The Healing Power Of The MindWHEC Practice Bulletin and Clinical Management Guidelines for healthcare providers. Educational grant provided by Women's Health and Education Center (WHEC).
We experience illness on a physical level, but in order to be healed, we must understand where the true healing begins: with-in our hearts and minds. The purpose of this document is to explain methods to transform the minds of self-pity and anger, to work creatively with adversity, and to make our lives meaningful, no matter what state of health we are in. We hope this challenges us to open our hearts with compassion and wisdom. Spiritual cure is an understanding which allows us to begin to see illness and disease in a broader perspective. It directs the attention of mind to the special wisdom of cures that cause permanent healing to take place. Spiritual practices are not magical or miraculous but rather help a person to understand the real causes of health and happiness. The benefit you receive is determined by your motivation and by the quality of your mind.
Since healing essentially comes from our mind, not from our body, it is important to understand the nature of the mind. All the faults of our mind: our selfishness, ignorance, anger, attachment, guilt, and other disturbing thoughts- are temporary. The quality of mind gives us the potential to free ourselves completely from all suffering, including disease and the causes of suffering and to achieve any happiness we wish, including the peerless happiness of enlightenment. Since the mind has all this potential, we do not need to feel depressed or hopeless. We have incredible freedom to develop our mind in any way that we wish. It is simply a question of finding the right way to use the potential of our mind. Mind and body are two distinct phenomena. Mind is defined as that which is clear and perceives objects. Like reflections appearing in a mirror, objects appear clearly to the mind, and the mind is able to recognize them. Whereas the body is substantial, mind is formless, without color or shape. Developing knowledge of our mind is the practical solution to our problems. We first have to identify the root of our problems, only then will we have the possibility of ending our problems and ensuring that we never experience them again. We also have to recognize the full extent of our problems; otherwise, if we see only part of our problems, our concept of liberation will be limited.
Healing of Mind:
Healing of mind is crucial, because otherwise our problems, which are beginning-less, become endless. If we do nothing to heal our mind, there is always the danger that we will again create the cause of the disease, that we will repeat the actions that caused us to become physically unhealthy. Our negative thoughts and actions leave imprints on our mind, which then manifest as disease or other problems. The imprints also make it possible for disturbing thoughts and negative actions to arise again. A physical sign necessarily has a physical cause, but the physical cause arises because of the inner cause, the imprints left on the mind by negative thoughts and actions. Once we recognize this, we will automatically understand that the healing of disease also has to come from the mind. Research has also shown that health has very much to do with a person's attitude in daily life, with the ability to keep the mind positive. The root of our problems is within our mind; it is unskillful ways of thinking. We have to recognize the right ways of thinking, which bring happiness, and the wrong ways of thinking, which bring suffering. In other words, happiness and suffering come from our own mind. Our mind creates our life. Medicine alone or a simple visualization might heal a particular disease, but it is not sufficient to heal the mind.
A person with loving kindness and compassion heals others simply by existing. If we have loving kindness and compassion, our prime concern will always be not to hurt others, and this in itself is healing. A compassionate person is the most powerful healer, not only of their own disease and other problems, but of those of others. Developing our compassion also helps us to develop wisdom, especially the wisdom that realizes emptiness, the ultimate nature of the "I", the mind, and all other phenomena. At the moment, our knowledge is very limited. Our understanding is very limited, as is our ability to help others. The transformation of mind is ultimate healing. The healing comes through meditation, through positive thinking; which basically means through our own wisdom and compassion. It is compassion that helps us to perfect our wisdom and our power. Compassion urges us to develop our mind for others.
Since some diseases have no cure or are difficult to cure, people are experimenting with various healing methods, especially those involving the power of mind. To promote a healthy balance between self-care approaches and more traditional approaches: medical and surgical interventions that can be magnificent and life-saving when appropriate. Self-care is immensely powerful in its own right. The elicitation of the Relaxation-Response, stress management, regular exercise, good nutrition, and the power of belief all have a tremendous role play in our healing. Mind/body medicine has yet to be totally accepted by traditional and Western medicine. A combination of routine medical treatments and mind/body approaches can offer profound health benefits. Employ a balanced approach. Place mind/body therapies within a proper context. They are but one of many influences and treatments.
Challenges of Life:
Suffering drives home the lesson that certain ways of living bring pain to oneself as well as to others. Life is an indivisible whole; after that lesson, one gets the opportunity to correct one's direction in a new life. Milton says in Paradise Lost, "The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heaven of hell or hell of heaven." The real significance of hell is that it is a mental state caused by the content of a person's own thoughts and actions. Wrong actions bring their own punishment, whether from within or from without, or, most tragically, by damaging one's hard-won spiritual progress. For someone who has committed a serious mistake can be so excruciating that he or she is in hell here on earth; no reference to another world is necessary. Suffering need not occur in the punishment of some after-life; it creates its own hell in the minds of those involved. Mental state is paramount; it can make life hell or heaven whatever the surroundings. The kind of experience one undergoes depends on the choices one makes. We seem never to be satisfied with what we have accomplished or what we possess. Perhaps it is ingrained in our present Western society that success and progress, no matter the price, are the names of the game.
