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Inspiring on the facts, somewhat disappointing in terms of advice
am 1. August 2013
Rankin comes at the subject as a practising doctor disillusioned at the lack of holistic attention to health which characterizes the Western medical community. Failure to grasp the holistic nature of the body’s self-healing mechanisms means that many people get poor medical advice and care. Rankin is at her best campaigning for a much greater awareness on the part of medical caregivers of how healing actually takes place.
Much of Rankin’s argument centers on the unnoticed efficacy of placebos, a notion she draws from Bruce Lipton's "Biology of Belief" without, it seems to me, adequate attribution; indeed even some of the examples she cites already appear in the earlier book. Rankin claims to have researched the placebo effect extensively, but at least sometimes she appears to permit misconception of the originality of her research. This may not matter to the average reader, but I found it a bit jarring.
There are a number of important principles stressed in Rankin’s book which are often absent from other self-help guides directed towards recovering and maintaining health and which are welcome. Her insistence on finding meaning in life as a key contributing factor to wellness rings true, as does her defense of the power of affirmations given the need to override the negative messages which we are usually passing on to our bodies. She is also right in pointing to the value of community, although she passes lightly over important shortcomings of institutions like family and church the drawbacks of which may very well, in many instances, outweigh the benefits, and which are certainly some way short of the ideal. These institutions have quite likely been at the root of many of the health problems people experience. Moreover, even if community may be as important as diet and lifestyle, the recommendation to seek it out is difficult to operationalize if one does not have a healthy form of it to begin with. Rankin probably should also be commended for pointing to the importance of sexual life, but again, there is no clue in the pages of the book as to what might constitute a healthy configuration or even that this is a legitimate and important question to ask.
Unfortunately, for all its admirable qualities, Rankin’s book appears to take far too lightly the difficulty of modifying ones beliefs and actions in order to obtain better health outcomes. The “diagnosis and prescription” part of the book is the least satisfying one, often asking the reader to answer in a few sentences what many seekers have needed decades to unearth and understand. In this sense, Rankin’s book looks like a typical US cultural artefact which uncritically endorses the errors as well as the insights of the positive thinking fraternity.
This is disappointing, because Rankin has acquired a significant new media voice which could have been used to promote deeper healing modalities than those she herself is able to offer. This unfortunately means she gives the impression of overextending herself where greater humility might have been in order, and accordingly coming across as superficial. Parts of her own “prescription” for herself read like an awkward list of endorsements of particular personalities, and there is no indication why they should be of value to someone else; they appear to be simply plucked from the air. Making a diagnosis of the factors in ones life which promote illness and writing a prescription to deal with them – even if one accepts this way of speaking – remains a major task and a daunting endeavor.
These criticisms aside, it is clear from the book that a major shift in social consciousness around health and healing is underway and increasingly forcing its way into the mainstream. For those who continue to place undue faith in the mechanistic and simplistic ideas which have hitherto underpinned Western allopathic medicine, the book will be a very helpful antidotes. We may be still a long way off adequately describing how the body’s self-healing mechanisms work, but there seems no doubt at all that they make a key contribution to health outcomes and, if only for this reason, should be nurtured. In reality, of course, the quest for optimal health only dictates what the spiritual path anyway demands on other counts: a conscious uncovering of reality, and the courage to listen to what we already know.