Lucid Cafe

After an emergency surgery that saved his life, Ed Cohen had a spontaneous healing experience that prompted him to ask the question: Why doesn’t medicine know about healing? In this episode Ed explores how Western medicine turned from an “art of healing” toward a “science of medicine” and how this shift has affected both medical practitioners and their patients.

Ed Cohen has a Ph.D. in Modern Thought from Stanford, and for the last three decades, has been an award-winning professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Rutgers University. He is the author of On Learning To Heal, or What Medicine Doesn’t Know and A Body Worth Defending. 

In this episode, Ed discusses:
  • His diagnosis with acute Crohn’s disease at the age of 13
  • The surprising origin of the concept of immunity
  • How having a chronic illness inspired him to understand healing
  • His spontaneous post-surgery healing experience 
  • His desire to understand why medicine doesn’t know about healing
  • The difference between healing and curing
  • The concept of disease
  • The history and evolution of medicine 
  • How his healing journey changed him
  • The relationship between desiring to heal and being willing to learn
  • How we are more than we imagine
  • How he helps those struggling with chronic illness reframe their difficult circumstances
Ed’s website:
Ed’s books:

Wendy’s article: The Ultimate BFF: Your Body 

The Magical Path Shamanic Workbook:

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What is Lucid Cafe?

What's on the menu at Lucid Cafe? Stories of transformation; healing journeys; thought-provoking conversations about consciousness, shamanism, psychology, ethics. Hosted by Wendy Halley of Lucid Path Wellness & Healing Arts.

You're listening to lucid Cafe.
Hi, I'm Wendy Halley. Thanks for joining me for another episode of Lucid Cafe, a podcast exploring healing, consciousness and the complexities of being human.

Before we get to today's guest... Are you ready to take your spiritual journey to the next level? Unlock new pathway ways of healing and personal growth with The Magical Path workbook? This experiential workbook offers unique conscious streaming exercises that will teach you how to become your own shaman. Plus, it comes with two audio tracks to help you safely and easily enter a visionary state to do the otherworldly exercises in the book, get ready for an unforgettable journey of self discovery by starting your own personal shamanic practice. The Magical Path workbook is available on Amazon and at the shop on my website, lucidpath. Links can be found in the show notes.

All right, today's episode can definitely be filed under thought provoking. When my guest, Ed Cohen was 13, he was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, a chronic incurable condition that nearly killed him in his early 20s. When he was diagnosed, his doctors told him that the best he could hope for was periods of remission. Unfortunately, they never mentioned healing as a possibility. In Ed's book On Learning to Heal, he draws on 50 years of living with crohn's to consider how Western medicines turn from an art of healing toward a, uh, science of medicine deeply affects both medical practitioners and their patients. He demonstrates that although medicine can now offer many seemingly miraculous therapies, it's not and has never been the only way to enhance healing. Exploring his own path to healing, he argues that learning to heal requires us to desire and value healing as a vital possibility.

Ed Cohen has a PhD in Modern Thought from Stanford, and for the last three decades has been an award winning professor of Women's, Gender and Sexuality studies at Rutgers University. Please enjoy my conversation with Ed Cohen.

Wendy: Ed, thanks so much for coming on the show and chatting with me.

Ed: Well, thanks for having me.

Wendy: Absolutely. So, I am really intrigued by your new book On Learning to Heal or What Medicine Doesn't Know. It's a great title.

Ed: Oh, thanks.

Wendy: Right out the gate. I'd love to know what inspired you to write such a personal albeit it's also a very scholarly look at your healing journey. What inspired you to even write a book that is this personal?

