Mark M had AIDS. His doctor’s prognosis was that he had two years to live. Mark decided that he could and would do something about this sentence. He would choose a different outcome. Through the use of diet and lifestyle changes, including the practice of meditation, Mark is still alive more than seven years later. Mark’s story is related in a book by holistic, medical practitioner, Dr Andrew Weil, called Spontaneous Healing.
Janice R was going through a marriage break-up. She was completely unprepared for the way her husband was reacting. She saw a side to him that had remained invisible during their twenty years together. Janice began to experience changes in her body. She started ‘spotting’ in between her periods. Her periods, previously occurring with clockwork precision, now occurred randomly. She would also burst into tears for no apparent reason, perhaps a symptom of depression. Her doctor referred her to a specialist who told her she needed to go on the pill and that she could expect to remain on it until she completed menopause. Feeling helpless and afraid at the time, Janice took her doctor’s advice. She stayed on the pill for eighteen months before deciding that she would not continue. She summoned feelings of strength and determination. Ten year later, her periods continue to remain regular and she has had no recurrence of ‘spotting’. Janice’s story was related to the researcher, Lucy Lopez.
Brandon Conner was due for surgery. At two, he had been hosting a tumour in his spine even while he was growing in his mother’s womb. He had what doctors call neuroblastoma, supposedly one of the deadliest forms of childhood cancer. On the eve of the surgery, scans showed no sign of the tumour, only fatty tissue. Brandon’s story and others are reported in cnn.com: http://www.cnn.com/2003/HEALTH/12/25/medical.miracles.ap/
I remember reading a report in the 70’s of a study on couples and their susceptibility to the ‘common cold’. Unfortunately, I do not have a reference I can give you to that report. What that study found, however, was that couples on their honeymoon were less likely to catch a cold than were couples who had been married for several years. The correlation the study was pointing to was that honeymooning couples were generally happier and that this state of mind correlated positively with a robust immune system and thus, good health.
The field of psychoneuroimmunology is a relatively new field in academic and medical research and practice. It brings together methods of investigation and bodies of knowledge that have traditionally remained separate. These bodies of knowledge have until recently remained exclusively within the discrete domains of medicine, psychology and neuroscience (to name a few). But the persistent (and for some, pesky) occurrence of the ‘placebo effect’ as well as stories of ‘spontaneous’ healing or healing without conventional medical intervention like the ones you’ve just read refuse to let sleeping dogs lie. Exceptions to ‘rules’ (read ‘theories in conventional medicine’) continue to challenge our expectations and beliefs about how healing occurs. Importantly, the correlation between mind, body and spirit is being treated with a regard and respect long lost within the cultures of modern science and medicine.
Traditional science and medicine, however, were far less divorced from spirituality than their modern-day offspring. The classical Hippocratic oath, written around 400 BC, hints not only of this happy marriage but also refers to the ‘art’ of healing. Where and why did the spiritual underpinnings and artistic approach go? What was gained or lost by this gradual dismissal of things spiritual and artistic?
It may surprise many of us to find in the modern day version of the same oath (still called by the name of its originator), the promise to remember “…that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug”.
The stories of Mark, Janice and Brendon cannot readily be explained by conventional medicine or science. However, you can expect to find explanations within spirituality and psychology, many of which have to do with one principle thing – beliefs about our self (which by reasoning also means beliefs about ‘god’). Within these frameworks, the notions of ‘belief’ and ‘faith’ (which is a particular form of belief) take centre stage.
Psychology’s strength lies in describing for us the correlation between beliefs and outcomes, particularly behavioural and cognitive outcomes. Spirituality, however, offers us additionally, the means to understand and experience the origination and unfolding of our ‘being’ from which our beliefs arise, the substratum, if you like, of our very thoughts, beliefs and experiences. This is what self-knowledge is about. It is no wonder that Plato and almost every notable spiritual tradition have exhorted us to ‘know thyself’ for it is only through discovering, understanding and knowing oneself that it becomes possible for us to discover, understand and know what makes us happy, and indeed, what makes us ‘healthy’.
