Conscious Healing

An Interview with Richard Moss M.D.
By Mary NurrieStearns


After a short medical practice, Richard Moss, experienced life-changing realizations that led him to his true calling: the exploration of spiritual awakening and its integration into daily life. His books include "The I That Is We," "The Black Butterfly," and "The Second Miracle." For over twenty years, Richard has worked with groups, helping people throughout the world to transform their lives. He lives in Oakhurst, California with his wife and children.

Personal Transformation: Let's begin with a general definition of healing.

Richard Moss: Healing has to do with a sense of meaning. Healing occurs when suffering no longer causes me to feel like a victim, or to contract, but brings me to a new sense of meaning about my life why I'm alive, what it means to be alive, what it means to be a man or a woman, what I want to share with the world around me, how I want to give myself to life. When a sense of meaning has come about, where before there was just suffering, healing has happened. That is a definition of healing at the level of how we feel or live. At the level of the physical body, healing is restoration of some function. As an organism, we are constantly repairing damage.

PT: That is true. A lot of healing goes on outside of our awareness.

RM: Thank God. Would you want to be responsible for getting all those platelets to clot or blood vessel walls to start growing into new tissue? It's beyond our comprehension at a mental level.

PT: How does meaning come out of suffering?

RM: New meaning emerges automatically from meeting the suffering as long as you are not crushed by it that's the healing process. We go along in a particular state, feeling more or less well and suddenly our world is broken. It can be illness, a change in circumstances, many things. But as we meet the suffering, really enter the dynamic confusion that our lives have become, gradually we are transformed in that ordeal. I know a man, a bachelor in his fifties with a demanding career, and recently his son was sent to prison. Then he realized that his daughter-in-law was on drugs and his two grandchildren were being abused and neglected. So he gained custody, and almost overnight he had to sell his house which he loved, rent a larger one, and take full-time care of two very troubled, damaged children, ages nine and eleven. He's confused, exhausted, feels helpless to meet the children's anger and terror and grief. He never has a free moment. It is what many single mothers have had to face. You can see the suffering in his face. But you can also feel something else. His life was very self-centered and superficial, and he tended to dissipate himself in dating and drinking. He might have said he was happier then, but anyone could see his life was pretty empty. Now it is anything but empty. Our relationship is a business one; he is not one of my students. But whenever I see him, I tell him how much I respect him, how much I can feel that this commitment, as difficult as it is, is bringing out the best in him, and it is true. He can't see it, or he can't admit to seeing that yet. But he is so much more honest, so much more open. He is being healed in this ordeal. It would be easy if it were just physical pain for which he could take a pill. One of the great gifts of modern medicine is the control of severe pain with medications like morphine, but diminishing suffering in this way, as crucial as it is, is not healing.

PT: So medicine can help with pain, but it doesn't help with suffering?

RM: Suffering is a psychic process, and that requires a different intervention. It requires a more intimate relationship. I can help you with your suffering only to the extent that you experience me as an important person whom you relate to, communicate with, and feel listened to by. That is rarely part of medicine today. Medicine is about seeing as many people as possible and providing them with the medications deemed helpful for their situation. The psychic component of the healing process, which in many situations is the most important component, is not well-addressed by modern medicine. When you walk into a physician's office, you walk into a relationship with a human being, who by a touch, smile or nod of the head can uplift you quite profoundly. Whether or not that happens depends upon what that physician has lived in himself or herself.

PT: What is the importance of relationship in healing?

RM: People who have intimacy and connection live longer, have less pain, and recover faster. Literature shows that attending a support group even once can add as much as eight months to life expectancy in terminal illnesses. This is all about relationship. Relationship is probably the central issue in all healing.

PT: Healing includes our relationship with emotions. Does healing usually include facing fear?

RM: Fear is a break in the relationship to myself, a loss of connection, as if somehow I have been cut off from the core of myself. Fear is, part of time, the loss of the future I imagined, and from people to share it with. Fear is a contraction away from relationship in the present. To heal fear, paradoxically, is not to fight against it, but to enter a relationship with it. For example, we are often most vulnerable to our fears in the middle of the night. When this happened to me, I taught myself to turn toward the fear, rather than getting up to make a cup of tea or reading to escape it. Instead, I lay on my back with my arms out straight from my shoulders and my feet about eighteen inches apart. Then I just breathed into the fear, and let my mind relax away from thoughts about it and how to respond. It takes will power to face into fear in this way. But gradually, by staying present in the fear in this way, the energy changes. Often it becomes bliss. When you have had this experience enough times, will power gives way to faith, and the energy releases almost immediately.

