First, Find Your Direction

The last several posts were inspired by the book I am currently reading by Jonathan Sacks, Morality. I find that many of the ideas in this book can be directed towards understanding a healthy path for healing in general. I would say that he would describe his book as a way of healing society and I would say that the lessons of healing society can also be reflected on the physical and psychological healing of people and communities.

In an interview about the book, he describes what it was like growing up among Holocaust survivors in the area of London, I believe, he grew up in. One of the many things that stood out to him was that they all focused first on building the future before tackling the enormity of what happened in their past. This choice would ensure survival for them and for their newly created families, a choice informed by both Jewish values and practicality,

In media, we have all seen scenes in movies and TV that show the person visiting their “therapist” endlessly rehashing what happened to them in the past as a way to gain insight into the present. My main teacher, Gerald Epstein, MD was initially a psychoanalyst but eventually changed once he met his teacher. His perspective on working on people’s “stories” of the past, fell away to work with people on their being more aware of the present and actively working to let go of the past.

When it comes to health of the body and mind, I am not neglecting factors of the past that play a role. Taking a good history is a starting point in any medical examination. What I am suggesting is that when it comes to making decisions for today regarding your health, a focus on finding a direction to move towards after letting go of your past tends to be most effective for individuals.

Forward movement becomes much easier when you have let go of the past. The past can be an anchor dragging you backwards. It’s dead and gone, now is the time to focus on forward movement and the best you can do is to decide on a direction and take your first step. It is liberating and is what your body needs. Take baby steps, it could be after a few baby steps you will need to re-adjust. Maxwell Maltz, MD used to explain that people on pursuit of a goal are like a self-correcting missle that endlessly corrects. In the beginning, you may zig and zag before finding the true direction. The key is to get going and a baby step is the way to go.

And with all I have just said, dealing with your past can eventually be done just as those Holocaust survivors eventually started to discuss their experiences many years later. Gerald Epstein, MD taught many strategies for “reversing” how your body reacts to past memory so it neither defines you nor affects your movement towards the direction you want to go. In fact, whenever I would start to reflexively hypothesize why something was the way it was based on the past, he would just utter the word “STORY” to bring me back to the moment so that I could get back to the present moment to focus on the direction I wished to go. We are quite good at constructing endless narratives / justifications / rationalizations to find reasons why something happened. Perhaps, this endless search for answers to the problems of our past are better left in the past. First, find the direction that is healthy for your mind and body and then take the first step.

Books Are Just Better

Better than what?  Better than the internet, that’s what.   While you might be able to find the same information and even find real wisdom, nothing matches a well written book, here’s why.   The act of constriction.  Any good author possessing of wisdom and knowledge could fill page after page communicating the ideas he or she wishes to express.  The act of constricting it and going through an editorial process both by himself and by others, results in a better presentation of the topic.

I could record and transcribe, every educational interaction I have with my patients on a daily basis and I would have a page after page of information but it wouldn’t be an effective teaching tool unless I sat down and selected, deleted, and crafted them into a message that could resonate with people.

Another example : If I am communicating with a peer, I could use medical language to explain the condition I am treating.   If I have to explain that to a patient, I have to explain it differently, which requires I craft it to be understood at a lower level. This requires effort and skill.     Try telling the same information to a kindergarten class and the amount of effort involved to make them understand is increased further. 

The good writer painstakingly reviews, edits, constricts the information until the form it is presented is concisely presented so you can understand it.  

Perhaps it is not a complete surprise that the Hebrew mystics described the act of creation as an act of “withdrawal.”   They explained that the light of God being infinitely bright would obliterate anything in its way so the act of creation was a partial divine withdrawal to allow something else to exist, at least from our perspective.    

Creation both Divine and in a matter of speaking in the creation of expression, art, teaching etc is often an initial expansion but then just the opposite, an active constriction, otherwise it is often unintelligible and sloppy.   Has a great book been written on the topic you are interested in?  You’ll likely save time and be more enriched reading that book instead of surfing the internet.   At least that has been my experience.

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