The Meaning of Illness

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By: Susan R. Johnson, M.D.
In anthroposophical medicine our spirit (our higher-self) is always healthy. It’s our soul that first becomes ill. If we do not pay attention to our soul, then we start to lose our vitality, our etheric body becomes weak and then our physical body becomes ill.

Imagine health as a beautiful sunny day with a brilliant blue sky and no clouds in sight. The earth is covered by a layer of green fields, plants and trees springing up from a firm ground composed of minerals. The sun is our spirit, the sky is our soul, the green living layer is our vitality (etheric body) and the mineralized earth is our physical body. We come to this earth with the purpose of purifying our soul. There are always clouds that form in our soul – those issues in life (our needs, wants and desires) that we are trying to work through and transform. At any given time, if our spirit is strong enough, like the sun we can often dissolve the clouds that come our way. Sometimes too many clouds form at the same time or a cloud grows too quickly and becomes too large, obscuring the sun’s light. If we don’t pay attention to the messages from our soul, the clouds can grow and merge into a huge thunderstorm and eventually pour down to the earth like rain. After the rain, the sky will become clear again, but all the rain may have flooded the earth. If our etheric body is not strong enough to withstand the rainstorm then our physical body can become ill. Hereditary factors, destiny and karma can all affect the physical body we have in this life, but there are things we can do to strengthen our etheric body to help us resist becoming ill during these rainstorms of our soul life.

The etheric body is formed during the first seven years of our life. Routines and daily rhythms, especially around meal times, bedtimes, morning times, and holiday celebrations, all strengthen the etheric. Adequate sleep (usually around 11 hours for young children and teenagers), adequate clothing (so hands and feet stay warm), and proper nutrition that follows the cycle of our liver  (consuming fats and proteins  before 3PM, eating a hearty breakfast, a hearty lunch, nutritious snacks, and followed by a light dinner) all help our organs grow in a healthy way and strengthen our immune system. Television, video, computers, caffeine, sleep deprivation, prolonged car rides, and always hurrying from one place to another overstimulate our immune system. Minimizing the stressors in our culture can strengthen our etheric body.

Nature is one of the greatest healers. Take a long walk through a park lined with trees, in a quiet forest, or by water that nourishes us. When my spirit needs strengthening, I hike in the mountains and sit under a redwood tree by a small flowing stream. When my soul feels in torment and too many thoughts and worries are flooding my consciousness, then I sit by a rushing waterfall or walk along the ocean and listen to the crashing waves. Finally, one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and our children  is to ‘slow down’ and remember that ‘less is often the best’.

Susan Johnson, M.D. is a physician at Raphael House in Fair Oaks, CA. Philip Incao, M.D., related this picture of health and illness from a Dutch anthroposophical physician during a lecture at the Artemisia Conference held at Rudolf Steiner College in the summer of 2000.

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