The idealized work ethic reinforces the notion that monetary success or upward progression can be attained by a wide spectrum of our population. But even those who achieve these goals of monetary success and continued advancement are often not satisfied. They frequently find their lives dissatisfied by frustrating circumstances requiring behavioral adjustment. In most instances we cannot limit the situations that require adjustment. Because in our society we want more and we want it faster, this attitude does not leave time for relaxation or for appraising problems. When problems do develop, we look for a quick and easy solution. Simply consuming a tablet or capsule the problems which caused tensions, pains or insomnia do not disappear. Our society has given very little attention to the importance of relaxation. At the present time, most of us are simply not making use of relaxation-response -a neglected asset.
Human beings have always felt subjected to stress and often seem to look longingly backward to more peaceful times. Yet with each generation, complexity and additional stress are added to our lives. The truth is that most of the persistent problems of this planet are even further from solution than the beginning of time. The technology of the past centuries and especially that of the last century which was supposed to make life easier for people, often seems to intensify the stress in our day-to-day existence. Most of us find that we are helpless in solving the big problems. The everyday demands of living make it more and more difficult to escape the increasingly adverse psychological effects that seem built into our existence. We find it difficult to reach a satisfactory equilibrium, and as a result we become the victims of stress. In today's society women must reexamine their own roles and life-styles against conflicting expectations and suppositions. For the older women, the problems of reeducation and readjustment can be overwhelming. Men must also adjust to a new role that may mean more responsibility for family and household. The change of the family structure and mobility separates families into small nuclear units. We are all too familiar with the stresses we encounter. However, we are less knowledgeable about the consequences of these stresses, not only psychological but also physiological.
How are these anxieties and stresses affecting us? What is the cost to us in terms of health-risks like hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, and other diseases? Is this a hidden epidemic? What is the role of psychosomatic medicine; which is the study and treatment of diseases caused or influenced by psychological events? Can mind/body approach help us to conquer the harmful effects of stress?
Dealing with Death:
Death is not the problem; our concept of it is the problem. Death is not frightening from its own side; our mind makes death frightening and difficult to accept. Our attachment clings to the appearances of this life - our body, our family, our friends and our possessions. We then cling to these things and get angry at the thought of death. This simply means that we are getting angry with the nature of phenomena, and this refusal to accept the nature of things makes death even more terrifying. Attachments in life do not allow us to accept death and instead makes us see death as frightening and difficult even to think about it. Death is a creation of our own mind. Our mind can make death either acceptable or frightening. We have to accept the reality of death. Discovering how our concepts create problems for us, including our fear of death is essential.
It is our attitude that determines whether our life is meaningful or meaningless. If our attitude is unhealthy, we waste our time and lead a meaningless life. If our attitude is healthy, if our wish is to bring peace and happiness to other living beings, we make our life most meaningful. Since we have such an incredible opportunity to develop our mind and to bring happiness to other living beings, it is extremely important not to waste the precious years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes or even seconds that we have left. Our mind can bring us to the end of death and rebirth, to the end of all suffering.
People, who have lived compassionate lives, even though they might not have followed a particular religion, will have no fear when they die, but will die with comfortable, happy minds. Therefore, even when we are dying, our mind will be happy and content. Death is a concept, something that comes from our mind. Another means of preventing a frightening death is to abandon harming others, which means abandoning negative actions. This brings us a life that is filled with peace, happiness, and satisfaction. And we have no regret, now or in the future.
Peace Begins with Me:
Each of us possesses a natural and inmate protective mechanism to deal with difficult situations. The relaxation-response has always existed in the context of religious teachings. Its use has been most wide-spread in the Eastern cultures, where it has been an essential part of daily existence. Religious prayers and related mental techniques have measurable, definable physiologic effects on the body. Feeling at ease with the world and achieving peace of mind gives a sense of well-being. Despite the diversity of description, there appears to be a universal element of rising above the mundane senses, a feeling beyond that of common-day existence. Eastern and Western mysticism have emphasized a universality of certain impulses in the human mind. "To find religion" is one of the ways to reach unity; and a process of remedying inner incompleteness. Reducing inner discord is a general psychological process. It is making an effort not to think about earthly things.
The repetition of words of praise of God is a form of prayer call Prayer of the Heart. The philosophical basis for the Prayer of Heart dates back to the Greeks and St. Gregory Palamas who believed that after the body and intellect are purified, man, can regain intuitive wisdom. The method of repetitive prayer purifies the intellect by means of a passive attitude, emptying it of all thought, image and passion. Writings on the techniques of mysticism in Judaism were prevalent in the thirteenth century. Many of the exercises involved dwelling upon the names of God or contemplating the letters constituting the name of God. Yoga has been a tradition in India throughout its history. Not merely a philosophy, Yoga had influenced many different practices and beliefs throughout the Indian culture. The essence of Yoga meditation is concentration on a single point; for example - a physical object or a thought. By dwelling upon an object one may cancel out all distractions that are associated with one's everyday life and thus achieve a passive attitude. When mind is at rest, one can proceed to reach the peace. Through tranquility of mind one achieves accord with nature.
