April was a weird month. A lot of things happened for a lot of people in many different communities. For myself, I had a relapse with my injury and it was a bit overwhelming, to say the least. It forced me to further ponder about the nature of healing. I repeatedly asked myself: How does one truly heal? What do you notice about pain and its purpose? What do you do when there seems to be no hope?
A couple of years ago, I met a dynamic doctor named Astrid Pujari.
She integrates her western education with herbal medicine and energy medicine. In the spirit of April’s intense energy, I decided to focus my interview on pain and healing:
Tell me about your background and how it led into becoming the type of practitioner you are today:
“I am an internist or MD. I did my training in Tufts University in Boston. I am board certified in 2 different areas in medicine: internal and integrative medicine.”
How did you go from western medicine to herbal and energy Medicine?
“Well my energy practice came a lot later but before I went to medical school, I was interested in hiking, camping and wild edible plants and herbal medicine. I did a lot of studying on my own. I then had a moment when I was meditating one day, where I felt inside of myself that I was supposed to go to medical school. I had already had an interest in naturopathic medicine, but in that moment of knowingness, I knew that I was supposed to go to medical school and do it that way.”
So this knowingness that you are talking about, this is more along the lines of how you practice? You use it to essentially integrate your medical knowledge to then guide others?
For me, the first and most important guide a person has is their own inner wisdom, so I try to respect that every time I see someone. After medical school, I went and got my degree in herbal medicine. I then became interested in energy medicine.
In my personal experience with you, it’s more like you provide people space to have ownership in our own health as opposed to just knowing what we have. You help people recognize their own power to help guide themselves through whatever crisis they are facing. Is that true?
“Yes I would say that is true, to provide space for them to gain ownership.”
This leads me to talk about what seems to me to be a lack of empowerment in the medical community. Oftentimes, when I see a specialist, it’s like their knowledge overshadows me and I don’t feel like I am really being seen. I feel like with you, you are working with seeing the entire person, not just their physicality, not just using the tools that you have, but also working with energy to prompt us to say: “hey, we know deep down that we have the power to heal ourselves”.
“Well you know I do believe this, that everyone has this knowingness in themselves and a sense of direction. It’s not about me telling them what to do but more about facilitating that in them. If I were going to call myself anything, to be honest, it would be a Facilitator because that is what I really do. My job is to facilitate their knowingness and then I augment sessions with the knowledge that I do have to help them make educated decisions about what the right direction is for them.”
I want to move our discussion towards the topics of injuries and pain. I think that these are areas that all people can relate to, no matter what kind of lifestyle they have. How do you view pain and why do you think it exists beyond the explanations from western medicine?
“Well, in western medicine, we might talk about the physical element of pain as an indication that something needs to be addressed in the body. Perhaps it’s nerve pain, bony pain, inflammation, etc., and we would then utilize certain strategies. However, in both western and holistic medicine, there is this understanding that physical pain by itself doesn’t include the experience of suffering. You can increase and decrease pain by your psychological state. The same 3 people with the same degree of injury can have very different experiences of pain based on factors including diet, their spiritual beliefs, their support system, and how much water they are drinking. From an energy standpoint, pain is related to fear, which is a contractual state in the body and mind, it can even occur on a soul level.”
I totally agree. I think it is really helpful for people to look at pain on many different levels. I sometimes see pain, like you said, as a contraction. The body blocks an area off or holds onto something emotionally and then energy can’t move.
Now, do you find that there are stages of pain? Also, even though it seems cruel at times, is there is a purpose for pain? Is there something to be gained from the experience of it?
“This reminds me of this quote from Pemo Choudran where she talks about how whatever you need to be enlightened, is occurring right at this moment.
So every thing that is occurring in life is an opportunity or a problem. In a way, you can describe pain as both. You can also label it as an opportunity or a cause for you to feel powerless. That’s really the only 2 options you have for anything, really.”
Right, it’s either an end or the beginning
“Yes. So the answer would be, that of course pain is like an opportunity because any problem in life is an opportunity.”
So what have you done for yourself or for your patients that have helped one move through pain? Do you notice if there are any stages? For me, I notice that there has to be some kind of falling apart before things come back together. Almost like disintegration. Then I can try to rebuild. If I try to maintain the model that existed beforehand, it doesn’t work. It’s like the experience of getting messy and falling apart gives me more raw materials to work with. It has honesty about it. What are your experiences?
“I would say that my experience is similar to this book written by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross about the stages of death. She talks about death and dying and that there are 5 stages of grief:
denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and finally, acceptance.
My experience of any pain and injury is effectively a loss or death. There is some level of death that you have to go through. I wouldn’t necessarily say that they happen (the first 4), in this order, but all of these emotions occur at some point. But then there’s a point at which, after you’ve sat with the first 4 for long enough, that somehow it moves into a state of acceptance. The acceptance isn’t like just saying that I accept that there is something wrong with me, but more that there is a sense of empowerment that comes with it; that it is an opportunity for me to move forward.”
Well when I look back at on my own injuries. I would say that those first 4 stages was my experience of falling apart and, like you said, they didn’t happen in sequence. I then had a moment where I did notice that there was this sense of acceptance, of being empowered. I really resonate with what you’ve just said.
“Going with that, I would define acceptance is being able to truly see the problem for what it is. By really seeing the problem and where you’re at, you start to move it. Before then, you put all of your projections around it and it’s hard to see it clearly. But once you do see it clearly, it puts you in the best position to do something and heal. For me, my conscious choice during those other stages is to constantly bring my mind back to affirmation and to remember that I can get to another stage. One thing I have seen in people is that they can get lost in those first 4 stages because they don’t feel that there is an end in sight.”
It’s like you get stuck and you can’t see yourself out of it.
“Yes, so I would say that the goal of the 4 stages is to first of all, accept that you’re there, and second of all, in order to actually pull yourself out of it, I think it’s important to know that you still have to work with your mind. It holds the possibility that this is a stage and that there is a place where you can see things more clearly; you are going to move forward. Maybe acceptance happens not necessarily in an organized way, but in pieces throughout the first 4.”
So, because it is so personal and organic, and everyone’s experience is so experiential, what would you say are the 3 things that people could do to heal?
“The most fundamental thing that I always come back to, for me, is that you cannot heal in a universe where healing is not possible for you. A lot of people, when they are sick, if they are really honest with themselves, need to ask themselves if they believe that they can heal. Because if you do not believe you can heal, no doctor you go to will be able to help you. If this is the case, I suppose it all comes down to choice. That healing is a possibility that you have to decide about.
Next, underneath that, you have to put this all into practice. It’s action on that knowing; doing positive things for yourself to try to get out of where you are.
The third thing is to then be open to other healing possibilities. Einstein talked about how a solution does not come from what’s familiar to you. It comes from a new place. If you keep trying to solve a problem using the same methods, it may not work. From my experience, trying to do something new can be really important.”
If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Astrid Pujari, please visit her website at: www.pujaricenter.com