Article Author: Christina Manfredi
“Our life is the sum choices of
our responsive mind-body in environment
and the journey of our ancient spirited soul”
“We are not here to heal our illness
Our illness is here to heal us”
“Paradoxically, we achieve true wholeness only by embracing
our fragility and sometimes, our brokenness”
Jalaja Bonheim, Aphrodite’s Daughters
This article refers to a personal encounter with illness and a return to health, and references some of the latest research relevant to potential pathways to wellbeing and healing.
I decided to write this article after having come through a frightening and immobilizing illness that came like a thief in the night, robbing me of life as I had known it. I have now returned to full health and I wish to share this in the hope that it may possibly offer some support to people who may be going through illness distress.
Research has repeatedly demonstrated that the way we think, beliefs we hold, and emotions we engage in and feed, can either enhance a state of health or have a profound adverse effect upon our wellbeing. Any choice and decision we engage will send chemical information throughout every cell in our bodies. Equally when we procrastinate, become immobilized, holding doubt and fear about our capacity to effect change, this too has a chemical impact upon each cell.
This mind body communication via our nervous system takes place in milliseconds. The flow of mind-body communication via thought and emotion molecular messengers and hormones become signals that are received by the nucleus of the cells. These signals have the capacity to “turn on” gene expression for health or illness. Genes are not static they change according to our external and internal personal environment.
Other research also indicates that prolonged adverse childhood experiences, trauma, and the negative unhealed psychology of these experiences often show up later in life as challenging health conditions.
Studies have also demonstrated that emotional and physical pain are both activated in the same part of the brain. Hence physical pain and emotional pain get fused – emotions impacting upon the physical, the physical impacting upon emotions. There is no separation between mind, consciousness, awareness, emotions, and body.
These studies indicate that there is a strong connection between the study of psychoneuroimmunology, epigenetics, and neuroplasticity approaches to understanding the brain in body, healing, and managing painful physical and emotional conditions.
What are Psychoneuroimmunology, Neuroplasticity, and Epigenetics understandings
Psychoneuroimmunology or PNI is the study of how our thoughts, beliefs and emotions release chemicals into our blood stream that directly impact upon our bodily cellular functioning and our overall quality of wellbeing and health.
Epigenetics is the study of how internal and external environment (familial, communal, personal psychological, and physical environment) we live in can change our genes. Once thought of as static and set for life it is now known that genes can and do change. Genes for illness or health can environmentally get switched on or off therefore impacting our health and wellbeing.
Neuroplasticity research demonstrates that brains are not static. Brains can and are constantly changing. What was once thought to be set and hardwired permanently into the brain is now known to be a limited view. It is the case that the “hardwiring” of the brain can be influenced by external and internal consciousness factors. Further, neuroplasticity views the brain in its correct perspective, as being part of the body and inseparable from the 2-way communication between bodily senses and brain. Not only do brains have neurons so do our guts and heart, and our bowel.
My interest in these areas is long standing, however once I acquired a debilitating and immobilizing health condition several years ago my interest became an active commitment to deeper experimentation in engaging the understandings of psychoneuroimmunological, epigenetic, and neuroplasticity research. My desperation to be well again left no stone unturned.
What I discovered at the peak of my illness state was what had been my normal commitment to 25 years of practice in qigong, yoga, meditation, and immersion in nature was a big ask of myself. Simply having a conversation, getting myself to the bathroom, hoping I could get myself to the doctor for further testing, or eating anything, was a challenge. Sometimes getting through the next moment was the victory for the day. The only thing I was left with was my awareness, my breath, my challenged and shattered spirit, and the love and support of my family and friends.
For those of us who have encountered a serious and immobilizing illness, or being told you have a fatal disease know only too well how traumatic the experience is, not only for ourselves, but also our families.
Being aware of the research in psychoneuroimmunology during this difficult time I realized that all I had in my inner world to work with was trying to find a way to strengthen and resource myself by engaging my consciousness in a manner that could direct healing messages and feelings throughout my body. What that meant in effect was a commitment to direct my awareness and attention in a specific healing way to address the bond between my physical and emotional pain. To notice, then suspend the painful, faithless, terrifying thoughts and fearful emotions, and then in-fact direct healing loving messages throughout my body.
It was a battle in almost every moment, particularly in managing the insidious thoughts, beliefs and feelings around self-blame as to why I became ill in the first place, and why I was not getting well. I realized that my self-blame would only continue to perpetuate physical contraction, and a cascade of further chemicals that would lead to increased pain, anxiety and depression.