Ed: I've been trying to write this book for a very long time. I started my career in court, studies, and, I did a lot of work and I wrote some sort of personal stuff in that regard. But after I got tenure, I realized that being gay has an identity that has framed my life, but that having a chronic illness was even more significant than having a, sexual identity in terms of my everyday experience of being in the world.
And so at that point, I started to try to think about how to write a book about living with crohn's disease and about autoimmune illness. And what I realized then was that in order to do that, I first had to write or learn about the history of immunology and how we in our culture and now around the world, started thinking that the notion of immunity is a biological function. That the immune system is something that is meant to protect us from foreign invasion by pathogenic microbes. That the purpose of the immune system is self non self discrimination. So I wrote a book that's called A Body Worth Defending: Immunity Biopolitics and the Apotheosis of the Modern Body.

Wendy: That's a mouthful.

Ed: Yeah, that is a big one. Yes. Well, the title is, A Body Worth Defending. The kind of work that I do is really based on really simple questions like why do we take certain things that seem self evident for granted? And I was always really mystified. I was one of those children who always asked why.
So my first book was about, well, why did we imagine that all of the possibilities of male sexuality could be situated somewhere between the poles of heterosexual and homosexual? Like as if all of the permutations of human experience were somehow situated on a linear axis? And that there were two poles between which everything could somehow be plotted? I mean, that didn't make any sense to me. And so I wrote a whole book about how that came to be. Immunity, for most of its history, for 2500 years, was exclusively a legal and political concept. It came from the Roman Empire. It was the way in which the Roman Empire established its hegemony outside of its little locust in central Italy.

It was a hugely important concept in the history of Europe because it was the way that the church and monarchs negotiated their relative spheres of power. So that's why churches don't pay taxes, because they're immune. It's also why churches can function as sanctuaries, because they are immune from legal sanction. So immunity is a really important, really complicated legal concept. It had no biological meaning whatsoever.

It would not have made sense because until the end of the 19th century, most of medicine was organized around a system of humoral, balances and imbalances. So there were certain four humors and you were part of the environment. And so the idea that you could be somehow immune from the world that you lived in, it didn't make any sense. It was only after germ theory was invented in the 1880s that a problem arose, which is that if germs bacteria, they didn't know about viruses, they were too small. If germs are potentially pathogenic, and if they're ubiquitous, then why aren't we sick all the time? Or why are we even alive? They needed a concept that somehow explained that. And a Russian zoologist named Élie Metchnikoff came up with the answer. He did it a very famous experiment, and the experiment now seems so simple, but he took a starfish larvae, which is kind of transparent, and he put it under a microscope, and he stuck a rose thorn in it. And then he waited overnight. And when he came back in the morning and looked at it, he noticed that all these big white blood cells, what we call macrophages, he called phagocytes, were agglomerated around it. And he had an AHA moment. AHA, it's been attacked. It must be defending itself. He used the word immunity to characterize what he called host defense. So immunity came to mean defense.

Now, the paradox is, of course, that in legal terms, if you're immune, you don't have to defend yourself. And if you have to defend yourself, you're not immune. But they created this concept that's internally contradictory, and it's been very important for many things, especially infectious diseases, as we've seen during COVID. I mean, so much of the discussion has been precisely in these terms, COVID. The SARS COVID virus is the enemy. It's a war that we're fighting. We're looking for weapons. And the entire idea that, uh, medicine was a kind of military maneuver until the 19th century, that made no sense. Nobody ever thought about that. I'm the kind of person who was like, well, why? Like, healing had been the central value of medicine since medicine was invented in the fourth century bce. And suddenly, at the end of the 19th century, and then especially in the 20th century, it completely dropped out of medical thinking.

And the reason that I wanted to know why medicine dropped out of healing was because I personally had a really radical and unexpected healing experience. I was diagnosed with crohn's disease when I was 13 years old. Crohn's is an autoimmune illness, and there's no cure for it. The doctors that I worked with very closely for ten years, when I was intensely medicalized, talked to me about symptom and pain management. That was their framework, and unfortunately, never really worked that well.

