I wrote my thesis on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and recently added a section on the importance of Self-cultivation in healing.
Though this was one of the last sections I wrote, I have come to the conclusion that it is one of the most important parts of my thesis.
Self-cultivation is an essential part of all healing processes, not just IBS, so I thought I’d share what I wrote with you. I’ve changed the formatting a bit to make it easier to read on a computer screen:
One may consider the body to be the physical manifestation of the mind and emotions, particularly on a subconscious level.
Our life experiences are housed in and expressed by the body. This understanding illuminates why Self-cultivation is so important in the treatment of IBS.
From a Chinese medicine standpoint, the manifestations of the body and mind arise from the same source. From a Western perspective, Self-cultivation practices work because they shift the way a person interacts with their inner world and the world around them.
Almost all forms of Self-cultivation teach individuals how to step back from the endless chatter of the Mind in order to begin to experience life from a more observational standpoint. This then enables individuals to make more conscious choices in how they live their lives.
One is only really able to connect to the Bigger Truths when one stops assigning undue importance to life’s accumulated stressors and instead focuses on the sensations available in the present moment.
Self-cultivation practices help the individual to get less caught up in the minutia of to-do lists and egotistical concerns, (in other words, the aspects of life that distract from life’s true beauty,) and instead learn to connect and interact with the deeper and more fulfilling experiences that life has to offer.
Yoga and Qigong have the added benefit of integrating thoughts with movement, which help to remove energetic and physical stagnations. For some people, the addition of movement also makes it easier to carry the lessons in these practices into everyday life.
Without Self-cultivation practices, most people get caught-up in their thoughts and assume that everything they think must be truth, not realizing that good and bad thoughts alike come and go, but not all thoughts are necessarily true.
When an individual works on Self-cultivation through practices like mindfulness, yoga, and qigong, however, they are empowered to change their reactions, behaviors, and ultimately feelings in relation to themselves and the world around them over time.
Instead of engaging in self-criticism, for example, with practice one might begin to notice the criticism as it arises, and instead of believing it, one can learn to name it, honor its presence, and then choose to move on to more positive thoughts. In this way, little-by-little the individual will become more and more compassionate toward him or herself, and more compassion can also be built toward the world at large.
In addition to modulating the mind’s patterns and reactions, Self-cultivation practices have the potential to transform deep-seated emotions and memories which may be stored in the body.
Acupuncture alone has the potential to accomplish an energetic reorganization of the body and mind’s habitual responses, but sometimes the most profound transformations can only come from a concerted and brave effort from within the individual themself.
An individual who is ready to transform will have to learn a certain amount of self-responsibility, and a willingness to let go and surrender on their path to greater health.
Often there is a good deal of grief, anger, disappointment, and other uncomfortable emotions that arise as people begin to realize how much of the blame they’ve assigned to the outside world has actually arisen from discordances within themselves.
Emotional releases may occur as energetic blocks are removed, but the individual has to be willing to let these emotions be expressed in order for them to truly shift and move out.
The emotions may surface as the individual begins to more objectively and mindfully evaluate their relationship with food.
They may also emerge when an individual realizes that they themselves, not just other people, have actually played a crucial part in forming the negative underbelly of interpersonal relationships which have gone sour in their lives.
It is only by taking responsibility for their past reactions that they can gain the perspective needed to heal the old wounds which have lead to the dis-eases afflicting their minds and bodies.
Once they take responsibility for their past actions and current situation, they can then approach new situations with greater internally and externally-focused compassion, and more successfully change their behavior, reactions, and health in the future.
It is important to remember that for most people change is really scary.
No matter how uncomfortable or unsatisfying their lives may be, many people prefer to stay within their comfort zones rather than take the risks necessary to truly transform and adopt healthier patterns.
Even if the potential consequences of change are overwhelmingly favorable, the reality is that it is impossible to truly know that everything is going to be ok.
Because of and despite life’s inherent uncertainty, many people will fight stubbornly in an attempt keep things as they are.
We must also remember how difficult it is to face our own shortcomings, acknowledge our imperfections, shatter our long-held illusions of who we are and embrace the humility necessary to change.
However, in order to transform their health, this is exactly what IBS patients must do.
Some of these risks may appear to be inconsequential when viewed from the outside, but it is vitally important for practitioners to recognize that there are usually multiple layers of deep-seated fears and past-traumas housed within each patient’s body and psyche.
Even asking a patient to evaluate their behavior by recording an honest food-journal may trigger these fears and cause them to be non-compliant if they are not yet ready to change.
We are all creatures of habit, and even the most wonderful times of transition for the most enthusiastic adventurers amongst us can become very stressful.
It is thus crucially important that IBS patients find support in practitioners and/or a community of individuals who are themselves focused on Self-cultivation if they wish to truly nurture their health and reach their most vibrant potential.