our own wounds.

Riane Eisler author of The Chalice & The Blade and her award-winning The Power of Partnership has her own particular take on violence: "The link",she has said, "between intimate violence in the home and the international violence of terrorism and war is as tightly bound together as the fingers of a clenched fist."

Eisler is president of the Center for Partnership Studies and the founder with Nobel Peace Laureate Betty Williams of the Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence. "A central finding from Eisler’s research is a link between top-down, war-like regimes and the oppression of women. A pioneer in advancing women’s and children’s human rights, Eisler calls on us to recognize that what we call “women’s issues” and “children’s issues” are central to human rights, prosperity, and peace for everyone. Where the human rights of women and children are respected and protected, communities, nations, and Earth thrive."

Plenty of food for thought there.

silly money and social consequences

A friend’s gliding club premises were broken into the other night and well and truly trashed before the vandals made off with some expensive equipment.

Our local allotments are regularly broken into, sheds and green houses damaged and stuff stolen.

One can only assume that the people who do these things feel that in some way society owes them something that they don’t have, cannot get, other than through dishonest means. And they presumably feel angry as well, which is where the trashing comes in.

We hear this weekend that the Welsh football star Gareth Bale is to transfer from Tottenham to Real Madrid for a transfer fee of $130 million and a weekly pay for 6 years of $465,000. That’s very roughly $66,000 per day or $2700 per hour or $46 per minute. We can argue over exact amounts due to conversion rate and rounding differences but at those values who cares? The point is that this sort of money for a single man who happens to be quite good at kicking a ball around a field is obscene in any currency!

There’s a TV ad at the moment that shouts at us from the screen the virtues of taking part in a lottery – we can get lots of stuff, lots of money, we are told. Stuff, stuff, money, money… As if that is all that’s important in life and this will be the route to happiness. But it isn't and it won't be!

The divide between the materially wealthy and the hungry poor in the world is massive and the gap is apparently widening. Around half the world’s population live on less than $2 per person per day, a massive testament to human suffering, and this figure includes something like 1.4 million American households. Statistics such as these are an affront to our humanity when at the same time we have the ‘super rich’, to be found among the celebrities of sport, television and movie, the top bankers, investment fund managers, lawyers and doctors, including a footballer who will earn $46 per minute! It is true that many on the ‘rich-list’ are extremely generous in giving their time, talent and wealth for the global good, using their celebrity status or wealth or both to for social justice worldwide; people such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and Bono, the Irish lead singer of U2, best known perhaps for his key involvement with the Make Poverty History campaign.

But silly salaries and lavish life-styles breed an envy and greed, particularly it would seem among the young who are being taught by example that material wealth and celebrity status are the measure of ‘success’. And in the developing world others are attracted to our consumer life style and aspire to similar ‘wealth’. 

Meanwhile the poor of the world continue to struggle for survival and allotments and gliding clubs will still be broken into and trashed.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

A world in urgent need of more compassion...

In a week when the crisis in Syria escalates, and when retiring Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is quoted as saying that mankind has "lost the plot", it is sobering to reflect on the fact that man’s place in nature is unique. He is not only conscious of his own evolution, but he can shape his evolutionary future by how he behaves. And we surely behave badly!

Sure, we commit acts of violence against each other and against ourselves, of a physical and brutal nature, that is widely seen across our media. But this violence can be more subtle, such as verbal abuse and childhood bullying. There is aggression and violence in our homes, on our streets, and between communities as well as between nations.

And that is not all. We also commit acts of violence against the environment, manifested in pollution, soil erosion, species extinctions and perhaps in some of the effects of climate change we are now experiencing. We are all guilty of thoughtless and selfish patterns of behavior that can so often directly or indirectly contribute to the suffering of others.

The real problem is that on its own no amount of any rule and regulation, law or leadership, will change the way we behave. Rather than having regulation thrust upon us, we need to understand why we behave as we do and really commit our hearts and our minds to the need for change. Perhaps that means tracing our behavior back to the healing needs of our own wounds. This does not mean our physical wounds, but the wounds we have inherited and those from our own suffering, from the way we react to personal experiences that life has thrown at us: our insecurities and fears, our feelings of hopelessness and despair, that can be reflected in greed and envy, in over-consumption, violence and addictions to work or harmful substances.

Our unhealed wounds are potentially dangerous not only for our own personal well being but for the future of the world. We are in grave danger of being driven by our present behavior to spiritual bankruptcy and physical destruction. Action is urgent.

To find healing and wholeness we need to reconnect with our roots, with our souls, rediscovering our spirituality and our faith, and healing those wounds. And once we have found healing for our wounds, we may even discover that we are uniquely equipped to understand the wounds of others, to walk alongside them and assist them in their own healing process. We will feel a profound and healing compassion towards all sentient beings. This is what it means to be a Wounded Healer.  And this is surely our future. Is it too much to hope for?

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Martin Luther King on non-violence and love

" …nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time - the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. 

Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."

Martin Luther King in 1964 from his acceptance speech for his Nobel Peace Prize.


Monday, 26 August 2013

I have a dream...

As we mark 50 years since Martin Luther King made his famous “I have a dream…” speech, the terrible events within the world today remind me of something else King said, in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture December 11th 1964.

He observed that ‘the richer we have become materially the poorer we have become morally and spiritually.’ He called this our moral and spiritual ‘lag’. We live, he said, in two realms:

"The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live."

Our problem today, he said, is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external. We have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. He warned that we would put ourselves in peril if the former, the internal, does not grow apace of the external material realm. ‘When the ‘without’ of man’s nature subjugates the ‘within’, dark storm clouds begin to form in the world.’ The result, he cautioned, is racial injustice, poverty and war, that will only be alleviated if we balance our moral progress with our scientific progress and learn the practical art of living in harmony in a ‘worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation.’

Carl Jung had already observed this in 1957 when he wrote: ‘As at the beginning of the Christian era, so again today, we are faced with the problem of the general moral backwardness which has failed to keep pace with our scientific, technical and social progress.’ (1)

This week Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said that we have “lost the plot” in our society, due to our increasingly secular lives. 

Religion and ethics were once closely intertwined, but the influence of religion has declined in so many lives,with potentially devastating consequences.

The Dalai Lama in 2000 warned of a ‘mounting confusion with respect to the problem of how best we are to conduct ourselves in life...(and) morality becomes a matter of individual preference.’(2)

Nietzsche called this an impending ‘total eclipse of all values.’(3) Atheist as he himself was, his observation, he claimed, was entirely objective: we need a God and the moral codes inherent in that belief to curb our otherwise unpleasant behavioral traits. Whether or not we claim a particular faith as our spiritual guide and source of hope, the deep healing need that is within each and every one of us transcends all boundaries of faith or creed. I believe that we need to reach that need and heal our hearts before we can hope to heal our world. How, I wonder, can we do this? And can a faith help?

Adapted from Chapter 3 The Hope of Faith from Healing this Wounded Earth

1. From The Collected Works of C G Jung, 1970 pp304-305 as quoted in Claire Dunn Carl Jung: Wounded Healer of the Soul An Illustrated Biography, London: Continuum, 2000, p.199

2. .His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Ancient Wisdom Modern World: Ethics for the New Millennium (London: Abacus, Time Warner Books UK, 2000), p. 11.

3.  Friedrich Nietzsche, used a few times through his literature, for example spoken by the madman in The Gay Science (Philosophical Classics) Friedrich Nietzsche with Thomas Common (Translator)(New York: Dover Publications, 2006).

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