And then when I was 23, I had a really acute episode in which I had a massive bleed out, and I almost died. And then I didn't. And when I was in the hospital, I spontaneously started going into trances, which was nothing, in my experience, had ever, uh, prepared me for. I come from a radical atheist family. My mother is a communist, my father is a physical chemist. Matter was all that mattered for us. And suddenly, there I was, taking light and wrapping it around my incisions and going into some light filled space. That where there was no pain. And of course, I was on a lot of drugs, so that helped.

Wendy: Were you initiating those visionary experiences? Were you, I guess, at the helm of them, or were they happening to you kind of spontaneously?

Ed: It was almost like I would be listening to music, and the space would open up, and then I could see light, and I could somehow manipulate it so that I could take it and put it around. I had a small bowel reception, and I also, uh, had massive liver stuff. So I would take it and just wrap it around the parts that were in pain. I was like, purely pain management. in my mind, I wasn't thinking about what I was doing.

Wendy: That's what I was wondering.

Ed: I had no idea.

Wendy: If you had the intention like, oh, I'm going to use this light to reduce my pain. It's just, we're here, so let's give it a shot. That's what it sounds like.

Ed: And I had nothing in my background ever gave me any intimation. More than that, I was in California. Everything around me was all about the new Age, whatever. And I was like, oh, really?

Wendy: I hear you.

Ed: I did something. I don't know what it was. And it seemed to work because when I left the hospital, in my exit interview with my surgeon, he said to me, you're the sickest person I've operated on in five years. He's still alive. And I don't know how you got better so quickly. That was a real wake up for me both because it made me actually have to confront how sick I'd been, which I kind of was in denial about. But it also made me really wonder, well, what did happen? And also, why didn't my doctor know anything about it? uh, what was that about? So the book that I wrote On Learning to Heal: What Medicine Doesn't Know, was kind of inspired by that question, why doesn't medicine know about healing? Since I'd had this wake up experience that made it seem to me as if healing was a really palpable possibility that nobody had ever mentioned to me in my entire history of medicalization. And I was, at that point in my life, seeing doctors, like, every couple of weeks.

Wendy: Yeah, I bet you were. What really struck me was that just that very simple insight from that experience that you write about in your book, the idea that it was a novelty that your body knew how to heal itself. And if you step out of the way, where our cultural mindset is one of handing over our authority or power to our doctors.

Ed: Absolutely.

Wendy: Yeah. It does seem like, huh. If you really think about it, it's kind of fucked up.

Ed: Yeah. Well, one of the things that I like to say about medicine, medicine knows a lot of things. And I'm really grateful I would be dead without it. Medicine is very good in acute circumstances. So I mean no disrespect to medicine.

Wendy: They're great with trauma medicine.

Ed: Exactly. No, exactly. Well, and that has everything to do with the history of medicine being tangled up with the history of war, but also in the way that then war becomes a model within medicine. So we have the war on cancer, the war in AIDS, the war on everything that becomes an idiom. But more than that, medicine is a really interesting domain. We want doctors to know when we go to a doctor, we have a desire. And our desire is that the doctor knows something about what's happening to us that we don't know. And that what they know can somehow affect what's happening to us. And we bring that desire to them. And therefore, in a way, we attribute to them certain healing capacities that actually, at best they can support and encourage, but that those capacities are intrinsically our own. They are our physiological I'm going to say birthright, uh, which we all know something about it. We'd all be dead, right? That if we heal, nobody heals us. We always heal ourselves.

So I use the example of COVID. I mean, COVID was an amazing political event. It was an amazing biological event. One of the things I like to say about COVID is that COVID, shows that individualism is biologically counterfactual. That we are always already connected to each other.

Wendy: Indeed.

Ed: And what we saw in the beginning of the COVID epidemic, before they developed the vaccines and the antivirals and they developed protocols for being able to treat people, some of which were very non technical, like turning people on their stomachs, proning. One of the things that we saw is that no matter how much support people got, in some cases people had flu like symptoms and recovered at home. Some people were in intensive care. It didn't really matter. Everyone who got better from COVID got better because they healed themselves.

