Spiritual medicine has been an important component of traditional societies since ancient times. Because the concepts of this form of medicine don’t fit easily into western biomedicine’s paradigms, its efficacy and potential has been discounted and dismissed. But as more westerners are clamoring for meaning, in their lives and in their medicine, spiritual medicine is being paid closer attention. Furthermore, other branches of the sciences have been formulating theories that can be extrapolated to help explain how spiritual medicine works.
One of the strongest examples in everyday life of the powers of spiritual medicine is the placebo effect; by itself it asks questions that can’t be readily answered within the framework of biomedicine.
One scientific theory now being used to explain spiritual medicine is the concept of non-local mind and non-local medicine, what Larry Dossey calls part of “Era III” medicine. This approach helps clarify many things that previously could not be so easily categorized: intuition, dreams, distant healing, and miracle healings. Many miracle healings are spiritual healings: some dismiss these as pure acts of random and chance; others believe they are true healings. For people who undergo these spiritual healings, some rely on healers to change their condition; others rely on their innate ability to self-heal.
Ultimately, as spiritual medicine is taken more seriously by the medical mainstream, a day may come when the sometimes antagonistic branches of medicine – biomedicine and complementary medicine – may be united as one medicine.
“Healing is 80% spiritual and 20% medicine.” So said Papa Henry Auwae, a 93-year-old po’okela, or master of Hawaiian herbal medicine in a recent interview.1 To attain this spiritual dimension, Papa Henry Auwae meditates and prays everyday in order that he may have a level, free mind. The meditation and prayer work also aides him in maintaining his honesty and integrity, and feeling compassion and love towards others. By practicing these simple ways, he can develop a relationship with the universe that allows him to access a power greater than himself.
Two of my patients recently told me stories that affirmed this knowledge. The first story comes from Sarah, whose musician-husband recently was suffering from the flu and wasn’t sure if he could make a scheduled gig. He decided to go, and when he came back later, his flu was gone.
The second story comes from Paula, who told me that she had suffered from chronic swollen glands for many years. Then last year she took a class in Transcendental Meditation and began practicing the techniques daily. Within a matter of weeks her swollen glands had reduced themselves remarkably.
What was the key to the healing for both of these people? At his gig, Sarah’s husband most probably went into a meditative, prayer-like state in which he attained a relationship with the universe; musicians talk of this as “being in the moment.” And for Paula, through her direct meditation work, she was also able to experience the very same relationship with the universe.
Spiritual medicine is a healing modality that has existed since ancient times and is still a foundation of most traditional healing modalities, such as the medicine of Papa Henry Auwae. It is a form of medicine that is based on an attunement to higher states of consciousness; its use requires a different way of viewing primary reality. In traditional societies it is the way of the mystic and the shaman. Ironically, some schools of western scientific thought look upon these types of people as delusional madmen.
People who are considered “delusional madmen” also have a natural inclination to perceive things differently. They may be labeled psychotic, schizophrenic, delusional, etc., but it may be that what they are experiencing is an altered grasp of the terrain. And this altered grasp may allow them to glimpse into the heart of the spiritual. As the song “Amazing Journey” by The Who goes, “Sickness usually takes the mind where minds can’t usually go.”
Andrew Weil, M.D., has made his name as a champion of complementary medicine, but in his earlier writings he focused on the subject of altered states of consciousness. This earlier research allowed him to gain insight into the mysteries of spiritual medicine and the processes that occur that can lead to miracle healings. It was these earlier studies that contributed to Weil’s groundbreaking book, Spontaneous Healing.
In Weil’s very first book, The Natural Mind, he shares his thoughts on the subject of mental illness, specifically psychosis. He states that psychotics “are persons whose nonordinary experience is exceptionally strong…every psychotic is a potential sage or healer.” He goes on to say that there is a “positive potential of psychosis – a potential so overwhelming that I am almost tempted to call psychotics the evolutionary vanguard of our species. They possess the secret of changing reality by changing the mind; if they can learn to use that talent for positive ends, there are no limits to what they can accomplish.”2
Reading his words made me think of another patient of mine, Joanne. Joanne is on a number of anti-depressant medications to help her be a more productive member of society. In addition, she is a habitual drinker, drinking perhaps two or more glasses of alchohol a day.
Joanne is an incredibly sweet woman. She’s 41, married, has a couple of kids, and has a responsible job working as a job counselor at a facility that works with drug and alcohol addicts.
When we first began treatments she told me how much she enjoys acupuncture and she repeated that statement to me when she came back for the second visit. She still reminds me of that fact.
Joanne told me of an interesting thing that started happening to her after the second visit. She was buying lottery tickets and winning often. Not the big paydays, mind you, where you pick numbers, but the smaller payoffs. With these you buy a ticket and you scratch off the tab to see if you’re a winner. Joanne said she could feel which card was a winner and she would buy that one. Within a few weeks she had won a couple of hundred dollars.
So we talked some more and she told me she always had a psychic sense, as did her father, who also suffered from mental illness. She told me of dreams she has had that came true. She told me of the time when she was a teenager and her older sister, also a teenager, ran away from home. That night her father dreamed of where she was and the next day drove the few hundred miles to fetch her.
The fascinating thing about all this is that with the help of the acupuncture, Joanne is becoming more balanced, allowing her innate abilities to sprout. The acupuncture is helping to maintain this balance, keeping her psychoses in check.
Now don’t get me wrong – this doesn’t mean one has to be psychotic or mentally unhinged to have mental powers or practice spiritual medicine. Weil was just bringing up the point that our view of mental illness may be too narrowly focused and misses an entire realization about other ways of seeing. In addition we may be calling something mental illness that truly isn’t; it is only the constricts of our western vocabulary that locks us into this definition.
