The Physician’s Path
Compiled from a keynote address given to members of the Physician's Association for Anthroposophical Medicine (PAAM), June 1989, in Spring Valley, N.Y.
The path on which the physician walks through life and through the world is a path of healing for themselves as for their patients. We can look at healing from many aspects, but I would like to take the historical approach. That is, "When did healing - and the physician - enter the history of humankind?"
The Bible tells us that Adam and Eve ate of the apple of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. It was the serpent who made them do it, and the snake was, in fact, Lucifer. 1
This event caused us two distinct problems. The first was that we began to regard our thinking, feeling, and willing as our own possessions. And the second was that we gained an interest in the earth, in matter, and began to desire material earthly things. Thus it was Lucifer who planted the seeds of both egotism and materialism in humankind.
In order to overcome them there have been throughout history small numbers of people who have sought to develop certain qualities in themselves; qualities attained on a path of inner development. There are many such paths, but the goal of all true paths is to restore the original relationship and balance of the ego with the spiritual world.
However, the human beings along this path of healing, of spiritual development, have been too few to offset the destructive effects of egotism and materialism in the vast majority of human souls. So it seems God gave humans another path to remind them of their spiritual origin: the path of pain, suffering, and illness. Illnesses such as arthritis and cancer are the remedies for the original soul sicknesses of egotism and materialism!
This is where the physician enters whose task must be a knowledge of the human being in health and illness, and knowledge of the whole world of nature as well. Yet the physician too is suffering; a wounded healer. In Thornton Wilder's play The Angel That Troubled the Waters the angel refuses to allow the physician to be healed saying, "Without your wound where would your power be?"
As weak and broken physicians we limp along our path often feeling the futility of our knowledge, having confronted with bitter pain our recalcitrant pride and self-love. But we still have one thing, I hope, and that is the will to heal. So where do we go from there? I would say we have now prepared ourselves for the goal of total surrender, giving up what we hold on to. Midwives whom I've been fortunate to work with have told me from their experience that the goal of their work is to help the woman in labor achieve a state of surrender. And those who work with cancer patients and with the terminally ill such as Elizabeth Kubler Ross and Stephen Levine also say that their goal is to help the patient achieve a state of surrender.
How does the call to surrender meet the physician in his or her everyday practice? Every therapist and physician working in or even outside of anthroposophy knows that healing and self-transcendence go hand in hand. And yet, this knowledge that healing requires self transformation carries a hidden danger because it may prompt the healer to demand from the patient what cannot be demanded - that the patient change him/herself. If a physician knows that a remedy is correct and yet sees that it doesn't work it is often because the patient is resisting the healing out of fear of the painful change that healing entails. Then the healer is tempted to say, "I cannot heal this one; he will have to learn from life." And so usually such a patient stops coming.
For the physician it is a failure, but if we acknowledge it as our failure and not the patient's failure then we may confront a painful thought which is that our will to heal may not have been strong enough; that our heart's forces of love weren't strong enough; or that we were unable ourselves to take the necessary steps from thinking about the patient to surrendering to what the patient brought us.
I know a physician who out of his long experience in the emergency room caring for patients of other doctors, discovered a law. He said that every patient gets the doctor he deserves. And the other half of this truth is that every doctor gets the patient he deserves.
Just as each illness is a healing lesson for the patient, so is each patient a lesson for the doctor - especially the difficult, recalcitrant patient who must find the courage to surrender to healing and let go of everything personal and material. If we as physicians can learn to surrender to the lesson which the patient brings us, then through the pain and self-knowledge of that lesson we can strengthen our will to heal and further unfold our "organ of healing" - the courageous and loving heart.
1 Ancient History, Atlantis and Lemuria, R. Steiner, Anthroposophic Press.