PT: No matter whether the fear is of death, a loss of person, or a loss of functioning?

RM: There are infinite fears. But at the root of fear is perceived loss of sense of self, the imagined loss of connection to my own basic "I am." You can't solve fear by accumulating money. There is no strategy to absolutely protect you from fear except relationship with fear itself. You can evaluate the cause of the fear, and the fear will lessen, but you can't ultimately defeat fear without having a relationship to something much larger. If you have a relationship to fear, it is because at a deeper, usually pre-conscious level you sense the wholeness of the universe or have faith in something God more than the fear that you feel. You may not consciously know you have this faith, yet the encounter with fear helps bring you to faith. When I learned to open to fear in the way I described, it taught me that fear is energy in a particular configuration, and this configuration grows out of who I subconsciously imagined myself to be. The healing act is awareness turning towards the central place in your body and being, where you feel that fear, and meeting it, instead of running or trying to avoid or change the cause. Entering into relationship with fear gradually challenges the sense of who you believe yourself to be. If you are overly identified with your career and believe, " I am a doctor," anything interrupting that causes fear. If you are an "important person," anything threatening that self-importance generates fear. For a devoted mother, an illness that weakens her ability to mother can cause crippling fear and guilt. To relate to fear is to be challenged at every level of personal identity until we can let go to something more fundamental, which is hard to talk about because it is a profound self-realization. It's like God revealing Himself to Moses through the burning bush. When Moses asked, "How will I say who you are?" the bush responded, "Tell them that I Am." "I Am" is the core that's who we really are.

Fear brings us to an encounter with everything that is not my "I am." Everything I think or imagine I am, and everything the culture has told me I am, will be threatened by fear until we come into a relationship with something that is truly my "I am." If you have even moments of such a relationship, faith grows in you and you re-engage life with less fear and more joy. Healing is to return to a sense that is not dominated by fear and in which there is a feeling of joy. From that point of view, most people aren't healed, even if they aren't sick. Joy is a rare commodity. Most people who think they aren't afraid aren't afraid because they live inside narrow boundaries. Those boundaries are threatened by the diagnosis of cancer or AIDS, or the sudden illness of a spouse or a child, which changes everything you imagined your life would be about.

PT: Let's move to the relationship of healing and forgiveness.

RM: Healing and forgiveness work together because when you forgive yourself or someone else, you end the pattern of energy that binds you to the injured self. Then the wound can heal, and you stop losing energy. Forgiveness is about having more energy because when there is forgiveness, someone's behavior or a painful memory no longer has the power to cause your awareness to collapse into it. For example, say that your father drank too much or was withdrawn and unavailable during your childhood, and this has caused you to feel angry, abandoned and unloved. Forgiveness exists when your heart no longer closes and your energy doesn't contract when you are around him. You have "given away in advance" or fore-given the emotional reaction that usually leads you into anger, or a victim stance. It is released before it has even become a reaction. This freedom is not detachment or indifference; it's not immunity to feelings. You may feel the feelings, they can still hurt, but it passes through you because you're no longer identified with your wounded persona. This takes real self-knowledge; you have to work on understanding your own reactions. Forgiveness means you have become grounded in a deeper recognition of who you really are. And the moment the reaction ends in you, something changes in the other person, whether it's your father, mother, spouse these are the people who can hurt you the most, and who you can hurt the most but as you forgive, they begin to have more freedom too. So there is more energy, more relationship to your true self, and then healing begins at every level. When I forgive someone close to me, my whole pattern of who I am is radically changed.

PT: We may begin forgiveness with an idea, but it is something much more encompassing?