Medicine provides life support. That's what it's called. Healing is part of our vital tendencies. All organisms have the capacity to heal. That is intrinsically what biologists say. Well, what are the characteristics of living organisms? Living organisms have to be bounded and they have to be open. They have to be able to take in nutrients and they have to be able to let go of toxins. They have to reproduce themselves and they have to be able to repair themselves. Those are the fundamental functions that make living organisms go on living. And healing is something that is so intrinsic that it's almost like we've forgotten it. Or I'm going to say it this way, we take it for granted.

Wendy: Yeah, well, I think what interests me is what gets in the way of our ability to heal. In other words, why does one person really struggle to heal versus another person? And I think you address some ideas in your book. But before we get into some of those ideas, I'm curious, how would you define or describe the difference between healing and curing?

Ed: I talk about healing as the capacity that we have to live in more life enhancing ways. And as living organisms, we have a capacity to affect the quality of our lives. And the conditions in which we live. Other organisms don't necessarily have that ability. It's not intrinsic to the specific way in which they exist in their environment.

So healing can mean a lot of things. Healing healing doesn't mean you're not going to die. Healing doesn't mean you're not going to have any symptoms, right? Healing is about thinking about the qualities that are important to you, the vitality that you have as a living being, and the qualities that you want to manifest in your life according to whoever you are. And that, as you say, is different for all of us. Healing means something different, something new, all, um, the time. And that's one of the reasons I wrote a book that's called On Learning to Heal is because I think healing is always a matter of learning. Like you never heal the same way twice. That healing is an ongoing process. And as circumstances change, what we do, what to support and encourage healing also changes.

Curing is a completely different thing. Curing is a fantasy, really. Or it's aspirational. Curing is the idea that somehow you can negate a set of symptoms that had emerged in your life that somehow impeded your ability to do the things that you wanted to do. In our culture, mostly, that means being productive, getting back to work, right? And that, as if you could go back to the way things were before you experienced any kind of illness. Well, the thing about life is there's no going back, huh?

Wendy: Right.

Ed: If you have an illness or if you experience an illness. Illness is an experience. By definition, it's different than disease. Disease is what doctors use their diagnostic capacity to define as being pathological. And they have typologies and ways of trying to classify diseases, to situate them in clusters in order to then recommend certain possible treatment options. For us, we don't live diseases. Illness is the way we like that. Illness is the way as part of the way we live. And it describes a change in the quality of our vitality. And so if it's an experience, we are necessarily changed by it. Whether we want to accord significance to that experience or not, well, that's up to us, right? So that's why I like to say, for me, I say healing is both a tendency and a value that as living organisms, we tend to heal. That is, that we have intrinsic capacity as organisms to go on living. We try to do that. But the thing about tendencies is that there are always countervailing tendencies, right? We could live in toxic environments. We could live in toxic families. We live within a lot of tendencies.

Wendy: It's, complicated.

Ed: There's a lot in our world that mitigates against the capacity to heal, and yet the possibility of healing persists. The question is, how could we live such that we could support and encourage this possibility, which we all rely on, all the time? I mean, even you cut your finger, you don't will your finger to get better. It happens.

Wendy: Or your body gets to work healing it.

Ed: Exactly. Or like, the examples that I like to talk about, too, are, for example, oncology. So medicine, if if you are diagnosed with any of a vast number of metastatic conditions, oncology has basically three things that it can do: poison you, it can slash you, and it can burn you. They can give you chemotherapy, they can cut you open, and they can radiate you. And sometimes all three. And all of those are highly aggressive. And you can die from the treatment as well as from the condition that is being treated that people don't die, which happens frequently enough that medicine feels comfortable in utilizing these resources. And again, we're very lucky that they do.

