The Medicine of Not Knowning
I recently I had the honour of participating in an “Ask the Herbalist” panel. We answered questions about our favourite herb, which herb we would want on a deserted island and herbs for a chronic cough. But for one question, there was no answer.
A woman described a seriously ill man. Let’s call the man Paul and the woman Sue. After a car accident resulting in chronic soft tissue injuries, Paul developed an addiction to pain killers and alcohol. The addiction seriously compromised his liver. Paul currently suffers with cirrhosis of the liver and fluid build up in his abdomen. His pain continues and he refuses all treatment. Although Sue did not describe her exact relationship with Paul, it was clear that she is concerned, confused and frightened. Sue asked “What herb to give him?”.
Although there are herbs like milk thistle that protects and aids the regeneration of liver cells, one has ask the question, is herbal medicine the medicine Paul really needs?
There is a form of medicine that has no school, few strategies and definitely no answers. I suspect this is the medicine that will ease Paul’s pain. It is the medicine of deep listening. It is the medicine of the heart.
Because Paul has lived with pain for some time, struggles with an addiction and refuses treatment, I suspect he is depressed. Many people have probably tried to fix him, change him or heal him. (Often change, fix and heal are interchangeable.) He more than likely feels hopeless and ultimately invisible.
The woman, on the other hand, has enough wisdom to know she has no answers. She knows she does not know what to do for him. This not knowing is an ache in her stomach. Hoping to relieve her personal pain and Paul’s, she asks a panel of experts for an answer. Armed with expert advice she thinks she will know what to do for Paul. Even though, not one of the experts really knows anything at all about Paul. Or Sue for that matter.
Answers can numb feelings. I hope Sue puts all our answers aside and continues to follow the thread of not knowing. I hope she listens to the ache in her belly and not answers from some else’s head.
When someone is seriously ill, everyone who loves them has an ache in the pit of their stomach. It is the ache of not knowing. Emotionally, this ache is very uncomfortable. The right answer, one hopes will make the ache go away. We think knowing what to do, will ease the gnawing uncertainty. The answer may provide a temporary fix, but ultimately we discover it to be empty of truth. For what we really need to do is ease our loved one’s pain. Milk thistle will help Paul`s liver but it will not relieve the pain behind his refusal of treatment.
I hope Sue continues to walk with the ache in her belly and listen deeply to the feelings of confusion. Deep in her guts, in the ache of not knowing, is where Sue will find the way to help Paul. Once she becomes comfortable with her own discomfort of not knowing, she will open to Paul as he is. She will be able to see him and hear him. She will be able accept him. Finally she will be able to listen deeply to him. This will ease a great deal of Paul’s suffering. This is when miracles happen. Sue will know how to eased Paul’s pain. She will know in her heart she has helped him. Who knows perhaps once heard deeply, Paul may even take the herbs.
Robert Rogers, a great healer, once told me, ``If you listen long enough, your client will tell you what is wrong with them and what they need. `` This is what I call a clinical gem and has proven to be true again and again. To practice healing in this way, requires time.
Answers build walls around us, protecting us from the gnawing uncertainty present in every moment. I wonder if it is possible to really know anything at all before we listen deeply with patience and the integrity of uncertainty. The healer’s challenge is to suspend knowing and let path of healing reveal itself quietly, carefully with respect and dignity.
Paul’s challenge is much more profound than cirrhosis of the liver. Only Paul can tell Sue what he really needs.
Intuition usually first appears as an ache in the guts. Listen deeply. Then grace can enter.