As psychoneuroimmunology shows, directing choiceful awareness in a way that engages life giving thoughts and feelings whilst suspending negative beliefs shifts our brain chemistry, nervous system and body into a healing orientation. The possession of fear and negativity is broken as soon as we engage our freewill, our sovereign right to choice. Activating choiceful attention of thoughts and feelings declares our own right to life that can lead us beyond the immediacy of pain into a place of refuge and healing. This healing orientation then allows hormones and chemicals to be released that optimize health, and then lowers any inflammation chemical messengers associated with pain and ill health.
Stress, as we know can at times be motivating and have positive outcomes. However, negative and prolonged stress whether from the distant past or immediate past and present, combined with constant worry, fear, negative thinking and beliefs shift our body chemistry and therefore cellular response in a way that erodes healthy cellular functioning. The levels of inflammation within the body tends to rise, the body’s accelerator pedal gets stuck on higher arousal fight/flight and therefore a sympathetic response. A predominant sympathetic state in the body is associated with higher cortisol release, higher adrenal output, a heightened physical and emotional arousal state often with hyper-vigilance. This in-turn can eventually lead to exhaustion, a collapse of some sort, and profound fatigue not uncommonly presenting with a mixture of high anxiety and depression, mixed in with the physical illness.
Let me be clear, sometimes we become unwell and there are environmental pathogens that create illness. And the pain we feel in our body can have a structural or organic cause. We have not deliberately and consciously “thought and felt” ourselves into acquiring the virus, bacteria or exposure to toxins. And it is also the case that sometimes the illness we have acquired has it influence and foundations laid long ago in our childhood and with beliefs we hold about ourselves, and the world. At the end of the day it is the quality of our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and behaviours can often take one of 3 track that ultimately have a potent impact upon our healing. These tracks are:
It is the track that we actively choose, our active intent, not the one the illness or fear chooses and not the one that our past conditioning chooses, that makes the difference to maximizing the degree of potential healing and peace that can takes place literally in every moment. This means shifting our awareness from a reactive automatic state to a responsive choiceful intentioned state that involves compassion, kindness, and a loving orientation with breath and mindfulness. This is where we invite, allow, and are receptive to a transformational process.
The degree that we have ‘fallen’ into illness requires a practice in surrendering to patience, hence meaning that every positive and loving choiceful thought, choiceful intention, and choiceful behaviour is initiating healing change. For this to gather enough momentum at the observable physical and psychological level takes time. An attitude of patience and surrender is a necessity and requirement.
The role of Spirit & Transformation
I can only share my experience and draw upon the research and the valuable information that others have generously, since my return to health have shared.
I draw your attention that this is not a “truth” of and in itself for your experience or pathway to health. You have to discern what resonates as a truth for your return to health and peace.
As I mentioned prior when the cookie crumbled so to speak, to engage in my normal practices of qigong, yoga, nature walks, were out of the question when I was at the peak of my illness.
I had a battle on my hands just ordering my thoughts into any meaningful thread, and attempting to find a place to steady myself within the grip of my terror. I struggled in each second to find a way of remaining connected to Source, God, the Creative Life Force, Presence, and Spirit. What I am referring to here is the invisible force in life from which all form including our selves manifest, the ground of all existence.
At times my doubt was immeasurable and inconsolable. However what I knew at the core of my being was that there is something at play that keeps all these planets, and universes turning, some force or quality that has grown the plant life that sustains us and grown us. There is some potent, intelligent and creative force out there and that that force was inside of me no matter how much I was deteriorating. The evidence in life and nature was there all around me. I made a choice to trust this life force.
I made another desperate and committed choice to refuse to accept negative, injurious thoughts and beliefs. Within each breath I committed to stay aligned with that creative life Source and Presence, what I refer to as the Spirit in all life, and Spirit within me. My active awareness and witness/mindful consciousness literally aligned with only that which was positive, restorative, compassionate, loving and ultimately healing. What I had learnt about psychoneuroimmunology and neuroplasticity meant that if I could direct healing thoughts and emotions throughout my body, I could in effect influence the degree of natural opiates, endorphins, and neurotransmitters being released throughout my body for healing. I could literally strengthen the circuits between certain neuron activities that contained messages for healing.
How I approached every thought, underlying belief, and emotion that emerged about myself was the act of agency of my spirit. At times besieged by frightening nightmares at night, and high anxiety during the day, still within each breath I chose. Anything that entered my life as fear, whether through well meaningful healers, old fear belief and thought patterns, I cancelled and erased and allowed space through my breath for a more healing thought and intention. I could only do this through daily reminding myself of life’s potent creative living force, Spirit of Life.
