Around 2,600 years ago the biblical prophet, Jeremiah, lamented over the problems facing the children of Israel, not the least of which was what modern-day folks would likely consider a major health crisis:
“Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wounds of my people (Jeremiah 8:22)?
Sound familiar? If Jeremiah were around today, the question might be phrased a little differently:
“With all the medical advances being made, shouldn’t we be seeing less disease and suffering instead of more?”
Just FYI, the balm referred to by Jeremiah is thought to be a kind of resinous gum extracted from any one of a number of flowering plants, all of which, it’s believed, possess exceptional medicinal properties. The term is also used throughout the Bible as a metaphor for the spiritual medicine required to heal the sick and suffering; a medicine that, although readily available, is all-too-rarely recognized or utilized.
Of course, it would be absurd to think that all the world’s ills could be wiped out with a simple gob of gum, no matter how exceptional or plentiful. But are there other resources available to us – underutilized, even unrecognized – that, in the interest of better health, might be put to better use?
In a seminar given recently at Saybrook University in San Francisco, clinical psychologist, Dr. Richard Katz, professor emeritus at First Nations University of Canada and author of the upcoming book, “Synergy, Healing and Empowerment: Insights from Cultural Diversity,” offered up an intriguing possibility.
Drawing on years of experience studying a wide variety of cultures – everything from the Kalahari Ju/’hoansi in Africa to indigenous healers in Fiji – Katz has developed a keen appreciation for what he calls “spiritually based resources;” that is, resources that are not only renewable but also available and accessible to everyone.
What he’s referring to, of course, is not a new drug or even a new medical procedure, but a fundamentally different way of thinking about ourselves, our relationship to the universe, and to those around us.
While the rituals and methods involved with tapping into these resources vary widely from culture to culture, there are similarities in the moral sentiments they inspire: compassion, forgiveness, unconditional love, and so on. These qualities of thought not only improve our ability to function within society but have also been scientifically proven to provide a sense of mental and physical harmony, even physical healing.
For instance, in a recent Huffington Post column, Dr. James Doty, director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education , notes that the social connectedness fostered by compassion “is a predictor of longer life, faster recovery from disease, higher levels of happiness and well-being, and a greater sense of purpose and meaning.” He goes on to say that, “While survival of the fittest may lead to short-term gain, research clearly shows it is survival of the kindest that leads to the long-term survival of a species.”
Certainly there are times when things like compassion and unconditional love can seem to be in short supply; an impractical if not impossible resource to access. If this is the case, then perhaps the best question to ask is, “Am I looking at a lack of love or an abundance of resentment, doubt, and fear?” One tends to marginalize and even completely obscure the other.
Although the disease and suffering the world faces today can seem overwhelming, it’s important to remember that each of us has the capacity, at least in some small measure, to cultivate the proverbial “balm of Gilead” within; a healing balm capable of soothing any number of mental and physical wounds. We should have every reason, then, to expect to see better health as our capacity to recognize and utilize this renewable resource increases and improves over time.
Eric Nelson is a media and legislative spokesman for Christian Science in California.