What do you think of when you hear the word medicine?
Perhaps it includes doctors, nurses, pills, prescriptions, operations, surgery, wounds, illness and disease, curing and healing, science, study, university?
But whatever your picture of medicine — does it include love?
I’m not a betting person, but I reckon for most who work within the profession that love is not top of the list, or even near the top. In fact, it probably doesn’t feature on the list at all!
Indeed, the word love is more a taboo in medicine than it is a presence. If you talk about love as a doctor you risk being mocked, laughed at, not taken seriously and perhaps even ostracised, for it is deemed unscientific, too “touchy-feely,” woo-woo and not something that is real, visible and measurable. Because it cannot be measured, then science relegates it to the dustbin, dismissing it before considering what it is and its role in medicine. It is often solely consigned to the “personal” or “private” aspect of our lives, for partners, family, and friends but dare not enter the serious scientific business and practice of medicine.
Yet at the same time, we have ancient teachings that tell us that “love heals,” that love is “the greatest healer.” With Paracelsus stating: “The foundation of medicine is love.”
Wow! Let us just pause and consider that statement further – the foundation of medicine is love. the foundation, the rock upon which medicine stands, the key to medicine, to healing — is love.
Understanding that the foundation of medicine is love was certainly never part of my medical school training or postgraduate surgical training. And like many, I too would have poo-pooed and dismissed it as twaddle and deemed it to have no place in the scientific training of medicine. So, is this just an out-of-date ancient saying from a time when doctors had little else to offer or is it a fundamental truth about medicine that we have long ago forgotten?
Certainly, modern medicine does not have love as its foundation or, indeed, anywhere in its curriculum. And the hidden curriculum reveals a culture of medicine that is far from loving and which undoubtedly takes its toll.
Perhaps it is the absence of love in medicine that has given rise to the presence of our ever-increasing ills?
Not just in society and the high rates of illness and disease and multi-morbidity, but what if it is also crucial to understanding the high levels of addiction, suicide, and burnout in the medical profession. What if many of these ills are rooted in the fact that we have lost touch with the fact that the foundation of medicine is love.
A medicine without true foundations is a medicine in trouble — and so perhaps it is little wonder that we are where we are in terms of the escalating levels of disease, discontent, demotivation, demoralization and more within the profession, as the false pillars crack and crumble before us.
The word medicine, from the Latin “ars medicine,” means the “art of healing.” When understood it’s understood, it makes complete sense that love is the foundation of that art and of healing. Down through the ages, many wise people have conveyed the message that the essence or soul of every individual is Love. It is why we seek love through relationship, we are hardwired to do so, for love is what we are. I am not here referring to the many misinterpretations of what love is and is not. And this has nothing to do with romance or sex or pink fluffy clouds or flowers — it is about the truth of what love is as an energy: the essence and ground of our being, an energy and a quality that is equal for all, that has universal wisdom and enables us to observe all, behold all, without judgment or condemnation, and to bring understanding, acceptance, and compassion to all.
This love is ever-present and unaffected by any trauma, hurt, abuse or condition whatsoever. Yet we often do not even know it is there — and we end up due to life experiences growing up, living in ways that are completely at odds with the love that we are. In simple terms, we live in ways that are not loving — we eat foods that are not healthy, we move and act in ways that can be rough or aggressive, we can express with anger/frustration or a whole host of emotions that are not loving, we go to bed late and end up exhausted, we drive and push ourselves to work in ways that are not respectful of our bodies and so much more.
The end result of all of this, is often an illness or suffering of some kind as our bodies eventually say: “enough, no more, look at what you are doing to me?” In this, we have an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-prioritize our choices — to consider the possibility that if how I have lived has contributed to this condition, then I too can contribute to my healing by changing how I live, how I express and how I see and understand myself. We move from victimhood to active healer in our own lives.
And the most critical, transformational and healing understanding one can come to is the fact that irrespective of the condition, the disease, the suffering, there is a wholeness within, a love within each of us that is completely unperturbed and undisturbed by anything.
By knowing we are love and that we are worth loving first and foremost by ourselves, we can begin to make choices that are honoring, respectful and loving of the body and to say no to that which is not loving. Our sense of self is no longer dependent upon outer achievements but comes from within. We can reconnect to the love within and know it to be true for ourselves — not just as a belief or a theory or a concept — but a lived quality that is known and felt.
To live the love we are, means beginning to make choices we know and can feel are beneficial and healthy to our bodies so we feel alert, vital, vibrant, joyful, centered, calm and at ease with ourselves and to stop making the choices that we know and can feel are unhealthy and which leave us feeling tired, bloated, heavy, sluggish, emotionally reactive and in disease and discontent with ourselves.
Therefore it does not happen simply by a wish, a belief or a prayer — but by conscious daily moment to moment choices to move gently, to express and honour what we are feeling, to eat what we know and can feel is healthy, loving and respectful for our bodies, to go to bed early and rise early in rhythm with our innate bodily cycles, to take responsibility for our emotional state so that we no longer give free reign to the emotions we can feel are not loving or joyful, like the forces of anger, frustration, rage, jealousy, sadness, misery, resentment etc. and to exercise in a way that is not excessively pushing and harming the body but is gentle and respectful of it.
The time is long overdue to restore love to the heart and foundation of medicine and medical education, so that the doctors of tomorrow know who they are, that they too are worth caring for first and foremost by themselves and that their worth is not dependent upon a medical degree. By loving and caring for ourselves in the way we live, nourishing our bodies, getting sufficient rest and sleep, being tender and gentle with ourselves, culturing our own inner lover rather than listening to the inner critic we know so well, we then have an opportunity to inspire patients to do likewise and to take more care of themselves.
And this is only scratching the surface — the depths to which we can have medicine be founded upon love are unending. The wisdom of love has the power to transform and heal the profession and the people it serves.
Science, as we know it today, is a tool that we use in medicine, and how we use it and apply it can vary depending on whether we have love as our foundation or not. A medicine that is founded upon love, will use science responsibly for the benefit of all mankind and never could it allow its misuse for purely personal gain, and financial agendas as we often see today in the pharmaceutical business for example.
May everyone everywhere — every university and medical school, every patient, every doctor, and nurse — come to know and feel that the true foundation and soul of medicine is love, not just as a theory or a philosophy, but because they know it and live it for themselves.
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