I have been struggling, lately, with what I have so far seen as a dichotomous conflict between the importance of hard facts and the enigmatic power of our stories.
When it comes to the process of healing…how important is data in its own right? And at what point should we shift gears and look, instead, at the meaning behind the curtain of all those numbers?
I’m honestly not entirely certain.
What I DO know is that data has so far been championed as the superior monarch – with our personal narratives trailing behind like the younger of two princes in line for the throne. And I understand why. Narratives are, by their very nature…subjective. It’s difficult to track, measure and observe “meaning” or “purpose” or “happiness.”
But should we really put all of our stalk in facts and tangible information? I don’t think so.
In the film “Mr. Holmes” – a story meant to take us to see a much older version of fiction’s beloved detective – there is a point when he realizes that facts, alone, are not enough. One must also be willing to contemplate and reckon with the nature of our human spirit – to see the significance behind the facts. It’s a lesson he learns painfully.
It’s also a lesson I’ve certainly learned from experience. In the world of Western Medicine, it’s remarkable what can be done. If I have an infection, antiobiotics can aid me in recovery. If I break a bone, an X-ray can be done and a cast put in place to help me heal properly. Facts and hard data belong in this realm. And it gives me the results I want: survival.
On the other hand, when I find myself in the midst of a panic attack, or a horrible sleep cycle (and by that, I mean…chronic insomnia that lasts for days at a time) doctors have no remedy. They can give me sleep medications to help me reset the clock. That’s helpful. They can give me medication for anxiety to calm my nerves. That’s also helpful. But there is nothing they can tangibly do to make the cause of my symptoms subside.
Desperate to get to the bottom of my problems, I sought help elsewhere. I tried acupuncture (which was lovely, but didn’t fix it). I went to a compassionate therapist – also lovely, but it only helped me see how the pattern emerged. Not what to do about it. I tried going to a chiropractor – DEFINITELY not helpful…though my posture improved. Energy healing sessions didn’t make a difference. Neither did exercise, nutrition, and meditation (though all helped me cope with anxiety and insomnia a little better).
Finally, a friend of mine (and a colleague) heard me speak about my challenges and recommended a practitioner she knew.
“He’s a yoga therapist.” she told me. “And those I know who have worked with him have had profound shifts. I’d be happy to forward you his information so you can email him.”
Honestly – she could have told me he was an under-water basket weaver and I would have reached out. I was willing to try anything.
The office I met with him in was unassuming. It looked just like any other small office building might. Modern. Square. Easily missed. The gentleman that greeted me was also unassuming (though, at 6-feet tall, I wouldn’t say he would be easily missed). He looked comfortable and at ease…but not arrogant.
He began by, first, listening to what I had to say. But not in the way a therapist listens. Therapists are trained to notice buzzwords and see patterns that they can, then, bring forth for the patient to dissect and respond to. This was listening in a more pure form – similar to the way you might listen to a friend tell a story that you are keenly interested in hearing the ending to.
Near the end of the session, he explained a little about the principles of yoga therapy, and then gave me a series of movements to try and utilize before bed in the evenings. The idea, he explained, is to normalize the system so that it can get acclimated to it’s usual rhythms. I was told it would probably take a while to take effect. It’s a process. I wasn’t worried…I had been battling with this particular beast my whole life. A few months more wouldn’t break the bank.
And…sure enough….after several months, I began to see shifts. It wasn’t a cure. But that was okay. I wasn’t looking for a miracle cure. But it was a treatment. I had something I could cling to to help me ease into an easy night of sleep. Also, even when sleep didn’t come, I was better able to manage the effects.
I would be lying if I said that he didn’t care about numbers or data. He asked about my sleep, charted the hours I reported, and took my pulse. He asked me to rank my improvement and took notes.
But the healing that took place between us didn’t happen solely through an exchange of that information. That was merely what helped him to keep track of my progress. No. The healing that took place was due to his willingness to look beyond the data and see it in the context of a larger story. He was able to see me. And that’s powerful stuff. The data was simply used as a tool to help him (rather than seen as an end in its own right).
I’m not saying that we should throw out biometric tests or criticize doctors. They have enough problems. I’m simply saying that the stories we tell about ourselves are just as important as the data footprints that we leave behind. We should value them both.
In the end, the stories we weave about ourselves cannot only help change the trajectory of our path – but it might even be able to help dictate the ending.