If you're diagnosed with such things, that's great. But what medicine assumes is that we have a capacity to recover from those assaults that it inflicts in the service of trying to treat us. And all I would say is, like, what would it be like if medicine had more regard for thinking about how to support that process? I mean, it's not unknown to medicine, because now we have what's called complementary cancer care, right? And I like that phrase. Besides that, it's alliterative comprehensive of cancer care suggest that there's something more that could be there to supplement. And why do those supplements work? Like, why are they support? That they're less interested in. They empirically know that that happens. When I say medicine, I mean, I use it very broadly. Mostly, I mean it's to refer to the way that doctors are trained. It's not necessarily the way doctors are practicing, and it's not necessarily what individual doctors themselves believe.

Wendy: It's a great point. I was going to say this gets back to that kind of how medicine has changed over the years, what you were referring to earlier in the conversation, and this idea that when we get ill, a lot of us will go into a place of fear. And then the cultural conditioning is that we will give our power over to the physicians because they are trained.

The culture - my understanding of allopathic training is that we are experts. Maybe we specialize in a certain type of medicine, or we're a generalist or whatever, but you're going into that relationship with a power differential.

And a quick story, I think I told this story before in another episode. My mom, was diagnosed with cancer when she was young. She was 43. And, she lived for two years, which is how long they gave her. She died when she was 45. And her oncologist, she did that very thing. She had all of her hope and sort of gave it all to him, her oncologist, to cure her. Not to heal her, but to cure her. She even bought him artwork to, sort of win his favor. So I think she wanted to get special treatment or something.
But it really highlighted to me that sort of differential.

I wonder if it, from a philosophical standpoint, if part of how allopathic medicine and maybe just how medicine has evolved into what it is now is based on and I, bring this up a lot. I'm sorry, folks. The cultural worldview of colonial mind that idea of manipulating your environment to make it the way you need it to be to dominate a situation as opposed to indigenous mind, which is about relationship, it's about being in relationship with the environment, your community, yourself, your body, and then from there. But anyway, that seems to be what to me is missing, is that relationship piece.

Do you have any thoughts about that? That power differential kind of creates the lack of "let's have a relationship, let's work on this and see what makes sense based on who you are?"

Ed: No, absolutely. Many ideas. And that's why, knowing something about the history of medicine does help. So medicine, as medicine first emerged in the fourth century bce in in Greece, it differentiated itself from other kinds of healing practices which existed at the time, some of which were shamanistic, some of which were spiritual, some of which were herbalists, some of which every culture in every tradition has different kinds of practices. The way that medicine differentiated itself and created itself as medicine, like the med, the root med in medicine means to govern, to judge, and then subsequently, it means to cure. So medicine has always constituted itself as, uh, a governing discourse.

The role of the physician has always been to influence our conduct. Right? And the main resource that medicine introduced, which it still relies on, is called diagnosis. Diagnosis means by way of knowledge. Gnosis means knowledge, like the gnostics. and the doctor was the one who was supposed to know. Now, I'm drawing on the framing of a French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, who himself was trained as a doctor. And he refers to therapists, to psychoanalysts suppose they said the subjects were supposed to know. And that works two ways. From the patient side, we suppose that the doctor knows something that we don't know about ourselves and we hope that they'll tell us something. But from their side and it's a lot of pressure on them. They're supposed to know.

Wendy: I know it's a tremendous amount of pressure. Yeah.

Ed: So the power differential is intrinsic in the practice of medicine because medicine, from its inception has been about organizing the way we live our lives. So for 2000 years, the main resource that medicine had was it was called regimen or dietetics. It was basically organizing how you lived your life. Did you get enough exercise? Did you what were you eating? Did you get enough sleep? I mean, that that is what doctors did.

And for 2000 years, medicine was humoral. The humors were composed of the elements earth, water, fire, air. They were modulated by the qualities hot, cold, wet, dry. There were four humors. There was yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm. And the balances and imbalances among them were what caused health and illness. Medicine was environmental. Did you live in a damp environment? Did you live in a dry environment? Was there a lot of wind? Was there? It was it too cold.

