The Politics of Healing in the Context of Systemic Injustice

July 1, 1996

For some years I have been consciously participating in a difficult healing and integration process. A number of years ago I incurred multiple life threatening injuries as a result of an aggravated assault that occurred while I was participating in a nonviolent protest of the movement of lethal U.S. weapons destined to kill innocent civilians in El Salvador and Nicaragua. I have sought and received many "alternative" healing modalities as part of my recovery. These have included dozens of hours of massage and other hands-on therapy, acupuncture, various Chinese and North American herbal remedies, homeopathy, kinesiology, and chiropractic. I have also reluctantly sought the difficult therapy for help with my internal wounded "child," requiring a reduction in my "political" work.

We are in critical need of modalities that can liberate pain and traumas stored deeply in our minds and bodies, while at the same time releasing ancient reservoirs of energy for earth-centered consciousness, imagination, and cooperation. Often, bodywork remarkably stimulates integration of inner and outer dimensions. It connects principles of genetics and evolutionary adaptation with today’s knowledge of anatomy and physiology. Its gentle touching and moving subtly, yet powerfully, affects molecular, electromagnetic, immunological, neurological, and cardiovascular energy channels throughout the bodies’ various tissues and cells. It aids in understanding and then unraveling from bodily storage of memories of trauma and tensions connected with both past and current experiential, external conditions. As some astute therapists have observed, "the issues are in the tissues."

For those of us living in "developed," industrial nation states, we are experiencing extraordinarily dysfunctional and destructive cultures that possess little respect for the biocentric (versus anthropocentric) values of sacredness and interconnectedness. Most of us growing up in these societies have been taught consciously or unconsciously to be individualistic, quite separate from one another and superior to rather than part of nature. This model supports a selfish pursuit of our values as defined by scientific materialism with little or no consciousness of the social, economic, ecological, spiritual, psychological, genetic, or cultural costs of such "get what you can" philosophy.

Many people are beginning to understand that this materialist, anthropocentric (man centered) model means death–literally. For those representing themselves as healers and teachers, concerned about the well being and wholeness of people and community, it seems incumbent upon them to be radically holistic (going to the "root") while sharing their own healing journeys. Martin Luther King once said: "An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." All life is healthy or, as we are beginning to sense, no life is healthy or safe. Everything, all of life, organic and inorganic, including homo sapiens, is in a dynamic process of sacred interconnectedness.

Striving to live the American Way Of Life (AWOL) is dangerous for all living beings. It cannot lead to psychological, emotional, physical, spiritual, cultural or ecological health. To be "present" in the moment with this awareness of cognitive dissonance between the reality of our destructive western, cultural conditioning and the radically different earth-centered emerging truth, requires conscious, intentional distancing from the many addictions that form the essence of our mass consumer cultures. However, without interactive face-to-face communities, creative interdependence with the larger culture is extremely difficult. The loss of vital, sharing communities is one of the most significant contributors to the extreme dysfunction of our era.

The depth of denial that exists in all western and oligarchic societies is profound. Denial is a functional necessity, consciously or unconsciously, that enables continuance of insatiable demands for a lifestyle that is diabolically exploitive of the majority of the world’s people and the earth’s natural resources. The richest fifth of the world’s population (1.1 billion) receives 82.7% of total world income, while the poorest fifth receives but 1.1%. The United States, with but 4.5% of the world’s population, consumes between 40% and 60% of the world’s resources. People in the U.S. spend $5 billion annually on calorie reduction diets while 40,000 of the world’s children die every day from malnourishment. The average U.S. family effects the environment 40 times more than a family in India, 100 times more than a family in Kenya. Various rationalizations, some originating in a deep racism and nationalism, are used to justify this enforced disproportionate privilege of the few at the expense of the many. People generally do not feel good about participation in egregious theft. Thus, insidious and deeply pathological denial systems develop, enabling the continuance of massive exploitation with a minimum of consciousness and resistance. Denial, at the individual or societal level, generally manifests in various types of addictions.

Historian, philosopher, and novelist Theodore Roszak [The Making of a Counterculture (1968), and The Voice of the Earth (1992), among others] believes therapists have been ignoring the most important inner voice of all–the "ecological unconscious." The greater ecological realities of which we are an integral part penetrate our psyches–the voice of the earth expressing her pain (from our assaults on her) through our seemingly unrelated tensions and dis-eases. Rozak proposes "ecopsychology" as a solution to the shortcomings of both psychotherapy and environmentalism. I believe this kind of ecological consciousness/unconsciousness is involved in all efforts for healing. Furthermore, I would include in ecopsychology, M.L. King’s understandings of justice, and suggest the "eco" to include (in) justice psychology. The greater socio-economic realities, of which we are an integral part, whether conscious of them or not, surrounds and tweaks our psyche as well. Massive injustices are occurring everywhere on the planet, most related in one way or another with the incredible global imperial policies of the United States and other "first world" nations, fueled by the systemic insatiable greed of the American Way Of Life. The voices of the poor, oppressed, and of those being terrorized in response to their cries for justice and dignity, ultimately and inevitably, I believe, become part of our inner voice–the (in)justice consciousness. Their voices manifest through our seemingly unrelated tensions and dis-eases. We are in fact all one, just as indigenous peoples have tried in vain to teach us.

