Thoughts On Illness, Healing, And The Mind



The Placebo Effect 

Our Own Natural Ability To Heal  

The Power Of Prayer:  More On The Impact Of Beliefs 

Hypnosis As A Doorway To Belief  

The Utility Of The Illness 

Guided Imagery:  Inner Vision And Disease  

Belief And Doubt 

The Case Of Stigmata, And What They Reveal About Healing 

Healing Lessons From Multiple Personality Disorder 

Summary:  Strategies For Healing 




For a time, as the benefits of rational thinking and the weight of cumulative scientific discoveries grew in our civilization, illness and disease came to be seen almost exclusively as products of material reality - as the work of bacteria, viruses, genetic defects or dispositions, and the body’s vulnerability to harmful forces, impacts, chemical "stressors", radiation, and so on. Similarly, healing and recovery were seen mainly in terms of material reality. What medicines could be applied to destroy the infectious agents? How could the injured, weakened body be relieved by surgery, diet, rest, exercise, or climate? How could the broken-down machine be repaired? The role of the mind was downplayed, except, perhaps, in its capacity (as the Will To Live and the Fighting Spirit) to help some patients "hang on" and make it through rough times, while others less emotionally endowed folded and "gave up."

Now, as time goes on, more and more scientists, doctors, and practitioners of the healing arts are beginning to accept and even emphasize the role of the mind in guarding, preserving and restoring our health. They do not discount or underestimate the value of the work of mainstream science and medicine, which have contributed vital, life-saving knowledge, cures, procedures, and technologies to our human repertoire of healing, but they do feel that it is time to renew our respect for the psychological and spiritual factors underlying our health - factors which were often highly appreciated in pre-modern cultures. (Naturally, this new wave of doctors and healers seeks to fuse the best of the "new" with the best of the "old", as ancient times, also, sometimes produced terrible and destructive manifestations of "superstition", including witch-burnings, persecutions, wholesale massacres - as when Christians blamed Jews for the Black Death of the Middle Ages, and launched ferocious attacks against them - and a wide range of tribal wars and sacrifices, carried out as "spiritual vendettas" or "spiritual mechanisms of defense"…)

As a preface to this article, I wish to state that I DO believe there are genuine physiological roots and causes for disease; that sickness is not purely and universally a creation of the mind; and that "material treatments" of bodily afflictions are often valuable, and indispensable. This may seem to be obvious, but as the New Age develops and grows, some proponents of the role of "mind and spirit" in human health are probably de-emphasizing the importance of physiology and material factors too much, as an overreaction to the way in which these factors were previously given "all the credit" for illness and wellness alike. I wish to take a "middle course", here, retaining respect for the vast amount of medical knowledge and expertise which "modern civilization" has built up over the years, while reminding readers of the great powers of healing which exist within the human mind and spirit - powers which are there to use, waiting only to be believed in and harnessed, to help us maintain and recover our health.

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The Placebo Effect

One of the most dramatic proofs of the power of the mind to heal the body comes from the annals of science itself, from a phenomenon known as the "placebo effect." A "placebo" is, of course, a "fake medicine or treatment" which the patient is led to believe is "real", and which he therefore believes is likely to have a positive effect upon his condition. As a medicine, the placebo is frequently nothing more than a "sugar pill" provided to a patient, who believes (is told) that it is a powerful and effective medicine. As a treatment, the placebo may be anything from a fake physical or electrical technique performed upon the body, to "fake surgery", in which the patient is actually left with incisions on the body and told that a successful operation has just been performed. Placebos are most respectably used in the context of scientific experiments to determine the effectiveness of a new medicine or treatment which is under study. One group of patients will typically be given the genuine medicine or treatment, and another group will be given the placebo. The scientist will want to compare the results between these two groups - (and often other groups as well) - in order to make sure that the medicine/treatment being tested is really effective (produces significantly better results among patients than does the placebo. For example, if the new medicine/treatment, tested on a sample of about 1000 people, produces a 55% recovery rate, compared to 54% for the placebo, the new medicine/treatment may be considered to be not especially effective. However if the rates were 70% and 54%, respectively, the new medicine/treatment might then be considered to be "promising.") In the most well-designed tests, neither the doctor nor the patient will know which medicine is real and which medicine is not, so that the doctor’s attitude about the medicine/placebo will not be able to rub off on the patient, who often responds positively or negatively to subtle cues of confidence or pessimism exuded by his healthcare provider.

Naturally, in tests of this sort, it is expected that the placebo should have a minimal effect on the condition of the patient, who is not expected to be healed by it, or to have his condition significantly improved in any way. After all - how should he be cured by medicine that’s only fake? What doctors have found, however, in various experiments and tests of this design, is that placebos sometimes do seem to have a significant effect upon the condition of patients, leading to improved outcomes which outpace the results seen in groups that are receiving no treatment or medicine, and sometimes even the results of those groups which are receiving the experimental medicine! In cases such as this, the mind, armed with the belief that recovery is possible, appears to be demonstrating a remarkable ability to heal the body (or to resuscitate/activate the body’s power to heal). It is as though the healing power were already there, waiting for us behind a closed door, which belief and hope are able to open. (As one popular song says, inverting the famous phrase "I have to see it to believe it", there are some places "that [have] to be believed [in order] to be seen." [1] And sometimes our health may be one such place.)

Probably one of the most dramatic examples of this power of belief, and how it can impact upon our health, is given by Michael Talbot in his classic book on alternative understandings of reality, The Holographic Universe. As this is a tremendously powerful story, which could provide great benefits for some readers - and as I could not retell it any more effectively than it was originally written - I will quote it, in full, from Talbot’s work: "Our minds have the power [to heal many afflictions], but because we are unaware that we possess the power, we must be fooled into using it. This might almost be comic if it were not for the tragedies that often result from our ignorance of our own power.

"No incident better illustrates this than a now famous case reported by psychologist Bruno Klopfer. Klopfer was treating a man named Wright who had advanced cancer of the lymph nodes. All standard treatments had been exhausted, and Wright appeared to have little time left. His neck, armpits, chest, abdomen, and groin were filled with tumors the size of oranges and his spleen and liver were so enlarged that two quarts of milky fluid had to be drained out of his chest every day.

"But Wright did not want to die. He had heard about an exciting new drug called Krebiozen, and he begged his doctor to let him try it. At first his doctor refused because the drug was only being tried on people with a life expectancy of at least three months. But Wright was so unrelenting in his entreaties, his doctor finally gave in. He gave Wright an injection of Krebiozen on Friday, but in his heart of hearts he did not expect Wright to last the weekend. Then the doctor went home.

"To his surprise, on the following Monday he found Wright out of bed and walking around. Klopfer reported that his tumors had ‘melted like snowballs on a hot stove’ and were half their original size. This was a far more rapid decrease in size than even the strongest X-ray treatments could have accomplished. Ten days after Wright’s first Krebiozen treatment, he left the hospital and was, as far as his doctors could tell, cancer free. When he had entered the hospital he had needed an oxygen mask to breathe, but when he left he was well enough to fly his own plane at 12,000 feet with no discomfort.

