Sometimes people ask me about the phrase, Refuah Tikun Chai.
Is it just a general label, a way to bring all the RTC techniques together under one roof? Do the meanings of the three words — heal, repair, live — refer to the methods of RTC or to its goals? Can the practitioner focus on just one aspect of RTC meditation, and set aside the others? Is there a hidden or esoteric meaning?
The answer to all those questions is yes — and no.
RTC is something you do. It’s not a series of philosophical statements you memorize. You don’t have to belong to a particular religion or political party, or any religion or party, to practice it. It isn’t a rigid abstract set of principles you apply without consideration for your situation. (Quite the contrary.)
But the three words that give Refuah Tikun Chai its name are not just empty sounds. I think of them as guidelines — areas of spirit and practice to which the Refuah Tikun Chai practitioner gives his or her attention, but also as areas that can serve as a platform for further flights.
Still, every flight has a starting point. And the three words, Refuah, Tikun, Chai do indeed name areas of spirit and spiritual and physical practice I think are necessary places to begin.
Let’s look at each one in turn.
Refuah — heal.
Do I mean to suggest by this that anyone who comes to RTC must come to it sick and damaged? No, not at all.
But sad to say, some are. All too many are. After all, those of us who live in the modern world live in an ever more toxic environment. Polluted air, unnatural food, noise pollution, work stress, nutritional imbalance, social conflicts, relentless immersion in a disconnected and disturbing stream of media — very few of us emerge from modern day-to-day life without subtle and invisible scars, scars of body and of mind.
To heal is to ride the counter-tide, the opposing wave. We have all cut our fingers and seen the cut heal, bruised our arms and seen the bruise slowly fade, experienced pain and loss and then suddenly one day found ourselves aware that the pain has diminished, the loss become a memory of sweetness. We heal, and we heal naturally.
What does that mean? It means that simply by being human, there is always a part of us, physically and emotionally, working constantly to make us whole and healthy again, whatever hurts we may have experienced.
Meditating on the word and meaning of Refuah allows us to recall, trigger, even stimulate that process. Refuah serves to remind us of the limitations of injury, of its transience: it calls us to that essential strength we have that is always there, of recuperative forces within tirelessly operating to take us “back to even,” to restore us, to return us to who and what we are meant to be.
But isn’t that the same as Tikun — repair? Isn’t that just saying the same thing?
No. Tikun is a very ancient word, and there are many books written exploring its meaning and how that meaning has developed. But typically nowadays the word Tikun itself has come to mean “rectification,” and in particular a rectification that involves actual spiritual effort. And not only spiritual effort. Tikun Olam, “mending the world,” has come to take on especial significance for ethical activists in modern society.
Both these emphases are part of what RTC means by Tikun. For Refuah is intrinsic and natural: the healing it entails is not something we need to force or engineer: it is just there, and it is always there. And so is the goal of Refuah: the natural health that is our birthright. We open ourselves to Refuah. Like a deer following us in the forest, it comes to us not when we strenuously and loudly pursue it, but when we are quiet and silent. It approaches most easily when we relax, allowing it to come, because its appearance is natural. It is like the meaning of the Tao: it is “the way of things.”
But it is also the way of things to be active. And it is especially the way of human beings to be not merely what they are, but to strive to be better – and to strive for (and in) a better world.
Just as we were designed naturally to heal, so we were designed naturally to act. It’s almost as though Nature were a doting parent, always caring for us, but at the same time encouraging us to learn to better care for ourselves, and for others. Alone, it will take us far. Very far. But only so far. The rest of the way we must take ourselves.
Consider. Our teeth are wonderful things, but if we neglect them, they stop being wonderful. Our muscles are wonderful things, but running or weight training will take them to a higher level of health and efficiency and beauty than just lying passively on a sofa, indulging ourselves.
That kind of “rest” does not open us to healing but actually to injury. Yes, we do heal naturally. But we can shape our actions, our thoughts and our physical and social environments, to encourage that healing — and even to take us beyond it, not merely to health but to overabundant physical and mental efficiency, speed and strength.
Tikun can be tricky. Not everything we do to make ourselves better succeeds. Not everything we do to “repair the world” works. Part of doing Tikun properly involves looking very closely at the results of our efforts, not merely our intentions.
But meditating on Tikun opens us to an extra, uniquely human dimension of being. Tikun teaches us to dream. More, it fosters and encourages us to make our dreams realities. Refuah raises us from illness to what we were designed to be, but Tikun takes us beyond that to what we might be, and – no less important – takes us out of ourselves to encounter the world and others.
And the encounter of ourselves and others, the days of our life in the world, the passage from what is to the creation of what will be — this is Chai. Life.
Refuah brings us up to par, it readies us to live. Tikun allows us to envision, project, plan, launch ourselves towards that life. Chai is the step beyond: it is life. It is our lived experience, the actual reality of our days: what really is, and who we truly are.
Just as Tikun continues and builds on Refuah, so Chai continues and builds on Tikun: it is the step beyond dreaming and planning and striving, the moment of presence, of actual being.
And, like Tikun, Chai too has its challenges. For life is feedback. We may strive for health, wealth, achievement, even wisdom and enlightenment. But the lives we live and the record of our days are also the records of our successes and our failures. True, the actual experience of life will always be more than simply what that experience teaches us. Even so, it tells us a good deal — how far we have come, how far we have yet to go.
And by informing us of that, it returns us full circle to Refuah: it tells us how much we have healed, whether and how much more healing is needed, how far along we are in our RTC meditative practice, and what direction our practice should now take. That is why listening to Chai can be as rich and meaningful as living it.
It’s quite possible to go into profoundly deep meditation given such deep subjects. But Refuah Tikun Chai is not about the enjoyment of meditation for its own sake (though it is that too). It is a practical tool.
Yes, one can meditate deeply on each word and its implications and depths.
But one can also simply repeat the words over and over, as in Transcendental Meditation, purely to wash out the monotonous repetition of negative thoughts that afflict so many of us.
One can concentrate of the sheer feel of the words as one recites them, allowing them to shape one’s breathing, calm one’s heart rate, lower one’s blood pressure, as we merge with the music of the mantra.
One can even direct the three elements of Refuah Tikun Chai as originally intended, purely to restore physical health. But the mind needs healing too. And the spirit. Which of us with mental challenges does not want healing, repair, and a life that is sane and clear. Who that is spiritually troubled does not want to take a like path?
One can go beyond even that. Is there not a Refuah Tikun Chai of relationships? Can an injured relationship not be healed? If meditation, mutual meditation, is undertaken, it isn’t hard to imagine relationships being restored to health. Is it not possible to take an active part — Tikun — in improving a relationship? To at least envision or dream — again, Tikun — of how relations might be better? Won’t meditative attention to the results of those efforts, to the actual lived relationship — Chai — show us both the joys and sorrows that follow, and indicate to us new directions to take, new aspects to consider?
Nor is RTC practice restricted even to the individual practitioner alone. Do societies not “heal” when they pass from war to peace? Do we not envision better ways of living with one another and actively strive to repair the faults in the society around us? And when we live the results, don’t we learn something from it? If only, perhaps, that our experience is precious, and our lives meaningful?
With a universe so infinitely full of surprise and potential, with a life so endlessly rich in challenges and possibilities, don’t we need a way to approach all that that is infinitely flexible as well?
Refuah. Tikun. Chai.