RM: The first step toward forgiveness begins by recognizing that you are much larger than just your wounded persona, that you have the power to stop giving yourself away to emotional contraction the sinking or exploding feeling, the tightening in the body, collapsing into anger or worthlessness. When you contract, and then react like this, you are already the victim. But when you begin to take conscious responsibility for your own suffering instead of contracting and reacting you meet this suffering consciously, instead of blaming anyone else and this conscious suffering gradually leads you to disengage from the whole structure of victim and woundedness. You can try to make yourself forgive through an act of will. But when forgiveness starts as an idea, it may seem noble and wise, but it is still a defense against the painful feelings. And forgiveness is not a defense; it is a kind of enlightenment. When something is truly forgiven, there is no longer a trace inside your psyche that hooks you back into the pain and reaction. When that happens, those around you heal, too. In all relationships, but especially strong in families, energetic patterns link us to one another. When a pattern no longer has any place inside me, it ceases to have energy in others, and they begin to change.

PT: Which is one of the ways that love heals. Can we literally love someone else into health?

RM: Love always heals, because love is relationship, real relationship, not an imagined one. When we love, we are participating with the spirit that binds all of existence. It is that spirit being revealed to us and in us when we feel love. To learn to love consciously and maturely is life's greatest opportunity. When we love another, we are including the other in our faith in life; we are holding the other in our relationship to God. The loved one becomes the mirror in which we begin to see our real capacity for trust and forgiveness, our real capacity to meet and be transformed by difficult feelings. Because if we can't find some way to meet these feelings, sooner or later we will close our hearts and kill love in us. Love is the teacher, not some tool to be used to fulfill our ego's agenda. So how can this love that is being revealed to you through the deepest process of obligation and self-surrender, be something that you imagine you can use to heal someone else? You don't turn on love like a water from a spigot because someone is sick and you want to make them well. Love is not a weapon against the parts of life we fear; it is not to be wielded as a strategy for control and happiness. If you visit someone you love hoping to heal her with your love, she will probably close off from you, and you will feel very exhausted afterwards. Your intention to use love is actually avoidance of where both of you really are, and maybe that more truly is grief and helplessness. It is far more loving to stay present in a state of unknowing, not protecting yourself from the sense of powerlessness. Then, your hearts will meet. You won't need to say a word, but you will touch deeply, and you may even feel the room full of presence. I have had this experience many times, and sometimes this presence is healing in the physical sense. But every time, whomever I have been with has had much less pain and fear after we've shared such a space. I didn't do anything; I didn't try to love them into health. I am simply present. And while that sounds simple, and it is, it is also difficult; the feelings are very difficult to be with. But as love grows in us, it teaches us how to remain open in such feelings. This is such a blessing.

PT: How powerful is hope as a healing agent?

RM: At first, hope is crucial; it keeps us from drowning when life brings us to a level of suffering that exceeds our faith. Sooner or later, everyone is tested in this way. Whatever we think we have mastered, whatever strength or faith we imagine we have, when presented with real suffering illness, the loss of a loved one the faith which seemed like a strong rope suddenly feels like a fraying thread. Hope is our life jacket, but hope itself is not healing. The agency of healing is the deeper relationship we must find to ourselves and to something more than ourselves in the midst of our suffering. It is the meaning that we bring to our lives in the midst of our suffering that is the real healing. And after the initial support, hope can become an obstacle, a form of denial, even an expression of our lack of faith. I am reminded of T.S. Eliot's poem. He says, "I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope. For hope would be hope for the wrong thing. Wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing. There is yet faith, but the faith and the love and hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought for you are not ready for thought. So the darkness shall be the light and the stillness the dancing." This beautiful poem talks about how, at a higher stage of spiritual development, love and hope and thought are fundamental obstacles. That's not true at an earlier stage. If you throw a child who doesn't know how to swim into a turbulent stream, he will likely drown. If you tie a strong rope to him and give him a life jacket before you put him in the stream, he will have hope and probably will survive. At a later stage of life, if someone is thrown into that turbulent mountain stream, she might completely relax and by not fighting, pass through the rapids, come into calm water, and step out. This ability to not struggle or hope, this surrender to what is, this is faith. This comes from a committed spiritual practice and from a life lived deeply.

PT: How important is spiritual practice in healing?

