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Articles    H3'ed 9/1/10

Health Care Needs a Fundamentally New Approach

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Thus we understand that the state of spiritual wellbeing and the total health encompassed by it ultimately rests on our spiritual intelligence, though most of us are not aware of this faculty. A person in normal health subconsciously maintains his spiritual wellbeing through his built-in spiritual intelligence. He is able to enjoy the bliss of his "self', which is refreshed and sustained by the pure bliss of his "inner self'. However spiritual intelligence can also be voluntarily cultivated to heal stress related disorders.4 Meditation is basically a method of cultivating spiritual intelligence. It is a method of consciously transcending one's "self' to reach the "inner self'. Meditation enables the individual to perceive in reality the pure bliss of the "inner self'. A fleeting perception of this bliss occurs in the twilight zone between a good sleep and the fully awake state. Keeping the mind focused on this subtle perception of pure bliss is a simple method of meditation that can be practiced by all. Constant contemplation of the pure bliss of "inner self' helps to restore spiritual wellbeing and heal stress.

While we understand the value of meditation for healing stress in a given patient, we also gain insight on how physician's themselves can enjoy lasting spiritual wellbeing and thus stand to gain personally and professionally by practicing the technique of meditation in their daily lives.

The Pathophysiology of Diseases:

While the disruption of spiritual bliss and its healing through the process of meditation can be easily appreciated in stress-related disorders, the new science of psychoneuroimmunology indicates that spiritual wellbeing needs to be taken into consideration while understanding the pathogenesis of nearly every disease,5 6 7 including the so called physical diseases. Studies indicate that the psychoneuroimmuno axis is at work in many disease states and this may determine the outcome of disease processes.8 9 Since the state of the mind largely depends on the state of spiritual wellbeing, it is evident that all diseases need to be considered not merely from the body or mind-body perspective but from a wholistic mind-body-spirit perspective.

The Art of Healing:

It is well known that good practice of medicine is both a science as well as an art. The "art of healing',10 largely depends on the quality of empathy11 present in a physician. A compassionate physician presumably acts a catalyst for healing through the patient's own built-in mechanisms. The role of the physician in providing the humane touch is crucial, which cannot be replaced by any technology. Being a good listener, speaking a few kind words and spending a few more minutes with a sincere body language may be all that is needed to have a healing effect on the "self' of the patient. Modern medicine becomes "modern mind-body-spirit medicine' when the physician incorporates the "art of healing' in his professional practice.

From being considered merely as a desirable virtue, it is time for the "art of healing' to be considered as a basic component in any attempt to restore normal health from a diseased state.12 Ignoring this fact and viewing disease merely from a body or a mind-body perspective would amount to intervening into a problem that may be causally downstream while a possible cause upstream is left unattended. The current bio-medical approach, which considers body and the mind as the basis of health is truth but not the whole truth.

Medicine - the present and the future:

The world of medicine today is based on scientific lines and the quality of empathy is considered desirable among health care providers rather than as a basic necessity. The bio-medical approach to health and disease has made the delivery of health care predominantly lab-oriented and mechanical. Valuable resources are spent for understanding the physical aspects of disease, while the bigger picture that includes the spiritual dimension is neglected. Increasing technological sophistication is valued more than the therapeutic potential of physician's compassion. As a result tertiary care gets preference over primary care. The society as well as the medical professionals themselves, finds physician-based primary care unattractive.

Inevitably, the consequence of this is felt in the way medicine is taught to students. An impersonal "matter of fact' approach is appropriate to teach the physical, mental and social aspects of diseases. In the absence of an academic framework to teach the spiritual aspect, students are not briefed about it and frequently fail to gain spiritual insight. Setting a personal example by practicing the "art of healing' while treating patients is an effective way of teaching the spiritual aspect. However in the academic setting there is need for this effort to be supplemented by a curriculum that is built around the core of the individual's spiritual wellbeing. The importance of cultivating and maintaining spiritual wellbeing by the physician himself so that he can practice the "art of healing' needs to be emphasized.


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Vijayaraghavan Padmanabhan is a Former Professor of Medicine at Madras Medical College, Chennai, India.

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