So the idea that an organism was separate from its environment that was a completely new idea. That was it was invented by a person named Claude Bernard who was a very famous, very important, experimental physiologist in the 19th century. And he wanted to be able to do experiments on living organisms in order to understand how it is that living systems, work which all of contemporary biomedicine is predicated on this idea. All of laboratory based bicelis where all the bazillions of rats who have been sacrificed in the service of medical understanding have lost their lives because of Claude Bernard. Because he invented this idea. And it's an invention that he created the idea that, uh, what's called mila interior. So he said all the important things about living organisms take place in the milya interior. Now, mila interior is a little bit of an oxymoron. A literal translation would be like internal environment. But environment literally means environment means to surround. So it's like your internal surroundings. And then there's the milieu exterior, like the external surroundings. And the milieu interior is what people look at in laboratories. It's as if they create an artifact, out of a living organism.

Wendy: There's still separation.

Ed: It's necessary because in order for them to do scientific experiments they need a closed system. You can only do experiments on closed systems and no living organism, insofar as it is alive, is closed. He came up with that, in the middle of the 19th century. So he was definitely part he was a conservative person. He definitely aligned his scientific understanding with ideas of individualism as being the way that humans should be. He was promoted by Louis Napoleon, who was the French emperor at the time.
Definitely there is a particular kind of political ideology that's built baked into that particular way of understanding. And in terms of your idea about the colonial system, it is the case that he was a mentor of, Pasteur. And Pasteur was the person who invented accidentally the kind of modern notion of what a vaccine was using attenuated forms of bacteria to induce resistance to further infection. The Pasteur Institute that he founded was the first for profit biotech institute in the world. And where they made their money was they were making vaccines for europeans who were going off to colonize other parts of the world so that they would not succumb to the illnesses that were endemic in Africa. Largely in Africa, in Southeast Asia, and somewhat in Latin America.

Wendy: Wow. Fascinating.

Ed: So there is a colonial aspect to it, but I would say all of that is predicated on something that comes out of what I would think of as more modern understanding, which is that medicine is predicated on reductionism.

Wendy: Right. And the mechanistic view point.

Ed: Yes.

Wendy: All right. So then I'm wondering if we can switch gears, slightly as we wind down our conversation. Your book covers so much ground, a lot of what you talked about today, the historical context of medicine and how it's changed. But your journey is really intriguing as well. And I encourage people to get your book so that they can sort of witness what your experience was like.

But I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about how this whole process changed you because you talked about how healing can change a person or not, but you put some elbow grease into this process. So I'm curious about, if you don't mind, how, your healing journey changed you.

Ed: Oh, yes, absolutely. In order to write this book On Learning To Heal: What Medicine Doesn't Know, I had to figure out what I didn't know. So the book is structured around my learning curve, which was huge. As I say, I went from a completely materialistic, reductivist, communist, atheist family worldview to having a radical experience that was so unanticipated that it just blew my mind.

And I then had an experience after I got out of the hospital that I've been on drugs and stuff. I had trips. I had an experience of walking in the woods and all of a sudden, just feeling as if from the roots of the trees up all around me, something was telling me that I really needed to learn how to live. Otherwise, if I didn't want to keep going through these experiences of acute and maybe near death again, which I really didn't, it was not fun. um, it was like once I took that in, it was amazing. All of a sudden, I was open to or I'm going to use the word lead, though I don't know what that means exactly, but I encountered teachers who I would not have necessarily paid any attention to prior to this, but because I was in need, I was open to them. And the people that I worked with were amazing. So I'll name Rachel Remen, who is one of the most amazing healers. She herself is a doctor who has crohn's disease, and she founded Commonwealth, which is a comprehensive cancer care institute in Northern California. She introduced a course called The Healers Art, which is taught in medical schools all over the world.

