Modern medicine has triumphed on many fronts in conquering diseases and extending life, but its greatest advance is almost totally unsung. Health and longevity have made it possible to see the body as our greatest ally. After centuries of inevitable sickness and early death for the vast majority of people, the human body is poised to become our greatest ally on a new front: consciousness.
If you can step outside the accepted image of your body as a machine, you will discover that it is actually not a separate physical object but united with your mind as one consciousness—call it the bodymind. This step alone rids you of many damaging attitudes. As a thing separate from ourselves, the body is an obsessive source of worry over sickness, aging, and death. Equally obsessive is whether someone’s body is beautiful enough, strong enough, appealing enough to the opposite sex.
Although most people still view being sick in terms of germs, catching a cold, and getting a flu shot, the question of who gets sick and who stays well is far more complex. Everyone is exposed to thousands of microbes a day, and some of these are disease-causing pathogens. But we have immunity to a wide range of pathogens, and although sickness is fended off by the cells of the immune system, staying well involves the whole person.
There is a medical concept known as “control by the host,” which focuses on how much of staying well is an internal process that calls upon both mind and body. The invisible roots of lifelong wellness turn out to be surprising. For example, researchers at the University of Texas Medical School looked at mortality rates among a group of men and women who had received open heart surgery, including heart bypass and replacement of the aortic valve. If you take the routine medical approach, the reason someone dies six months after open heart surgery while someone else doesn’t must come down to a physical difference. But the team headed by Dr. Thomas Oxman took an unorthodox approach. They asked these patients two questions about their social situation: Do you participate regularly in organized social groups? Do you draw strength and comfort from your religion or spiritual faith?