Thus, a serious pursuit of healing encompasses a holistic understanding and integration of personal with social health. Not just the voice of the wounded inner child, but the voices of wounded others and the voice of the wounded earth, are important to hear and address for profound healing to occur: internal "justice," social justice, and ecological justice and their interplay with one another are necessary in order to achieve holistic health and heightened consciousness. Everything is interconnected and each piece within the whole effects every other piece, and therefore, the whole. This principle can be seen within the body itself when body workers move hands on a specific portion of one’s external body, producing marked effects on deeper and other locations of the body at the same time.

The practical implications of this holistic approach are profound. As a physician asked me once, "How can I help an entire family recover from pneumonia and once again send them back to their unheated shack in the Tennessee winter, knowing they will soon return with another bout of pneumonia?" This particular doctor discovered how local bank redlining policies prevented B
lack residents from acquiring housing loans, relegating them to the only housing available to them–unheated squatter shacks with no utilities. This doctor felt obligated to become politically active against local, racist bank redlining practices in order to successfully treat his pneumonia patients. This is an easy to understand example of the connections between a clearly identifiable socio-economic injustice and a physical dis-ease.

Many connections are far more insidious and systemic than this example. Since everything is truly interconnected with everything else, it is not difficult to begin to comprehend that one seeking, as well as offering, healing needs to be aware of not only the voice of the inner wounded child, but the voices of other children wounded by political or socio-economic conditions, and the voice of Mother Earth’s pain. As these cries make their way into our psyches, they become physically stored in different parts of our anatomical and physiological beings, causing various physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental dis-eases.

The development of effective policies and practices for various healing modalities requires considerations and questions not normally taken seriously. For example, should healers suggest that those holding traumas in their minds and bodies simply more effectively "adapt" to the dysfunctional values and structures, and patterns of pathological denial so prevalent in our capitalist, western societies? Or are they obligated to address the internal healing process while also understanding the intrinsically interconnected stress and oppressive structures and values within the economic, political, social, and cultural context? How do they address the structural issues of the culture and society, issues that almost certainly contribute to the causes of dis-ease in the past, in the present, and for the future? How are they addressing the class issues afflicting most healing and teaching modalities that preclude the vast majority of all human beings from access to this kind of help because of fee schedules and bias based on class, race, or sex.

The wisdom of a decentralist, biocentric consciousness and the hope it offers in these dark times provide us a choice that may lead to our salvation. A truly decentralized, grass roots, participatory biocracy (democracy is for humans conspiring against nature) enables us to withdraw from our extreme dependency upon the dangerous, dehumanizing, and violent global and national consumption economy. As we simplify into local, bioregional communities of economic and energy self-sufficiency, we create substance for a new foundation for the necessary radical changes.

The many "alternative" holistic healing and teaching modalities that respect ancient wisdoms of the earth, of cultures, and of an interconnected consciousness, offer tremendous hope for integrated physical, spiritual, emotional, mental, political, social, and ecological healing. However, the responsibility it places on those representing themselves as "healing" practitioners to be open and "free" to seeing the various levels of individual, ecological, social and political sickness/dis-ease, as well as the radical antidotes, is considerable.

The efforts at standardizing and regulating the various "alternative" healing and teaching modalities in a mass culture I observe with grave caution. Though I understand the rationale for such oversight in a society of widespread anonymity, I believe it perpetuates needs for the "security" of a mass culture as a substitute for local, face-to-face accountability. It standardizes and creates fee schedules without preserving a humane, political distance necessary to allow a radical critique of the various socio-economic, ecological and related psychological dis-eases while offering equally radical alternative healing approaches.

Natural and alternative (authentically traditional) medicine and healing evolves from accumulated and transmitted experiences, generally over long periods of time. It tends to be low tech, based on very archetypal but experientially proven principles in the use of local, earthly natural remedies with the innate inner energies and capacities of homo sapiens, and is accessible to everyone. It is not designed to create a monopoly on "wisdom" that can then be used to profit from an apathetic, ignorant public. The momentum for popularizing healing modalities through mass marketing sets in motion a number of forces likely to pressure each practitioner to think more about fees and income than rapport and radical teaching or healing. Slow and small in fact are beautiful. Fast and massive may soon be seen as dysfunctional, superficial, and ugly.

This is a moment in history when we critically need hope through unrelenting honesty, while affirming an earth-centered consciousness urging radically different life and work styles. "Alternative" healing and teaching modalities can be extremely important in facilitating this radical paradigm shift. The more these approaches can preserve their essence, the more likely they will remain examples for stimulating the kind of enlightenment needed. Mass promotion and marketing threaten and impede the kind of thoughtful and radical enlightenment the earth and her inhabitants are looking for.

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