And at the time, she was a 40-something physician who had just quit her practice as an endocrinological pediatrician at Stanford Hospital. When the tension between her own experience of illness and her medical practice got io be too great. And so she practiced on this houseboat in Sausalito and she really inspired me to understand that there was way more available to me than I imagined and that in order for me to access those possibilities, all I had to do was really expand my imagination. That was suggested was that I was holding myself too small. That when I was thinking in purely materialistic terms about who I was. It's not to say materialism isn't important or reductivism is an important, but it's a constraining framework and that there are many things that are not explicable in those terms and yet nonetheless can be incredibly important.

And once I had that insight, then it was like suddenly all these things opened to me that I never would have imagined, before. That was almost 40 years ago now. And I've been pursuing many different kinds of modalities of, of, healing and learning. And that's I keep emphasizing this idea of like, healing is learning because it really in a way that there, there seems to me a really important relationship between desiring to heal and being willing to learn. And that's the problem with the paradigm of curing is curing suggests that something external is going to happen to you and you don't really have to think about it after that. That would be the ideal of being curious. I don't want to think about it. I'm getting my brake system fixed and.

Wendy: When I get my car back, it'll be fine.

Ed: It'll be fine. I can go driving like I did before, no problem. And healing is not like that at all. Healing is really about being open to the possibility that we are and we can be always more than we currently are. One of the chapters in my book is called we're More Than We Imagine. we are much Bigger than we think. We're much bigger than we know. Knowledge is really, really important. I mean, I'm a know it all, I'm a professor. This is my stock and trade. I'm not dissing knowledge by any means. But we are more than we know.

Wendy: So the importance of experience, right, to having direct experience. It seems like that was a big part of your journey. And those direct experiences went in different directions, but I imagine they left a mark.

Ed: Absolutely. And one of the most fundamental aspects of, uh, any experience is that experience always situates us in a world. When we have experiences, we are, at a certain level, manifesting the fact that we are connected to not just to other people or to our, uh, community, but that we are part of a bio system, we are part of a planet. Right? I mean, I always use the word complicated. I like the word complicated a lot. Etymologically, it means the root plea means fold. So when we say we're complicated, it means we're folded together, we're folded with.

Wendy: I like that.

Ed: As living organisms. Living organisms are complicated.

Wendy: Some of us have many, many folds.

Ed: Yes, absolutely. In some of those tongues, those folds become knots and some of those knots become kinks. But that capacity to be able to be more than one of my favorite philosophers, French philosopher Henri Bergson who won, the Nobel Prize for writing a book called Creative Evolution. One of his basic understandings about what defines life as opposed to animate as distinct from inanimate matter is that animate beings introduce degrees of indetermination that are more than inanimate matter. Inanimate matter is organized according to certain principles or certain variables that maybe emerge at the Big Bang and have certain balances. The possibility for life emerges from that.

But what life does is life introduces complications. Life introduces possibilities. And those possibilities are the basis for what we call creativity. Evolution is creative. We are evolving. We are creative beings. We are always tending to well, we are, uh, maybe not individually. Maybe not even enlarged portion. Who knows? But the planet is like one of my teachers, Emily conrad, who just was an amazing being. She was so funny. She'd be like, we're so up ourselves. We think we're like the center of everything. What if, in the long arc of the history of the planet what human beings were is we are gregarious animals that bring together other species through our agriculture and we pass microorganisms back and forth and we are 98.6 degrees and we're warm. Or maybe we're just incubators for new kinds of viruses and bacteria and fungi. And that, in the long arc that will have been our role could be, yeah.

Wendy: I'll drink to that! It's a possibility. We just don't know, do we?

Ed: We don't know. That's the thing. And this is I say to my students all the time and we live in a culture that thinks there's something wrong with not knowing.

Wendy: That is true. Yeah. We're not comfortable with that.

Ed: And I always say to my students, until you get to the point at, which you can acknowledge that you don't know something, you cannot learn anything new. Not knowing is the condition of possibility of learning something new. And I think that that's true for us as individuals. And I think probably it's true for us as collectives.

