Where mind goes, body follows

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Rationality has ruled many once-possible things out as 'irrational' (therefore impossible), and it must now find its way back to these things on its own terms. What was once accepted in the pre-rational world will once again be accepted in the trans-rational world; only it will reappear in a new guise, with a new terminology.

Moderns can no longer believe in non-rational techniques (of healing) because we have looked behind the curtain and seen the wizard, and from this there is no going back; his image is forever imprinted in our memory. We cannot return to the pre-rational state without willfully shutting off (repressing) an important element of our psyche.


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[One] method of harnessing the healing powers of the body in an indirect or passive way is the use of placebos. As commonly used a placebo is an inert substance, prepared to resemble an active drug and given to patients in experiments so as to have a basis of comparison for the results of that drug.

Usually the placebos have an effect as well, and the difference in degree between this effect and that of the drug is taken as a measure of the drug's effectiveness. For a drug to be marketed, it must outperform the placebo. If the investigators find no difference between real pills and placebos, they are led to believe that the physical medication was ineffective.

There is room for question here, however, because placebos can have powerful effects. In fact, a considerable part of the effect of most prescriptions is considered to be the placebo effect.

Placebo effects are real and powerful. Who is doing the healing when one takes a placebo? Why can't we just say to our minds, "repair this ailing body"? Why must we fool our minds in order to enlist our own powers of self-healing?

Placebos, hypnosis, autosuggestion, faith healing, visualization, positive thinking, bio-feedback are among the many ways we have learned to invoke these powers. Each can be seen as a device for changing mindsets, enabling us to move from an unhealthy to a healthy context.

The more we can learn about how to accomplish this mindfully and deliberately, rather than having to rely on these elaborate, indirect strategies, the more control we will gain over our own health.

The treatment of warts makes a graphic illustration of this self-healing power. Believed to be caused by viral invasion, warts qualify as a "real" physical condition: they are visible, touchable, and lasting. Yet they respond to hypnosis. As the biologist Lewis Thomas wrote, "warts can be made to go away by something that can only be called thinking or something like thinking ... It is one of the great mystifications of Science: warts can be ordered off the skin by hypnotic suggestion."

Despite the part we play in the healing that takes place under hypnosis, the process still feels somewhat passive. What are the ways we can work on our health more actively? First of all, we have to regain the control taken away by the experience of consulting an "expert" in a mindless fashion.

Ever since we relied on our mothers to make a bruised knee better with a Band-Aid and a kiss, we have held on to the assumption that someone out there, somewhere, can make us better.

Whenever we try to heal ourselves, and not abdicate this responsibility completely to doctors, each step is mindful. For example, we question destructive categories of disease (such as the image of cancer as a death sentence). We welcome new information, whether from our bodies or from books. We look at our illness from more than a single perspective (the medical one). We work on changing contexts, whether it is a stressful workplace or a depressing rather than a positive view of the hospital. Finally, the attempt to stay healthy rather than to be "made well" necessarily involves us with process rather than outcome.

Consider how you learned to ride a bike. Someone older and taller held on to the seat to keep you from falling, until you found your balance. Then, without your knowledge, that strong hand let go and you were on your own. You controlled the bicycle without even knowing it.

The same is true for all of us for most of our lives. We control our health, or the course of our diseases, without really knowing that we do. On the bike, however, at some point you realized that you were in control. Now may be the time to learn how to recognize and use our control over illness.

In a sense, we should be able to "take" a placebo instead of a pill. Conceiving of the mind and body as one means that wherever we put the mind, we may be able to put our bodies. For most of us, at present at least, the mind may have to be fooled to reach a healthy place. Once we learn to put it there consciously, the evidence suggests that the body may well follow.

[Ellen Langer]
Mindfulness, p.188, 189, 190, 191, 192, 193, 194, 195


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There are many factors involved [in healing], but the belief of the patient also must be there because that's what initiates the healing process.

A man who was born blind was brought to Jesus. The first thing Jesus did was spit on some dirt and put it on those eyes. Then he told the blind man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. When he did, his eyes opened and he could see again.

Where was the healing? Was it in the dirt? In the spit? In the pool? If it was, why don't we make a pilgrimage to that pool now? Or use dirt and spit for blind people?

Jesus, being the son of God, had divine powers. He could have commanded those eyes to see again; he didn't have to go through all those steps, but he did. The placebo effect was taking place. Every step increased the faith of that blind man: "This is going to help me. This will do it."  

Eighty or even 90 percent of that healing came from within the patient. It wasn't the dirt, of the spit, or the pool. That patient had within himself the necessary power to open the way to make healing a reality.

Suppose you had a throbbing headache and I said, "Hold this stick for two minutes and your headache will go away." You come from a culture that has to prove everything - this must square with that - so you analyse it as you hold it. "What in the world can cure me of my headache? The colour here? The kind of wood? The length of the stick?" You're still analysing it and two minutes later you still have that throbbing headache.

But let's say you respond with, "You told me that if I hold this, my headache will go away. I'll do that." Finally two minutes pass and, sure enough, your headache is gone. What healed you? Was it the stick? The colour? The kind of wood? You had it within you to cure yourself in the first place and I just pressed a little button for you to make yourself well.

[Bear Heart]
The Wind is My Mother, p. 88-9

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Construct it differently
The Power of Context
Look again
Keep it real
Guiding Ficiton
Making it up as we go along
Pre/trans

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