Science and Spirituality
Although several articles in the Complementary and Alternative Medicine publication reflect the interest in spirituality that exists in the field, they appear unable to discuss it directly. One of the reasons for this may be that scientific medicine has its roots in a rift from spirituality. Before Western medical practice and research began to involve what was considered to be an unnatural curiosity about the human body, medicine was intricately involved with a person’s spirit or soul. It was during the 16th century in Europe that men began to commit the heresy of stealing dead bodies from graves and actually looking at bones, muscles, and organs. “Laws against dissecting human corpses began to relax during the Renaissance; as a result, the first truly scientific studies of the human body began.”1 The dissecting of bodies has become such a basic feature of medical school education, it may be difficult to imagine the historical sacrilege of this act initially. The Church condemned these “body snatchers,” contributing to Western medicine’s alienation from the spirit. Larry Dossey writes, From the sixteenth century on, mind has been progressively expunged from the phenomenal world. . . . Scientific consciousness is alienated consciousness: there is no ecstatic merger with nature, but rather total separation from it. Subject and object are always seen in opposition to each other. . . . The logical end point of this world view is a feeling of total reification: everything is an object, alien, not-me; and I am ultimately an object too, an alienated “thing” in a world of other, equally meaningless things. 2 As an American Indian, I am aware of an entirely different tradition of healing that never split from spirit world. There is no difference, for example, between Navajo religion and Navajo medicine. American Indian medicine consists of spoken prayers, songs that are prayers, rituals, and instruments of prayer. Even herbal medicine comes with prayers for a person’s spirit. It is interesting to me that modern providers have recently “discovered” holistic medicine. It is something like the way Columbus “discovered” America. Suddenly our spiritual practices exist, though they have been practical for centuries. We also experience alienation as a byproduct of would-be spiritual genocide, what Eduardo Duran calls the “soul wound”: “The notion of ‘soul wound’ is one which is at the core of much of the suffering which Indigenous peoples have undergone for centuries.”3(p127) When modern public health and medical practitioners are able to talk about the spirit and understand what they themselves have lost, I think their wound will begin to heal. Perhaps then they can help the rest of us."