"Wright remained well for about two months, but then articles began to appear asserting that Krebiozen actually had no effect on cancer of the lymph nodes. Wright, who was rigidly logical and scientific in his thinking, became very depressed, suffered a relapse, and was readmitted to the hospital. This time his physician decided to try an experiment, He told Wright that Krebiozen was every bit as effective as it had seemed, but that some of the initial supplies of the drug had deteriorated during shipping. He explained, however, that he had a new highly concentrated version of the drug and could treat Wright with this. Of course the physician did not have a new version of the drug and intended to inject Wright with plain water. To create the proper atmosphere he even went through an elaborate procedure before injecting Wright with the placebo.

"Again the results were dramatic. Tumor masses melted, chest fluid vanished, and Wright was quickly back on his feet and feeling great. He remained symptom-free for another two months, but then the American Medical Association announced that a nationwide study of Krebiozen had found the drug worthless in the treatment of cancer. This time Wright’s faith was completely shattered. His cancer blossomed anew and he died two days later.

"Wright’s story is tragic, but it contains a powerful message. When we are fortunate enough to bypass our disbelief and tap the healing forces within us, we can cause tumors to melt away over night.

"In [this] case of Krebiozen only one person was involved, but there are similar cases involving many more people. Take a chemotherapeutic agent called cis-platinum. When cis-platinum first became available it, too, was touted as a wonder drug, and 75% of the people who received it benefited from the treatment. But after the initial wave of excitement and the use of cis-platinum became more routine, its rate of effectiveness dropped to about 25 to 30%. Apparently most of the benefit obtained from cis-platinum was due to the placebo effect." [2]

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Our Own Natural Ability To Heal

As many incidences of the "placebo effect" seem to indicate, we are endowed with a great natural system of healing, which probably, at its most effective, involves a positive interaction of body and mind.

The belief that our own body-mind system is actually our greatest healing resource may seem somewhat "odd" here, in the heart of Western civilization, where we have become accustomed to viewing healing as the result of the intervention of outside material forces, such as medicine and surgery, acting upon our bodies. But in some health systems, such as the traditional Chinese system of acupuncture, the perspective that the body-mind system is its own healer lies at the root of all treatment. And in this case, the doctor’s involvement with his patient is less an "outside intervention" than a "readjustment" or "fine tuning" of an existing system.

Specifically, acupuncture is based upon the Chinese concept of "chi", or "vital energy", which is said to flow through the body along various "meridians", or energy pathways. "Blocks" or "obstructions" along some pathways may prevent some organs and parts of the body from receiving the energy needed to function properly; while pathways that are "overloaded" or "flooded" with chi may carry too much energy to specific organs or parts of the body, "overexciting" and wearing these parts out. The practitioner of acupuncture attempts to influence the flow of chi throughout the body by means of appropriately placing needles along the meridians, either increasing or decreasing the flow of chi to select parts of the body as needed. The aim is to restore balance - to realign the body, and restore, to it, its own healing powers and natural state of health.

It seems that our beliefs, attitudes, and expectations - forces residing in our mind, which are often shaped by external cultural influences and by our social experiences - play a major role in determining how much of its enormous potential this natural healing system can actually mobilize on our behalf; and in defining what our body can and cannot do in its own defense.

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The Power Of Prayer: More On The Impact Of Beliefs

For many years, as the "Scientific Revolution" gained intellectual ascendancy here, in the West, and the intensity of religious faith declined, prayer remained as a tool of survival and struggle for the poor and the desperate, whenever they were confronted with a sickness which they could not afford to treat, or which the experts proclaimed could not be treated. No doubt, the modern worldview, by weakening the common man’s belief in the supernatural, undermined his ability to believe deeply in the kind of miracle needed to save him, once the doctors had given up. (Although he might try to force himself to believe in the power of divine intervention, that is a very different thing from really believing in it.)

Nonetheless, prayer remained as a mechanism for seeking health in the midst of sickness, and comfort in the midst of pain. And it seems that many times, it worked! (Apparently, many individuals had retained a strong sense of faith, even in the midst of our skeptical and materialistic society, while others developed it, finally finding God within the crucible of their affliction.) Miraculous cures did not end with the days of the Bible. Science, of course, has traditionally doubted these kinds of tales, which tend to be "anecdotal", not rigorously documented, and certainly not properly observed from beginning to end, in the manner of a scientific study. But that does not mean that they have not occurred. Many of us have some personal knowledge of individuals whose healing radically defied the expectations of doctors. And the cumulative weight of "anecdotal evidence" seems too great to dismiss. (There are also some very well documented cases, such as the case of Vittorio Michelli, who was cured of a terrible disease as a result of a 1962 trip to the Christian healing center of Lourdes. [3] In this instance, doctors’ reports and testimony, and before-and-after X-rays, were available to support the story.) Of course, this does not mean that "medical miracles" are commonplace, nor does it mean that God is necessarily the explanation. It is also possible that the cures that have taken place have been the result of some form of "spiritual placebo effect" - produced by the belief in God (the belief that healing is possible through God), rather than by God, Himself.

Recently, there has been a string of scientific experiments, conducted by various research teams, to test the effect of prayer upon the recovery and well-being of patients. These experiments are generally not aimed at documenting "miracle cures", but at attempting to objectively determine if there are any medical benefits to prayer, by comparing recovery times, incidences of hospitalization, and other relevant indicators between different groups of patients suffering from similar ailments, some of whom are prayed for, and some of whom are not. (There have also been efforts to observe the effect of patients’ prayers and faith upon their own health.) It seems pretty clear from these experiments and observations that faith and prayer do have a positive effect on the well-being of patients. People who pray and have a strong belief in God seem to have an extra tool in fighting for their health, which could be seen as God, or merely as the greater belief that health is possible through God, which could stimulate the "placebo effect." Patients who are prayed for by others also seem to do better, which could, once again, be a result of God’s support. ("Ask, and it shall be given you…") [4] Or, on the other hand, the positive results could just be the result of belief (the "placebo effect"); or knowing that one is loved and cared for - part of an emotionally-connected group of human beings - not just an abandoned and isolated hermit, whose life and death matters to no one.

Lately, some of these experiments have gone beyond attempting to document the value of faith and prayer (whose benefits could be seen as either proof of the power of human psychology, or the power of God), and have begun to actually attempt to prove, or to suggest, the existence of God. Experiments with this objective have divided patients into one group that is prayed for, and one that is not; and the experiments with the best design have told neither patient nor doctor which is the group that is being prayed for, in order to filter out the possibility that the observed effects are merely psychological. Several such experiments claim to have demonstrated that those who are prayed for do much better than those who do not, which they claim suggests the existence of God. (Since no one knows who is really being prayed for, it is said that the mere fact that those who are being prayed for actually do better is proof that a non-psychological, objective factor - which advocates claim is God - is at work.) On the other hand, the reported results could also be an indication of the existence of some form of psychic communication between people, enabling long-distance healing.

While these experiments are definitely intriguing, I believe there is still a way to go before they can be considered to be "scientifically conclusive", especially since some research teams may be trying too hard, at this early stage, to generate the results which they (and we all) want.

Whatever the case, a few conclusions certainly can be drawn from all this. Prayer and faith are, quite clearly, helpful assets in the struggle to be healthy. If you are religious, you will believe that this extra power of healing manifests as a result of God, and your connection to God. If you are not religious, you can still take heart from this, for even if it is only one more example of the "placebo effect", it demonstrates the power of belief in liberating the body’s healing potential - and if you can allow yourself to believe in the power of belief - not in God, but in that innate healing potential which all human beings carry within themselves - then you, too, will have the key to unlock the door.