RM: That depends on what you mean by spiritual practice. For me, spiritual practice is the ultimate expression of sanity. Can there be healing without sanity? And sanity is relationship. Spiritual practice brings us into relationship with ourselves, and this cannot help but bring us closer to each other. And this growing intimacy is aliveness, is energy, is spirit. Energy is trapped in ignorance, in repetitive patterns of self-protection. This unconscious repression of our aliveness weakens us physically and psychologically. It makes us see our world as though it were outside and other. That's when the "enemy" is born and so much pain, so much destructiveness and suffering. Spiritual traditions give us finely honed tools and the invaluable understanding of those great ones who have come before us. But authentic spiritual practice is also always original. You live originally, and you are healthy regardless of the condition of your body.

PT: When is death a time of healing?

RM: Death is healing in many ways. For someone in a coma, on life support with no hope of coming back, death would be a profound healing for his family. When someone has suffered, death comes as a gift. But I think of death in a larger sense. Death is healing for human consciousness because death is the final humiliation for our egos. In the Hindu scripture, the Mahabarata, Arjuna, the hero of the spiritual journey, must penetrate into the deep ignorance of mankind in order to understand himself and save his own life. Finally he answers, "Everywhere we are surrounded by death, but no one believes he will die." Or even if we believe we will die, it is only a concept; we do not act that way, we do not live with reverence for the miracle of life. Our egos find ways around death with belief systems like reincarnation and life after death. These beliefs are a kind of life jacket so that we don't really allow death to work its miracle in our souls.

Death places in front of the human ego an insurmountable barrier, one ultimate humiliation. The ego thinks that it can co-opt the wisdom and genius of God and this universe, that it can control everything and solve every problem. That we may try to understand the universe is our gift to the universe. That we believe that we can bend everything to our will is our curse, for which death is a mighty medicine. Often, I have felt the fear of death, but as I grow older, I give thanks for death. I give thanks for something I can look toward and have no power to control, reverse or avoid. This brings me to profound humility and helplessness and unknowing. If every day, every human being would face death and remember death, we would make better, more heartfelt choices.

PT: Is an ongoing awareness of death a gift to our consciousness?

RM: Yes, a great gift. But we should not carry it to the point of morbidity; that's just another self-involvement game. Sometimes our egos need humiliation, not something to obsess over. We need something that stops our obsessive thinking and controlling, something that puts all our frantic activity into perspective, something that brings us to self-surrender and awe. Life leads us to this in many ways: when we witness a birth, a luminous sunset, a starry night, but also in illness, divorce, the loss of a job. Bette Davis made the point perfectly when she said, "Aging isn't for wimps." We need inspiration and humiliation to become humble. When will we stop believing we can exploit all the earth's resources? How weakly the United States responded to the global warming conference! There is a naivete and foolishness in human beings for which death is good medicine. Our egos can and have rationalized away death with all kinds of nonsense belief systems about the afterlife that ultimately weaken us. But death is stubborn. Thank God for that.

PT: What is the relationship of consciousness to healing?

RM: In an individual, less consciousness means less capacity for relationship, for feeling, for sympathy, and less likelihood of being hurt. The less conscious you are, the less you suffer because there is less consciousness, more is repressed, more remains unconscious. As we grow in consciousness, there is, at first, greater suffering. For example, we don't suffer childhood wounds until we start to remember them. This is the return to awareness of what has been repressed and which must now be suffered consciously in order for it to be healed.

PT: What do you mean by conscious suffering?

RM: It is feeling something fully. You would be surprised at how rarely people really let themselves fully feel anything. We try to disguise the feeling, or rationalize it, name it, think about it, or blame someone for it. But this is because we still aren't able to consciously allow the full feeling. It's like in the movie The Full Monty, the men didn't want to expose themselves; they didn't want to feel the embarrassment. But, of course, such allowing is a kind of suffering. And when you finally stop running away from some of the deeper feelings, then tremendous repressed energy is freed up, your very cells are transformed, your whole sense of yourself changes, and there is less fear and a lot more joy. All kinds of illness will suddenly just disappear.

PT: But we don't have to suffer to become conscious or for healing to take place?

