This article on "My Personal Journey from Physician to Healer," by Dr. Steven E. Hodes, appears as part of the introduction to his new book Meta-Physician on Call for Better Health: Metaphysics and Medicine For Mind, Body and Spirit (Praeger Books, 2007).
I was trained to be a physician, not a healer.
That statement may seem confusing or self-contradictory to the average citizen. After all, aren’t physicians by definition healers? At first glance the answer would seem, yes. At this stage in my career, however, I realize that the two terms are not interchangeable at all. My personal journey from physician to meta-physician has been over 25 years in the making.
As a product of the traditional approach to medicine, I was trained to view the patient as a machine: a machine suffering from some undisclosed mechanical failure. My goal was to be the best diagnostician possible, to identify the defective organ or organ system with the goal of prescribing the appropriate tests and subsequent medication to treat and hopefully cure the patient.
Of course, I was aware, on some level, that the patient had other dimensions to their being, ones that included their personal, emotional, even spiritual side. Yet rarely, in all my medical training, did any of these factors rise to the level of my conscious awareness. It has only been within the last few years of my medical career that I have come to the profound realization that I have not been a healer at all. To heal means to "make whole," and in the process of becoming aware, I changed. The Greek prefix "meta" signifies transformation.
I became a "meta-physician."
That epiphany required a major transformation in my spiritual perspective on life. As a product of the Baby Boom generation, I had followed the path which embraced science as the ultimate arbiter of truth. Finding no evidence of God in the heavens, I declared it the winner.
Although I managed the arduous trek through medical school, residency, and fellowship, I began my metaphysical quest in my undergraduate years with a degree in Religious Studies. Perhaps such a choice seemed inconsistent with my basic agnosticism and extreme skepticism. Yet it offered a broad, humanities approach to this universal human endeavor. In retrospect, I suspect it was part of a larger plan for me—one that lay hidden for decades.
My career in medicine should have put to rest any consideration of a spiritual exploration. Yet as I approached and passed my fiftieth birthday, something interrupted my straight line atheism—the study of Kabbalah.
It was not the study of this material itself which began to chip away at my shell of disbelief. But coincident with my exploration of Kabbalah, I began to meet ordinary, sincere, and honest individuals who began to reveal personal experiences of a deeply spiritual nature.
There was something so compelling and convincing in these personal anecdotes that I could not ignore their metaphysical implications. I began to acquire a reputation as someone who was open and nonjudgmental and, as a result, increasingly more anecdotal experiences were shared with me. I began to accumulate so many of these stories that I could classify them into near-death experiences, after-death communications, reincarnation memories, and medium and psychic experiences.
I have continued to listen to them—reminders that there is far more mystery and wonder than all our rational thought can encompass. They have become my proof, if you will, for a higher, more powerful spiritual reality. I soon came to realize that my own encounters with the paranormal were the tip of an iceberg which was available to all.
This diversion from my orthodox practice of gastroenterology seemed, at first, to offer me some amusing, curious pieces of unexplained and unexplainable reality. It stimulated me, however, to explore a wide array of metaphysical, mystical, and spiritual literature. I recognized a common thread in the mystical traditions of all religions (also known as the "perennial philosophies").
At the same time, I began to revisit contemporary science: quantum theory, molecular biology, origin of life, mind and consciousness studies. To my amazement I began to see correspondences between all my studies. Science was not capable of debunking what I had "heard on the street." Rather, science was deeply mired in its own metaphysical conundrum. It was unable to put back the pieces of the mechanical universe it had so vigorously defended for the past four hundred years. The presence of spirit was hovering over the waters of the cosmos.
In hindsight I can hardly believe that I did not foresee the direction of my own journey. My metaphysical quest began to turn, as if by its own will, back to my practice of medicine. Healing became the ultimate reason for my own journey and, perhaps, I have come to think, for our existence on earth.
I began to truly see myself as a healer and not just as a physician. It became clear that the mind , body, and spirit could no longer be separated. Each needed to be addressed. For the first time, I came to understand what (w)holism really meant. Even the distinction between healer and healee became blurred because the giving is equal to the receiving.
What had been my profession alone became much more. When I would attempt to reach out to another being, I felt a joy that cannot be put into words. It made terms like compassion, kindness, tolerance, love seem almost trivial.
My soul was speaking to me in terms that I finally understood. Healing became more than an occupation. It became an attitude, a perspective, an underlying paradigm for living.