For example, in a recent interview, Stanley Krippner, Ph.D., was talking about the case of a 70-year-old Native American woman who told a psychiatrist, during the course of an interview, that she heard voices. To the woman this was normal, as what she hears is the voices of the earth’s spirits. To the psychiatrist this was a concern, because she was, well, hearing voices. He classified her as a schizophrenic and had her institutionalized. What the psychiatrist didn’t realize was that most of the people in her tribe heard voices. The woman was finally able to convince the institution to release her.3
This just goes to show that one societies mystical way of seeing is a threat to another societies paradigms. It was Sigmund Freud who sounded the death knell for the mystical experience when he proclaimed that it was “infantile helplessness” and “regression to primary narcissism.”4 Furthermore, he called religion a “universal obsessional neurosis.”5
Thanks to the open-minded opinions of Dr. Freud, many psychiatrists have discounted religious and spiritual concerns in people’s lives – or brushed them off as a symptom of irrationality. According to a poll cited by psychiatrist Robert Turner of the University of California at San Francisco’s School of Medicine, 50% of all psychiatrists are atheists or agnostics, while at most only 5% of the general public is. And Dr. Turner says, “There’s been a long-standing practice for psychiatry to pathologize or ignore religious experience.”6
So maybe the medical profession doesn’t know what to make of people who hear voices, or have psychic experiences, or claim they can talk to God, or think miracles are a part of life, but the American public, and people the world over don’t care. As Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., puts it, “We are a nation of closet mystics.”7
And occasionally there is the renegade psychiatrist who embraces the radical mystical way, such as Dennis Gersten of San Diego. Gersten enthusiastically writes of his encounters with an Indian guru named Sai Baba, who Gersten claims was capable of manifesting material objects out of thin air, resurrecting the dead, and cutting across time and space to save people in need.8
Randomness and Meaning
There is no doubt that Americans are hungering for connections to the spiritual realm. Peruse best seller lists and you will see many of the titles are spiritually and inspirationally oriented. National polls show that nine out of 10 Americans believe in God and consider religion important in their lives.9 Herbert Benson has stated that we are “genetically wired for God.”10
We want to believe. We want to believe that life has meaning, that there are no accidents, nor random events. We want to follow the words of Albert Einstein who said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Ironically is was Einstein who also declared “God does not play dice with the universe,”11 in criticism of quantum theory’s experimentally verified data showing that life is based on probabilities and randomness. Einstein could not fathom a universe that did not allow for a master plan. But Einstein appears to have had the final word on this, similar to his cosmological constant, which he initially proclaimed as “his greatest blunder,”12 and which scientists are now coming to the realization that it is a correct theory.13
Physicists such as David Bohm and mathematicians such as Ilya Prigogine have been able to integrate Einstein’s beliefs with quantum probabilities. Bohm has theorized that underlying seemingly random everyday life is an implicate order, which he postulates as being a deeper, universal order.14 Prigogine has helped to refine complexity theory and in so doing has reiterated the understanding that there is an underlying order that appears out of chaos: all systems move in self-replicating paths in which they have an apparent intelligence; and when they become more disordered and scattered, as in entropy, they are just creating a new order.15
This is not to say that there is not a degree of randomness and chance in the universe. Any mathematician or statistician can demonstrate that. But mathematicians also know that what may seem to be purely chance happenings on one level may have deeper hidden causes.16 These deeper causes can also be seen as meaningful coincidences, what Jung called “synchronicities.” Synchronicities are coinicidences that are so unusual and meaningful that they don’t seem to be the result of chance alone. Some describe them as “flaws in the fabric of reality.”17 Frank Joseph, author of a recent book entitled Synchronicity and You: Understanding the Role of Meaningful Coincidence in Your Life, describes it as “the long-lost direct experience with God,” and as a “materialization of the organizational will of the universe.”18
Religion and Spirituality
The floodgates of spiritual acknowledgement have been opened full thrust, leaving Dr. Freud to spin in his grave a couple of rotations. In addition to the previously cited polls showing that the great number of Americans believe in God and consider religion important, further studies show that most Americans want spirituality, but not necessarily in religious form.19 Many people are dropping out of organized religion to pursue their spirituality in ways that they find more satisfying.
This has led to an understanding that there is a difference between spirituality and religion. The word spirituality comes from the Latin root spiritus, which means breath – referring to the breath of life. Spirituality is about connecting to the transcendent quality of life through heart, mind and soul, and in so doing, invoking our capacity to experience awe, reverence, gratitude and grace. While spirituality is more amorphous and can be experienced through many different ways, including prayer, meditation, being in community with others, involvement with the natural world, exercise, introspection, etc., religion is more or less a specific set of beliefs about the transcendent. As Rachel Remen, M.D., puts it “Religion is a bridge to the spiritual, but the spiritual lies beyond religion.”20
Another aspect of the spiritual is the ability to see the sacred in the ordinary. In his memoir the journalist Max Lerner wrote “One might agree with Durkheim that the ‘contrast between sacred and profane is the widest and deepest the human mind can make.’ Yet for myself, I find all sorts of things to be sacred.”21
Lerner, like many others before and after, turned to the comprehension of things sacred and profane after undergoing a deep existential and metaphysical crisis that was brought on by a life-threatening illness. It is at this point that many people prefer to see medicine’s spiritual side, to comprehend spiritual medicine, and to see if it is possible that a miracle may occur in their lives. On the other hand, there are people who are not readily suffering from a life-threatening illness but instead are desirous to use the art of medicine and healing as a tool towards self-transformation. Either way, both of these groups would be inspired by the words of the Arabic physician Ali Pul who once wrote, “The medicine of the soul is the medicine of the body.”22
Indeed, the art of healing is first and foremost a spiritual endeavor. Take away all the trappings of technological medicine and what you are left with is a sacred trust between healer and healee. Yet unfortunately, western medicine has no interest in taking away the trappings and prefers staying within the realm of scientific materialism. This has allowed practitioners of complementary medicine to gain a stronghold in the realm of spiritual medicine. Perhaps spiritual medicine is a much more synergistic fit with complementary medicine, and some would say spiritual medicine is complementary medicine. Yet spiritual medicine is also about being inclusive, not exclusive. Thus, in a perfect world, there would be only one medicine and it would be a spiritually based medicine.
