Chapter 17 – The Overcoming of Disease – Spiritual Health and Healing

Chapter 17
Horatio W. Dresser
Spiritual Health and Healing

THE question is often asked why it is that a man in perfect physical health may be taken suddenly ill and die a few days after, although under the most skilful medical care. Here, for example, is an exceptionally strong man in the prime of life, engaged in a congenial occupation, one that is not too taxing and is likely to sustain his good health instead of militating against it. He is a highly educated man, with well-trained powers and an uncommonly acute intellect. Moreover, he is philosophically inclined and seems to be wiser in his attitude toward life than most men. His special interest is also favorable to wisdom in daily living. Apparently everything is in his favor. Yet when the disease seizes him he rapidly collapses and his physicians soon announce that there is no hope. He passes out of this life even more rapidly than men with far less strength and much less intellectual power.

Of course death in such a case may be the simple result of medical ignorance and practice. Powerful remedies may be put into his system to drive out some supposed germ or toxin, and the system may be unable to resist this obstacle to the indwelling restorative power. But throwing such instances out of account for the moment and confining our interest to cases where the inner life of the patient is the primary consideration, we may say in brief that the difficulty is that there is no interior knowledge, no conscious power of resistance. For intellectual development and education is no necessary guarantee against disease–as things go in this world. A person may have as beautiful a faith in the inner guidance as the Quaker or as firm a belief in the Divine influx as the Swedenborgian and yet entirely fail to see the connection between inner serenity or receptivity and conditions making for health. In case of the man with a high degree of intellectual development the mind is not used to control its own states or those of the body, but simply for the sake of concentration upon the work at hand from day to day. There is not even the mere idea of inner control, peace or poise. There is no insight whatever into the inner meaning of painful sensations. Consequently, when the man “catches cold,” as we say in our astonishing ignorance of what a “cold” really is; when fever comes, with its attendant symptoms, the heightened circulation and rapidly increasing activity of the heart, the man knows nothing to do save to give way mentally and succumb to physical treatment. He does not try to put another interpretation upon his symptoms, because his education has never developed him in that direction. He does not open his spirit to receive higher power, for he has never learned that the human spirit has any such resource as an actual experience. He does not seek spiritual help from anyone, never having heard that such help is practical. His mind simply yields to circumstance, and he is as much a victim of the successive bodily states which carry him from a slight disturbance to a high fever, then to pneumonia and death, as if he had never trained his mind at all.

What are the implied beliefs in such a case? That disease is only a physical disorder due to external causes–for example, a germ finding lodgment in favoring conditions; that mental life is conditioned by and dependent on the states of the brain, and has no offsetting or controlling power; and that the soul or spirit, if indeed it exist at all, is a vague entity of some sort which may become active after death but which does not function now. There is no belief that the spirit can control the mind, hence the brain, and bring about changes in the physical organism. For such belief would imply the inner point of view, the view from within outward upon the body as an instrument of the spirit, and such an idea is utterly foreign to the conventional way of thinking. It would seem absurd in the extreme to tell a person with such dependence on conventional teaching that the spirit can exert healing power.

In reality, the spirit in such a man as we have described is like one asleep amid boundless resources never contemplated even in dreams. The mental power gradually acquired through years of skilful training and splendid work implies a high degree of efficiency and could be turned to wonderful account in such a man’s life, if he realized that there is a way of using such power for spiritual ends. This man has, let us say, a considerable degree of composure, and this composure might be the basis of spiritual poise. He has intellectual discernment and this might be exercised in behalf of spiritual intuition. But there must first be an interior awakening. This man quickly succumbs to illness because there has been no such inner quickening.

How do we regard life’s situation when we awaken? We start in every respect from within, not through mere introspection or self-analysis, but with insight that man is spirit and that spirit is the user of a higher activity than the activities commonly regarded as intellectual.