As for myself, I do believe in the value of prayer, and I do believe in spiritual/divine power, and in our human ability to connect with this power, which we sometimes call God. In spite of this, I would never urge anyone to abandon modern medicine and to rely exclusively and rigidly upon faith for all of their health needs; for sometimes, God heals us by leading us to competent and compassionate doctors. Still, though, I believe that God and Spirit are there to help us in our struggle to be well, and that we should call upon them frequently, and always seek to stay in touch with them - for it is within that circle of connectedness that we are safest. And when modern medicine lets go of us, or will not open the door to let us in, God and Spirit will still be there…

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Hypnosis As A Doorway To Belief

Clearly, the ability to believe that we can and will be healed is an important factor in recovery from illness. It seems that our beliefs, positive or negative, may open pathways for some realities to manifest, and choke other realities before they are able to emerge from the depths of our longing.

One tool that is sometimes used to attempt to construct or fortify our beliefs regarding certain aspects of our lives is HYPNOSIS. In as much as hypnosis is sometimes able to inculcate us with positive outlooks and beliefs which we lacked before, it is most definitely a potentially powerful tool on the side of our recovery and good health.

What is hypnosis? It is, essentially, a state of deep relaxation in which the subconscious mind - which is the repository of, and underlying engine behind, many of our strongest beliefs, attitudes, wishes, and memories - is rendered more accessible to the influence of the conscious mind. In the state of hypnosis, submerged memories from the past, forgotten by the conscious mind but still stored in the subconscious, may be recalled; while deep-seeded belief systems which sabotage or obstruct the efforts of our conscious will and our conscious desires, may be entered, and rebuilt in more positive ways. (You could say that under hypnosis, the conscious mind may begin to reprogram damaged or damaging elements of the subconscious.) In matters of health, hypnosis’ ability to construct and/or invigorate belief in a positive outcome at a deep (subconscious) level, casts it as a potentially valuable tool in our struggle to be well.

The principal two ways in which hypnosis is used to abet the healing process are (1) by means of infusing the patient with healing suggestions, and (2) by means of helping the patient to uncover hidden factors which may be responsible for his illness.

In the first case, the patient is brought into a state of hypnosis by an induction (talking and guided imagery are often used to relax the patient and bring his focus inwards, into the "hypnotic state"). Once in that state, the therapist will make "suggestions" for healing, attempting to plant/activate the belief within the patient that he really can be healed, that his pain or symptoms really can disappear, that he really can feel better. In the state of hypnosis, there is a heightened receptivity to suggestions of this sort, and there is a far greater likelihood that the patient’s system will respond favorably than if he were "higher up" the ladder of consciousness, receiving the suggestions only at the level of his conscious mind. (The difference between making suggestions to the conscious mind and making suggestions to the subconscious mind could be compared to the difference between planting seeds in stony, poor soil, or in good earth. In the soil of the subconscious, the seed of positive change is much more likely to grow.)

In the second case, once the patient is brought into the hypnotic state, the therapist concentrates his efforts on finding the roots of an existing illness, and then uses the information/insight that is gained to try to overcome it. At times, a physical cause which has been missed by doctors may be revealed. (In one incident not directly involving hypnosis, but involving the dream state - which has some similarities to hypnosis in that the subconscious is also active and busy turning up material from the mind’s "depths" - a woman pinpointed the cause of her illness in a dream. She then went to the doctor, and when he checked her out on the basis of her new "hunch", he found that she had, indeed, located the hidden source of her illness, which was responsible for the symptoms she was experiencing in other parts of her body. Conventional medical action was then taken to correct the problem at the source.) At other times, hypnosis may be used to discover an emotional cause for the illness, and action may then be taken on a psychological level to remedy the problem. It is a well-known fact that many diseases and conditions have an emotional root, whether that root is merely the exhaustion and burn-out of important bodily systems caused by stress, subconscious self-destructive tendencies produced by guilt ("I don’t deserve to be well"), or still more complicated and dramatic forms of psychosomatic illness, which may even include cases of "hysterical" (emotionally-induced) blindness, deafness, and paralysis. In cases such as this, where doctors are unable to find organic causes for the disorder, it is possible that hypnosis may be able to uncover a deep emotional cause, providing a (psychological) avenue for treatment. (Exotic though these cases sound, they are actually far more common than might be imagined. Just in the course of my normal existence, I ran into two people who had suffered in this way. One suffered a dramatic reduction in her ability to hear, as her mind seemed to shut down the auditory part of her body during a time of intense criticism and persecution - it was as though she wanted to close out the world that had become so hostile to her. She later spontaneously recovered her hearing. The other lost, regained, then lost again her sight, without doctors ever being able to discover an organic cause for her blindness.) On a larger scale, incidences of non-organic blindness - blindness produced by the mind - sometimes thrive in areas of intense violence, where both children and adults have seen loved ones brutally killed in front of their eyes and, overwhelmed by the pain of the visual world, seem driven to retreat from it into the darkness.

One of the most interesting examples of hypnosis being used to heal a case of non-organic blindness, which I know of, is reported by Dr. Bruce Goldberg in Past Lives, Future Lives. [5] In this instance, a woman lost her sight unexpectedly, for no obvious reason, and medical specialists were unable to identify any organic damage or condition which could account for it. Eventually, by means of hypnotic regression, a psychological cause for the affliction was discovered (the woman was afraid of being punished for seeing something she wasn’t supposed to), and once the power of the threat was diminished (the dangerous circumstances were understood to no longer apply), the woman’s sight was restored. (In this case, a "past-life regression" was involved. For more on this kind of regression, see this web site’s section on "past-life regressions." Whether the woman in question was actually tapping into past-life memory in this case, or whether her subconscious mind was constructing a "past-life fantasy" as a metaphorical tool for dealing with a present-life crisis in an indirect way, is a matter of interpretation. But metaphysical significance aside, the therapy worked.)

The potential effectiveness of hypnosis on "psychosomatic" disorders is well-known. In the 1700s, Franz Mesmer, an Austrian healer who, for a time, created a sensation mainly amidst ladies of high society in Paris, pulled off a string of impressive cures of these kinds of ailments with his "animal magnetism", involving dubious science, ritual-like procedures, and personal charisma. Although he was eventually branded a fraud and a charlatan by a panel of "peers", who found his "scientific theories" to be lacking in credibility or sense, the fact is that he did have some legitimate success amidst all his hype and showmanship. And that success could most surely be attributed to a form of hypnosis. By convincing many of his subjects that they could and would be well in his unscientific but frequently effective "theater of healing", he actually awakened their bodies’ own natural powers of healing. And his "con job" or "self-delusion" - whatever it was - was, therefore, the spark that ignited their recovery. Later, in the 1800s, a more serious hypnotist and psychologist, J. Charcot, produced some spectacular results (healing of the "blind" and the "crippled") by means of hypnosis - results which made a strong impression on many psychologists and medical practitioners, including Dr. Sigmund Freud. (Although some would consider it sacrilege to speak in this way, many modern non-religious scientists and doctors would also attribute some of Jesus’ most spectacular cures to the "hypnotic effect" of his charisma impacting upon the minds of "psychosomatically afflicted" individuals. They would speculate that the power of Jesus’ belief in the possibility of healing was so strong that it swept up those who were ill, and carried them away, back to their own innate power to heal. Jesus’ belief, in other words, created or restored belief within others, and freed them to be healthy. Of course, for Christians, Jesus’ miracle cures are believed to have come, through him, from God.)

