How Can Illness Really Come from the Mind?

Question: How can illness really come from the mind? I read of a man who developed necrotizing fascilitis, a flesh eating bacterium, and died within twenty-four hours. How can such a thing be introduced by a fearful mind? Surely it is just the luck of the draw.

Answer: It is very difficult to understand how we cause all of our own illnesses. What has helped me is realizing that the mind, according to the Course, is truly vast. If the conscious mind is the tip of the iceberg, we really should envision a planet-sized iceberg, the tip of which is the size of an anthill and the bottom of which opens out to infinity. Somewhere down in those vast depths, the mind is dreaming up the body itself—down to the last molecule. And somewhere down in those depths, the mind is dreaming sickness into the body—either directly or by drawing physical agents to the body, such as viruses and bacteria. This sickness goes beyond what we normally call illness, and includes all sorts of weaknesses, ailments, infirmities, dependencies, and, of course, aging.

At this deep level, our reasons for dreaming illness into the body have very little to do with our conscious attitudes toward it. On the conscious level, we may dislike our body because we consider it to be too fat, too ugly, or too old. Or we may like our body because it is youthful, beautiful, and gets us what we want in life. However, somewhere in those depths of our unconscious, each one of us hates our body, not because of its specific characteristics, but for far more fundamental reasons.

A discussion in "The Secret Vows" (T-28.VI.1-3) can illuminate this. According to this discussion, we hate the body because it is "used for hate" (2:9), used to "victimize" (1:6), and "to be competitive" (1:8). In other words, we hate it for how attacking it is. We "despise its acts" (3:5), even though we direct those acts. We also hate it for walling us off in our own lonely cubicle, separate from others (3:2). We hate it for the superficial pleasures it seeks, for looking "for lasting pleasure in the dust" (1:4). We hold it responsible for the brutal sights it sees "and blame it for the sounds [we] do not like" (2:1). And we "hate its frailty and littleness" (3:4).

Look at this list. We hate the body's attacking behavior, separateness, superficial pleasure-seeking, sensory information, and frailty and littleness. What unites all the items on this list? They all stand in contrast to our true nature: to its love and holiness, its unity with all things, its depth, its knowledge, and its power and grandeur. This implies that there is somewhere in our mind that dimly remembers being God's Own infinite Son and dwelling in an infinite Heaven. From the standpoint of that memory, we look at our current bodily condition and are disgusted by it. We are revolted by the selfish things our body does, by the separateness it seems to impose on us, by the shallow pleasure-seeking on which it sends us, and by its sheer tininess and appalling vulnerability. On this level, we hate our body not as a human wanting a better body, but as a Son of God feeling dragged down by having a body.

We conveniently forget that we chose this condition. Instead—and rather childishly—we blame it all on the body. We think, "Its instincts are what makes me do these selfish things and seek these shallow pleasures. Its vulnerability and frailty are not a suitable home for a heavenly being such as myself. And it is what makes me separate from my brothers, cooped up inside its fleshy prison. It is to blame for my fallen state. It has changed me from a Son of God into a grubby animal. I hate it." This hatred, given the power of our minds, is a devastating attack on the body, which literally "punishes the body" (1:1). This is why the body gets sick. It withers under the heat of our unconscious hatred of it.

This is clearly something that is way below consciousness. We can, however, get in touch with this unconscious hatred, at least to some degree. That is surely what has inspired the negative relationship that so many religious traditions have with the body.

Yet the way out, of course, is not to embrace on a conscious level our unconscious hatred of the body. The way out, according to the Course, is to see the body differently. We must enter into an entirely new relationship with it. In this new relationship, it is not an end. It is not running the show. Rather, it is a purely neutral instrument of the mind. It becomes a vehicle of our true nature, rather than the blockage of our true nature. It becomes a way to express our mind's innate impulses to extend, rather than arrest those impulses. It becomes strictly a "means of communication" (the Course calls the body this seven times), a means of communicating love to others. Then we cease to hate the body, and see it as a useful instrument. And then it no longer gets sick. As the Course succinctly puts it, "Health is the result of relinquishing all attempts to use the body lovelessly" (T-8.VIII.9:9).

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