The Limitations of Biomedicine
The problem for western biomedicine is that the system is flawed. It is based on the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm; with the onset of quantum theory the earlier paradigm no longer tells the whole story. Therefore the reality is that science-based biomedicine can only go so far in caring for people because it bases its assumptions on a scientific model that says everything can be explained. The truth is everything cannot be explained. There is a little something that has been verified called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle that says at a certain level we will never know with certainty how the physical world works.23
An inability to explain what was once considered all explainable must lead to inherent frustrations within the western medical profession. For that and other reasons, there appears to be tremendous dissatisfaction among many western doctors. One physician writes, “This is not a happy time in medicine. I do not recall the last time I had an upbeat conversation with a practicing physician.”24And another physician writes, “The spirituality of medical practice must therefore begin with a frank acknowledgement of how much physicians are suffering today.”25
This same physician further analyzes the spiritual suffering and states that there are two sources for it. He says that scientific reductionism denies the existence of the transcendent; and the industrialization of medicine denies the importance of the spiritual.26
A recent poll of 1000 US adults found that 79% believed that spiritual faith can help people recover from disease, and 63% believed that physicians should talk to patients about spiritual faith.27 Another poll found that 94% thought spiritual health was as important as physical health.28 And in a survey of physicians it was found that 79% reported a strong religious or spiritual orientation, 77% acknowledged feeling at least somewhat closer to God or a Higher Force, and 65% reported having at least one affective spiritual experience.29
So the question is, if the great majority of the general public believe in the importance of spirituality in relationship to health, and the great majority of physicians claim to have a strong spiritual belief, what is missing in connecting the two camps? The answer is, biomedicine has lost its heart and its sense of subjectivity. Of course the next question is, did biomedicine ever have a heart to begin with?
Biomedical research is based on an evidence-based approach. This is an objective approach in which the observer is removed from the landscape and is not a party to the findings. The crown jewel in this modality is the double blind method, in which neither the tester nor the persons being tested know precisely what is going on. For example, in researching a new medication, one test group will be given the drug while another group will be given a dummy pill. No one in the two groups will know which pill they’re taking, nor will the testers know. The understanding is that by doing this, there can be no influencing of the final outcome. All parties are blind; all parties are objective.
This is a sound method, and one that can help establish certain effective treatments. This method has even been used to test the efficacy of distant healing,30 prayer,31 and acupuncture, qi gong, dietary supplements and herbs.32
Yet there is an inherent flaw in the scientific method of objective testing. And that is something that has been substantiated by quantum physics: the observer effect. It has been shown that the act of measurement influences the results. What this means is that there is the possibility that the beliefs, concerns, and anticipations of either tester or subject in the double blind experiment may have a bearing on the outcome.
This, then, opens up a Pandora’s box of enigmas. Does this mean that it is possible that our thoughts may have a bearing on an outcome? And does this mean that consciousness plays a role in this? The answer is yes and yes. And nowhere can this be seen as asserting itself more demonstratively than in the placebo effect.
The Placebo Effect
A couple of years ago I went to a Halloween party dressed as a pothead. The key to my costume was the bogus marijuana I was showing off. I had purchased some dried celery, bagged it up, and led everyone at the party to believe I had the real thing. I started rolling joints and passed it around. A lot of the people smoking commended me on my weed; a lot of people got high off the celery.
Now besides the fact it will create an interesting debate if I ever run for President (I knew that party would come back to haunt me, as who will believe my assertions that the stuff wasn’t real – can I just claim I didn’t inhale?), it also creates a lively discussion about placebos. How can people get high off dried celery?
I didn’t realize that I had done a placebo experiment, I was just having fun. But experiments in the placebo effect have used similar methodology. In one study, participants were given a drink they were told contained alcohol. Even though there was no alcohol in it, many felt and acted drunk and even showed some of the physiological signs of intoxication. In another study, patients with asthma who were given an inhaler containing only nebulized saltwater, but were told they were inhaling an irritant or allergen, displayed more problems with airway obstruction. When the same group was told the inhaler had a medicine to help asthma, their airways opened up.33
The placebo effect is an interesting phenomenon and further exposes the cracks in the objective approach. Every drug trial measures a medication’s effectiveness in comparison to a placebo. Frequently the differences between the two groups are so small as to be statistically insignificant.34 And sometimes this result can upset the best-laid plans of the drug companies, as in the case of MK-869, a highly touted anti-depressant invented by Merck. In early 1999 the company pulled the potentially new wonder drug and shelved it permanently. Why? Because in drug trials the placebo group had done just as well as the drug group.35
Some researchers have even speculated that the placebo effect plays a role with the group that takes the drug. Often subjects will know which group they are in, as people generally will experience physical sensations and side effects from taking the medication. This will lead them to rightfully conclude that they are taking the drug and then have higher expectations that the medication will work. And people in the control group, by not having any side effects, will have fewer expectations that the medicine will work, thereby lowering their success.36
The placebo effect has even been related to surgery. In a classic study performed in 1959, a surgeon performed a procedure known as internal mammary artery ligation on eight patients. This was a procedure to treat angina, in which tiny incisions were made on the chest and two arteries were then knotted. In addition to the eight patients, the surgeon also performed sham surgery on an additional nine patients, in which all he did was make incisions and nothing more. The end result was that the phony operations worked just as well as the real thing.37 And in a sham surgery study done in 1994, 10 patients with knee pain were assigned to a couple of groups. One group would have arthroscopic knee surgery, one group would have their knee rinsed, and another group would be given placebo surgery. All three groups reported less pain six months after surgery. One subject, who had the fake surgery, stated, “The surgery was two years ago and the knee never has bothered me since.”38
Other studies have shown that subjects who took or did nothing in comparison to a placebo group had nowhere near the positive results that the placebo group had.39 Thus it may be that the most active ingredient in a placebo is belief. As the Greek physician Galen noted, “He cures most successfully in whom the people have the most confidence.”40 For every healer, how to instill that confidence is a matter of choice. Some choose to wear lab coats and stethoscopes, some choose to dress as clowns and give items that they imbue with magic and charisma,41 some perform rituals and wear the costumes of their culture, and some dress plainly and appear very down to earth.
