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Author: Alec Milne
Title: The Healing Crisis

To many a cold is just a cold, usually a bad cold. To the medically minded the same is an upper respiratory infection. To the Nature Cure adherent it is A Healing Crisis and the worse it is, so much the better. The Healing Crisis is our mantra, and as we see it, the culmination of all the healing processes involved in not just recovery, but in the sustaining of the Life Force; the somatic intelligence contained in all our millions of cells that determines the healing of wounds and knitting of bones, the restoration of health that keeps us alive and ensures that through us, Life goes on. There is no difference in principle between the acute and the chronic. If the acute symptom is recognized for what it is, and allowed to do its work of protection and restoration, then there is no need for the chronic to develop.

Relatively few people take up Nature Cure on purely philosophical grounds. Some do because of their personal disabilities, or because of what has happened to a relative or friend. For me it was a family thing, parents who were already disillusioned with the medical treatment of an asthmatic relative. Asthma that I seemed to grow out of in adolescence, but which returned in my twenties and effectively determined my choice of a career in Naturopathy. I became a student with the E.S.N.T. in 1946, completed it in 1951, and started in the Spring of that year an asthmatic phase that was extremely debilitating and which lasted for six months.

My outstanding memory of that time when I was working full time as a practitioner, fighting for every breath and trying to keep a smile on my face was two fold. The first was the complete absence of any practical help from the establishment, although the sympathy was there in spades. This was a problem that I had to solve, and which I accepted from the start. The other was that I could successfully mask the wheezing and general breathlessness from the patients. This long drawn out crisis and test of faith came to an abrupt end in Aberdeen in darkest January after my first public lecture outside Edinburgh, on 'Healthy Living'! It was the looming threat of this lecture that had increasingly dominated my life for the preceding six months; how could I deliver a talk on Health when I could scarcely draw breath? The excuses for cancelling the lecture were there in plenty and included driving up to Aberdeen in a blizzard. Let it not be said that I am a quitter. The talk was delivered to a sizeable audience, who listened with the concentration that could be found in those days. There was a reception and party afterwards. I stayed the night, and the next morning my health had been restored. I was a new man and stayed that way ever since. Fraying a bit at the edges now, but the asthma and the reasons for it stayed in the past. My Healing Crisis over.

The lessons learnt were not immediately apparent, but were revealed bit by bit over the next sixty years or so. Up the point of the Crisis I was the ultimate, dedicated apostle of Nature Cure as I knew it, then reflected that all that physical effort through correct diet, physical exercise, compresses and what have you, had got me nowhere. A phrase that came to haunt me was; - 'you Nature Cure people aren't interested in living, you are only interested in not dying. All you think of is your beauty sleep' (I was trying to make my excuses for leaving the party at midnight. Her phrase went home. But I still leave parties at midnight). A second phrase is attributed to Peter La Barre, fellow student and incorrigible Nature Cure reformer - ' What do we mean by happiness?'

All the 'cure' elements have been retained. I am the best, organically fed, chap in Scotland. I continue with my cold baths, ride my bicycle, walk daily, not because I think they are all good for me, but simply recognize that if I don't, I do not feel healthy. But since I did all that as a student, losing three stones in the process and getting close to emaciation, I can no longer see that that is the only route to 'cure'. Somewhere I turned from curing to healing. This must have started at Kingston. Slowly, there was a dawning recognition of what the real secret of Kingston's impressive record was...... not in the 'curing' (the disciplines at Kingston were close to harsh, initially).......and not only in the lessons learnt there (then as now, we were great proselytisers)....... or in the general encouragement and optimism that were to be, the real secret was that the patients were away from their families, businesses, husband or wives. They felt better the legend has it, as soon as they came into the place or when they entered the long drive that led to the main building, or best of all, the man who said he felt better as soon as he got into his car in South Wales to come to Kingston. This applies to all the Health retreats that still exist, in Malvern with Mike Forman, and with Sheila Wallace and all, at Boat of Garten and now Atul Shah's new venture at Goatlands in Yorkshire. But the real quest is to make it work at home, and this really does take us away from the physical and the faith elements and takes us into 'the proper study of mankind is Man'.

We are composed of a fantastically clever somatic mechanism, which if obeyed keeps us out of all sorts of trouble. Pain that keeps us out of the fire, and fear that allows us to run from our enemies are great survival mechanisms. It has been said that the N.C. philosophy is an ideal justification for us loners and eccentrics. But if that is our habitual response to Life, that is what we become. Many of the best people are that to some degree and stand apart from the common herd. The herd instinct is a great protector but the death of creativity, as it is the source of sectarianism and nationalism. But belonging to some club, some orthodoxy, some group, would seem to be basic to our sense of security.

Even more hazardous is our need for a partner not just to make sure that Life is reproduced, but the recognition that what Nature insists upon in her search for the perfect human being, is the coupling of contrasts, Beauty and the Beast. The institution of marriage, the best arrangement of living together we can devise, inevitably forces a compromise, or should in a civilised society, on the limitless follies of the totally selfish individual. It used to be said, and still is in some religious circles, that the needs of the husband are paramount. There are still some who think that the physical elements of Nature Cure are the all important features of a marriage. It may be, but they could carry the seeds of self-destruction. One recognizes the need for a wholesome way of living. Even more for healing, is the need for creative relationships and an engaged tolerance with the society we live in.

Healing then is a process of drawing from, or tapping into, what is there in Nature for just that purpose. At its simplest level, this means eating the foods that nature provides, the fruits in the autumn, the roots in the first few months of the year, the salads in the Spring. It means tending to go to bed at dusk and getting up with the dawn; it means adapting to the weather before seeking protection from it; spending as much time in the fresh air as possible. The next level is more complicated.

Humans have no method of self-defence or of self-sufficiency. Instead we have a high level of anxiety that propels us into the social groups and relationships that provide a modicum of security. It is never enough. Hence our need for magical powers to sustain us. In a big way we have religion and nation states. Humdrum lives are made better by promises that advertise nostrums for beauty, power, and social advantages. There has always been the search for the substances that will transmute base metals into gold, and invent an elixir for everlasting life. Drugs offer a relief from symptoms, and do the work they are designed for, but do not solve the underlying problem. And have side effects

Illness accentuates our fear, and drives us to search for the substance that will alleviate and indeed cure whatever ails us. This urge is very understandable. But consider; - our instinct of self-preservation demands that if we must, we stand and fight. Frequently when we have to, we surprise ourselves, finding sources of courage we never knew existed. It is nature that stiffen the sinews, and summon up the blood. It is this we have there to draw on in the healing process. Self-belief, faith in the body's, my body's, power of recovery is what we call it. The magic we seek is there within us, at hand, ready for use, it is not out there in the shape of remedies, or foods that are yin not yang. It can be enormously helped by someone whose faith is perhaps greater than one's own, and used to supplement the patient's own - even if the therapist (or the lover), in their turn, are searching for their own particular talisman. The therapist that believes in the power of what ever they prescribe, or do, can still be a vital tool.

The crisis in the Healing Crisis is the test of faith that NC adherents often learn in childhood, with the magic of the compress. Frequently, later it becomes one aspect of Nature Cure, like the cold bath, or the fast that sustains people. The graduate may use any, or all, of these to advantage, but it is the experience of listening, understanding and responding to the body's language that releases the vital energy of self-belief.

Alec Milne is a Naturopath Practitioner.

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