Anointing has been a sacred ritual for thousands of years in many different religions and ethnic groups, as a means of spiritual refreshment and physical invigoration. In the Orthodox tradition, the sacramental act of pouring aromatic oils onto the body, most often the head, is also called unction, and is primarily administered for physical and spiritual ills, although everyone is anointed during Holy Week. In this act of blessing, the aromatic oil used is believed to have both spiritual and physical healing qualities.
Everyone at some point in life must confront loss and grief. In December of last year, my friend Bill Gottlieb, CHC, lost his beloved wife to breast cancer. His writings of his experience of loss and grief and his path to healing touched me deeply. Bill has generously agreed to share the tools he has discovered that have helped him through this most difficult of life passages. The following is his personal experience:
Loss is an inevitable part of living. You can lose those you love — a pet, a friend, a sibling, a child, a parent, a spouse. And you can lose your health — your energy, your physical comfort, your clarity, your confidence, your joy.
In the last two years I have lost three of those I loved the most. In November, 2012, my sister and dear friend Jan died from 4th stage breast cancer. In August, 2013, my cat of 19 years — Suzie, my sweet, free companion — passed away.
And on December 29, 2013 — after an 11-year battle with breast cancer, including the last 16 months of her life, when the 4th deadly stage of the disease destroyed the body of this tall, lovely, loving, smart, vibrant woman — on the Sunday before the kiss of New Year’s Eve, Denise, my beloved wife of 18 years, died at home in my arms, her last words, “I love you…”
To the Western way of thinking, theology and medicine have little in common. Although some progress has been made in the past several decades in recognizing the interrelationship of the mind, body, and spirit, there is still the tendency to define a human being merely in terms of concrete, physiological attributes. In Eastern Christian ideology, however, just as in Eastern traditional healing systems of medicine, a human being is viewed as a spiritual, psychic, rational, and physical whole. By addressing the spirit, emotions, intellect, and body, Eastern Christian theology approaches healing from a wholistic, psychosomatic understanding of the individual. This is the approach that I embody in my practice.
Saint John of the Cross, a Carmelite priest and a great mystic, taught the monks a humble exercise; to sit and contemplate where they could view the open sky, hills, trees, fields, and growing plants, and to call upon the beauty of these things to praise God. This simple meditation on Nature reminds us of Divine Power, and the wisdom and goodness that exist in Her. If we stop for a moment to consider the origin, magnitude, beauty, fullness, activity, and order of all things, we cannot doubt the beneficence of God.
We live in a progressively fragmented world, and this fragmentation affects every aspect of our lives. Even natural medicine is not immune to the tendency to view cancer and other serious illnesses with a narrow focus, addressing only one type of treatment or concentrating on only one aspect of health (for example, diet, exercise, or chemical exposure). I believe this myopic view is the result of living lives that are chronically stressed, composed of frantic time schedules, fast food, and sedentary work. When we simply go through the motions of daily existence, life can begin to feel robotic, mundane, and meaningless. To live fully, we must wake up to the expansiveness and possibilities of this great gift of life. Sometimes, it takes a significant life crisis to awaken us.
I often feel that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do all that I want and need to do. I imagine that you sometimes (or often) feel the same way. For most of us, the holiday season adds one more layer of busyness to our already full lives. At times like this, I remember the wise words of Mother Teresa, who encouraged us in moments of difficulty to begin again, to stay on task and to focus, always remembering to love fully in every moment. In this way, moment-by-moment, we create our destiny.