The practice of medicine is truly an interpretative art in which there is a place for both objectivity and subjectivity, just as there is an objective and subjective realm in our personal lives. Thus to eliminate feelings from biomedical research is to cut off one half of our aspects.
A patient of mine who I’ve been treating for the last six months for infertility taught me an important lesson in that regard. When I last saw her she recounted to me that she just had her period, a painful reminder to her that she still has not attained fertility. As she was telling me, I was taking notes on what she was saying and so I matter-of-factly answered her with an “uhhuh.” She did not like my clinical answer and brought it to my attention. Her reply made me look at her and apologize. Although I was caught up in taking notes, that doesn’t give me the right to insult her pain by objectifying the experience.
To cut off the subjective realm and to pretend that it doesn’t exist is to deny the existence of mind-body medicine and non-local medicine. But these two forms of medicine, what Larry Dossey, M.D., refers to as “Era II and Era III”42medicine, have too much substantive evidence and documentation to refute them. It no longer is possible to turn back the clock or sweep the denials under the rug. A new dawn is upon us. And even medical schools are getting into the act: nearly 30 US medical schools include in their curricula courses on religion, spirituality and health.43
One of the most fascinating realizations, and something that has profound implications for the future, is the field of non-local medicine. This can also be seen as spiritual medicine. Spiritual, non-local medicine helps distinguish between curing and healing. Curing is a medical process aimed at relieving symptoms. Healing, which is a spiritual experience, is aimed at tapping the inner source of healing, and trying to open the inner processes that are blocking both healing and curing. The importance of the healing process in medical care has led the Canadian province of Manitoba to recently name a Spiritual Care Coordinator to oversee spiritual medicine in the province’s hospitals and institutions.44
Non-local medicine is the medicine of the past, the present and the future, all rolled into one. Non-local medicine tells us that the mind and consciousness reaches out beyond the boundaries of the self and stretches outwards infinitely, into realities that we have yet to totally comprehend, ultimately extending into the quantum vacuum, which contains the potentiality of everything in the universe. In quantum theory non-locality has been substantiated by Bell’s theorem of non-local reality, which shows that it is possible for there to be instantaneous communication among particles, even those separated by immensely vast distances, at a rate faster than the speed of light.
Besides quantum theory’s substantiation, there are other bits of evidence making the case for non-local mind. One of the most fundamental is our intuition, our ability to sense things happening. Most of us have had at least one experience where we have known something that was to occur in the future, and there was no way we could have been privy to this knowledge. For example, not too long ago I had a dream in which George Harrison had died. A few weeks later he was stabbed and almost died. I was pretty freaked to realize how prophetic my dream was, though thankfully my dream wasn’t totally true.
Biologist Rupert Sheldrake has proposed a number of experiments that would serve to show the non-local connections we all have. These fascinating experiments could serve to demonstrate clearly how our current view of reality needs to be transformed.
Sheldrake’s experiments would include the following:
- Pets That Know When Their Owners are Returning. He has collected the stories of pet owners who say their pets know when the owner has left their work or another place and is heading home. What this seems to show is that pets respond to the intention and action of the owner to come home.
- The Sense of Being Stared At. Many people have had the experience of feeling they are being looked at from behind, and when they turn around they find they really are. This experiment would attempt to ascertain the idea that influences pass out of our eyes, affecting what we look at.
- The Reality of Phantom Limbs. Amputees will attest to the fact that they don’t usually lose the sense of its presence. They experience phantom pains that hurt, along with itching, warmth and twisting. One amputee reported that his dog wouldn’t enter the area of his missing leg, refusing to lie in the space vacated by it.
- Homing Pigeons. Homing pigeons are able to find their homes from hundreds of miles away, and the reason for this ability still eludes researchers looking to explain it through conventional laws of physics.45
Another interesting bit of research into non-local connections has been the study of identical twins that were separated at birth and reared in completely different homes. A book entitled Twins, An Uncanny Relationship tells of the findings of researchers at the University of Minnesota who studied 16 such pairs of siblings, along with other twin research around the world.46 What the author reports is that the uncanny connections among twins, especially twins who have been separated for their entire lives, is not coincidence or chance. He shows that there is an inherent bond that connects them. Non-local connections between people who are emotionally bonded have also been substantiated by the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research lab.47
Along with Sheldrake’s proposed experiments and the twin research, there is a body of scientific findings, in the language of objective science, to substantiate non-local medicine. There have been at least 131 controlled trials performed testing non-local, or spiritual medicine. These experiments deal with healing effects on enzymes, cells, yeasts, bacteria, plants, animals and human beings.48 A majority of these findings substantiate the idea that spiritual medicine is a viable modality.
