Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Salutogenesis - or Magic is Medicine

When I first came across the concept of Salutogenesis (en/de) it immediately hit a spark, yet I didn't figure it's significance for magic right away. Over the recent weeks I continued to ponder about it on airplanes and late night taxi rides... Here is what I learned.

The basic idea of Salutogenesis is that we are never 'ill' or 'healthy' but always both at the same time. Being healthy thus becomes a constant adjustment process to the changing context we are living in - rather than a solid state of being that gets temporarily intruded by diseases. Our mental-physical condition therefore is always somewhere on the dimension of health and disease, continuously shifting and adapting to our inner and outer experiences. The difference to the traditional concept of Pathogenesis - i.e. the concept of recovery from a temporarily state of illness and return to an intact state of healthiness - might sound like a subtlety only. However, with this new approach Anton Atonovsky, the inventor of Salutogenesis turned medicine upside down - instead of asking what caused a certain disease, he inquired what sustained health even under difficult circumstances. In taking such an innovative approach he found a revolutionary new perspective on what leads actually to stress and diseases among humans...

Before we move on to explore this new perspective in more depth, let's take a moment to capture the fundamental difference in approach of Salutogenesis and Pathogenesis:

Pathogenesis views diseases as intruders into a natural state of health. Assuming that diseases are always based on an unnatural or at least avoidable root cause, the central question of Pathogenesis is 'What causes diseases?'

Salutogenesis views health and diseases as two ends of one dimension, the dimension of being. Our state of being is continuously shifting and adjusting according to the current environment and subjective experience. The central question of Salutogenesis is "What sustains health?" 

This comparison helps us understand the fundamental difference between the two concepts: Pathogenesis strives to understand the objective root causes of diseases, whereas Salutogenesis focusses on the subjective experiences and resources of the individual. The former places the individual into an interplay of objective forces assuming the role of a concerned and mostly passive spectator. The latter understands the individual as an active co-creator of reality, enabled to influence and guide the interplay of forces he participates in.

So what are the resources that allow us to take an active role and become a co-creator of our state of being?

In his theory, whether a stress factor will be pathogenic, neutral, or salutary depends on what he called generalized resistance resources (GRRs). Antonovsky's formulation was that the GRRs enabled individuals to make sense of and manage events. He argued that over time, in response to positive experiences provided by successful use of different GRRs, an individual would develop an attitude that was "in itself the essential tool for coping". 
(source Wikipedia)

I guess as a medical doctor in the 70s this was quite something - singlehandedly building such a solid bridge between our inner experiences and their direct correlation to our mental and physical health. Moreover, Atonovsky assumed that no factor is predetermined in its effect on us - it can be beneficial, neutral or negative depending on what he called the 'generalized resistance resources' of the perceiver.

The real revolutionary aspect of his approach, however, is the fact Antonovsky identified one's subjective ability to 'make sense of events' as the fundamental precondition and common denominator of all available resistance resources. If we wanted to look at it the other way around: If things don't make sense to us, we don't know how to handle them. Our mind - just like a computer software - runs over the line of faulty code over and over again and tries to read it out, i.e. make sense. Ultimately it gets hung up, wastes huge amount of energy and blocks the rest of the program because of an element that proves to be inconsistent with its implicit rules and assumptions about reality (i.e. how code should be written). Thus - it's our ability to make sense of what happens to us and people around us, that determines the resources we have to deal with it.

Let's start to merge the medical and magical perspective here - and bring in some wisdom from the founder of Adonism, Dr. Musallam aka Franz Sättler (1884-c.1942). In his correspondence course on magic (The Adept), he explains an essential component that determines the effectiveness of any magical approach:

"Human will is a living force. (...) And just like with every other type of force we distinguish three factors that determine its impact: direction, magnitude and contact point. Should it lack on any of these three the impact will either be incomplete, non-existant or even unaligned to the intended impact."
(Dr.Musallam, Der Adept, p.101 - translated by Fr.Acher)

Well, I guess the components of direction and magnitude are quite straight forward and self-explanatory. Yet, the idea of the contact point as a determining factor strikes me as new? The contact point is nothing but the particular point we chose to get a handle on things. Only if we understand the nature of the challenge or obstacle we encounter, can we chose the right handle. To make it even more plain: we can only fix what we understand.

Now, Antonovsky suggested exactly the same thing: it's our ability to make sense of events that determines our ability to cope with stress that might cause diseases otherwise. The more we are able to create a consistent perspective from new experiences, to create coherence from chaos, the higher are our resources to sustain health under adverse circumstances.

And here is what I learned about magic from Salutogenesis: Magic is the strongest medicine. 

Since the times of the ancient Chaldean's and Egyptian's magic has been the major tool to deal with situations of crisis, to initiate and integrate changes, to bring within us and around us in tune and to re-balance the forces of live. From the Shaman's mesa to the Tree of Life of the Kabbalists, magic is a synonym for creating coherence, for finding one's place in the seeming chaos of everyday life.

Magicians are the most powerful creators as they unite the forces of faith and will. Magicians know how to find the secret contact points, where things change by a breeze and a spark. Magicians are sense-makers where the world seems lost in the mazes of life. Magicians are healers, for they know how to heal the broken subjective experience... of being caught in the meaningless riddles of stress and diseases, of power and divulgement.

Magicians know how to lead a life like a story and not like a disconnected word each day.

Reading the story not just the words.

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