In a modern world tinged with debt worries, drab commutes and dieting plans, and in the wake of government talk over cuts to the NHS, more and more people are seeking alternatives to traditional Western medicine. In a series of interviews, nine practitioners of disciplines as diverse as Healing, Reiki, Tarot, and psychic art, shared their thoughts about their arts, aspirations, and both what healing can do for people, and its relationship with more established medicine. So, in a 21st-century Britain that at times can seem all too soulless, what brings these men and women back to more spiritual approaches?
Throughout the interviews, conducted by Gil Dekel (PhD), the message is that in many peoples’ lives something seems to be missing, and that alternative approaches can offer a solution that traditional methods don’t. Doreen Rivett, a Kinesiologist, Reflexologist and spiritual healer, notes, “I think it’s important to feel comfortable in your own skin and be true to yourself. If we all listen, we can learn from each other,” and there’s an accompanying doubt in the seemingly self-assured nature of modern medicine, a sometimes unspoken sentiment that while it treats the symptoms, the underlying issues, physical or mental, require a more involved course of action.
Health empowerment coach, Dawn Rising, emphasises this point, saying, “It has become the ‘tradition’ in medicine and healthcare to just go to the doctor without any self-exploration into the health condition. We are losing a sense of responsibility for our own health.” This is a common thread; in each of the interviews, there’s a sense that many people have lost the desire to stop and reflect; that life for many is so hurried and fast-paced, that we’ve forgotten a more complete, thoughtful way of living. Equally, the various healers point out that often this can be a very stressful kind of life, and that alternative therapies offer a way of re-centring oneself amid the chaos and uncertainty. When Tarot reader Tim Brooks describes his work as being, “like a traffic management system; helping people to find their destinations by the easiest route and avoiding the roadworks and potholes,” it’s both a very representative and very enlightening comment.
A second meaning could be read into it too; a kind of unity of purpose across such a wide range of different techniques. These are ordinary men and women, helping those around them as best they can, and with that comes a certain shared view of the world, and a recognition that even though the journey might be different for each practice, and of course for each person, the destination is the same; a kind of well-being in spirit that it’s felt has become slightly neglected. When the Roman poet Juvenal coined the phrase mens sana in corpore sano – ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’ – he epitomised it very clearly. It is this vein of knowledge running through history that Dawn Rising taps into when she talks about, “reasserting the centuries of learning and wisdom that true ‘traditional medicine’ represents.” Reiki healer and visionary artist, Natalie Dekel, feels that she is a channel, a medium which is guided in the process of making her arts by a creative notion that drawn from “[…] the past of humanity, the present, and the future.”
This, too, is a recurring theme; the lack of regard paid to ancient traditions and modes of thought, ranging from simple ethics to traditional views of health. Everything from drinking to smoking and processed food, that leads to a kind of superficiality, and the question of what the benefits we derive from scientific progress and social changes cost us on a spiritual level, and how they impact our view of ourselves. It could be suggested that the philosophy of living well and simply, has fallen somewhat by the wayside in favour of a kind of shallow materialism, where you are what you own instead of what you are ‘Being’. The paradox of globalisation is that it has made the world smaller, and yet much easier to get lost in, and the idea of restoring a sense of purpose and clarity is at the centre of a great many of the interviews.
Not that this is to say that alternative remedies stand in opposition to Western medicine or science. Across the board, the sentiment is that each can complement the other; that traditional, Western medicine does not seem to account for spiritual welfare is something which many of the practitioners accept, noting that alternative medicine may be a way to bridge the gap, when used in conjunction with more mainstream treatments. As Tim Brooks notes, “I help people to take control of their lives. My wife’s treatments are very much complementary to any Western medicine, so there is no conflict, only benefits,” and this is a feeling very much echoed by Peter Steedman, a healer, who says, “I enjoy bringing my work to the attention of the medical profession and having doctors send some of their patients to me. […] I already have clients referred to me by a GP and clients tell their GPs of my work when their symptoms are relieved.”
Tarot, Reiki and EFT practitioner Suzy Shepherd puts it eloquently, “I listen to most peoples’ beliefs or opinions; not all are right for me, but then again mine might not be right for them. Therefore I do not admire one above another. I have no aspirations to be like anybody; we are all different, and our approaches to life take many diverging routes.” Peter expands on this by adding, “I love my work, and, as much as I help people, I know that they have also helped me.” But equally, underlying this is a deep sense of goodwill and forbearance – in each interview, one question was, ‘what brought you to practice this [i.e., your discipline]?’, and the answers are both revealing and sometimes poignant.
Healer Dawn Elson answered, “A desire to expand the services I could offer to others,” while Nicole Dickenson (also a healer) said, “I hope I can help people to realise that physical and emotional well-being is attainable.” The view is very much an altruistic one, and the idea of physical and emotional well-being being thoroughly linked to one another is foremost, a holistic approach taking precedence. Dawn Rising sums this up thusly; ‘We are spiritual beings having a human experience, and therefore taking care of the physical self is a spiritual practice,” which Debbie McDougall, organiser of the Salisbury Health Fayres, echoes, “On the whole we tend to focus on our physical needs and neglect our emotional, mental and spiritual needs.” It’s addressing this imbalance that is at the heart of alternative medicine, whatever form it might take.
Mainstream Western medicine may be linked with the distinct problem of the overuse of medication, and the myriad problems of classification and separation. Overwhelmingly, the message from those who practice alternative medicine and healing is that it is above all a unifier. Happily, both the general public and the medical establishment are beginning to recognise the value of alternatives; in Debbie’s words, “…the medical profession now agree with the ancient wisdom known by our Ancestors for centuries; that emotional problems can result in physical illness if not dealt with effectively.” Nonetheless, conventional medicine is one element of a larger approach to well-being, health and happiness, and the strength of alternative healings is that they allow their practitioners to treat the whole person, as an individual, with a tailored approach. As Doreen Rivett says of kinesiology, “[it] can help people find the true cause of their ailments. It not only treats physical, but emotional and energy imbalances.”
This same symmetry applies on a larger scale, too. All nine interviewees, along with many other practitioners, will be bringing their respective skills and talents to the Salisbury Health Fayre, as an opportunity to showcase them to people who perhaps might not have encountered them before. With a hugely diverse selection of arts on display, it’s designed to be an experience for those looking to broaden their horizons, try new experiences, recapture a feeling of happiness, or just take some time out to reflect. Debbie has perhaps the best last word; “These days many people are feeling the stress of modern living and the challenges it brings. We often forget that the most important thing we have is our good health.”
8 October 2010. © Gil Dekel. Text by Alexander K.
Interviews conduced by Gil Dekel during Sep/Oct 2010 via email correspondences. Feather photo, and photo of Doreen Rivett used by permission from Debbie McDougall. Photo of Natalie Dekel © Gil Dekel.