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I like models that shed some light on who we are as human beings and help to explain what we do and why. At the back of my well-thumbed and annotated book Integral Psychology by Ken Wilber there is a collection of charts that compare levels or stages of human development as hypothesized by a variety of psychological and spiritual leaders. It is as fine a summary as I know, collected into a single resource.
What isn’t there, however, is a model which clarifies the relationship between mind, body, energy and spirit, and how/why a particular “therapy” applies better in one situation than another when dis-ease arises. (Dis, of course, is a Latin prefix meaning “apart from” or “against”, and ease means comfortable. Thus dis-ease is against or apart from comfort.)
I recently read Idris Lahore’s book The Three Secrets of Reiki Tao Te Qi, and there I discovered a succinct and insightful clarification of this issue that seems to me simple and very helpful. If you think of each of us as made up of several “layers” or “levels” of different densities, beginning with solid and ending as very ethereal, and the appropriate “treatment” for “dis-ease” at each of these layers, you have something like this:
At the densest layer, is the body itself: structural, physical, cellular. When there is injury or dis-ease that originates at this level, the most appropriate treatment is biomedical, biochemical, and/or physical therapy. In short, if you break your leg on the ski slopes, see your doctor.
Emotional dis-ease exists as a less dense layer of self without physical presence (you can’t see it, or weigh it) but often there are strong physical symptoms. For example, think about how you would feel before speaking to a large group of strangers, or standing on a high bridge before launching into a bungee jump. For most people, just the thought can bring up the sensation of butterflies in the stomach and a shortness of breath. For most of us, these are unusual events and not worth “treatment,” but for those prone to emotional trauma on a regular basis (say, someone with arachnophobia—fear of spiders, or someone who suffers from chronic anxiety or depression), treatment may be appropriate.
Intellectual or cognitive dis-ease, caused by disruptive or disturbing thoughts, habits, or dreams is, in a way, less “solid” than emotional dis-ease. Physical symptoms are likely to be less clear-cut than those caused by emotional dis-ease, and the “problem” may not even be regarded by a person as a dis-ease, or even a problem. Yet someone suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) who can’t stop checking the door ten times to be sure it is locked, or someone who cannot stop thinking about or dreaming about some event in the past is not at ease. For both emotional and cognitive dis-ease, some form of psychotherapy is the most appropriate therapy or treatment.
Energetic dis-ease is caused by some disruption or distortion in the body’s energetic centres or energetic pathways. Mainstream Western allopathic medicine tends to dismiss the body’s energy system as not worthy of consideration and treatment, but Eastern tradition takes this body essence very seriously. Energy imbalances sometimes manifest in the body as headaches or backaches or tiredness or other chronic manifestations that have no obviously physical cause. Energetic health and treatment modalities such as yoga, massage, qi gong, Reiki, and acupuncture can help the body’s energy centres and pathways remain strong and clear when practiced regularly.
Lahore calls the next layer “relational systemic” and suggests dis-ease at this level is generated by one’s relationship with family members, social groups, work colleagues, or with the ancestors—one’s place within a system. The concept that one’s social relationships can contribute to psychological dis-ease is well accepted by psychologists and counsellors, and is also well understood in many cultures where one’s role and acceptance or rejection by others is acknowledged to have significant implications. In addition, from our parents and family we learn our value systems and many patterns of thought and behaviour that impact on our life choices. As with cognitive and emotional dis-ease, psychotherapy and family constellation work are useful to resolve issues here.
The final and most ethereal layer in Lahore’s model is that of spirit or spiritual essence. Dis-ease here—rarely identified by an outsider, but rather something felt from the inside—can be addressed with a wide variety of spiritual practices that may include yoga, meditation, shamanic journeying, travel, writing or journaling or other creative practice in art or music, and religious or solitary retreats.
Lahore points out that the most effective therapy occurs at the primary source of the dis-ease, which is almost always the most subtle layer at which it occurs. Thus the prescribing of antidepressants (biochemical treatment) for a patient who is in the middle of a messy divorce (relational systemic level) is not likely to resolve his or her divorce issues, just as stomach stapling surgery for a person with emotional eating issues may not be the best-choice “fix”.
Ken Wilber, in the aforementioned book, supports that observation. He writes, “Therapy at one level will usually acknowledge and even use all of the therapies from lower levels, but rarely from any higher.” Wilber, of course, goes into this in much more depth and from a somewhat different perspective. And thereby hangs another tale...