Eczema As Koan Part 3: The Way Out

This is part three of my account of how I came to experience full healing from a very severe experience of eczema lasting several years. Part one is here and part two is here.


Alchemy XXVII - Alchemy _DDC2232.JPGI have covered my journey of healing and discovery up until this point, which took the form of a voyage into the depths of Hell and out again.

Looking back now, I can see that – after all the very difficult experiences of reliving my own birth, and releasing so much anger and resentment (I have barely scratched the surface here), plus experiencing mythic situations both hellish and heavenly – the real breakthrough came during the sixth session of Holotropic Breathwork I experienced in Barcelona.

Here is an excerpt from the account I wrote of the session afterwards:

“…then after maybe half an hour I had the image of a door and I suddenly knew that this was an invitation to go through into another state of consciousness, but I also knew that I had to leave my habitual self and my problems behind completely. I knew I could sit and think about problems forever but I now had the choice to ‘get with the program’ and leave all of that behind. There was a feeling of a very practical consciousness within giving me this choice. I also had the growing realisation that I was able to ‘see’ my soul or real self – it was so obvious, it had been there all the time and I had been ignoring it! I knew if I went through the door then I would be going into this real self and everything would change. I felt enormous fear and had to breathe into the fear for a while before I could think clearly again. I knew I had to go through this door, whatever the consequences.

Unfortunately it is impossible to describe the real self other than it is limitless and one with everything… I went through the door.

On the ‘other side’, I was just one with impersonal Love, there is no other way to describe it. I had the song title in my head; ‘Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love’ and I imagined shooting them out of my hands into the sky. This then transformed very briefly into a situation where I was god and putting the stars in the sky. I felt one with the ultimate process which is creating the world and everything, but only for a few seconds. Although I felt fear, I don’t think it was that which pulled me back, it was almost like I knew I wasn’t ready for that at a deep level and my consciousness just naturally retreated from that after giving me a glimpse.”

“I had the realisation that our soul (and there is only one soul, or rather ‘not two’) is so beautiful that if our bodies were as luminous and perfect as it is, we would be unbearably conceited and arrogant. The imperfect physical world offers a completely necessary balance to the utter perfection of our inner being. The problem is that most people only know the imperfection and are unaware of the perfection, thus life appears ugly and meaningless. This time however I was just so happy that although I felt boundless compassion for everything, I did not feel in the least sad. The imperfection and pain in the world was seen as a perfect and necessary part of our ‘journey’ which is only really a deepening of the present moment and a merging into who we really are.”

This experience really changed everything for me and I could see that the whole experience of getting ill had all been for a reason, and in fact was a great gift. It had shown me the limits of our human arrogance, the belief that we ‘know it all’ – we are so clever and complicated but in reality that is just hubris and pride; ultimately we know next to nothing but are not willing to admit it in case it damages our carefully-preserved self image.

The illness and its side effects had also shown me how the visionary or mythic dimension is so close to our everyday world, and in fact is like an operating system that we live in without even knowing it, making up as it does the building blocks of our assumptions about ‘reality’, most of which is just arbitrary and man-made, while we consider it to be immutable and constant.

Being so ill also gives one a lot of compassion for others’ suffering and ‘ugliness’ (being covered in eczema is probably as close to complete ugliness as it’s possible to feel). It also gives a great appreciation of those who stick by us when we are at our lowest ebb.

Without the experience of being so ill I would never have found a way to connect with the deepest part of the One Self and realise that we truly are all One, or maybe better to say ‘not separate’ – this is a truth that has to be experienced and I believe it is what all the religions are pointing at when they talk about their deepest truths. Our everyday world is not set up for these kinds of breakthroughs and so it seems inevitable that many must pass through the way of illness and limitation in order to reach this ‘place’. I was extremely fortunate to be able to find a therapy which allowed me to fully reach this place of healing, and my eternal gratitude goes out to those who have helped and accepted me, even as I was so apparently broken and undeserving.

Our Western industrialised culture has no explanation for eczema, even as it, and other autoimmune diseases, reach more and more epidemic proportions; we as sufferers are encouraged by non-sufferers and our fellows alike to just accept it as a fact of life, as if things just happen for no reason. This is part of the ‘old story’, as Charles Eisenstein calls it – that our Earth is just an accident in the vast expanse of uncaring, machine-like Universe. And our own consciousness is merely an epiphenomenon, an accidental by-product of our meaningless and ultimately doomed evolution. Or alternatively (the previous story which forms the root of the prevailing one), that our bodies are ‘fallen’ and ‘sinful’ and we must punish and restrict ourselves in order to be redeemed in the eyes of the Lord, who may then grant us release from this prison and into a world of pure Spirit, where nasty things like physical bodies and sex do not even exist.