Wendy: You think?! Maybe? Yeah. Let me ask you this to wrap up our conversation. What would you suggest to folks who might be listening who are struggling with chronic illness right now? I know you're not suggesting following a certain path, but what would you suggest as far as moving forward and learning to heal?

Ed: We're all really different. And what chronic illnesses are for each of us is, not the same. But if it's at all possible to just entertain the notion that there might be something to learn from the experience that you have been given that as painful as it might be or as restrictive as it might be, or as, debilitating as it might be, all of those things can be absolutely true. And yet there can be something more. There might be.

What I try to do in my practice, Healing Counsel, is to try to help people reframe their experiences of living with illness. To move away from the terms that medicine gives them, to think about what's happening to them, and to try to ask people to consider in relationship to the ways that they want to live and the values that they believe in. To see if there is some way that something in their experience is leading them to be more of themselves through whatever kind of difficult circumstances.

Pain is not necessarily a sign that we need to run away from. Sometimes pain is calling our attention to something that really needs to be changed. And I'm not saying that that's true for all illnesses. I'm not saying that's true for all people. But for some people, just planting that seed allows for new opportunities to present themselves. I mean, that's what I can say from my story. I would never have believed. I mean, that's why it took me a long time to write this book. Because I was like, who am I? How can I say? What do I know? I'm just like a little smock. But in the end, I'm like, okay, if I could learn this, given where I come from, anybody can learn.

Wendy: I get that now. I get that having talked to you and read your book. So then are you working actively with people with chronic illness in this way?

Ed: Yes.

Wendy: Remind me of the name of the organization that you created.

Ed: My practice is called Healing Counsel, And if you go online, you can see my lovely website and there are great pictures of me in my garden. And I have long explanations of my experience and my philosophy and the way that I work with people.

Mostly I work with people through conversation. Conversation is another one of those. I love etymologies. Conversation means to turn together. Good conversation is an experience in which all of the people who are conversing are turned in the process. But I also draw on a huge range of things. Practices that I've learned, primarily body based practices, psychotherapeutic practices, guided imagery, really, to try to help people expand the frameworks within which they are able to hold their own experience. Because it's my fundamental belief that, uh, and I do believe this for everyone, is that we are all bigger than we hold ourselves. We all have the capacity to grow and we have the capacity to keep growing, even to the point at which we die. And sometimes our deaths are growth experiences.

Wendy: Let's hope.

Ed: Yes, absolutely.

Wendy: that could be a very good reason why we're here on this crazy beautiful planet is to grow and have these experiences.

Ed: Exactly.

Wendy: Not easy.

Ed: No.

Wendy: It's complicated. So do you work with people virtually, or do you just work with local folks in the city? New York City?

Ed: No, I do both. I work online. One of the benefits of COVID is we've all gotten much better at, being able to do these online encounters. And I prefer, obviously, working with people in person. I mean, there's something about the field experience absolutely. When we're actually sitting together, but the basic when two or more are gathered seems to still work virtually.

Wendy: Okay. Yeah.

Ed: It's very powerful.

Wendy: It can be.

Ed: Yeah. I work with people both in person and virtually. So if you're elsewhere, check out my website. If you're in New York City, I'm in Brooklyn. and I'm happy to see people.

Wendy: All right, so, Ed, I want to thank you and your very large brain for coming and chatting with me.

Ed: Thank you for having me. It's been a great pleasure.

So how many of us are guilty of taking our bodies for granted? It's easy to do. Our bodies really are amazing. miraculous, even.

My conversation with Ed reminded me of an article I wrote back in 2016 called The Ultimate BFF: Your Body. I'll include a link to it if you want to check it out.

If you're interested in learning how to heal and would like some support, or if you'd like to get a copy of Learning to Heal, please check out Ed Cohen's website,

Thanks so much for listening and for letting others know about the podcast. I really appreciate it.
I've got another great and definitely thought-provoking episode coming up in a few weeks.

Until next time.