I was very sorry to hear that Ken Wilber, whose work I admire enormously, has recently been very unwell. While weakened by an underlying chronic illness, he took a nasty fall that has left him pretty badly bruised, and with some possible neurological problems. Fortunately he is already somewhat better.
According to Ken, his underlying illness is a form of chronic fatigue syndrome called or caused by RNase-L Enzyme Dysfunction. People with the problem develop a number of bizarre symptoms apart from fatigue, including muscle weakness, fevers and immune dysfunction. The RNase enzyme is normally activated when a cell has to deal with viruses, some toxins and some bacteria. There is a good introduction here.
There is a growing literature on the subject: investigators from Brussels have recently shown a link between exercise performance and immune dysfunction in some of these patients. It may be that elevated RNase-L enzyme activity may provide us with a biological marker for some cases of chronic fatigue syndrome. Despite this research, I still have many colleagues who continue to say that chronic fatigue syndrome and a probably related condition, Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome, are purely psychological problems.
I am quite sure that they are wrong.
Not least because there are very few illnesses that can be reduced to just psychological or just physical causes. These artificial distinctions do little to help people suffering with genuine problems. (You may be interested to have a look at a brief piece that I wrote about this artificial distinction.)
I do know that the most difficult problems that I have ever faced in clinical practice have been the chronic fatigue syndromes and a possibly related problem: interstitial cystitis. The only things that have helped have been approaches employing the five dimensional approach: physical, psychological, social, subtle and spiritual.
And now I’m going to go out on a limb and do something that normally I do not. I will normally not make even the broadest comments about someone’s diagnosis and treatment unless I’ve seen them myself: there are few things worse than people trying to diagnose at long range and when they only have half the information. But when I see symptoms like these: fatigue and fever, physical weakness and sometimes profound psychological effects, I have to ask whether the biochemical markers are actually telling us something different: that some people with these problems may actually have what used to be known as “diseases of discipleship.” An old-fashioned term used to describe some of the physical challenges and changes that may accompany spiritual evolution. If I am correct, I would predict that Ken - and many other sufferers - should also have profound disturbances of their normal circadian rhythms, some predictable but subtle endocrine disturbances, and otherwise inexplicable sensations roughly corresponding to the channels identified in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.
One of the most startling recent discoveries in medicine has been that some of the time-honored laws of healing are changing, because we are ourselves changing very rapidly. In Healing, Meaning and Purpose, I spent a long time talking about some of the reasons for coming to that understanding, and how to use it to improve our health and well-being. I fully expect to spend the remainder of my career showing people how these new laws and principles can help us all, as well as ensuring that appropriate research continues to help us develop these new understandings about health and wellness.
So I’m going to suggest that Ken’s problems might never have happened if he hadn’t been on such a deep spiritual quest, and if he hadn’t been turning up a lot of answers that matter.
Get well Ken!
Technorati tags: Ken Wilber Chronic fatigue syndrome RNase deficiency Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome Interstitial cystitis Spiritual development Circadian rhythm Integrated medicine Integrative medicine Laws of Healing