Besides the scientific research, the other bit of evidence is the everyday experiences of millions of people: the synchronicities, the intuitive understandings, the healings, and the miracles that many people have either experienced or witnessed.
Some may call all of these miracles, but on closer examination, all we are doing is tapping into the powers of non-local mind to create a transcendental form of medicine. By going beyond the realm of four dimensional space and time, we enter into a world where we begin to touch upon the unitive consciousness, the place where all minds merge as one. This is also the place that represents, to use the terminology of Stephen Hawking, the singularity of the universe.49 Or to use mathematical language, this is infinity. In quantum terms it is the quantum vacuum, that place where the potentialities of the entire universe lie.
The quantum vacuum, which consists of empty space, contains an infinite amount of energy that pervades the entire universe. It is thought to be the source of the big bang and the origins of the universe. It is indeed a wonderland of effects: force fields that emerge from nowhere, particles popping in and out of existence, and energetic jitterings with no apparent power source. Some scientists even contemplate the prospect of harnessing the vacuum’s properties to provide an apparently limitless supply of energy.50
The theories of the quantum vacuum may also complement superstring theory. In this theory, the fundamental blocks of the universe are infinitesimally small vibrating strings that all matter and energy manifest from. These strings are 100 billion billion times smaller than a photon and they reside in a 10-dimensional universe. And where are these 10 dimensions? Theorists explain that they were together at the big bang and then separated; four dimensions then became our known four dimensional space-time, and the other six crumpled up to a size smaller than an atom – in effect vanishing from view.51 It is in the quantum vacuum where these six dimensions may reside.
Sometimes the scientific truth that physics unveils is mind-boggling and gives credence to the saying that “truth is stranger than fiction.” In the words of physicist Michio Kaku, physicists “make our living discovering things that blow people’s minds.”52
What this type of science is giving us is a glimpse, a taste, of the eternal. This is what spiritual healing touches upon. Tasting the eternal is what mystics call the direct experience and what they understand as ecstasy. Experiencing ecstasy generally is fleeting, but often that is enough to create a profound experience. Even scientists, who often deny the mystical experience as something lacking in objective proof, have touched upon it. On scientist Charles Tart’s website, Taste, is a forum to allow his fellow scientists to record and express their transcendent experiences in a non-threatening fashion – they can do so anonymously if they so wish. On this site will be found personal recollections that include hearing messages from God, precognitive dreams, miraculous healings, near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, mystical experiences, clairvoyance, mental powers, synchronicities, and more.53
Even scientists who have no place in their life for spiritual pursuits admit to subjective experiences that border in this realm. Steven Weinberg is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who has proclaimed religion to be nonsense and admits about human spirituality that he “doesn’t even know what it means.” And he finds that as science uncovers mysteries of the universe that “the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” Yet Dr. Weinberg also explains that he is deeply touched by music and poetry in ways he can’t justify or explain. “I love grand opera. I can’t hear ‘La Boheme’ without dissolving.”54
To delve into the realm of spiritual healing is to touch upon the ultimate Absolute. If this is a place where the potentialities of the universe reside, then it is possible that we can tap into its powers and use them to heal either others or ourselves. Because these powers are unlimited and contain the secrets of the universe, it is possible that they can be accessed to create what seem to be pure acts of divinity, or miracles.
People have been fascinated by the seeming possibility of miracles since ancient times. In the classic text of Chinese medicine, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, it is said that “not too long ago there were people known as achieved beings who had true virtue, understood the way of life, and were able to adapt to and harmonize with the universe and seasons…these achieved beings did not live like ordinary humans, who tended to abuse themselves. They were able to travel freely to different times and places since they were not governed by conventional views of time and space.”55
In the Bible it is said that Jesus performed at least 35 miracles – walking on water, healing the sick, multiplying the loaves and fishes, turning water into wine, raising the dead.56
In science, one of the ideals of uniting all the forces of nature into a superforce in hyperspace is the ultimate power that might reside. One physicist commented that “we could change the structure of space and time, tie our own knots in nothingness, and build matter to order. Controlling the superforce would enable us to construct and transmute particles at will, thus generating exotic forms of matter. We might even be able to manipulate the dimensionality of space itself.”57
The late scientist Lewis Thomas remarked “the possibility that medicine can learn to accomplish the same thing [miraculous healings] at will is surely within reach of imagining.”58 And Larry Dossey has proclaimed that to unravel the mysteries of miracles may take a Manhattan Project for Miracles or a National Institute of the Miraculous.59 The term miracle itself is derived from the Latin “mirari,” which means to wonder or marvel. Miracles create a sense of awe or wonder, an amazement at the awesome powers of the universe. Any miracle, big or small, that occurs should be an inspiration to everyone.
Yet, some miracles may seem far-fetched, even to the open-minded. In recent years the image of Jesus has reportedly been seen on a maple tree in Fairfield, Maine, and on a Pizza Hut billboard in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Holy images have been sighted in the sky over Lubbock, Texas; on a soybean-oil-storage tank in Fostoria, Ohio; and on a refrigerator in Estill Springs, Tennessee. The Virgin Mary is said to appear on the first Sunday of every month in Marlboro, New Jersey, and the stigmata of her Son on the bleeding hands and feet of a priest in Lake Ridge, Virginia.60
Then there is the case of Audrey Santos. Born on December 19, 1983, she has been semicomatose since a swimming pool accident at age three. She lies immobile in a bed. Audrey is believed to have the power to heal, though she may not be aware of her surroundings. People who come to see her report of her healing powers and her ability to bring them closer to God. On a recent anniversary of her accident, 8,000 people amassed in a football stadium to honor her. Her pediatrician is unsure of what to make of it, although he says, “Something different is going on here.” A local theology professor believes it to be a “spiritual freak show.”61
Edgar Cayce was another healer who was considered a freak. He would go into a trance and in the trance state he would tell the sufferer what their problem was, what it was caused by, and what the cure was. In his normal awakened state he had no ability to do similar healings. Yet, his healing abilities were profound and the great majority of people he consulted with were helped.