People seem to accept the explanation of eczema as accidental, as having no known cause or remedy, because they are used to accepting a great many things in this way. Items on the corporate television or radio news are presented free of context, as if there is no reason that these terrible things happen – it’s just more evidence that things are random and broken and the only thing we can do is fight for survival and give away our liberty for the ever-more elusive ‘security’. It is undeniable to say that everything is impermanent and that death is the only certainty, but this is in no way the same as affirming that the Universe is dead and meaningless and that we are separate… ‘alone and afraid in a world I never made’.

What happens if we don’t accept the ‘old story’? What happens if we try to find out why we are ill; what are the real causes: biological, emotional, psychological, spiritual? Sometimes living with eczema feels like you’re sitting on a volcano – everything can be calm and then suddenly there’s an uprush of heat, of angry, destructive energy. Where is it coming from? Is it just random? Can it be released or even used in some way? Why do some people experience this and others not at all? Why could I not eat even one piece of bread without making the eczema much worse and yet someone else can eat five Big Macs and drink four litres of Coca Cola a day and not experience any obvious negative effects on their health? (Of course they probably will further down the line if they keep up that diet, but that’s another story…).

I have noticed from various online support groups for eczema and related maladies that the overriding emotion is ANGER – why me, why now, why the hell am I going through this?! And it is hell, Hell on Earth to be suffering with severe eczema; it can destroy one’s whole life if sufficiently severe. You know you are not going to die from it but at times this is scarcely a consolation, in fact everyone knowing it is not terminal often seems to make others think that you are overreacting to what is officially not a serious disease.

What I want to ask though is: what if anger itself was part of the cause of the eczema? Of course it is definitely a by-product as well, and all sufferers know that getting stressed makes it worse, but what if that was in fact the root cause in some cases? So the question would then be: how come babies can have eczema; is there any way that a baby can be angry? The answer is no of course, not in the conventional sense as applied to adults, but if we look at what anger actually is it might give us a clue as to how this could happen (and please bear with me, I know I am going out on a limb here, but I think it’s worth pursuing this line of thinking).

HR Giger Babies

The work of HR Giger often contains allusions to birth trauma

Anger is essentially blocked energy – we want a thing and don’t get it, we need to achieve something but it eludes us, and anger is the build up of energy which allows us to force our way ‘over the line’ – it gives us courage; it is intrinsically linked to our power. It becomes toxic when repressed (as our ‘positive thinking’ culture so often ends up doing), but in its pure state, what is called ‘anger’ is a great force for achievement, of breaking through barriers. The work of Stanislav Grof has shown that the first great challenge of our physical existence is birth itself, and when I was reliving my birth in the Holotropic Breathwork sessions, there was a great sense of hot, angry energy, such as would be experienced when fighting one’s way out of a physically restricted situation. This energy is needed during birth it seems, at least for some people – and in reliving it, my birth was experienced as a great struggle for freedom (Grof has also shown how political propaganda often uses the metaphors of restriction and freedom, e.g. of being choked by an oppressor and the need to break free of them).

We can maybe speculate that somehow, for some reason (as apparently in my case), the birth was on some level never ‘completed’ – even though of course it was physically – the angry energy was never fully released and remained stuck within the body. This would have the effect on the eventual formation of the personality of becoming someone who is easily frustrated, who feels they are not going to get their way, who feels like everything is futile and who resents the world and people in general. It’s like we have always seen the world through the prism of the unresolved birth trauma and believe (because we have never seen it any other way), that ‘the world is like that’. As it happens those characteristics were very much mine as a child as and a teenager, and I took it to mean that I was just naturally misanthropic and a loner who people just didn’t understand. I didn’t actually have eczema until the age of ten but it is possible that it sometimes requires an external ‘trigger’ or particular situation for the eczema to start showing on the body.

So – leaving behind for a moment the speculation as to why it may have happened in the first place – after this sixth Holotropic Breathwork session I was still suffering with eczema, but over the next few months it seriously calmed down. Within about six months (and a couple more HB sessions), it was about 80% better. I was feeling massively grateful and happy that I had got this far, however that last 20% just wouldn’t seem to go away, and it was enough to still be affecting my life, especially when it appeared on my face, bringing up issues of ugliness and abandonment.