While the potential effectiveness of hypnosis in treating, or helping to treat, psychosomatic, non-organic health conditions is widely recognized, what of its ability to treat more "substantive", "organic" ailments? From what we have already learned about the "placebo effect", and the impact of belief on healing, logic tells us that hypnosis (as a potential stimulant and builder of belief) should also offer important benefits in the treatment of organic afflictions. And there is some evidence that it can do so. In one frequently-cited case, a 16-year-old boy was reported suffering from a disfiguring and usually deadly hereditary illness known as Brocq’s Disease: an "incurable" condition characterized by the development of a thick, horny covering over the skin, which was prone to cracking, bleeding, and infection (in the past, sufferers of this disease, seemingly coated with scales, were sometimes showed off in circuses as "alligator people"). In 1951, the boy, whose disease had progressed to an advanced state, was referred to a hypnotherapist, who, leading the boy into a deep trance, told him that the disease was healing and would soon be gone. Several days afterwards, the scaly coating covering the boy’s left arm fell off, revealing healthy disease-free skin beneath. The hypnosis sessions were continued, and little by little, the boy’s skin was returned to normal, and all traces of the disease vanished. [6]

While cases of this nature indicate that hypnosis may sometimes prove effective in the treatment of organic conditions, the mainstream medical community is not at all ready to accept hypnosis as a "front-line tool" in the battle at this point in time. Hypnosis is often accepted, nowadays, as a complementary/auxiliary tool, especially useful for working on related issues such as pain management, stress reduction, and morale-boosting while standard medical practices are employed to carry on the brunt of the struggle against the "heart of the disease." (Both classic hypnosis, with its formal induction and suggestions, and other forms of "trance work", including guided imagery and some forms of bodywork, may be utilized in these settings.) To leave the treatment of a serious organic disease, such as cancer, solely in the hands of a hypnotherapist, is not generally considered prudent, and this is not necessarily entirely a result of the "prejudices and close-mindedness of the medical establishment." Hypnosis is much more an art than a science, and it is also a form of relationship. For success, it depends upon the skill of the hypnotist, the receptivity of the subject, and the rapport and trust that the therapist and subject are able to build together. It also requires an appreciation of the complexity and nuances of human emotion, and may require an ability, on the part of both therapist and subject, to develop and refine highly-personalized approaches capable of dealing with this complexity. Some therapists and some approaches that are effective for one subject and one condition, may not work for others. Add to this the fact that it is highly difficult to assess the work of individual hynotherapists, since many provide "success rates" that are not independently verifiable, and which are self-defined [7], and it’s clear to see why the medical establishment does not trust serious organic conditions to the hands of hypnotherapists.

Nonetheless, as I have stated, it does seem that with the right conjuncture of circumstances, and with the right approach at the right time, hypnosis can sometimes prove effective in the treatment of serious, organic diseases. In just the same way as faith, and in just the same way as the "placebo effect", it can help tap into and activate the healing power of belief.

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The Utility Of The Illness

One hypnotherapist who believed in the potential of hypnosis to combat serious organic illnesses was the late Marc Wolff. (He used it to help his clients fight cancer, without overstepping its accepted role as a complementary therapy, however.) One of the central themes of his work was to try to help clients discover the "utility" of their illness, and then to work on alternative ways of achieving the "benefits of being sick" without being sick.

At first, this might seem an odd concept - an illness, useful? Benefits of being sick? But thinking back to my childhood, I remember several occasions on which I felt extremely sick upon waking up, much too sick to go to school. But upon receiving the parental stamp to stay home for the day, a remarkable recovery had begun, and I ended up feeling quite well after a while, and was finally able to spend most of my "sick day" reading, drawing, writing, playing, doing the things I really loved, enjoying a freedom that would not have been mine had I been well. I also remember the special kindness and attention I received from my parents whenever I was sick or injured, and have heard similar stories from many people I know, some of whom felt deeply cherished and loved only when they ill.

For this reason, practitioners such as Wolff sought to work with the hypnotized patient to discover the "benefits" of their illness. Possible benefits might include: the ability to "drop out" of a stressful, devitalizing, thankless job, the development of a valid and powerful excuse not to work; the possibility of having more free time, as a result - time to spend doing things closer to the heart; the acquisition of a powerful tool to gain sympathy and attention, to elicit love and become important to others again (no longer taken for granted); punishment of others (making them suffer or feel guilty for things they did or did not do, and/or burdening them with one’s care); gaining power over others (making it harder for them to say "no", for fear of hurting one); self-punishment ("getting even with oneself" for the "wrong" one has done to others, "paying for one’s crimes", real or imagined, by becoming sick); escaping from tension, stress, pain, anguish, shame, or "unwinnable situations" by departing from life (a form of unconscious, disease-assisted suicide). And, of course, this is only a partial (and generalized) list of "benefits." [8]

Once the practitioner and patient, working together, discovered the benefits of the illness, they then sought to find ways in which the client could either live without those benefits, or else achieve them by means other than being sick. (After all, serious illness is quite a drastic way to achieve a goal; and usually, except in the most "suicidal" of cases, the desired goal - or a modified version of the desired goal - can be attained in a less extreme way, and without all of the negative "side-effects" of illness that ultimately act to undermine the goal.) As an example, one’s need to be loved by certain individuals, and to be their center of attention, could be dealt with without the life-threatening drama of a serious illness, in various alternative ways: one could seek ways of renewing or engendering love by taking a deeper and more honest look at one’s relationships, and trying to find the keys to bringing this about through changes in one’s actions and attitudes, or by means of more open communication; one could come to understand that some relationships were really not worth dying for - why go through such a self-destructive ordeal simply to elicit sympathy or the appearance of love from someone who really didn’t or couldn’t love one the way one wanted to be loved?; one could reach the understanding that it was time to begin the journey towards another kind of love - the love of someone genuine and new, or a real love of self (including an understanding of other people’s limits, and the preservation of self-love in spite of that), or "divine love" (the sense of loving energy and belonging in the Universe which sometimes accompanies spiritual revelation).

The belief underlying this work is that disease is often, to a large extent, enabled, generated and/or sustained by the "benefits" which it provides; and that by overcoming the need for these benefits (through perspective-changes), or finding new ways of achieving these benefits without sickness (re-routing the path that leads to them so that it goes through healthy terrain), the driving force behind the illness will be removed. The patient will cease to be a collaborator in his own disease, and the obstacles that prevent him from healing (because he doesn’t really want to be healed) will be removed.

The great value of this work, in the hypnotherapeutic context, is that hypnotherapy done too superficially - aimed only at fortifying the patient’s belief that he can be well, without probing further to see if he really wants to be well - may never detect, and therefore never help to overcome, elements of resistance to getting well which may exist within a patient’s psyche. And in spite of the best intentions, this resistance may act as a significant drag, impeding or even ruining all other efforts to activate the patient’s natural healing power, and his receptivity to effective treatments.

Sometimes, in this hypnotherapeutic work, a technique called "parts therapy" is employed, a kind of role-playing, in which the patient is asked to give a voice to different parts of his psyche (which could be "the part that wants to be well", and "the part that wants to be ill"); and he then enters into a kind of internal dialogue between the two parts (while in the state of hypnosis, where he is enriched by a greater knowledge of his true motives and wishes). The hypnotherapist will also join in the process, attempting to guide or mediate the dialogue so that it takes the form of a constructive negotiation in which the two parts will finally come to an agreement that enables the patient’s healing (a benefits-without-illness scenario).