Traditional research in the area of psychoneuroimmunology, epigenetics, and neuroplasticity has been sparse in addressing the role of Spirit. This is possibly because it is so scientifically controversial from a third person science perspective. Spirit is a first person science, evidenced by what is witnessed as felt, personally experienced and known, and often a matter of known faith arising from immediate experience. My experience taught me that whilst the knowledge in psychoneuroimmunology, epigenetics, and neuroplasticity was an imperative pathway to healing for myself, I needed my connection with Spirit (that immeasurable force out there and within that gives life to all form) to give these other approach a real chance to optimise my health and healing.
The transformation process from an ill state to health state is a re-calibration of the mind-body-spirit system. Transformation involves change and is different to solely change in that it is a total re-set of our organismic system, rather than change in any one or two particular parts of the system. It literally is to trans-form what is. At the risk of sounding esoteric and yet simultaneously in scientific principles transformation is the shifting or recalibration of one vibrational state of energy to another. When you transform you know it, and others around you notice the shift.
Further, life is never static, impermanence is a fact, and things are always changing and transforming whist the core invisible source remains the same. Consider that most of our cells in the body are constantly renewing themselves. The cells in the lungs constantly renew themselves, as does the liver (unless it suffers from cirrhosis where the damage is permanent), taste buds renew every 10 to 14 days, the surface lay of the skin is renewed every 2 to 4 weeks, our skeleton bone over 10 years, our intestine cells are replaced every 2 to 3 days, our red blood cell are renewed every 4 months. The brain itself is constantly being renewed through the processes of witness consciousness awareness, insight, meditation, and exercise. This is the process that I also choose to trust, the transformative and renewal power of life. Knowing only too well that neurons, and cells communicate between each other I had a deep respect for the knowledge that my consciousness is not separate to my physiology and biology. The role my spirit consciousness had to play in directing healing messages to stimulate neural activity and messages into my cells was and is remarkable.
The illness I encountered was a deep humbling experience to say the least. It was also a direct revelation of the power of Spirit and personal consciousness. Sure I needed a good dose of allopathic, naturopathic, and energetic medicines and I certainly value and feel grateful for these. However, I am aware that the embracing of the power of Spirit and my consciousness greatly assisted in the hormonal and chemical messengers of cell renewal and healing in working along side these external medicines.
Our inner medicine, our consciousness, awareness, and connection with Spirit and the orientation of loving, compassionate, intentioned healing thoughts and emotions is something that we do have freewill and choice in and therefore personal power. We can and do influence the pathway of our recovery from illness to health.
One Healing Pathway:
The following offers some suggestions of what I have found personally helpful and healing in my journey back to health. The suggestions are also based on the fore mentioned research and the original message of the father of Western medicine Hippocrates. Hippocrates saw the body as a major healer, the doctor and patient working collaboratively with nature. I suggest that this not only refers to external nature and our bodies, but also includes our internal conscious subjective nature.
The following suggestions are an invitation for the body to activate it’s own evolutionary healing capacities by consciously creating the appropriate internal environment for the body to restore balance and health.
When we have done our best to love ourselves in this way the rest is up to what Life has in store for us, and the deeper journey of our soul. Regardless of the outcome we can find some solace in knowing that we have given the best to and of ourselves.
At the end of the day keep it simple. In simple summary, watch you thoughts and process your feelings. Cancel and erase all negative thoughts, suspend all injurious beliefs, breath out all challenging emotion. Then choose love, compassion and kindness. If you cannot choose love and compassion for whatever reason, then suspend injurious thought, breathe out, and let in the Source of all Life, allowing it to enter via the breath and bring in the possibility of healing.
However where ever possible breathe, breathe, and breathe more love, kindness, and compassion into every cell. It is the breath of love, kindness and compassion that we offer and become in ourselves that carries the ultimate healing.
Let Be, Let Go, & Let In
Live Your Light
You Have The Power
To Effect Healing With Love
Brach T. “Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With The Heart Of A Buddha” (New York, Bantam Books, 2004)
Chodron P. “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times” (Boston USA, Shambhala Publications Inc 2000)
De Mello A. “Sadhana, A Way To God: Christian Exercises In Eastern Form” (New York, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishers, 1984)
De Mello A. “The Way To Love: The Last Mediations Of Anthony De Mello” (New York, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishers, 1995)
Doidge N. “The Brain’s Way of Healing” (Australia, Scribe Publications, 2015)
Hanson R; Mendius R. “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience Of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom” (Canada, New Harbinger Publications Inc. 2009)
Pert C. “The Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine” (New York: Touchstone, 1999)
Puddincombe A. “Headspace: Mediation Techniques For Mindfulness, Stress, Relief, and Peace of Mind” (itunes app)
Lipton B. “The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, and Miracles” (USA: Hay House, 2007)
Kabat-Zinn J. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness (New York: Bantam Dell, 2009)
- Christina Manfredi