Moving Beyond Symptoms


Moving Beyond Symptoms

Chandler Stevens


Symptoms are tricky little things.

Knee pain, jaw tension, an achy back…each seems to beg our attention. They alert us to the fact that there is a problem, but the challenge lies in the fact that they don’t tell us much about the nature of the problem.

As such they’re a bit of a red herring at times.

But if you start thinking of symptoms like coded messages, it gives you a better shot at figuring out what’s really going on. Your job is to decipher those messages (or find someone who can).

After all a toothache is a symptom.

It begs attention.

And while it may be tempting to think of a cavity as the “cause” of a toothache, that’s still thinking in terms of substance rather than form, and I hope with this week’s emails we’ve at least started to bury that idea. What you want to start exploring is something along the lines of “in what conditions, and in what form of relationship with the surroundings could this symptom appear – and frankly make sense?

Filling the cavity or pulling the tooth may make the toothache go away, but if the system itself doesn’t change (that is, your patterns of food consumption and oral hygiene, which could get you into all sorts of gnarly territory like emotional coping strategies and habit formation), all you’ve done is pass the buck.

And the buck’s gotta stop somewhere.

Now, I should take my own medicine here. Symptom-chasing is a symptom in its own right.

In what conditions would symptom-chasing make sense?

Off the top of my head…

Perhaps if there was incentive for quick patient turnarounds, standardized procedures, and pharmacological intervention. Perhaps if professionals were faced with constant threat of litigation and at risk of losing their licenses by talking about things outside their predefined scope of practice. Perhaps in a setting where people suffering from those symptoms are so spread thin that they can’t think beyond immediate relief (and are encouraged not to think for themselves when it comes to their own bodies). Perhaps in a culture steeped in the bias of materialist reductionism, making “things” out of living beings and treating each in isolation.

In a system like that it makes perfect sense to chase symptoms.

In fact you might say it’s downright unreasonable to think beyond the symptoms in a setting like that.

It takes a helluva lot of effort to think beyond the symptoms.

But good grief, in doing so you just may move beyond the symptoms.

Is it a guarantee?

Of course not. There’s a time and place for learning to cope with composure as well.

However, in my estimation the vast majority of people dealing with pain have been dealt a bad hand. They’re simply not given the chance to learn how their bodies work. As such they’re kept dependent on a system that’s careening toward the edge of a cliff.

I encourage you: don’t fall into the trap of symptom-chasing.

Listen for what your body may be attempting to communicate. It’s running on a pretty reliable operating system, all things considered – hundreds of thousands of years’ worth of beta testing.

It may involve a change you aren’t thrilled to make, but you’ll have a choice in the matter at the very least.

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