NOW SERVING Psychedelic Culture

Let Magic Happen: Transforming Symptoms and the Healthcare System

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Why is it that the most urgent question asked in the national healthcare debate is, “How will we pay for all the drugs for our aging population?” Instead we might ask, “Do our elderly really need all these drugs?” Unfortunately, the focus is on the suppression of symptoms at any cost, both in terms of the financial considerations and the massive burden of side effects, rather than the facilitation of self-healing.

The side effects of pharmaceutical drugs used to suppress symptoms result in over 100,000 deaths per year, but this risk/benefit ratio is considered acceptable in our culture. If symptoms are a warning that something in our personal ecological system is out of balance, then the only way to deal with it is to shoot the messenger. The price we pay for this attitude goes far beyond the disturbing death rate above.

We treat our national healthcare crisis the same way as we approach our personal health crises.  Runaway expenses with diminishing returns and increasing use of alternative methods are a warning that our conventional medical system may be on the brink of collapse. Desperate bureaucratic attempts to suppress the symptoms of patient dissatisfaction and physician burnout have been quite ineffective.

As a radiologist specializing in musculoskeletal MRI, I detect mechanical problems in the spine and joints all day long. You would think that with our major technological advances in diagnosis over the past few decades that the overall health of the population would have significantly improved. The same could be said of applying advanced information technology to solving the healthcare crisis.

However, there is a puzzling paradox in the radiology literature regarding MRI scans of the spine and joints that may shed light on the situation. If completely asymptomatic volunteers are scanned, a significant percentage will have abnormalities such as disc herniations, meniscal and rotator cuff tears that would ordinarily be assumed to be the cause of disabling symptoms. But they have none.

In the same way, we can detect many flaws in our medical system, such as limited access to physicians, high costs of drugs, and medical errors. Then, using state of the art input from efficiency experts and economists, we assume that fixing these technical problems will make our symptoms go away.  What if we are overlooking the underlying root causes of our problems in both cases?

As an integrative medicine clinician specializing in Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), I always look beyond the mechanical problems of my patients in search of the underlying metaphors expressed by their symptoms.  I ask, “Who is giving you a pain in the neck, what burdens are you shouldering, and who is stabbing you in the back?” The answers are often quite revealing.

While their mechanical problems on the MRI scans may be quite real, there is no way to guarantee that fixing them will relieve their symptoms. However, I can frequently assist them in tapping away the underlying emotional issues with EFT, which then alleviates their suffering. The key is to find the underlying traumatic experience at the root of their symptom and release it from their body.

Attempting to fix the perceived problems in our healthcare system is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We seem to think that fastening down the chairs to keep them from sliding will somehow prevent the ship from sinking. The massive iceberg tearing a hole in the fabric of our culture is the misinterpretation of the role that symptoms play in keeping our lives on the right track.

Say you have a brand new sports car and the red oil light comes on.  You take it to the mechanic, and he says he is intimately familiar with the car’s electrical system and will take care of the problem. He takes it into the shop, cuts the wire to the red light, gives it back to you, and charges you a hefty fee. If that sounds outrageous and unethical, why is it okay to do the same thing with our bodies?

We have been conditioned to fear our physical symptoms rather than learn from them. The traumas of our lives are held in our bodies and scream out to get our attention rather than be suppressed. Until the proper attention is paid to them, the emotions that are stuck there persist. If we treat them as allies that are pointing out when and where we are out of balance, they can become our friends.

Fear has been the major marketing strategy of the drug companies for years, and it is quite effective. Fear of aging, fear of pain, and fears of all sorts are just precursors for the ultimate fear of death. The only thing our culture values above suppression of symptoms is denial of death. Avoiding dealing with these issues runs up the medical tab to the point of bankruptcy at the end of life.

Few people are capable of overcoming their fear of death on their own in our culture. Fortunately, the ever-increasing near-death experience literature offers a ray of hope in this regard. People who have survived death report a loss of their fear of death, and the same effect occurs in the readers of their books. It seems that our medical system is about to undergo such a near-death experience and transformation.

Near-death experiences can be considered as shamanic initiations which not only remove the fear of death, but also have been shown to provide an altruistic sense of purpose, increased psychic abilities, and enhanced electromagnetic sensitivities. The impending death of our healthcare system may be setting the stage for the emergence of a holistic path of cultural healing that incorporates all of these capabilities.

In October 2012, one of the paragons of the conventional system, a brain tumor specialist named Eben Alexander III, will publish his account of his own paradigm-changing near-death experience, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. His book should help to break the trance of fear that has gripped our society for the past materialist century, heightened in the last decade since 9/11.

My own book, Let Magic Happen: Adventures in Healing with a Holistic Radiologist, chronicles my journey from conventional radiology to holistic medicine.  By approaching my own symptoms and those of my patients from a metaphorical point of view, I show how healing can be facilitated using a variety of mind-body-spirit techniques. Our symptoms can guide us on our path to wholeness.

Dr. Burk’s scientific articles, newspaper columns, newsletters and video blogs are posted at

Image by Drew Stewart, courtesy of Creative Commons license. 

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