I approached with a sense of sanctity as I knew I was walking into something special. I had seen this corner decked out in celebration of one holiday after another. I extended my gift — a Christmas Cactus — and the grieving mother took it with expressed gratitude. Naturally, she started to tell me about the beautiful 19-year-old daughter she and her husband had so unnaturally buried 15 years ago. So many details there were in this tragic story. The couple had endured one insult, injury, and injustice after another as they discovered the ineptitude of care that may well have robbed their daughter of any chance for survival after the accident.
Advocating for a safer intersection, establishing scholarships, and investigating the discrepancies in their daughter’s medical care, the woman and her husband had used some of life’s lemons to make lemonade. But it seems that there is not enough sugar in the world to ease their sense of grief. Their love for her, rich and deep, has caramelized into despair. The tragic details have crystallized into broken shards both coursing through their veins and crunching under their feet as they try to continue through what remains of their life. They are each other’s sole surviving family members. It’s a tragic story.
The woman must have gone over this narrative a billion times in her head. But when she says it aloud, probably for the millionth time, it pours out like cereal in the sock drawer. It’s messy and overwhelming — and all over the place. Her eyes and face — and the grimace that takes over mid-sentence — make apparent how incredibly unfair life continues to be in her world.
So, while the couple has found some positive coping mechanisms, healing seems to be elusive. In fact, for as busy as the mom’s conscious mind is at preserving her worst nightmare, I bet her subconscious is doing an even better job of keeping the pain and suffering alive in her cells. See, it’s not just the mental chatter that will get you, but the cellular chatter, as well.
The cells are always listening. For this reason, I cringe anytime I hear the words, “I will never get past this.” You’ve heard it too, I’m sure. It seems to be a fitting expression when something egregious has happened. It’s intended as a passionate impact statement. However, it’s no simple expression because the cell’s outer membrane — which research now suggests is the cell’s brain — constantly receives information from our environment and dictates what happens within the cell. And, good cellular function and communication determine our quality of health. So, taking a single moment and etching it in stone brings negative implications for our wellbeing.
Cells are acutely aware of their environment, meaning they are constantly receiving and responding to biochemical cues. A single molecule is enough to make them change course. They adapt from moment to moment according to changing circumstances. Not paying attention isn’t an option.
-Super Genes (2015), Deepak Chopra & Rudolph E. Tanzi
A Cellular Community
Dr. Bruce Lipton, in The Biology of Belief (2005), describes the single cells that make up the tissues of our bodies as “sentient creatures.” Together, the stem cell biologist, researcher, and forerunner of epigenetics considers the 50 to 100 trillion of them “a cooperative community.”
So, to predict that we will never heal emotionally from a moment of trauma is like making a meme go viral in the social media feed of our mind-body. As we all know, memes are nothing if not penetrating. The whole network gets the message. Not only might we sink into the depths of emotional depression based on such a definitive statement, but the physical self may also buckle under the weight of this debilitating information.
Now, it would be problematic enough if we only had to concern ourselves with what we say and think. However, it’s deeper than that because our cells also respond to input from our subconscious. These are the messages that trickle in without us even knowing it. It’s like standing water reflective of our memories, belief systems, and perceptions. Regardless of the origin, emotionally charged information hiding in the subconscious impacts activity in the mind-body. So, in this case, what we don’t know can hurt us.
Take active memories, for example. They form when we experience something we cannot accept or make meaning of, so we bury it. As a result, subconsciously, we remain emotionally charged, and we end up stuck in a subtle stress response. In other words, our lives have moved on, but our cells haven’t gotten word that we’re out of danger. Subconsciously, we’re still tripping on the “bad” thing that happened. This subtle but persistent state of alarm, psychoneuroimmunology research suggests, is a common cause of overall lack of wellbeing, including sickness and disease. It can even dictate how we relate to ourselves and others, with relationship conflict being yet another source of daily stress.
It’s an emergent field of study, psychoneuroimmunology. So is its cousin, psychoneuroendocrinology. One studies the connection between mind, brain, and immunity; the other deals with the endocrine system, the nervous system, and psychology. Both helping to change how we think about ourselves. In short, we are not mechanical beings separate from our experiences. We deserve to be in touch with our whole selves. Dr. Shamini Jain, psychologist and scientist, says:
What had been viewed as discrete siloed systems of emotional states, immunity, neural functioning, and hormonal functioning now are understood as part of a larger network that regulates a person’s health.
-Healing Ourselves: Biofield Science and the Future of Health (2021)
Knowledge is Key
So, in light of the certainty that “life happens,” how do you foster a healing environment across the entire mind-body when your details are hard to take? What about when some circumstance rocks you down to your socks? How do you ensure that a part of you doesn’t get left behind, languishing in despair while the rest of you, stiff-lipped, marches on? How might you be in harmony with whatever happens to be your reality at any given moment?
Knowing your true nature is the key. It’s time to discover that you are more than the eye can see — more than our conditioning reveals. Ancient traditions, for millennia, have held that our essential human nature is energetic and connected. We are each a swirl in the vast and eternal space of Unitary Consciousness — Oneness. Embracing this would inevitably change the landscape of our lives. The new vantage point would shift our relationship to the events of our lives because we would see that everything is as impersonal as it is personal. We would realize that we are all individual but not separate. We would know that our source is in Divine Creative Energy. We would feel seen, supported, and significant.
The point is, as a culture, we have overlooked a vital part of human nature, to our detriment, for far too long. But all things eternal considered, now is as good a time as any to change that.
Recognizing and functioning as energetic beings means we get to repair and recover as we go. We don’t have to drag ourselves through life as the walking wounded. We get to fly free on the fact that, in continuity with our densely energetic physical nature, each of us is pure light — vibrating, flowing, scintillating, high-frequency, energizing light. Right here, right now.
And, we can feel our presence as pure light within the body when we bathe ourselves in stillness and breath.
We are also free to feel and value our physical reactions to our emotions, thoughts, and perceptions. Our bodily sensations — think butterflies and bricks — are there to draw our attention inward. It’s the gift of presence. American philosopher, C. I. Lewis, coined the term qualia that is now used to describe this subjective human experience. Taking a creative pause long enough to notice the feelings in the body is how we connect with our energetic nature. It’s a path to metabolizing our experiences in real-time rather than storing them, unresolved, in the subconscious.
That’s what it means to “live healingly.” We can dance through the jungle of life, getting scrapes and bruises but not necessarily collecting deep, open wounds. We can even recover from crushing blows to the heart and mind. Never would I say this is easy, but it is possible.
It’s all the more possible when we accept that every experience comes with the capacity to serve. Every. Single. One. Knowing this not only allows us to honor our experiences but to probe them in search of growth and development, healing, and recovery. We might even find ourselves in harmony with it all.
As for the hurting mom, understandably still struggling to reconcile with the horrid details of her loss, there is still hope for healing because her true self is awaiting discovery.
Right before I left, she wanted to tell me one more thing. She recalled for me that after her daughter passed, all of her house plants died. She emphasized the word all. She shared that after 15 years, she still only has one plant because she has not been able to bring herself to replace them. Then through teary eyes, she told me that the Christmas Cactus plant had been one of her daughter’s favorites. She was having a full-circle moment.
She said, “You have done something special today. This plant is hope. Where there is hope, there is life.” I knew nothing I could add at the time would be adequate, so I smiled and nodded.
Today, I say, yes, and, where there is life, there is the capacity to heal.