To what extent do you see illness as a misalignment with one’s destiny?

Recently I proposed the above question on a shiatsu forum, and sat back to await the fireworks. I was not disappointed.

Before we reflect on what unfolded, may I invite you to take a moment to ask yourself that very question and see what emotions or feelings, thoughts or refutations come to mind…?

So why such a contentious topic? In truth I hoped it would bring together a range of views that we could tease apart and explore with the intention of evoking some consideration and reflection among practitioners. Certainly such forums provide a good opportunity to do so with a wealth of combined training and experience available to consider more difficult questions.

Shortly after the firework display began, we arrived at the necessity of defining the word ‘destiny’. This question was formulated from a proposal made by Lonny Jarrett in his book entitled Nourishing Destiny: The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine. Here Jarrett translates the character ming as destiny; yet, as we all know, one word translations of a Chinese character are never fully satisfactory, for they never fit those narrow boxes but burst forth as multifaceted concepts. So Jarrett further elucidates this character and speaks of joining one’s internal spiritual endowment of the Daoist treasures jing, qi, and shen with their corresponding aspects as they exist externally in heaven and thus fulfilling personal destiny. This TCM approach is similar perhaps to that of Nichiren Buddhism, as one practitioner suggested, where destiny is defined as a personal ‘mission’ one is here to live, but whether or not one completes it is a choice… Jarret references the author of the Shen Nong Ben Cao, China’s oldest herbal text, in which “clearly… the highest aspect of healing involves helping the patient fulfill destiny in order to live out the years as allotted by heaven.” In his own book, Jarrett calls this primary therapeutic focus to help patients fulfill their personal destiny the ‘inner tradition of Chinese medicine’.

The first area of discussion that arose was in concern for the client if a practitioner were to approach the session from this perspective. Certainly, to suggest the fault of the illness was with the client, would unlikely be welcomed by clients; unlikely achieve any beneficial outcomes; and it would hardly be the standard choice of approach for any seasoned practitioner worth their salt. Yet to approach the session from this perspective does not necessitate that the practitioner share any such candid and incomplete summation with the client. Rather they would simply hold this approach within as a guide to treatment. One practitioner stated “the ‘purpose’ behind illness has always intrigued me, provoked thought and challenged me to find ways to assist the client to see for themselves…What is my body showing me right now?”, and another practitioner similarly suggested another approach would be to simply invite the client, whether unconsciously or otherwise, to see ‘what they can learn from this’. Yet, ironically, by evoking those very questions, the client is already moving towards realignment with their destiny according to the classics…

I think one of the biggest blocks in examining the discussion question proposed are our feelings around being judged (either by ourselves or others) as either more or less competent or evolved than someone else depending on our perceived state of health. Yet what if we are talking about health in a spiritual sense? What if health pertains to lifetimes and not simply this particular body? What if we need not compare ourselves to others but only the relativity of our own journey? What if, as Lorie Dechar (see: says in praise of a TCM book on reading the face, “the lines of a face are no longer viewed as aesthetic problems to be erased but rather as the sacred calligraphy of an evolving soul.” What if this is ‘health’? Like another practitioner brought to the table in concern of this approach, I too am personally familiar with judgments around having a ‘health condition’ that all my own inquiry and work with practitioners had not helped me to symptomatically resolve. It has born me much humility and yet the fact that it has simply confirms for me that somewhere within my unconscious I too believed that I was lagging behind those without this health condition – that until I resolved it I would be a less evolved practitioner or a poor representation of the art’s potential I was practicing. I have no doubt that such a belief hindered my own healing… May I reinforce that I don’t believe this at all consciously and that I am ever an advocate for examining the unconscious? Who knows what challenges each of us are facing at this particular moment and why? Who knows how many lifetimes you have lived or I? I have known some beings who I consider very evolved and who have passed in illness before reaching old age..

Yet still there is resonance for me with the proposition that deep eyes into the origins of our illness offer a journey towards realignment with our ‘destiny’… Or as one practitioner stated “perhaps dis-ease aids us in finding the appropriate pathway to fulfill our destiny… which is ultimately for our own deeper health, that of the spiritual self.”



Jarrett, L. (1998). Nourishing Destiny. Spirit Path Press, Massachusetts, USA.

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