Starting from within, one places much emphasis on the spirit’s ability to become receptive to intuition or guidance, and through this receptivity to draw upon a superior life which becomes triumphant over adverse mental stages, which banishes fear, overcomes excitement, allays the emotions, and arouses a counter-activity able to overcome threatening bodily states. One regards mental life, that is, the passing states of consciousness, as expressing the spirit, and the brain as the instrument for manifesting such mental states as the spirit may select. That is, the mind is the instrument for controlling the body and receiving impressions through the brain from the outward world. All life or power is looked upon as spiritual or Divine in origin. Hence all real efficiency or causality is regarded as spiritual, while natural things and events are taken to be secondary to the causes which operate through them.

To say that man as spirit is nearest the Spirit and can become open to Spirit as health-giving life, is to realize that man may learn to know and to cultivate those states of spirit most open to this Life, those states which underly interior control as the basis of poise and health. To grow in ability to realize this life-giving presence of Spirit is to be more and more able to put oneself into the appropriate attitude at will, the attitude for demonstration. Thus is acquired the counteracting faith which strengthens the mind in time of need, the love which drives out fear, the calmness which allays excitement. The spirit having put itself in this affirmative direction, corresponding mental results follow, the thoughts and mental images take their clue from the attitude of spirit. Then when the hour of need comes one may regain this inner composure and hence possess the power of resistance required to stem the rising tide of disturbed activities within the organism.

Since very much depends upon the first attitude assumed, the interpretation put upon the beginning of pain, for example, a slightly painful sensation around the heart or increasing temperature, if there is no idea of inner control a person simply interprets the pain according to the prevailing theories and adopts an attitude favorable to the increase of the painful symptoms. That is, there is no resistance or affirmativeness in the attitude at all. By giving assent the mind merely capitulates and is soon engulfed. The interpretation may be entirely wrong, that is, based solely on appearances.

If, however, a man really knows his mental life, instead of acquiescing in the notion that it is entirely conditioned by the brain, he acquires genuine insight into actual causes. He may then see at a glance that the physical condition is due to excess, nervousness, excitement or tension; and that this nervous excess is in turn due to some activity which he has been overdoing, without giving his spirit sufficient time to overcome the daily fatigue. Thus thinking, he knows that the outward excess may be overcome by lifting his consciousness to a higher level, becoming inwardly still, breaking connection with the lower level of disturbances. The spirit in fact may calm the disturbances as a wisely calm person might quell a mob by enunciating a great truth which clears away all misconceptions and undermines the hot-headedness. The spirit may go further on occasion, that is, may direct the therapeutic power straight to the disturbed region and bring about a remarkable change in a few minutes.

For interior peace or spiritual poise in the sense in which we are here using the term is power-inviting or dynamic in unusual degree. To regain it by lifting the spirit into unison with the Divine presence is to change the centre of equilibrium, the basis of activity. When peace ensues where excitement might have reigned, when repose is in control and consciousness is absorbed in spiritual realization, the mind as a whole not only becomes favorable but is put into a state to shift the balance of power throughout the organism. This accomplished, the temperature begins to go down, the heart and lungs resume their normal rhythms, and other consequences follow as matters of course. It is not necessary to keep up the inner process or realization. For the crisis is past; as we say, the tide has been turned. The same disturbance which might have been developed into a severe or fatal illness is by the right interpretation and the right action, at “the psychological moment,” turned into a relatively trivial series of states which soon pass away of their own volition.

If the person who thus conquers the inceptive stages of illness, by turning them into something trivial, learns a lesson from the experience he may presently take a further step, that is, by avoiding the excess, whatever it may have been, which brought on the initial disturbance. Such a one is likely to regard all gainful sensations as incidental and to put the most favorable interpretation upon them. After a while it becomes a question, not of the mere overcoming of an illness, but of a regular mode of life tending to bring health as a consequence without any thought of disease.

Every person has a way of meeting life. Some of us are highly emotional and readily enter into disturbing experience in such a way as to drain the nervous forces. Nearly all emotions are exhausting, and angry emotions use up the nerve energy with remarkable rapidity. To see that this is true in one’s own case and to profit by it is to make ready to cultivate those other mental qualities, such as calmness and moderation of thought, which give strength. Going further still, one learns the true or spiritual source of calmness and strength, and cultivates that mode of life which is devoid of all emotional excess. Worthy emotions may still find place, but all worthy emotion is tempered by wisdom or moderation.