Just as we have a great natural ability to overcome illness, so it seems we have a great natural ability to create illness - which is why this fascinating psychological approach, centered on discovering the "utility of illness", seems to hold so much promise.

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Guided Imagery: Inner Vision And Disease

Guided imagery is another means by which the mind may seek to influence the afflictions of the body. It is frequently utilized by hypnotherapists while a client is in the hypnotic state, but it is also utilized by therapists who do not practice hypnosis at all. Nonetheless, the act of focused visualization is, in and of itself, trance-inducing, meaning that one’s access to the healing power of the subconscious mind is attained through guided imagery, as surely as if one had received a formal hypnotic induction. (In fact, guided imagery is often used as part of hypnotic induction technique, to bring patients into a state of hypnosis, as well as to work with them once they are already in that state.)

The power of visualization is now well-recognized in various communities (medical and sports, for example). In sports, it is commonly practiced by athletes as a prelude to their actual performance, in activities ranging from skiing, target-shooting, and golf, to basketball, gymnastics, and boxing. In one study, it was found that a group of athletes who visualized shooting baskets, with no physical practice beforehand, performed on a par with another group that physically practiced shooting baskets, without the visualization exercise - although the best warm-up would seem to be a combination of physically shooting baskets, and visualization. [9] The power of the imagination to affect and even create reality - to diffuse throughout the body and make the body capable of what is imagined (within limits, of course) - seems well demonstrated.

In medicine, similar benefits have been observed, and guided imagery is now gaining increasing acceptance as a potentially valuable complementary therapy. The kind of imagery selected varies widely, of course, from condition to condition, therapist to therapist, and patient to patient. In some cases, a therapist may choose quite simple imagery: for example, asking the patient to imagine a healing light spreading slowly through his body, healing everything it touches. In other scenarios, therapists might choose more specific imagery - for example, therapists and patients working with cancer will often choose imagery which involves the destruction of the cancer cells, which they may imagine are being destroyed by "pac-man-like" entities, which seek out and devour the cells, or by laser beams wielded by miniature robots or soldiers which blast them into oblivion (metaphorical representations of the body’s immune system or anti-cancer medicines acting upon the malignant cells), etc. In one case, a man whose hand was declared irreparably shattered after an accident, visualized a vast construction crew coming into his hand at night, with all kinds of machines, working on rebuilding and repairing his bones. After a period of time (visualizing this for many nights in succession), his hand healed, defying the expectations of his doctor. For pain management, a pain-control switch is often visualized, and the patient is then guided to turn the pain down to a lower level. (Pain management must often walk the thin line between making pain bearable - protecting a patient’s quality of life - and disconnecting a valuable source of information, which allows both patient and doctor to diagnose and evaluate conditions.) In my own case, I have often visualized a hole appearing in the midst of my pain (a headache, for example); and slowly, as the hole expands, the pain has vanished.

With guided imagery, one absolutely crucial key is that the patient feels comfortable with the imagery being used. The human imagination is nearly infinite, and there is no reason that the imagery used in healing should be confined to a standard formula, especially when that formula may not sit well with the patient (who may find some images too violent, too difficult to work with, or too "silly"). The patient should therefore be invited to help construct or modify the imagery as needed, so that it is effective for him.

What is going on, of course, is that the imagery utilized - which is most often symbolic or metaphorical - is somehow stimulating, awakening, and utilizing real processes of healing, to the benefit of the patient. The switch of fantasy is somehow hooked up to reality - and the patient’s active and willful participation in the healing process is having a positive effect.

The often-observed benefits of guided imagery are one more example of how the mind may powerfully act upon our physical health.

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Belief And Doubt

While the healing power of belief is spectacular, it is not always easy to attain the levels of belief necessary to heal, for doubt is a constant shadow in our world, which preys upon young miracles. Magical in its possibilities, belief is often fragile - and any healing strategy must take this potential weakness into account, especially in the face of highly challenging illnesses.

As Japanese samurai Miyamoto Musashi noted in the 17th Century, writing of war and swordsmanship: "When we are fighting with the enemy … if his spirit is not extinguished, he may be beaten superficially yet undefeated in spirit deep inside… If the enemy remains spirited it is difficult to crush him." [10] Even in the case of an enemy of inferior skill, Musashi noted the danger posed by one whose will and fighting spirit had not yet been broken; whereas the superior technician, demoralized and low in spirit, was already on the path to defeat. In terms of illness, and the battle against illness, many of the same rules apply. A powerful disease may be held at bay by one who has not yet succumbed to the effects of demoralization, whereas one who has given way to the deadly mystique of his disease, or had his confidence shaken by unexpected setbacks, may suddenly begin to unravel and collapse. The catastrophic reaction of many HIV+ individuals to the diagnosis, which sometimes sets off a reaction of panic magnifying the body’s physical weakness, is a perfect example of this - as is the surprising resilience and long-term survivability of many HIV+ individuals, when they are able to maintain their morale in the face of the threat, and to access appropriate treatments. [11]

In my opinion, one of the most valuable attributes which a person fighting a serious, long-term illness can have is what I call the "stamina of belief." There are frequently moments, or a moment, in the midst of a serious illness, when the optimism of a patient rises; when his response to treatment appears to be positive, and symptoms diminish or are contained; when his hope reaches a high point, and the possibility of healing seems suddenly tangible and real. Then, in so many cases, the progress that had inspired hope reverses, the condition slides backwards, and faith is lost. The bubble of belief is burst by the return or worsening of symptoms after an interim of hope, and the patient falls into an abyss of despair, irrevocably swallowed up by the mystique of his illness. What I mean by the "stamina of belief" is the ability to maintain the belief that one can heal and/or stabilize, not only when things are going well and there are signs of progress, but also when ground is lost even after a period of progress. This can be accomplished by envisioning the fight to heal or survive not in terms of a rigid line of wellness and illness, but in terms of a flexible front of give and take; by preserving an elasticity of spirit capable of retaining its essence as it is "stretched" by negative events; by accepting setbacks not as a sign of imminent disaster or impending collapse, but as part of a fluid, ever-changing struggle, that will have its ups and downs, on the way to ultimate wellness; and by internalizing a new and broader vision of progress that can absorb reverses into a larger picture of recovery, without being permanently derailed by them. In just the same way that World War II, as it was fought in North Africa between British and German, was mobile, elastic, and dynamic, with vast amounts of ground being won and lost without defeat, so positive and negative sweeps within an illness may be weathered so long as one has a conceptual place for them and a certain degree of patience (patience = giving oneself more time to heal); and so long as one does not fixate on negative symptoms as signs of collapse or allow them to invalidate one’s belief in the possibility of ultimate recovery.

At times, it may be necessary to "dismiss the evidence" of negative symptoms, and go within to what one wills - like a dolphin or whale diving away from the hostile surface into the depths of the ocean - until what one wants or wills can begin to manifest from those depths. This is a very subtle point, and is not meant to encourage neglect, or to deny the value of symptoms as valuable indicators of one’s physical state, which may suggest the implementation of certain healthcare strategies, treatments, and adjustments. It is meant, instead, to encourage the ill not to allow belief in what appears to be (decline and death, as foreshadowed by visible symptoms) to overpower and supplant belief in what can be (healing through connection with one’s inner power and/or God, which is many times not as visible as the outward symptoms which seem to refute it). At times, it may be necessary to disbelieve the visible, in order to believe in the invisible. Which does not mean not believing in the symptoms - only not believing that the symptoms mean what others say they mean. And not dwelling on them any more than is necessary.