Even the Buddha had mixed feelings about miracles. Once, by the bank of a river, he met a disciple who told him that after 25 years of practicing an ascetic lifestyle, he was capable of crossing the river by walking on the water. The Buddha told him he would have saved himself a lot of time and effort by taking the ferry across, since it only cost a penny. Yet the Buddha, in order to convince his followers of his spiritual powers, showed off his own miraculous powers. He rose in the air, emitted flames and streams of water from his body, and walked in the sky. He also cut his body into pieces, let his head and limbs fall to the ground, and then joined them all together again.62
So perhaps we don’t need the showboat miracles. We prefer the everyday miracles: how to be happy, how to be healthy, how to be more loving, how to use more of our potential. We all still need to believe in miracles, it’s just that we may not be able to will them to come whenever we want. Yet, this does not negate the power or reality of miracles.
Perhaps one of the miracles of miracles is the inability to always predict when they will come. If we could predict, then every prayer, whether sincere, sublime, or outrageous, would be answered. It’s usually when we surrender to the universe, when we don’t make any requests but accept what is to come, that we leave ourselves open to the possibility of a miracle. For example, people who are looking to get into a relationship often find that it occurs when they are not looking for it. And the act of finding someone to possibly share your life with, especially when you are not looking, is truly a miracle.
Spiritual healers understand the aspect of surrender in their work. In Lawrence LeShan’s book The Medium, the Mystic and the Physicist he describes the way spiritual healers work as an attempt to aim for a unity state of consciousness; by doing this they merge their mind with this Infinite state, as well as with the recipient of the healing. There is no focus on techniques or sensing of energy. Instead the healer surrenders all desires and thoughts in order to unite non-locally with the universe and patient. In doing this, the healer lets the healing happen as opposed to trying to do something to the person’s body to make the healing happen.63
In his book LeShan differentiated between two types of healers, Type I and Type 2. Type I healers uses the spiritual healing method mentioned above, while Type 2 healers use intent through physical or mental actions to manipulate another person’s physiology or energy flow. As LeShan puts it, “In Type 2 the healer tries to heal; he wants to and attempts to do so through the ‘healing flow.’ In both Type I and Type 2 he must (at least at the moment) care completely, but a fundamental difference is that in Type I he unites with the healee; in Type 2 he tries to cure him.”64
This distinction could be used to understand the difference between spiritual medicine and energy medicine. Energy medicine can be an attempt by the practitioner to change the person’s energy fields, either through their intent, or by the physical manipulation of energy, as in acupuncture. In spiritual medicine the healing current comes from a greater source than the healer, with the healer allowing themselves to be a clear channel for that source of healing energy. With this type of medicine it is then possible for a person being healed to experience a sense of their blockages being opened up.
This is not to say that energy medicine can’t do the same thing. I have seen some dramatic cures with acupuncture. In these situations the people are obviously opening up the areas in their body where energy is blocked. I believe that acupuncture helps align a person with the greater energies of the cosmos. And as an acupuncturist I stand in firm belief of my work. Yet it is only one way among many.
Even Chinese medicine recognizes this. Chinese medicine has a hierarchy of medicines from most to least superior. The most superior medicine is spiritual medicine. Then comes dietary medicine and herbs. After that is the exercise therapies, which to the Chinese mean qi gong, t’ai chi, and the martial arts. After that comes energy manipulation, such as acupuncture, tui na, acupressure, and so on. After that come drugs. And the lowest form of medicine is surgery. Each has its time and place, but they considered the most profound medicine to be spiritual medicine because it had the potential to be the most transformative. As Elmer Green, in his book Beyond Biofeedback, has said, “We have concluded from our work with hundreds of patients that anything you can accomplish with an acupuncture needle you can do with your mind.”65
Perhaps the most accomplished healers use a combination of Type I and Type 2. They access higher states of awareness to bring the healing powers forward, and they also channel their own energies. This would be using the advantages of both non-local and local medicine. Non-local medicine sends a healing message while local medicine sends healing energy. The ultimate healing message that comes from non-local sources is universal love. That, combined with the healer’s innate source, may be the correct formula. To use this formula, and to develop as a healer, the healer must go through their own transformation and do their best to shed the trappings of their ego desires and their heart. If within the healer is a tangled web and hidden agenda of lies, petty jealousies, secret motivations, and so on, the healing message that stems from the Ultimate will be blocked.
Abraham Heschel, a 20th century Jewish philosopher and theologian, once said in an address to the AMA, “To heal a person, one must first be a person.”66 To truly become a person is a commitment to maturity and an evolution of consciousness.
