How do you Define Healing? Thinking about Symptom Reduction vs. Lasting Resolution

Real change is hard work. Think about a time when you changed a habit, really shifted something, and consider all the effort that was involved. Maybe it was something proactive (like quitting smoking) or something reactive (letting go of someone who broke up with you). It required a lot of repetition to sculpt a new way of thinking or willing. Usually, whether the new habit is exercise, eating healthier food, not picking at mosquito bites, meditating, not getting stuck in anger or turning off all screen in the hour before going to bed, we do well for a while, then it falls apart and we have to start over again. Changing something in a meaningful and sustainable way takes time and it takes repetitive practice. Research by Phillippa Lally has shown that there is actually quite a broad time frame for changing a habit (18 to 254 days), with an average of 66 days, and she and others suggests a 10-week plan for really shifting a habit. That means on average that it takes more than two months to transform some part of ourselves.

A habit is easier to change when you receive consistent reminders and encouragement, especially if you are part of a group that is working to do the same thing at the same time. That kind of social support can be tremendously helpful when you are working on a consciously guided process. For illnesses or imbalances that are less accessible to our thinking life—like eczema, high blood pressure, asthma, headaches, palpitations, constipation, irregular menses—we need other kinds of helpers, and those are what anthroposophic medicines, remedies, have to offer. They do not do the full job for you, but they offer guidance and encouragement, and model a new and different way of being. They help your body know how to make a change (built on the recognition that we have tremendous forces for healing inside of us, we just don’t always know what is the right way to rebalance). How long do we need to take these of medicines? Not two days, or a week, not even three weeks. While it is helpful to check in at about a month, good results are generally seen when anthroposophic medicines can be taken for two to three months, the same amount of time it takes to change a habit.

When we are dangerously sick we need a faster result. That’s perfectly understandable, and can be medically necessary, but it’s worth keeping in mind that if we take a medicine which removes our symptoms in a matter of hours or days, it is changing the symptoms by altering our physiology, but is likely not changing the underlying pattern. With chronic disease many of us get to a point where we don’t want to keep applying the steroid cream or taking the anti-histamine, or feel frustrated that we are being prescribed a medicine that needs to be taken for the rest of our life, and then we may be ready to dig a little deeper. Deeper work makes for more lasting change.

The two-month rhythm is only true for some parts of our physiology. Different parts of us move at different speeds. Here are some observed timelines:
A day (24 hours): A fever often resolves by day #3. Warmth regulation fluctuates and changes over the course of a day, so several 24-hour cycles is commonly enough to effect a change in warmth (this is true for many aspects of warmth regulation, of fever, of immunity, of self-consciousness, of self-definition)
A week (7 days): Jet lag, a major disruption of our waking and sleeping rhythm, gets better after a week, but may take several weeks to fully normalize. Our rhythm of sensing and sleeping unfolds over a seven-day rhythm, so overseas travel may need a couple of seven-day cycles before you feel back to normal (a weekly rhythm also works with the multiple aspects of our sensing activity, also of our feeling life and of the rhythmic activities of heart and lung. Probably no mistake that we need a rest, a weekend, once in a seven-day rhythm)
A month (~30 days): the more unconscious parts of our metabolism move more deliberately, oriented around a month-long rhythm. The menstrual cycle clearly matches this, but it is true not only for reproduction–also for many activities of growth, healing, and regeneration (this is the place in our physiology where most of our habit life exists, so working through several month-long rhythms makes sense as to why it may take ten weeks, or 66 days, to really make a habit stick)
A year (365 days): and to make a change that works its way all the way down into the tissues and physical structures of our body takes a year, or several years. That is why anthroposophic mistletoe treatments for tumors are always taken for at least twelve months, with a couple of years an appropriate goal for most people.
Within anthroposophic medicine, these four levels are consciously incorporated into diagnosis and therapy. They are referred to as the levels of: self-conscious (“I”) activity, sensing (astral) forces, growth (etheric) forces, and structural (physical) forces.

This holistic way of understanding the human being may be a slower way of working and is certainly not as glamorous as a course of steroids, but it consistently helps us make lasting change.

Dr. Blanning

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