Whatever the temperament, the great point to gain is willingness to make the venture, to turn from a disturbance to the realm of higher and finer power within. To unite with that Power, declaring “I am spirit and have infinite Life to draw upon” or whatever the realization may be, is to break with the disturbing element, turn the tide. If one must put some sort of interpretation upon the disturbance in order to be at rest, let it be called a process of cleansing or readjustment. Or call it simply “progress.” For it should not be regarded as a condition taken on from the outside. In the natural order of things we become aware of a disturbance when something foreign is being brought to the surface and cast off, just as we become unpleasantly self-conscious when a trait of character is undergoing change. To regard the process as incidental and promising, is to put oneself in line with it, that is, in line with the creative Life behind it. Our part is to unite with this Life, not to dwell upon the process. Therefore our realization should always be such as to make this union the more secure. The vital point is that a disturbance which might be developed into a disease if met according to the old order of thought, is given exactly the opposite turn by realizing the truth which is “the cure.” Wonderful to relate, an apparently threatening illness may pass off in a few minutes, simply by giving the whole experience the right turn at the right time for making as little of it as possible.

Too much emphasis cannot be placed on the importance of rightly interpreting our sensations and pains. This in fact is the vital point with most of us. And at this point we find enlightened medical opinion in our day in line with the conclusions of the spiritual healer. Dr. Richard Cabot emphasizes, for example, the importance of taking account of the high degree of suggestibility to which so many people are subject. Three examples of such suggestibility are cited: misinterpretation of sensations which might indicate heart disease, cancer or insanity. “People are amazingly prone to fancy that they have heart disease. If they have any symptoms in that part of the body where they are taught to believe that the heart resides, or especially if they
know someone who has recently died of heart disease, there are many people likely first to believe that they have heart trouble, and then to have actual symptoms which they attribute to heart disease.” Insanity is feared far more often. Cancer is the most dreaded of all diseases, “but one of the most unnecessarily feared,” inasmuch as the only alleged basis for it may be “trifling pains or stomach troubles, troubles that all of us would disregard.” In the same way a person will speak of a “pain across the kidneys” when the kidneys are perfectly healthy. Again, a man will think that he has this or that disease when all that troubles him is a “tired stomach.” Fatigue of the eyes Is also very common and very misleading.

If, then, we would overcome disease from within we must begin by learning how to interpret our pains aright. Many a potential disease is dismissed in a quiet sort of way without any malady at all by the man who knows how to give his sensations the right turn at the right moment. For the wise man makes as little as he can of his ills. Turning them off as incidental, he refuses to name them, refuses to associate them with conventional fears. It is then a question of a quiet rest for a day or so, or of silent spiritual help enlisted at the appropriate moment. If the stomach is tired, then the stomach is given a rest, and no fears are entertained concerning the kidneys. If the eyes are tired, rest for the eyes is sought. Always there is discrimination between pain and the interpretation put upon it.

Furthermore, one who is wise in this direction hears in mind the further fact stated by Dr. Cabot, namely, that “the vast majority of diseases get well without any help from anybody.” Since this is the case, why name them in the first place? Why run to the doctor? Why accept the notion that disease is cured by medicine instead of being cured by the resident forces within the individual? If most maladies tend to run themselves out any way, while others can be “starved out” and some will disappear if we keep quiet and rest, why make so much of disease? Why not emphasize health and the way to attain and keep it?

Plainly, all these are individual matters. It is for each man to learn the difference between his own pains and his own interpretations of them, his suggestibility, his dependence on medical or other opinion, bondage to fear. Most of our fears are borrowed. They go with some medical or religious belief which we have accepted–without much thought. They have little basis in fact. It is mere matter of common sense, therefore, to face them, face the worst and see how far we are from it, how slight is the foundation of our misery.

What we need is courage to make the venture in the spiritual direction. What had always seemed impossible may easily come within our power, when we plunge in and make a beginning by taking our spiritual faith seriously. And when we have dismissed our temporary or superficial ills, the way will be open to face the real problems of spiritual healing.

Chapter 18

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Spiritual Health and Healing
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