In his writings Ken Wilber has outlined what he calls “integral transformative practice” as a way to achieve that end. This is an approach that touches upon all levels of our being and potential. This way includes physical work, emotional/body work, psychodynamic/cognitive work, soul work and spiritual work. What Wilber says is that, “If you just meditate, your psychodynamic ‘junk’ will not automatically go away, nor will your job or relationship with spouse automatically get better. And if you only do psychotherapy, you will not be relieved from the burden of death and terror.” He goes on to say that, “Render unto Freud what is Freud’s and unto Buddha what is Buddha’s. And best of all, render unto the Divine all of yourself, by engaging all that you are.”67
By individual transformative practices, a healer can then evolve as a person. This evolution can lead to an expansion of LeShan’s typology to include a Type 3. This would be the type that I suggested above, where a healer aligns the universal energy with themselves and the patient, and then from the depths of their own heart and soul channels their own clear energy. Some healing modalities attempt to teach this method. Reiki healing and Therapeutic Touch are two energy modalities in which the training of the practitioners include concepts of altruism and compassion.68 Barbara Brennan, in her book Light Emerging, 6 9 discusses the process of healing as a means to shedding the blocks that stop the flow of creative healing energy. Her point is that the more we open ourselves up to the flows of the universe, the more we can channel that source for the benefit of others.
Others say the art of spiritual healing lies in the ability of the healer to elevate their consciousness to merge with the Divine. In the book The Art of Spiritual Healing, the author points out that “anyone who practices spiritual healing must rise above the level of appearances – above the discords of corporeal sense, or personal sense – to a higher plane of consciousness where there is no person to be healed and where there is room only for the Spirit of God.”70
Qi gong as a healing tool would be another example of Type 3 healing. With qi gong, the practitioner is seeking to unify themselves with the universe. It is believed that when a person is completely relaxed and in a meditative state the body can resonate with the fields of the universe and the two will interact.
In China, qi gong masters do healing sessions where they emit their qi to those in need of healings. One qi gong doctor, Yan Xin, has said, “Early-stage cancer is curable as easily as the common cold. If the patient works with me, I can reduce mid-stage cancer, and control the spread of some late-stage cancer.”71People such as Yan Xin and other qi gong masters even perform group-healing sessions, where they emit their qi to the entire audience in order to help heal them.
The reliance on others to perform the healings may be an important part of someone’s recovery, but if the expectations are for someone else to totally do the healings, an important piece of the puzzle is then absent. That is the ability for self-healing, to be reliant on our own innate healing capabilities and to use them to the best of our abilities. This self-healing potential can lead to a further expansion of the typologies. We can call these people Type 4 healers. Type 4 healers would use as their foundational approach spiritual medicine, whereby they align their hearts, minds and souls with the Divine.
Type 4 healers are the types who are classified as spontaneous remissions. These are the people who go through extraordinary healings and remarkable recoveries. These are the people who have been blessed by miracles. Some denigrate these types of healings, and believe them to be random acts of fate. One prominent oncologist says, “I think you’d have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than of having a spontaneous remission of cancer.”72 Others are not so smug. In the book The Spontaneous Regression of Cancer, the author William Boyd writes that the term spontaneous regression “has a suggestion of something happening without a cause. That, of course, is absurd, for everything has a cause, apparent or inapparent. On consulting the dictionary we find spontaneous defined as ‘without external cause.’ If we add the subjective ‘adequate,’ we have a concept which we can use in our own thinking.”73
I personally agree with Boyd’s argument. If these extraordinary healings were random, their occurrences would be once every blue moon. Too many healings have occurred over time to dismiss them lightly. The Institute of Noetic Sciences has published a book, Spontaneous Remission, An Annotated Bibliography,74 in which the authors have painstakingly researched the known literature to come up with a few thousand cases of spontaneous healings over the last 100 years. This is credible evidence to show that there is a process of healing that people are capable of tapping into, and that we all have this innate capability.
Though spiritual medicine may play the key role in these miraculous healings, most people rely on a number of measures. Some may go the conventional route and undergo biomedical treatments, whereas others search out complementary methods to assist them. One cancer survivor, Debby Franke Ogg, tried everything from acupuncture and herbal medicine to meditation and visualization. “I took a very active role in getting myself well,” she says.75 Ogg also discounts the term spontaneous, as she says “I worked my ass off for it.”76
Many of the people who “work their ass off for it” find themselves venturing down a path of reconstructing and renewing their life as they head towards self-healing. The inner life becomes intensified, epiphanies large and small are experienced, and cathartic episodes occur. This is what can happen to those who spiritually heal. The old coat is shed and a beautiful swan is born. The connection to the Divine is a trip into the quantum vacuum, where infinite powers reign, and where anything is possible.
It may be a mystery to some as to why these healings occur, yet like any good mystery, there is a solution. It may be because the butler did it, or it may be due to something more profound.
Not all mysteries are eminently solvable. Take the theories of 10-dimensional hyperspace. As physicist Michio Kaku points out in his book Hyperspace, the mathematics to unravel this mystery have not yet been invented.77 And studies suggest that only 20% of drugs have been proven as to how they work; for the rest it is a mystery as to how and why they do so.78
This doesn’t stop researchers from theorizing what the process of self-healing is. These researchers draw their conclusions from studying those who have gone through the process.
A team of Japanese researchers has concluded from the cancer patients they worked with that there were five common characteristics these people had:
- All the patients developed their cancer after suffering a deep existential crisis.
- On learning their diagnosis, they had an absence of anxiety and/or depression.
- After learning of their cancer, they gave themselves totally to the will of God.
- They took strides to change their psychological makeup and their relationships with others.
- They maintained, and prominently featured, a religious or spiritual perspective.79
Another researcher, Charles Weinstock, M.D., lists a number of factors that he considers to make up the Type M, or miracle, personality. He includes:
- Inner Change. Type M’s go through an existential shift in the way they view themselves and their lives.
- Regression. This is a return to earlier states of function, in which a person can tap and relive their memories of when they felt happy and contented.
- Active Surrender. One patient exclaimed that his surrender was predicated on his understanding that life sometimes just is and the “universe doesn’t arrange itself around my ego.”
