Journey as Therapy, as Cure

Once as a visiting lecturer, a colleague pointed out that I often talk about healing as a journey.  I’d been largely oblivious to the word’s pervasiveness until he wryly noted that I’d just used it at least a dozen times in the space of a minute.  (It was kind of him to refrain from the obvious suggestion that perhaps I could make better use of a thesaurus.)


Armed with self-consciousness, now I often notice its appearance.  And not just descriptively, but as interrogatory:  How goes your journey?  What’s new in your journey?  And also, as closure and benediction:  Godspeed on the journey.  Blessings on your journey.


In the therapeutic space, I suspect that one reason I am fond of the word is a bit of resistance to the “chief complaint” of the typical medical interview-note, which directs the physician to record in a sentence or two those symptoms or concerns that bring the patient for care.  “My head hurts.”  “My heart is racing.”  “I am so sad.”  Eventually followed by a prescription that closes the question and tidily wraps up the encounter.


I appreciate the efficiency of need and met-need.  In medicine, there are certain urgencies that demand pressing our time and attention to the sole service of the patient’s chief complaint.  But aren’t we sometimes in a TERRIBLE hurry to ask a clean question so that we can then satisfyingly close the question?  So terrible that we abandon the common-sense that certain kinds of inquiry are better understood when contextualized by the person’s journey-story?


In Understanding the Sick and the Healthy:  A View of World, Man, and God, Franz Rosenzweig claims that journey *is* the therapy–and the cure–for the malaise that accompanies the soberness of life and death.  He suggests we imagine our journey starting in mountain foothills, with only glimpses of each majestic wonder as we navigate the paths that lead up the side of the mountains.  It is in the actual walking that we begin to see “what the hands must grip next and where the feet must step” (102).  “Thus man wonders.  Undoubtedly he pauses–to wonder requires that man pause.  He pauses but he cannot remain still.  He is adrift on the river Life, borne on, wonderment and all” (40).  Journeying is both motivation and revelation.


In contrast, today’s patient and physician might instead find their countenance in “the philosopher” criticized by Rosenzweig, who  “insists on a solution immediately . . . separates his experience of wonder from the continuous stream of life, isolating it.  This is the way his thought proceeds.  He does not permit his wonder, stored as it is, to be released in to the flow of life.  He steps outside the continuity of life and consequently the continuity of thought is broken.  And there he begins stubbornly to reflect.  Of necessity, he must hook the ‘problem’ from where he stands. . . Wonder stagnates, is perpetuated in the motionless mirror of his meditation . . . The stream of life has been replaced by something submissive–statuesque, subjugated. . . . Let us be warned by the bad example of indifferent physicians who believe that for a sickness, once it is recognized, there is but one possible therapy, effective under all circumstances. . . We must not insist on praising one particular treatment as a complete panacea when we have to deal with the affliction of a human being in his entirety” (40-41, 55).


Too much of my education was about trying to hook the problem.  Whoa.  Persons were not meant to be hooked.  Persons were meant to be welcomed.  To be heard in a moment of pause, without being stilled. In that moment, an insight.  An answer.  A wondering.  A present, that anticipates future–a good and whole future, for a whole person–not a chief complainant.


So yes, drat it–sometimes we are compelled to move on before we feel ready to say good-bye.  A dialogue ends. Life pulls us onward.  But if the journey itself is the therapy, rather than our momentary shared meditation on it, then the sending is a benediction.


“You must be a little frightened. . . Life is a serious matter.  Ordinarily you are aware of that yourself.  You would strongly resent it if your work, your actions and your tribulations were not taken seriously.  The things we dealt with are of the same order of seriousness.  They are not more serious.  But they are serious.  At this point we must part company.  I hope that I am not bidding you farewell forever.  We have had such a close acquaintanceship that I believe that many things remain to be said.  Whenever you are able to spare some time come and visit me . . . You will be welcome” (107).