I lay in bed waking to a new day. As my body comes online, my three outer toes on each foot tingle. A spot in my upper right arm — the usual spot — aches deeply, close to the bone. Standing slowly, attentively, I put weight on stiff feet supported by puffy knees and move toward the bathroom, aware of bones delicately aligned to maintain my balance. I believe in smiling, yet, a sickening realization is surfacing lately. Everything I do to create a life beyond eating, sleeping and tracking bowel movements is unproductive — an illusion — no real change. Yes, I have less of a challenge with bathing and brushing my teeth than I did 20 years ago — but really? Is that all I can hope for? I am stuck changing the wallpaper in my cage.
CHOOSING A BRIGHT OUTLOOK on life requires vigilance. As the old saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade! But with illness in the pitcher, the recipe changes to: “Now…how lemonade?”
Research at Pathways, a non-medical, health crisis resource center located at 3115 Hennepin Ave. S., in Minneapolis, is revealing that making shifts in consciousness is the answer to living a quality life with illness. Pathways is measuring multidimensional outcomes of healing within its healing community.
It’s not merely the reframing of life circumstances but a profound alteration in one’s way of being that makes a healing difference. Participants in Pathways’ research indicated shifts in their perceptions of well-being in physical, cognitive, social, emotional and spiritual areas of life. They noticed significant changes for themselves, from feeling exhausted and depressed to feeling energized and hopeful, from a feeling of broken and having dull senses to feeling whole and having vibrant senses. Certain healing outcomes are so subtle that they are difficult for a healthcare practitioner to detect any change, but participants themselves are assessing their own progress by using the Self-Assessment of Change tool in the Pathways research.
For example, changes in a person’s movement from feeling stuck and blaming to being able to “let go” and forgive, or in feeling unbalanced to feeling more balanced, are subtle and essential changes to a perception of quality in living. Yet, healing outcomes research usually misses subtle and invisible outcomes because results are typically viewed through the eyes of healthcare practitioners rather than those who are receiving care.
Transformational shifts in consciousness are popularly reported as dramatic solitary experiences, such as near-death encounters. But Pathways is witnessing transformational change in individuals as a result of their personal involvement in their healing community.
“Transformational change is sustainable change. You don’t have the butterfly crawling back into the cocoon,” says Karen Lawson, a Pathways volunteer and Director of Integrative Health Coaching at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. “Behavioral change can easily change back, and it is behavioral change that is usually measured in research.”
Research of transformational change also is a better fit at Pathways than usual approaches, because Pathways focuses on the whole person and the innate capacity to heal, as opposed to focusing on specific illnesses or disease processes.
When invited to volunteer at Pathways, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to explore my fascination with the subtleties of healing, to use my training in organization development, to expand my interest in writing. I had been working for years in an organization of one; having colleagues would be great, too!
At first, I participated primarily as an observer. I brought back fresh observations about Pathways programs to an evaluation committee. Soon, I was asked to assist with a research collaboration, designing a participant survey, analyzing feedback and adjusting healthcare lingo to fit Pathways’ non-medical, unconventional nature. Our project was the assessment of subtle shifts in consciousness, physicality and emotions experienced by participants along their healing journey, which included programming at Pathways.
I had never been asked by a healthcare practitioner anywhere how I felt about matters as subtle and real as what we were asking of participants! This project grew more and more exciting for me as I realized the contribution it could make to research in healing. No one in conventional healing arenas had ever helped me address my feelings of brokenness; apparently no one noticed.
Years of depression and underperforming in school were the compounding effects of toxic dental materials and oral galvanism. Electrical current in the mouth due to incompatible metals has a brain scrambling effect. I was engulfed in measurable cognitive decline and a subtle energy stew by the time I was 45. Weeks would pass and I didn’t realize it fully until — for some reason — the fog would lift. At times I needed navigational help from my teenage son to drive out of familiar neighborhoods. Whatever was happening to me was seemingly intermittent.
All in my head
I began to realize it was “all in my head,” and I began the arduous process of replacing dental repairs with more compatible materials. I have regained some lost cognitive ability and have adopted skills that help me retain a feeling of balance, but I continue to be highly sensitive to electromagnetic frequencies.
An extremely important component of my healing process remains my involvement with Pathways. In addition to my volunteer work, which helps me feel less isolated, I take part in a weekly group called the Courageous Writer’s Circle. Participants write using prompts provided by a facilitator. During one writing exercise, I described this particular group, writing, “We come clothed, but we write naked.” Accessing emotions and allowing the pen to record what comes to mind often is very personal and can bring unexpected shifts in awareness. By reflecting upon our lives from before we came to Pathways to our experience at Pathways, and from before illness to with illness, a renewal transpires — a light emerges and germination occurs.
Forefront of change
Pathways is on the forefront of a change in research, and this current study is only a glimpse into the potential of whole-person approaches to healing and outcomes assessed from the perspective of those receiving care.
“It is my hope that the Pathways model inspires other communities to create similar healing organizations, actively participating in the health and well-being of their communities,” said Mary Johnson, head researcher and member of Pathways’ Board of Directors.
Programming at Pathways includes complementary and alternative healing modalities (Reiki, Yoga, energy management, etc.) delivered by skilled professionals who volunteer their expertise in one-to-one sessions or group practice and classes. Participants select programs (guided when desired by staff, providers, and indirectly by other participants) and create their own roadmaps to well-being. Pathways participants grow in awareness of their energetic nature, their physical selves and options for reinventing life with illness.
A note on the research: Pathways will provide access to complete research findings after they are published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine, publication date to be determined.
Programs at Pathways are provided without charge to people with serious health challenges, either professionally diagnosed or self-assessed. A complete list of programs and information on how to become a Pathways participant, volunteer or financial supporter can be found at www.pathwaysminneapolis.org or by calling 612.822.9061.