A Miner’s Canary
Miriam Webster defines a symptom as: a change in the body or mind which indicates that a disease is present or a change which shows that something bad exists: a sign of something bad.
So to quickly and concisely break this concept down:
Symptoms = bad
Elimination of symptoms = good
This, of course, has been the central thesis of modern medicine and even arguably psychotherapy. You have a headache? Take an aspirin. You’re depressed? Use these positive affirmations and coping skills. You have a problem, we have a solution! Lickety-split! Your symptoms are gone.
But no one stops to ask: Why did I have that symptom to begin with? Did that symptom indicate something else was going on? What was the cause of my symptoms? What would happen if I treated the cause, instead of treating only the symptom (insomnia) itself?
What if we take the above concept and reverse the conclusion?
It might look something like this:
Symptoms = good
In the early 20th century one of the most prevalent industries was mining. While mining can often be very profitable, it is also one of the most dangerous occupations. An example of this is that carbon monoxide, a deadly, odorless, and tasteless gas, can form underground during a mine fire or after a mine explosion. The ramifications of this resulted in countess miner’s lives being lost to the poisonous gas. A solution emerged, where the workers would bring canary birds down into their mines to warn them of potential disaster. If the bird started to show signs of distress, or die, it would be a sign that the miners needed to leave.
So you can see how the canary was a good thing, a lifesaver, even. The modern medical approach is to get rid of the canary—to hide the indicator of something bad existing. What we don’t know won’t hurt us and just as long as we feel better: everything will be okay.
Or will it?
My proposal is that your symptoms are good. In fact, I will endeavor to even say that the more symptoms you have, the better. (I will elaborate on the more symptoms are better in future blogs.)
In my medical practice, I am not only a healer, but I am also an investigator. Just as Sherlock Holmes requires clues at the scene of a crime in order to solve the case, doctors require clues, which are often found in the form of symptoms in order to formulate a diagnostic conclusion.
Symptoms clustered together often form patterns and provide information about what kind of “disease” we have, but more importantly, symptoms tell us how to correct that imbalance.
Let me give you an example: Someone you know approaches you, their eyes are drooping, they repeatedly yawn, it’s hard for them to walk straight and they feel stiff and achy all over their body. The symptoms, or signs, are that they are fatigued. What many of us do is aim to get rid of the symptoms by drinking coffee or tell them to go to sleep.
We can take this one step further: Perhaps through curious inquiring, we learn that that person has already tried caffeine in the mornings and is not able to sleep at night. We could recommend a different type of stimulant to wake up, and other ideas to promote sleeping, for example: sleeping tincture, a pill, or to discuss sleep hygiene.
But what if we were to dig even more? What if we learn that they are unable to sleep because they are grieving a tragic loss and lay awake at night feeling depressed?
Suddenly our treatment looks very different. While our initial suggestion might have been to pump them up with caffeine, and then secondarily to offer a sleep aid… the symptom, in combination with a deeper inquiry, allowed us the opportunity to treat the root cause of the fatigue. By attending to the person’s suffering in a more profound and curious manner, we are then empowered to provide a solution that may not only address the symptom of fatigue, but also the cause of it to begin with.
Today I’d like to offer you a challenge:
I challenge you to consider looking at your symptoms as blessings. Your symptoms can guide you deeper into your being where the source of the dis-ease may reside and provide you the keys to unlocking the source for powerful, transformative, and lasting restoration.
In the upcoming blogs I want to share with you what I call “The ABCDE’s” symptoms as helpers. They are as follows:
I will discuss each of these in more detail in the weeks to come. I am honored that you are joining me in this incredible journey, where we will go—in the words of Timothy R. Dooley—beyond the flat earth and into a new awareness of being.
Your symptoms are your little canaries.
The next step is: what do we do with them?
Until next time… In health and in symptoms,
Next blog: A New Definition of Symptoms and The Gift of Wonderment