RM: No and yes. I'm not saying we require suffering to become conscious, but more that where there is suffering, consciousness is incomplete, understanding is incomplete. The reality of life is that when there is suffering, we start to ask questions, we reexamine our behavior, our choices. No one starts smoking cigarettes because they are conscious. They start smoking to conform to a certain look, an idea of who they are. They haven't a clue who they really are. It's image and rebellion. Smoking is a ritual confession of unconsciousness and until it leads to suffering, smokers don't examine their behavior. The same for alcohol and drug abuse. No one becomes addicted consciously. Being conscious implies much deeper understanding of the origins and motives of one's choices. People become alcoholics or drug addicts precisely because they are unconscious about how to really engage their difficult feelings.

I am not blaming them. Where in our society are we seriously teaching people not to be afraid of feeling? This should begin in kindergarten. Emotional awareness and mastery should be the first things emphasized in grade school and high school. Math, science, even language skills are too powerful to hand over to emotionally unconscious people. Where have we as a society stood up to acknowledge the suffering our cultural values inflict on so many people? We create so many angry and disempowered people who turn to destructive behavior. Everywhere I go, even the well-off are universally bemoaning the lack of time, the sense of endless pressure. But the reason for this begins in every one of us the moment we turn away from a conscious relationship to difficult feelings. Every one of us is avoiding certain deep feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, the fear of nonexistence that have their root in early ego development. They are not real in any ultimate sense; they are artifacts of the nature of the ego's perception of separateness. Most of the time we are unaware of these feelings until we awake anxious in the middle of the night, or feel threatened by divorce, or illness and death. And then BAM! We're trembling in dread. These underlying fears haunt us until we have made a conscious effort to face them squarely. This is what I write about in my book The Second Miracle. Too much of so-called conscious life is nothing more than unconsciously compensating for these fears, especially the disease of consumerism. We are trying to fill a hole that cannot be filled, certainly not in this way.

If we are going to talk about consciousness and healing, shouldn't we go to the root of it? None of this can be healed until whatever is being avoided is felt nakedly and completely. This is true for each person in his own journey, and it is true for all of us as a society if we are to heal ourselves. And sorry to break the New Age bubble of love and light, but there is an element of this healing process that is suffering. But it is conscious suffering. It is heroic, redemptive suffering. Now you may be feeling terrible, but you are not the victim; you have become the disciple of your experience. As a disciple you are learning and growing, not merely reacting. And the terrible suffering is relatively brief when you meet it squarely. You are on a conscious path, and if you live it with real honesty and courage, the transformation and healing is tremendous.

PT: How do you define a true healer?

RM: A true healer is someone through whom the innermost self, God, or Mystery can appear to you in a form in which you can receive it. Every person who comes to a true healer finds a way for his or her faith to grow in the healing presence of that person.

PT: What are you currently exploring about healing?

RM: You mean in my personal life or in my teaching work, the edge?

PT: Yes, what are the edges you are exploring?

RM: Well, it's really the same thing. It's always the same thing: learning to love more fully, to live with an open heart. For my wife and myself and our family, to love one another is our growing edge the ability to live with and love one person and learn about ourselves in the beauty and friction of that commitment. And as a teacher, it is also about relationship. Twenty years ago, I believed that if you brought people to a higher energy where they experienced a higher consciousness, that was all that was needed. Healing, to the extent that it was possible for a particular person, would happen automatically, and it does. And I thought they would automatically go out and live new lives, with the new understanding. And some did. But most people don't have understanding. That is, most people don't actually have within themselves the very basis for a relationship to life that is ever renewing, ever self-inquiring in a healthy way. They have it, but it's more or less dormant. Most people the ones that are conscious seekers are trying to solve problems, they are trying to heal themselves, they want to be safe, immune from pain and fear. It's a natural reflex, but that is not what it means to live a real life. Not for me. How do you teach understanding, or insight? Not understanding something, not having specific insights, but the living relationship that is understanding and insight? That is the real healing. That is the real gift. I want to help ignite that gift. And this can't be taught simply. It has to be communicated, really transmitted, and that requires intimate, open relationship. That is the real challenge of my life as a teacher. To offer my life and invite that relationship in the healthiest way possible for me and the people who are attracted to me.

PT: Is there anything you want to add?

RM: I ask that each of us stop for one minute, as often as possible in our lives, and in prayer, embrace the intelligence that is bringing us forth in the midst of what often looks like a great deal of human mistake. I invite people to be, for a minute each day, a living prayer that honors the wholeness that is, always has been, and always will be.