An interesting case which somewhat illustrates this point is provided in the work of Dr. Milton Erickson, an unconventional healer who made his mark with story-telling and hypnosis. Although the case does not involve a serious disease, it is useful for demonstrating the importance of our focus, and beliefs, in dealing with illness. It seems there was a boy who had a terrible case of acne, which he was having trouble clearing up. His mother asked Dr. Erickson if he could cure it by means of hypnosis. Erickson said that he could, but instead, recommended that the woman remove all mirrors from the boy’s sight. This was because every time the boy looked in the mirror, he saw himself covered with acne, and seemed unable to imagine himself in any other way - the image of his face, as it was, was just too strong to be replaced by the image of his face, as he wanted it to be. And most likely every time he washed his face, or attempted some treatment, the continued persistence of his acne sores seemed to weigh against him, as evidence of the futility of his efforts to overcome them. By giving the boy a break from this "negative evidence", Dr. Erickson created a small space in which he could begin to believe in his recovery, and escape from the paralyzing weight of the evidence that he was not getting better. In that space, the boy’s acne cleared up in two weeks’ time. [12]

In summary: the belief that one can be well is a crucial attribute in the struggle to heal. But it, itself, must often be struggled for. Those who win the battle to believe - those who are able to go within to the power of their mind and heart, and get past the massive doubts of a society that expects them to die; those who are able to pluck the disbelief of others, which has been planted into them, out of their soul; those who will not let their will be frightened away by the dark shadows of disease, and by the ghosts of all the others who have fallen; those who are able to find ways of preserving their spirit even in the midst of adversity; those who remember the truth of the old saying, "You are not beaten until you stop trying" - these are the ones who have the greatest chance to weather the storm of a serious illness, and to find their way back to the golden land of health.

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The Case Of Stigmata, And What They Reveal About Healing

One of the most interesting proofs of the ability of the mind (or divine power) to affect the body - which is a very useful thing to believe in, when fighting for one’s health against a serious illness - comes from some very well-documented cases of stigmata. Stigmata are bleeding wounds, sometimes quite deep, which appear in the flesh of affected individuals in locations corresponding to the places where Jesus Christ was believed to have had nails driven into his body by the Romans (they may also appear in the side, where Jesus was said to have been pierced by a Roman lance while hanging from the cross). While some view the spontaneous appearance of these wounds - some of which remain open and bloody for months and years, some of which heal and vanish after a time - as religious miracles produced by a mystical connection with Christ, many others view them as psychosomatic creations produced by a powerful identification and sense of solidarity with the suffering of Christ. Far from being a phenomenon of interest only to devout Christians and religious scholars, knowledge of stigmata is actually a powerful weapon in the hands of those concerned with issues of healing and the mind-body connection. For the stigmata demonstrate, quite dramatically in my opinion, the ability of the mind to manipulate and mold the very matter of our beings: to spontaneously, and with mental energy alone, produce great wounds in our bodies; and just as spontaneously, to heal them. How many of our illnesses might be similarly created - and might be similarly healed? I believe that a remarkable human potential for healing is revealed by the phenomenon - one which awaits our harnessing. [13]

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Healing Lessons From Multiple Personality Disorder

Just as the phenomenon of the stigmata dramatizes the power of the human mind to significantly impact the body, so the serious mental illness known as Multiple Personality Disorder demonstrates the potential effect of mental processes upon our physical well-being. Multiple Personality Disorder, or MPD, is a psychological condition in which a single individual’s personality fragments into two or more distinct personalities (most often between 8 and 13 of them), each of which has a life of its own. It is as if one person were actually split into several different people, who operate, at different times, from within him. Oftentimes, the patient is unaware as he switches from one personality to another, and the actions of one personality may not be remembered after he has become another. This disorder is most often the product of severe childhood trauma, which, in the case of MPD, seems to shatter the mind and its identity into separate pieces, perhaps as a desperate mechanism of self-defense: for there is no longer only "one" person to carry the weight of the trauma; and there is also the possibility of constantly changing who one is, which could be a form of escape (like moving from house to house when one is being hunted). Whatever the case, MPD is a serious psychological disorder which makes it quite hard to function in society. And yet, paradoxically, some phenomena observed in MPD cases point the way towards dramatic new avenues of healing.

Michael Talbot, in his Holographic Universe, provides an amazing survey of cases in which shifts in the personalities controlling the bodies of MPD patients have had a powerful effect upon their physical condition. [14] For example, he cites the case of one man who was highly allergic to wasp venom. The man’s eye was swollen shut as the result of a sting, and immediate medical attention was not available. Under these circumstances, a psychiatrist who was an expert in MPD, guided another one of the man’s personalities to assume control of his body. This personality was - strange though it may seem - not allergic to wasp venom, and while it remained the active personality in the man’s psyche, he was unaffected by the sting! His pain and swelling disappeared. Later, however, when the man’s original personality resumed control of his body, the symptoms of the wasp sting reemerged, and he was finally forced to seek medical attention!

In the same vein, there are reports of MPD patients who, though they may be drunk, suddenly become sober as one personality is replaced by another. One case is reported in which "5 milligrams of diazepam, a tranquilizer, sedated one personality, while 100 milligrams had little or no effect on another." Talbot writes: "Other conditions that can vary from personality to personality include scars, burn marks, cysts, and left- and right-handedness." Vision may also be affected, and some MPD patients must actually carry several different pairs of eyeglasses, one for each of their personalities. Diabetes, too, has been seen to manifest, or not to manifest, in MPD patients according to which personality happens to be in control of their body at a given time. And the list goes on.

Remember - we are talking about drastic physical changes taking place within a single physical body, not as the result of any form of conventional medical treatment, but as the result of an internal mental shift, a change in personality or character which somehow alters the body’s response to disease, injury, and various other forces and stimuli. Can any more powerful testimony be found on behalf of the mind-body connection than this?