- Altered States. High hypnotizability, fantasy-proneness, dissociation, vivid dreams and perceptual alterations occur to some during their healing journey. One person recalled, “Life became, well, psychedelic.”
- Emotional Expression. Self-healers tend to emote easy and go through strong mood fluctuations. One personality study of self-healers found that they tend to have “more expressive and sometimes bizarre personalities.”
- Social Change. Self-healers undergo a change in their interpersonal relationships. They realize that the relationship between them and their environment played a role in their illness and make either an intentional or accidental change for the better.80
These factors that both researchers have pieced together show that self-healers potentially undergo a profound transformative experience, both in body and in soul. This is the utmost in spiritual medicine.
Spiritual medicine is not about denying the physical and biological aspects of medicine. Sometimes it’s surgery that is the only answer, sometimes it’s a drug. From my experience, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine often can change a situation. At other times, nutritional changes can be the key factor. But what spiritual medicine can do is unite the disparate forms of medicine into one medicine, a medicine that stresses a binding connection with the Infinite Oneness of the Universe. To connect to this unity takes both the objective and subjective, the cognitive and the intuitive.
The cognitive aspects combine the sciences of biomedicine, quantum theory and complexity theory to understand that all phenomena reflect complex interconnected integrated orders or harmonies of diverse processes. The intuitive aspects use vision to understand how these diverse processes interact and how they are connected to the greater whole, a whole that stems from timeless time, spaceless space, formless form and endless horizons.
In the teachings of Zen it is said “the organism is regulated by the timeless original mind, which deals with life in its totality and can do ever so many things at once.”81 This timeless original mind that regulates the organism is the realm that spiritual medicine delves into. It contains every potentiality of the universe, it contains the capacity to self-heal, and it contains the capability for self-transformation. With so many people clamoring to touch this realm, and desiring a spiritual connection to life, it is necessary that medicine follows suit and not cut people off from their souls.
This understanding is why someone like Andrew Weil sees a higher calling for those labeled as psychotic. He believes that they see glimpses of the far horizon; for them the problem is channeling those glimpses in a constructive manner. He prefers not cutting people off from their inner nature with destructive labels, as Sigmund Freud did.
In his recent book, Reinventing Medicine, Larry Dossey states that medicine has always been a soulful endeavor. “Serving people who are undergoing these life-changing events is one reason why medicine has always been considered a priestly function and why becoming a physician has always been regarded as a spiritual path,” Dossey writes.82
Complementary medicine has always been comfortable wandering down the spiritual path. Western medicine needs to let down its guard and follow suit. When the two paths concur, it is possible they can then integrate. This can lead to a lessening of tension between the two groups. When this occurs, a chasm will be bridged and a healing will have taken place amongst the disparate fields of medicine.
This healing will be a spiritual healing; like all spiritual healings its resonances will be felt profoundly, touching many lives in the process. And this healing can then lead to a transformation both in medicine and in society.
As I was finishing up this paper, I noticed a sign posted at a natural food store in my area that a spiritual healer was going to be in town within the next few days. I took this to be a meaningful coincidence and made an appointment.
I got there at the appointed hour and met Bill White, the healer. Bill is probably in his 50’s, has thinning white hair, and a long ponytail. I was not sure what to expect, and thought that maybe he’ll be a very pious person, with deeply religious and spiritual convictions. Bill burst my preconceptions: he was more or less an iconoclast. A former lawyer, he always knew he had a gift for healing, and finally got tired of going to meetings to talk about mergers, when what he preferred was to touch the others in the meeting and help heal them.
He told me he uses a guide named Fred. Fred is an angel. The scientist in me doesn’t know exactly how to explain this, although I know a lot of people believe they have guides. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of Native Americans also hear voices and talk to different spirits. So the only answer for me was to suspend the analytical processes of my thinking, which is a good thing, because my brain can use some occasional down time. Instead I attempted to understand it from the poetic aspect of my mind, the part of the thinking process that sees things more metaphorically and creatively.
Bill says he gets about a 70% success rate and works with a lot of terminally ill people. He says he’ll see as many as 40 people in a day, work 14 hour days, yet never feel tired, because he is not using his energy, but channeling a greater energy. He says he doesn’t believe he can just passively allow the energy to go into people, because people come to him looking to be cured of cancer and other serious ailments. This means he also needs to focus intent on helping to heal the person.
When he does a session, he visualizes in his mind’s eye where he wants the energy to go. He sees the body part or area in question. He’ll do distant healing, and do the same technique. He says that with distant healing he’ll be right there with the person, sitting there with them. He has told people by phone what color the sheets of the bed were that they were laying on as they were talking to him. Some people have even told him they could see him there.
After talking for awhile, we began our session. Bill had me sit comfortably in a chair, with my hands on my legs. His entire session lasted no more than five minutes, during which time he ran his hands over my head and shoulders, from the top of my head down to no lower than the upper back. After that he left the room and I sat there. After awhile I opened my eyes, and then unsure as to what to do next, I sat there a little bit, and then came out of the room.
I felt very relaxed and in somewhat of an altered state. I sat and talked to some people, and then left and drove home. My mood was very calm, very serene, and very peaceful. That night I had a little trouble sleeping at first because I had a surge of energy.
The feeling lasted through part of the next day, then began to subside. I had to make a 2½ hour drive that next day and drove back home the same distance that night, so I don’t know if that had any bearing on the lasting effects. But I did notice the drive went very smoothly, and seemed to go in no time at all.
So I felt an effect, a kind of merging of standard boundaries of time and space with the non-local environment. And like I have theorized, this is how I believe the healings take place – the healer and patient merge and transcend the local boundaries and touch upon the greater unitive whole, where the greater untapped powers lie.