During this time I went to visit a Polish friend of mine in Andorra and she suggested I try some of the chlorella supplements she was taking to help with some skin problems she had been experiencing (not eczema) – she gave me a bag of them and I accepted, however without much hope that they would have any effect – it seemed like I had already tried pretty much every alternative remedy, supplement and vitamin out there and none had really helped. Chlorella tablets are made from dried and compressed algae, somewhat like seaweed, as I understand it.

After about a week though of taking the chlorella tablets every day (and you have to take a lot at first), I did perceive enough of an improvement to encourage me to continue. It appears that the chlorella has a positive effect on the digestion and possibly enables the release of residual toxins from the digestive system which might otherwise escape into the bloodstream and cause eczema. (This is just conjecture and I must emphasise I have absolutely no medical training or knowledge other than what I needed to actually make the eczema go away.)

So with the continued usage of the chlorella tablets the eczema diminished to about 10% of what it previously had been at its worst point, in fact for stretches of days or even weeks I would be completely free of it, and I knew I was on ‘the home straight’ – at least for the time being. I kept up with the relatively restricted diet, still completely avoiding wheat, alcohol and caffeine (a by-product of which was that I had more or less lost the small ‘pot belly’ I used to have – probably down to not eating bread and drinking beer).

I would still have the odd flare-up though, and one of the facilitators at the Holotropic Breathwork suggested I try a food intolerance test as she had been to a practitioner who offered this in a town not far from me. I decided it was worth a try and ended up being hooked up to a very strange machine which seemed to come out of a 1950s sci-fi film. I was holding a sort of handle, joined to the main machine by a wire. The operator read out a list of foods and vegetables one by one and after each one, the needle on the machine would move more or less depending on how intolerant I was to each food. It also made a satisfyingly retro-space-age whine of varying volume depending on the supposed intolerance.

I was hugely sceptical and basically considered the recommendations I was given based on the output of this device as probably a load of nonsense. However I did decide that it would be a bit of a waste of money if I didn’t at least try to put them into practice, and they did have a certain logic to them. I was supposedly intolerant to onions, peppers and peanuts, among other things; three of my favourite foods, and three staples of the healthier diet I adopted when the big eczema flare-up began. So, with some difficulty I did manage to cut these things out of my diet and to my amazement, that seemed to be the last piece in the jigsaw – the remaining stubborn patches of eczema gradually disappeared and the flare-ups became gradually gentler until they too stopped re-occurring.

So maybe about six months after cutting these things out of my diet I realised I was completely eczema-free on a day to day basis, and to my immense gratitude and amazement I have remained so. A complete recovery is more than I could have hoped for, although of course I know that if I changed my diet to a completely unhealthy one and really indulged in toxic patterns of thinking again, the eczema would come right back. Fortunately there is just no desire to do that. I can have the odd beer or glass of wine now, or eat a white bread sandwich, and it will have no effect on my skin; however I have no desire to go back to my old diet.

I find myself having a background of gratitude and a feeling of oneness which persists even while I might be feeling annoyed, excited or whatever emotion is passing through. I am less quick to judge and more compassionate, especially for those suffering from eczema and similar issues. I really want to hug every one of them and tell them to keep going, to keep searching for the reason why this disease has come into their life. I have also become much more compassionate towards myself, recognising that the mistakes for which I had berated myself so viciously in the past were understandable, given what I knew at the time, and that they can be left in the past.

Mandala drawn by me after a Holotropic Breathwork session in April 2014

Mandala drawn by me after a Holotropic Breathwork session in April 2014

I can’t wrap my experience up into a prescription and give it to people (as much as I’d like to) – but the general principles of my journey to hell and back might well be applicable to others. The feeling of abandonment, of separation from life itself, and thus from other humans seems to be at the core of the experience of eczema and other autoimmune diseases, as Charles Eisenstein points out. Unresolved birth and other trauma makes us hold on inside, both emotionally and physically, and creates the physical conditions within which eczema can develop. There may well be genetic and other factors at play to explain why we get eczema rather than another disease, and in fact some of my experience may be applicable to those suffering from other maladies. I know for example that Holotropic Breathwork has been very effective in curing people of asthma, which in many cases also seems to be related to unresolved birth trauma – obvious really when you think of it that birth, with so much potential for being choked and suffocated, could cause a severe trauma related to breathing within the organism.

