‘Diagnosis’ in Existential Medicine does not mean seeking a medical label or ‘cause’ for one’s symptoms. It means getting to know oneself in an intimate feeling way (gnosis) through (dia) one’s symptoms. Somatic symptoms not only ‘affect’ one’s overall mental, emotional or somatic state. They are themselves the expression of an overall life situation and self-state – a way of feeling oneself in a specific existential context. Through giving ourselves time to simply feel our symptoms – to feel them more intensely rather than less – we will come to understand them as symbolic expressions of an underlying dis-ease relating both to our specific life situation and a specific self-state. The key is to feel and sense the symptoms not just as localised physical sensations or mental-emotional states however, but as self-states – as ways of feeling oneself and one’s life. Any symptoms, if fully felt and followed in this way – meditated rather than medicated – will lead automatically to new insights into one’s life and to a renewed and transformed sense of self. Understanding as dia-gnosis – coming to know ourselves, our bodies and our symptoms more intimately – not clinically but in a direct feeling way – is intrinsically self-healing. This is not because we are ‘curing’ ourselves without treatment, but because it is our very existence – our sense of self and relation to life that we are healing.

Some Simple Guides to Self-Healing

  • Only by maintaining an overall awareness of our body as a whole can we maintain a sense of our self as whole. When you feel ill therefore, do not focus solely on your symptoms – on specific localised sensations, thoughts or emotions – but instead seek to maintain a sense of your body, self and experienced life world as whole.
  • Remember that what you may think of and experience as purely emotional distress or ‘mental’ illness’ is also something that is always accompanied by a particular overall bodily sense of yourself.
  • Conversely, if you feel yourself as just ‘physically’ ill, attend to the thoughts and emotions that tend to accompany your symptoms – for these will give you the best clue to the underlying life-problem that they symbolise.
  • Attend not only to the way your symptoms ‘make you feel’ but to the way they make you feel – the overall sense of self that goes with them. 
  • Look for ways of actively embodying this particular sense of self – letting it find expression in every aspect of your body language. For the more directly you body the way you feel the less need your body will have to express and communicate it indirectly through physical or mental-emotional symptoms.
  • Understand that the thoughts, emotions and physical sensations that arise when you are ill are expressions of an overall way of feeling yourself, and use them as symbolic clues to the life problems they might express.
  • Your awareness of a sensation, emotion or thought is not a sensation, emotion or thought. To ease your symptoms, remind yourself that you are not your thoughts, emotions or physical sensations, but the very awareness of them.

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