In my opinion, these fascinating observations point us towards amazing new strategies for healing, which ought to be explored as soon as possible. Somehow, it seems, it ought to be possible to mimic these beneficial aspects of MPD, and to find ways of generating and utilizing internal mental shifts to help us combat disease, recover from injury, and render ourselves immune to certain conditions. Possibly, this might be accomplished by some form of role-playing, carried out in as deep a trance state as possible (to be reached via hypnosis or meditation). In this regard, I am reminded of the work of Dr. Vladimir Raikov, a masterful Russian doctor who utilized hypnosis to induce "artificial past-life regressions" in his subjects, convincing them (while they were in trance) to believe they had been some famous individual in a past life. The subjects would then begin to perform or create on a higher plane than ever before, as if infused with the ability of the person they believed themselves to be. In this way, an artist implanted with the belief that he was the reincarnation of Leonard Da Vinci would suddenly begin to paint at an entirely different level; a musician convinced that he was Rachmaninov would begin to play the piano as never before; a chess player persuaded that he was Paul Morphy, returned to life, would begin to produce games of vastly higher quality than those he had previously achieved. [15] Somehow, this hypnotic role-playing was able to liberate subjects from limitations connected to their self-identity, and to enable them to more closely approach their true potential. In the same way, I cannot help but think that role-playing while in a state of trance might also be able to assist individuals in the preservation and restoration of their health. Inspired by the lessons of MPD and by the work of Dr. Vladimir Raikov, I imagine a new therapy in which hypnosis is utilized to assist in the "creation" of various sub-personalities - not autonomous and uncontrollable personalities as frequently afflict the genuine MPD patient, but sub-personalities (or parts of the self) controlled and consciously utilized by an intact personality center, for the purpose of promoting healing. Although this suggestion may seem odd to many, it is really not so odd as it seems. In our fantasy lives, and in our daydreams, and in our dreams, we are often many different people. The veteran actor or opera singer carries many characters, and the possibility of being many characters, around inside him - he can be Hamlet, MacBeth, Brutus, Lear, Oedipus; Parsifal, Rudolph, Don Jose. Similarly, the individual who has gone through numerous past-life regressions has come to understand that his soul contains within it many variations and forms, many "characters" who he has been and can be. (Whether these characters are taken literally or metaphorically, they represent facets of a multidimensional personality.) As renowned scholar Joseph Campbell once wrote: "Each [person] carries within himself the all; therefore it may be sought and discovered within." [16] We are all, in actuality - each one of us - a multiplicity of personalities blended together into a (hopefully) coherent whole - a kind of colony of identities which live together, functioning as one, but possible to subdivide when it becomes useful to do so (for the purposes of fantasy, acting, etc.) My idea is simply to explore ways of utilizing this ability in order to temporarily channel our being into a sub-personality which is discovered, or constructed, to be especially resistant or even invulnerable to certain physical conditions. That is to say, we may conduct a temporary "exodus" from an affected personality (our primary personality) into an unaffected sub-personality - an alternative mental space in which we are able to heal. Whether the healing solution will best be attained by spending a large amount of time as this sub-personality, until the healing is complete, or by attempting to identify and graft the healing properties of this sub-personality onto our principal personality, remains to be seen.

Although this proposal may seem quite "far out", I think that the existing inventory of observations regarding MPD, and logic, most definitely impel us towards exploring the possibilities of such an approach. (Speaking on a more personal level, I can say that an alarming condition which once affected me disappeared as I began to spend a lot of time daydreaming and, in essence, living for several hours a day as "someone else." Whether this fantasy personality provided a distraction and lessened stress levels, created positive and healthy imagery, or simply provided a means for bypassing damaging residues of guilt and self-hate in my principal personality - allowing me to become someone who, in my mind, deserved to be well - I cannot say. But the time spent "as someone else" definitely seemed to aid in the improvement of my condition.)

While I urge competent professionals to consider initiating experimental work in this direction, I would like to end this section by reminding readers that, regardless of the development or lack of development of such healing strategies and methodologies, the fascinating cases of MPD just described point, once more, to the power of the mind to help us heal. These cases contribute to our ability to believe in our extraordinary capacity to heal, and can be used to help build the confidence that will allow us to liberate this extraordinary capacity from more limited expectations. [17]

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Summary: Strategies For Healing

Hopefully, this article has helped to enrich your concept of the forces at work in healing, and to deepen your appreciation for the mental and emotional dimensions of the struggle to be well. Hopefully, it has helped to fortify your belief that you can be well, even in the face of serious illness - that you have more tools to fight with than you imagined. I would like to conclude this article with a brief outline of some key healing tips, which have been suggested by this material.

1. First, do practice preventive healthcare to the fullest, there is no reason to unnecessarily weaken yourself and expose your body to damaging situations, environments, lifestyles, diets, and habits that may lead to problems in the future. Why bank on a "miracle" down the road, when simple good sense in the present can help to protect your well-being without the drama?

2.  Do not underestimate or neglect the benefits of the mainstream healthcare establishment. It is highly effective in many regards, especially for the informed patient, who has done some study and research on his own; who asks questions and demands information from his doctor (he refuses to be treated in ignorance); who seeks second opinions when uncomfortable with proposed solutions; who is aware of various options; and who generally takes a "proactive" stance regarding his healing.

3.  Believe that it is possible to be well. The mind-body system is a spectacular natural healing system, capable of generating remarkable recoveries and even "miracles", if it is given the chance. Healing of especially difficult conditions seems to often hinge upon the patient’s ability to believe that he can be healed, which appears to be the key to unleashing the fantastic healing potential we all possess. Incidents of healing produced by the "placebo effect", prayer, hypnosis, and guided imagery, all demonstrate the healing power of belief - a power that is ours, if we will only let it be. In the effort to overcome doubt and to build belief, it is helpful to keep in mind certain concepts, and especially to work on developing a resilient form of belief, one that is infused with patience and capable of weathering the normal ups and downs of illness without panicking and losing faith should conditions temporarily take a turn for the worse. It may also help to work on developing belief in the deepest strata of one’s psyche that one is capable of accessing, through hypnosis, meditation, or prayer.

4.  Work on clearing any possible resistance to healing, by exploring one’s feelings and by seeking any possible psychological factors which may be contributing to one’s illness or working against one’s recovery. Psychoanalysis, counseling, certain forms of hypnotherapy, personal reflection and/or meditation may all assist in this process. You must really want to be well, and feel that you deserve to be well, in order to draw upon the full healing power of your own mind-body system. In cases, you may feel moved to make a "bargain" with the Universe, pledging yourself to carry out certain actions or to behave in certain ways should you be healed. This has been a common practice among the peoples of many cultures, from ancient Greek to Native American, and on a deep psychological level may really be a way of saying, "I do not deserve to be well, now, as I am, but I will use this sickness as a means of purification, and become a person who does deserve to be well." The "bargain" is perhaps a way of apologizing to the Universe for one’s faults, and by promising to follow a higher path in the future (from "now on"), it may be a way of clearing guilt - a sometimes fatal form of resistance - from the mind-body system. No "bargain" should be made, however, that is not genuine; and any "bargain" made should be one that lies within one’s real capacity to fulfill (it should not become another form of stress, or in anyway turn the future into something bleak). [18] In this process, faith, self-forgiveness, work on finding alternatives to the sickness (see above, "The Utility of the Illness"), etc., may all play a part.

5.  As one seeks to achieve health through the mind, do not neglect the body, as a material form existing in a material world. Take appropriate measures to nourish it with the proper foods, liquids, and vitamins. Allow it to rest. Exercise it, as indicated, to maintain its vitality. Do not exclude from it the benefits of appropriate medicines and treatments.

6.  Always remember, that hope, goals, a "reason to live", are crucial components of healing from serious illness. Dispirited, depressed, unenthused by life, feeling that one has nothing to live for - this is not the psychological material from which healing comes. If one is feeling this way, it is important to find some way of reanimating oneself - to rebuild a reason for living (perhaps by developing new goals or revivifying old ones, or perhaps by letting go of weights that are crushing one’s joy, happiness, and hope). It is normal, in the midst of serious illness, to sometimes feel depressed and incapable of doing anything except lying in bed forever, but one must remember that if one heals, one will probably also have more energy than one does now; and one must therefore allow oneself to have dreams of a life that, although it does not seem feasible at the moment, may be feasible in the future. Struggle to let some light into the darkness, it could be the difference between life and death.

