The quest for health is never ending, the topic never exhausted. In my younger days I always smiled indulgently at the elderly people who were forever peppering their conversations with abi gezunt - "as long as we are healthy," or zelt mir gezunt - "be well."
Then as I became a little older myself (it happens to everyone), I found that references to health were creeping into my own conversations, at an alarming rate. Obviously, we are concerned with our health. And just as obviously, we are not sure what to do about it.
Acupuncture, yoga, shlatsu? Pain killers, antibiotics, tranquilizers? Hormones, vitamins, health foods? The possible treatments for any given ailment are endless. Yet, precisely because so much pharmaceutical help is available, we often overlook the body's own incredible power to heal itself.
In his book, "The Medusa and the Snail," Dr. Lewis Thomas wrote about an ancient human affliction -- warts. Experiments had proved that warts could be removed by hypnosis. In other words, by implanting a thought (in this instance, the command to rid the body of the wart) in the patient's brain, the body understood exactly what had to be done. It accepted the command and went on to produce the complex chemical-hormonal mixture necessary to displace the unwanted growth.
Please note that no one told the brain which chemicals and hormones to produce, in which quantities, where to send them, or at which intervals. That's because doctors simply don't know the answers to these questions. Tom Sawyer, I believe, used a frog or a toad to remove warts. Other than cutting or burning the wart off, doctors today don't do much better. Yet the brain, just by being instructed to knock that wart off, goes ahead, all on its own and without the benefit of a college degree, and does the job!
I found the implications of this information absolutely overwhelming. Somehow, locked into the little gray cells inside our skull, God has implanted sophisticated medical information which works even without our knowledge. All we have to do is press the correct button and the entire marvelous system turns on, all by itself. Imagine -- every human being equipped with his or her own free, internal, computerized hospital complete with pharmaceutical factory! It was mind-boggling.
Shortly after reading this article, I came across another piece of intriguing information, After having been under unusually severe tension for several years, a man found himself on the brink of a nervous breakdown. He was experiencing strange visions and was positive that the soul of another person had been placed into the body of his former self.
His doctor explained that as a result of the severe tension he had experienced, certain chemical and hormonal imbalances were caused in his nervous system, leading to the temporary disintegration of his personality. The doctor had suggested strong drugs to reinstate the normal body balance, but when the patient objected to taking medicine, a regime of complete rest and relaxation, far removed from the source of the tension, had been prescribed. After prolonged care, the patient regained his own personality and normalcy.
I thought about that for a while. To put it very simply, it meant that if the world makes us crazy (which it often does), a little peace and quiet can do wonders. We've all heard this before, of course, but I had never heard of such a severe illness and such a complete cure. And without drugs. Nowadays, we don't have time for slow cures. Instead of allowing the body's marvelous, built-in resources to effect their own slow, natural healing, we prefer a bottle of pills and zbang (as they say in Hebrew slang) -- instant health is on its way.
It is said that a person who believes he is well, tends to remain well; one who is happy, tends to shed illnesses more quickly and easily; one who believes that the cold symptoms he has contracted will not develop into a cold, tends not to develop a cold.
This seems to imply that we have a very definite measure of control over our health simply by maintaining a happy, positive attitude towards life. This information was so exciting and brimming with promise that I had trouble digesting it.
Then, at a class in the Book of Daniel, we came across something which helped my "digestion." Instead of the elaborate, gourmet food which Nevuchadnezer had prepared for his young captives, Daniel and his Jewish friends requested and received plain, inexpensive lentils to eat. Not only were they satisfied and well nourished, but they felt great and looked better than all the lads who ate the more superior, non-kosher fare.
One of the commentaries explains that if we eat food which we want and like, even if it has less food value, the body digests it more fully and it is ultimately more nourishing and healthier.
Does all of this mean that the body has a way of deriving more -- or less -- nutrients from food, depending on the attitude of the eater? Does it perhaps explain why so many unfortunate things seem to happen to people who feel unfortunate, while happier people have more positive experiences? (It doesn't always work that way, of course, but some people do seem more adept at the art of living.)
If it's true, what a priceless gift it is! By just thinking positively, we can somehow revolutionize our lives, making them better, happier, richer in human experiences, and healthier!
Our family physician seems to agree. He never says "goodbye." He always sends his patients away with a resounding "be happy." It took me several years to realize that this wasn't just a linguistic idiosyncrasy; it was a piece of serious medical advice.
Many of us fritter away precious energy during our lifetimes, trying to redesign the world. If only we could learn to relax, be satisfied, be happy, and trust in God to do His job, we could get on with ours, and enjoy a larger measure of success while we're at it. And the energy we saved in the process could then be put to better use, helping our bodies perform in the magnificent manner for which they were originally programmed.
There is no doubt that the human body possesses great powers and strengths which modern medicine barely suspects, let alone comprehends. If only we work with it, instead of against it -- combining faith and joy and a little common sense -- we will be royally rewarded.
So relax, be happy, and abi gezunt!
Excerpted with permission from
"ALL THINGS CONSIDERED"
- from a woman's point of view.
Published by ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd., Brooklyn, NY