To discover, understand and know ourselves requires that we enter a state that is free from beliefs about ourselves for these beliefs will determine what we ‘see’ and ‘experience’. It is a bit like thinking, “This is what a pumpkin is” and then finding something that matches that description. Now, you may think that there is nothing unreasonable about this, and in fact, you may actually recognize that this is what most people do with regard to most of their life experiences.
For all intents and purposes, we could coast along quite happily with our belief about our pumpkin. However, trouble awaits us when we are confronted with experiences that threaten our belief. Someone might show us something that does not at all match our belief about a pumpkin, claiming nonetheless that it is! Who are we to believe? Ourself or the other? How do we decide? Or our pumpkin may change and we are not prepared to accept the change. Do we therefore reject the change and hold on to our belief or do we accept the change and change or modify our belief? How do we decide? Or again, we could be shown something else that looks better than our pumpkin and even tastes better and can do so much more and is called a pumpkin too. In this instance, we may feel tempted to enlarge or expand our concept/belief of a pumpkin. How do we decide?
When we have already formed conclusions, i.e. when we see the world according to particular beliefs, it is difficult to see the world outside of these beliefs. But it is not impossible. And more importantly, it is absolutely necessary that we do, for it is only when we do that we can see ourselves beyond our conditioning, our ways of thinking, feeling and being that are anchored in our beliefs.
In spiritual traditions, particularly those of Buddhism and Hinduism, this state that is free from beliefs is referred to as the ‘unconditioned’ or ‘ultimate’ state of reality. It is a state of being that can be accessed and maintained to greater or lesser degrees by the practice of meditation, self-awareness, self-observation, mindfulness, or presence, terms that are often used interchangeably.
Einstein made the important observation that a problem cannot be solved at the level on which it occurs. The level of the problem must be transcended in order to see it outside the filters of our conditioning, outside the templates of our beliefs. When we do this, what we often find is that it is not the ‘problem’ (or event or situation as I prefer to call it), that causes us hardship, it is the very belief/s that we have in relation to the problem that are obstacles. In Janice’s case, changing her beliefs that caused her to feel guilty about her separation and about who and what controlled her body enabled her to regain her faith in herself and thus regain emotional and physical wellbeing. Mark’s belief that he could bring his body back to health motivated him to make the lifestyle changes that resulted in his continuing wellbeing. It is unlikely that an opposing belief would have produced these results.
It is only when we can step outside the templates of our beliefs that we can make true choices, choices relating to the validity and usefulness of those very beliefs, as well as choices relating to the actions we wish to take in relation to any event or situation in our lives.
There is no aspect of our lives that is not subject to our beliefs with the exception of one – the experience of the unconditioned state. And, understandably, it is in this state that we experience complete health and wellbeing.
Beliefs are the templates within us that determine how we see our world and ourselves. They are the thoughts that have become deeply embedded in our minds, having been accessed and used time and time again. “With your thoughts, you create the world”, said the Buddha and modern physics, notably quantum physics, has finally recognized and evidenced this truth.
Can we too experience the types of healing experienced by Mark, Janice and Brendon? I *believe* so :-)
© Lucy Lopez 2007
I SWEAR by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius, and Health, and All-heal, and all the gods and goddesses, that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this Oath and this stipulation- to reckon him who taught me this Art equally dear to me as my parents, to share my substance with him, and relieve his necessities if required; to look upon his offspring in the same footing as my own brothers, and to teach them this art, if they shall wish to learn it, without fee or stipulation; and that by precept, lecture, and every other mode of instruction, I will impart a knowledge of the Art to my own sons, and those of my teachers, and to disciples bound by a stipulation and oath according to the law of medicine, but to none others. I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion. With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art. I will not cut persons laboring under the stone, but will leave this to be done by men who are practitioners of this work. Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption; and, further from the seduction of females or males, of freemen and slaves. Whatever, in connection with my professional practice or not, in connection with it, I see or hear, in the life of men, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret. While I continue to keep this Oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art, respected by all men, in all times! But should I trespass and violate this Oath, may the reverse be my lot!
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.
I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.
I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.
Written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, and used in many medical schools today.
Lucy Lopez mentors and facilitates retreats and workshops in Personal and Spiritual growth and Integrated Healing.
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