There appears to be certain common elements in almost all cultures which enable individuals to periodically change their everyday mode of thinking. Through our emotional attachments, our social feelings, our ideological beliefs, our sensory contacts, we are constantly diverting our thinking toward external factors. Any attempt to redirect this outwardly directed consciousness requires a different mental process. The type of thinking which elicits the relaxation-response is the best to achieve good physical and mental health. Just as each of us experiences anger, contentment, and excitement, each has the capacity to experience the relaxation-response. It is an innate response within us. There are many ways in which people bring forth the relaxation-response and your own individual considerations may be applied.
We do not view religion in a mechanistic fashion simply because a religious prayer brings forth this desired physiologic response. Rather we believe these age-old prayers are one way to remedy an inner incompleteness and to reduce inner discord. There are many aspects of religious beliefs which have lot to do with the relaxation and peace.
The Power of Forgiving:
Who has not felt the sting of betrayal, unfair treatment or something more abusive? Many of us cling to the resulting rage and pain, but others choose not to. Learning to forgive those who hurt us can have profound benefits. It is a new way to manage anger, cut stress and may be most important, improve health. Healing power of making peace is immense and we all have a mental forgiveness center set to be tapped. Forgiving does not mean condoning the offense; letting go of a grudge can slash one's stress level tremendously. Carrying around a load of bitterness and anger at how unfairly you were treated is very toxic. Forgiveness is the greatest gift and is an incredibly healing journey that may save lives. Forgiveness is a powerful antidote to anger, which is strongly associated with chronically elevated blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease. Despite its benefits, many of us will not even consider forgiveness an option. It is a big mistake; hanging on to resentment for months or years means making a commitment to remain angry. Resolving such resentments replaces hostile feelings with positive ones that make your body feel calm and relaxed, which enhances health. Even if forgiveness is not answer, you can find peace. When even basic reconciliation is not the answer for some people; but if you are not stewing or plotting revenge - you found the peace. However you defuse your anger; forgiveness can be powerful. While you can not alter the past, confronting unresolved issues and the people behind them can lead you to a happier, healthier future.
Ways to forgiveness:
- Focus on the facts of the offense; take it as it is.
- Try to understand what led to it; do not condone it.
- Try not to take it personally; you are not the only one to ever get hurt. Explore your true feelings about it.
- Try to focus on the offender's humanity; not just on harmful behavior.
- Forgive for yourself, not for anyone else. Forgive in your heart; you need not to tell the offender.
- Just move on.
Meditation is the medicine; while external medicine can be taken to heal a physical sickness, inner medicine needs to be taken to heal the cause of disease, and to ensure that we never experience disease again. What is this inner medicine? Meditation is using our own mind, our own positive attitudes, to heal ourselves. Since happiness and suffering come from our own mind, meditation is the essential key to healing. Medicine alone or a simple visualization might heal a particular disease, but it is not sufficient to heal the mind. In meditation, our own positive attitudes become the inner medicine that heals our mind and cures the cause of all our problems. It is the nature of positive thoughts to make us feel calm and relaxed.
There appears to be four basic elements underlying the elicitation of the relaxation-response, regardless of the cultural source. The first element is a quiet environment. One must "turn off" not only internal stimuli but also external distractions. Our mind is disturbed and obscured. The power of our body, speech, and mind is limited because of our mental obscurations. The second element is an object to dwell upon. Concentrating on a particular feeling, prayer or word helps to clear the mind. The third element is a passive attitude. If we have loving kindness and compassion, our prime concern will always be not to hurt others, and this in itself is healing. A compassionate person is the most powerful healer, not only of their own disease or other problems, but of those of others. The fourth element is a comfortable position. Usually a sitting position is recommended. Without any resistance, our mind is fully enlightened, which means free from all gross and subtle obscurations. We will be completely free from both the gross mind and the gross body. This is ultimate freedom.
Mind/ body approach and forgiveness training are the most effective ways to relieve the tensions of modern-day living. It might help us to achieve richer, healthier and more productive life. Peace begins with me. The choices we make and the lives we lead are driven by the values we hold. "You are what your deep driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny" - from the Upnishads. There is no "one-size-fits-all" solution to crimes of the heart.
- The Bhagavad Gita and The Upnishads; Translated for the modern reader by Eknath Easwaran. Classics of Indian Spirituality. Nilgiri Press; 2000.
- The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson, MD. An Avon Book; 2004
- Ultimate Healing; The power of compassion by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Wisdom Publications; 2001
- The History of Religions by Karen Farrington. Barnes & Noble Publisher; 2005
- Forgiving and Not Forgiving by Jeanne Safer. Readers Digest Publisher; 2003
- Spiritual Evolution: A Scientific Defense of Faith, by George E. Vaillant, M.D. New York, Broadway Books, 2008
Women's Health and Education Center (WHEC)