“Just fix me.” An all too common demand expressed by new patients who seek out naturopathic care after having seen countless doctors and specialists. When I respond, “that’s not my job,” followed by, “my job is to offer you a new possibility,” the patient’s reaction will largely determine how the therapeutic relationship will unfold.
These individuals arrive with long-term suffering coupled with a story about being broken. Phrases such as “I don’t feel like myself,” or “This isn’t me,” reveal the perceived distance between a state of current suffering and a remembered experience of health and wellbeing. I admit that my first impulse is to want to “fix” and draw the shortest line possible between pain and cure. However, my job as a practitioner is to refrain from reacting. My job is to First Do Nothing.
The principle of First Do Nothing was introduced to me early on in my naturopathic education by sage and experienced healers in the field. While the words passed through my consciousness off and on over the years, it is only more recently that I have come to understand how essential this practice truly is and its unfortunate absence in modern medicine.
At first glance the words First Do Nothing may imply negligence or passivity when quite the opposite is true. Living in a reactionary culture where knee-jerk responses and escapist behaviors surface in the face of adversity and discomfort, First Do Nothing is the invitation to “stay” – to hold a loving and grounded presence in the face of all that is difficult to face. In the pause before responding, recommending or reacting, the person is held in a space of deep active listening and positive regard. First Do Nothing is its own medicine.
Recently a woman came to see me with a chronic and nagging left-sided neck pain. She had seen several health care providers in search of relief only to have the pain return after treatment. To better understand the underlying cause of her neck pain, I guided her into a brief meditation. As she closed her eyes and tuned in to the sensation in her neck, she transitioned from describing her neck pain to sharing a story of past events resulting in regret and a loss of trust. Her verbal expression of this story gave way to self-forgiveness and a re-connection to deep love. By the end of the meditation, the woman surprisingly noticed that her neck pain had disappeared for the first time in many months.
Without a homeopathic remedy, a cranio-sacral adjustment or any host of anti-inflammatory protocols that I might have leapt to for addressing chronic neck pain, this woman reminded me of the medicine that is delivered in the midst of a healing presence. With this learning, I look forward to walking in partnership with more individuals who are ready to remember their own capacity for healing and transformation.