So in conclusion I would like to say to people with eczema: it is not incurable. You may have to turn all your beliefs about yourself and the world inside out in order to find the remedy, you may have to totally change the diet of what you eat and what you think, you may even have to go right into the centre of Hell, that place you’ve been avoiding all your life, but believe me, if this resonates with you and you decided to go down that path, whatever it takes, it will be worth it. I truly believe that eczema, and illness in general, can indeed be a gift, and in the curing of it, we can find out who we really are. As CG Jung said: ‘The Wound is the Gift’. Please don’t take anyone else’s word for it though – rigorously follow your own path and know that freedom is possible.  If you need any help or non-medical advice, please do contact me.

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6 Responses to “Eczema As Koan Part 3: The Way Out”

  1. Herb J Schneider August 26, 2014 at 3:26 am #

    Thank you. Wonderful!

    • Guy August 27, 2014 at 9:48 am #

      Thank you Herb, glad it was useful. 🙂

  2. tc August 26, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    Hi Guy
    Thanks so much for this, there’s lots to digest here. One thing that I’d like to ask you about is surrender and victimhood. Since my diagnosis last year with an autoimmune condition, I have been seeking, striving, searching for healing in lots of different ways. And I’ve come across this notion of surrender but to me it feels like giving in, i.e. accepting the role of victim to this illness, ‘Yes fine, I’ll just be ill the rest of my life.’ Is there anything you could say about that please?
    TC

    • Guy August 26, 2014 at 8:22 pm #

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, the idea of surrender does sound like that, but I am pointing towards a more complete surrender than that, where any idea of control or a desired future is given up. When I surrendered, I was surrendering the person who wants anything to be different from how it is, the one who is struggling, the one who doesn’t want to be ill, and yes, there was the feeling that I was just accepting the illness. But quite frankly I had gone past the point of caring about anything; I accepted it was out of my control, because I had no choice but to do so. I just gave up absolutely everything, including the idea of ‘a future’ wherein I might be well or ill. And paradoxically, once I stopped resisting being ill from a deep level, things started to get better. So in a way it was something which happened out of deep despair, not even a decision, just like a natural process, as if the clouds were broken by the Sun. I realised that ‘what you resist, persists’ is very deeply true.

      The only thing is, I don’t think you can ‘manufacture’ this situation, like ‘I will surrender in order to get better’ – that’s just more resistance. But you may already be in the situation without realising; you might already be deeply desperate to give up, in fact it sounds like it, and the thought ‘…but then I’ll be ill forever’ is stopping you doing that. What you actually need is inner rest, and that thought is blocking it. Just as an experiment, put that thought to one side and let yourself try giving up for a little while. You may find that the resulting rest actually makes you feel better. And remember, you can rest while part of you is still tense – there is a level of habit to this so don’t expect to be totally relaxed immediately; you may or may not be. You can rest with the tension, if you like.

      Our culture is very big on ‘fighting’ illness and ‘staying strong’ – but I think a lot of this is just our hyper-masculine way of thinking; that we need to overcome things and ‘beat’ them. This can probably work in some cases but overall it is probably counterproductive – the illness is not something external to us, but an inner process which is deeply part of us, telling us that adjustments need to be made. To fight it is like not listening to your friend when they are telling you the very truth you really need to hear. Also I think there is a kind of embarrassment in our culture about illness, a desire to sweep it under the carpet quickly: ‘ah so you’re ill eh, well stay strong and keep fighting and you’ll beat it!’ So then we can stop thinking about it and turn away from the uncomfortable facts as quickly as possible. Obviously it’s not good to be morbidly fascinated by illness but I think our industrialised culture has gone to the other extreme. That was a longer answer than I expected but I hope it was useful. 🙂

  3. tc August 27, 2014 at 9:31 am #

    Yes it is helpful, thanks very much Guy. Yours is an inspiring story. I wouldn’t say I am fighting illness but I am definitely engaging with it and looking deeply into it for its lessons. And I hope that doing that (and other stuff) will pull me through it and out the other side. As for surrender, I can at least surrender now, in this moment, to this moment, like you suggest. Thank you. Go well.

  4. Guy August 27, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    Thank you. An important aspect to this is that it is necessarily ‘messy’ – the feelings and energies that come with illness are dark and unruly and we just have to get through it as best we can. Ultimately by surrendering we find out that the phrase ‘this moment is all there is’ is not merely a new age cliché, that it describes a vital reality… this is what is being shown to me anyway.

    Wishing you all the best in your healing journey.

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