Medicine's missing dimension.
In medicine we tend to restrict practice to using a purely intellectual understanding grounded in science to conceptualize patients and their illnesses. This approach is radically different from the experientially rich healing practices found throughout the world that presumably date to the beginning of humanity. Shamanistic healing is often typified as involving magical thinking and communication with beings other than human. These aspects of traditional healing are difficult to merge with science, the backbone of our medical practice. However, we can also describe traditional healing as meeting patients beyond the conventional self and beyond conceptual filters to directly face sickness and death in a larger context. There are a variety of traditions for learning to live our lives in this larger context, including contemplative religious practices and secular mindfulness practice. Although self discipline, effort and courage are likely to be required to take these paths, they can transform the practice of medicine into a richer experience. Using Zen Buddhism as an example of a contemplative spiritual approach, I will explore how it is possible to preserve a respectful relationship to science while engaging in healing as what the African Bushmen called "a life thing, a death thing".
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