7.  Finally, it is helpful to always remember: even if a person overcomes the most terrible illness in the most remarkable and miraculous way, it will not be a permanent escape from death, but only a postponement. Healing is, therefore, not a gateway to immortality, but a way of gaining more time - more time to appreciate life, more time to love, more time to try to be the person one wants to be, more time to seek the meaning of life, more time to make peace with existence. Healing is not a transcendence of human law and life, but a gift of time, and an opportunity to do more with one’s life than one has done. Whether one dies now or dies later, the key to life remains the same: trying to find one’s place in the Universe and being true to it; and being the best person one can be. And, therefore, even more than healing, the goal of everyone who is ill (and everyone who is well), should be this: to live right, first; and may healing, and long life follow! - Of course, many of us believe that this life on earth is not our last (Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.) It is a belief which provides comfort in the face of death, and transforms the struggle to live from one of resisting utter extinction to one of attempting to stay a little longer in one state of existence, for the sake of others, or the sake of things not yet done or experienced. For those of us who believe in Divinity, we have not only traditions of miracles to fortify us in our hour of need and empower us to win great battles, but also the promise of a new home when it is finally time to leave. - Whether through faith, or by means of philosophy, it is important for all human beings to realize, and to find ways of dealing with, the fact that no one lives forever on this earth, and in this life. I cannot stress the importance of this too much, for it would be a shame if, in the desperate battle to cling to life, we missed the chance to connect with the majesty and mystery of life, and to make peace with it, in its very core, which is deep in our heart. - Whereas some might see these thoughts as a mental preparation for death, I see them as a way of rescuing life from death: rescuing it once if we die now, but come to understand life a little before we die; rescuing it twice if we come to understand life, and then go on to live a little longer, carrying its lessons in our heart.

8.  My friends: Healing IS possible. Your belief can unleash it. Your worthiness now, or your worthiness to be, can permit it. The needs of others can also bring it. May you be protected, and blessed, may healing come into your life, and give you more time on this earth, to be who you were meant to be, and to do what you were meant to do. MAY IT BE SO.

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[1] "Walk On", U2: "You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been, A place that has to be believed to be seen…"

[2] Michael Talbot, The Holograpic Universe, p. 93-94.

[3] Talbot, The Holographic Universe, p. 106-108.

[4] The Bible, Matthew 7:7-11: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?"

[5] Dr. Bruce Goldberg, Past Lives, Future Lives, p. 100-106.

[6] Talbot, The Holographic Universe, p. 105.

[7] For example, in the case of "smoke-cessation work", a hypnotist may claim a subject that has not smoked for a few weeks or even a few days after a session as a "success", without any further follow-up or tracking of his long-term behavior.

[8] Another major "benefit" of sickness which I have noted - though I have personally observed it mainly in the case of less serious, "nuisance-type" illnesses - is the "benefit of distraction." When life, itself, seems complicated and frustrating, with no direction, no solution, no handle to grasp - an impasse of dreams which one does not know how to realize, or an existential void from which one does not know how to escape - sickness can provide a "valuable distraction." It can take one’s mind off of larger issues, and provide a whole new set of limited, achievable goals - just "getting better" becomes the center of one’s life, and the object of one’s existence. One suddenly has a clear, direct mission in life, and all of the confusion and despair beyond the issue of "getting better" fades away. When one does get better, of course, the old despair and lack of direction may return, leading to a new bout of illness: a new effort to shut out what cannot be mastered or accepted, and to live, once again, in a smaller space with more tangible objectives. (In cases such as this, some deep personal psychological, philosophical and/or spiritual work may be required to overcome the "need for sickness.")

[9] Talbot, The Holographic Universe, 87-88.

[10] Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings, Overlook Press (translated by Victor Harris). P. 81.

[11] Avoidance of panic is also a valuable factor in surviving heart attacks, weathering the effects of shock after an injury, getting through the dangers of snakebite, etc. (Avoiding panic does not mean inaction or neglect, it means taking appropriate and timely measures, but without being drowned by fear.) One peculiar, but interesting strategy for pulling out of panic, which is available for males, is chronicled in The Rising Sun: The Decline And Fall Of The Japanese Empire by John Toland, p. 31-34. Hisatsune Sakomizu, a Japanese official whose life was threatened by a military coup in 1936, remembered hearing of incidents from his father’s days, in which boys would hold contests that involved placing objects, and then removing them, from grave sites (for their age, their culture and their time, this was a very frightening thing to do). "This went on until someone lost their nerve. The boys believed that fear came only if their testicles shrank, so when they walked toward the grave they would pluck at them to stretch them out. Sakomizu [when his life was in danger during the 1936 coup] discovered that, sure enough, his testicles had contracted to almost nothing. He managed to stretch them and to his amazement found his own fear disappeared. People in the old days were clever."

[12] My Voice Will Go With You: The Teaching Tales Of Milton H. Erickson, edited and with commentary by Sidney Rosen. P. 87-88.

[13] See The Holographic Universe, M. Talbot, p. 108-111, for a fascinating discussion on this subject. Another interesting and related story, though not involving stigmata, is a case I once heard, in which a man was told, while in the state of hypnosis, that his arm had just been burned in a fire. Without any physical cause, the flesh of his arm proceeded to break out in blisters, as though he had just been burned: once again, a potent demonstration of the power of the mind - and its beliefs, expectations and agendas - to impact upon the body.

[14] The Holographic Universe, M. Talbot, p. 97-100, (see also 74-76).

[15] The New Soviet Psychic Discoveries: A First-Hand Report, by Henry Gris and William Dick (1978). "Chapter 20: Dr. Vladimir Raikov: Releasing Talent in the Subconscious", p. 235-244. Reference is also made to Raikov’s work in the Handbook of Hypnotic Suggestions and Metaphors (edited by D. Corydon Hammond), p. 434, in which the following work is cited: Raikov 1976, "The Possibility of Creativity in the Active Stage of Hypnosis", International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 24, 258-268.

[16] The Hero With A Thousand Faces, p. 285.

[17] As a final note on this subject, Talbot makes a key point (p. 100): "Once a multiple has undergone therapy and in some way becomes whole again, he or she can still make these switches [between personalities] at will. This suggests that somewhere in our psyches we all [even those without MPD] have the ability to control these things [physical responses to illness, injury, etc.]

[18] The role of "bargaining" should not be misunderstood, just because it is included in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ "stages of dying" (On Death And Dying, 1969). According to her often-quoted and probably valuable (but not precise) theory, individuals pass through a series of stages as they move through the process of dying: she identified those stages as "denial and isolation", "anger", "bargaining", "depression" and "acceptance." But "bargaining" is, also, frequently an important tool in the arsenal of those who survive. Just as a soldier who uses a gun may survive or perish, "bargaining" may become part of a successful strategy to overcome illness, or just a stage (failed strategy) on the road to death, depending upon how "well" its potential is understood and used, and how it combines with a variety of other factors in the battle.

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Spontaneous Healing, Dr. Andrew Weil.

Love, Medicine, and Miracles, Dr. Bernie Siegel.

Love and Survival, Dean Ornish, MD.

The Holographic Universe, Michael Talbot.

"Placebos prove so powerful, even experts are surprised; new studies explore the brain’s triumph over reality." The New York Times, October 13, 1998.

"The Placebo Prescription." The New York Times Magazine, January 9, 2000.

"Can Prayer Heal?", August 13, 2001.


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