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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

Lissa Rankin on the Mysteries of Healing

Aug 31, 2022 09:30AM ● By Linda Sechrist
Headshot of Lissa Rankin outdoors in front of water

Mind-body physician Lissa Rankin, a New York Times bestselling author and founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute in the San Francisco Bay Area, takes readers on her decade-long journey in her latest book, Sacred Medicine: A Doctor’s Quest to Unravel the Mysteries of Healing. She provides a discerning guide to the sometimes perilous paths available to patients when wellness fads, lifestyle changes and doctors have failed them. 

What motivated you to write Sacred Medicine?

After 14 years of studying and practicing conventional medicine, I left it at age 37 because I became disillusioned and “morally injured” by the limitations of conventional medicine and the U.S. health care system, which give lip service to a patient’s well-being and ultimately are about the financial bottom line. 

I never lost respect for the life-saving aspects of conventional medicine. I simply believed it shouldn’t be the only medicine in my medicine bag. It only took me nine months to realize that I could quit my job as an Ob-Gyn, but I couldn’t quit my calling. That which drew me to medicine from age 7 was still alive in me. I began spiritually seeking to find out what else heals. During my years of studying and practicing everything along the health, wellness, psychology, yoga and spirituality gamut, I tried many things, cherry-picking from various spiritual traditions, Eastern religions and New Age spirituality. None of these quite fit either. I found as much shadow in this camp as I did in the conventional medicine camp. 

Why use a carefully balanced brew of several healing interventions?

Limiting how you approach your health care to one camp or the other could prevent you from having the best possible health outcome. There’s light and shadow in both camps. My book helps educate readers so they can practice discernment and make wise choices about which tools from the world’s medicine bag serves them best. It’s meant to help them become more miracle-prone and hopefully to embrace the paradoxes of healing, one of which is: You can heal yourself and you can’t do it alone. 

A lot of the practices I write about are intended to facilitate the restoration of wholeness. That doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t also seek out potentially curative treatments with their conventional medical doctor. But those treatments often don’t cure either, so I really see it that individuals don’t have to choose one or the other. Rather, they can choose conventional medicine and sacred medicine.

What’s the difference between curing and healing?

Generally, curing is about the elimination of all evidence of disease. Healing is a restoration of wholeness, which is what the word “heal” is based upon. When I’ve been present with people during end-of-life care, I’ve witnessed the restoration of wholeness in the tying up of the loose ends of a well-lived life or a life not so well-lived, even in the presence of physical decline. Repair, healing and forgiveness in both internal and external relationships in our lives can come from doing deep shadow work. 

What are our whole health intelligences?

Because healing is a return to wholeness, connecting with your whole health intelligences—mental, intuitive, emotional and somatic—must be the foundational part of your healing journey to create conditions which make the body miracle-prone. I think of the work of integrating them as I do a symphony that requires a conductor to arrange and harmonize the intelligences. I call the conductor the “inner pilot light”.

For example, if we’re making medical decisions or any significant decision, it’s important to consult all the intelligences. Consider not only what the mind is telling you about what’s wise and smart and what the science shows, but what intuition is telling you about what might be in your best interests. Or consider what your gut or other aspects of your body are feeling. It’s not only the gut that can give us somatic intelligence. We can tune into various intelligences all over our body. Some healers I’ve met are finely tuned into this kind of intelligence to the point that they can ask a “yes” or “no” question and feel the answer somatically. They use this as one of the ways to guide themselves and their clients. 

What part does trauma play in sacred medicine?

Although trauma as a cause of physical disease might be disputed by skeptics who resist information that contradicts their worldview, the body of scientific data linking psychological trauma and both pediatric and adult-onset disease is airtight. According to so many sources in the mainstream medical literature, anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of illnesses have stress-related emotional underpinnings. What causes stress? Trauma does.

Linda Sechrist is Natural Awakenings senior staff writer. Connect at [email protected].