Moving beyond drugs to find health

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As summer slips away again, I’m reminded of how walking along the seashore listening to the continuous sound of crashing surf can clear our head and allow fresh perspectives.

In the local Walgreens parking lot, I had a beach-like moment and found an answer.  A CVS store had opened up on the other end of the same block and I puzzled over how these stores were both thriving while selling identical merchandise.

As I stood listening to waves of traffic, the answer hit me:  drugs.  They are drug stores.  There’s an insatiable demand for prescription and non-prescription medication.   People’s search for health is relentless.  Everyone needs to be healthy.

But are drugs the only way?

Reports say a lot of us don’t think so.  In addition to mega-dollars spent on drug-based health care, Americans also spend almost $34 billion each year out of their own pockets on alternative treatments.  Even 3 out of 4 U.S. health care workers use some form of complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) to stay healthy.

Prayer is no longer listed as part of CAM but the statistics still show an increasing percentage of people pray about their health.

I’m part of those statistics.  Several decades ago, I ran out of drug and even alternative treatment options.  I used to suffer with incurable asthma.  Conventional treatments, over the counter and prescription meds and everything from acupuncture to zinc only gave some temporary relief.

What finally healed me was a mental change.  It came from ideas in a book I was reading, Science and Health with key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy.  A friend gave me the book in response to my exasperation about my condition.  I wasn’t looking for religion, just healing.

The book explains the nature of God, using terms such as Life and Love and Spirit as synonyms for God.  It helped me understand what scripture (which I had not yet read) means when it says that man is made in the likeness of God, Spirit:  that man is not material but is actually spiritual – that I am spiritual.

These basic ideas about God and man really resonated with me.  Pondering them gave me a new sense of myself and the concept that I was a spiritual being became clearer and clearer.

This sentence had a profound impact:  “Become conscious for a single moment that Life and intelligence are purely spiritual, – neither in nor of matter, – and the body will then utter no complaints.”

The more I let these ideas into my consciousness, the more powerful they were – overwhelming what was bothering me like mighty ocean waves.  The asthma ended up being literally swept out of my experience and I was cured of it.

Since then I’ve learned that focusing on spiritual ideas is prayer.  I still pray that way for my health needs and help others to do it too.

I found freedom not only from asthma, but from the belief that drugs or other physical treatments were my only hope.

Our ‘inalienable right’ to better health

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We have the right to be free of ill-health.  In that spirit, my California colleague, Eric Nelson, shared this.  I actually saw the play he refers to when it had its world premiere in Minneapolis at the Guthrie Theater.  I’m glad to hear these comments from the playwright.  Here’s Eric…

Tony Kushner can write. In fact he writes so well, he has received a Pulitzer Prize, two Tony Awards and, just last year, an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay (“Lincoln”).

Tony Kushner also recognizes good writing.

During a recent radio interview to promote the west coast premier of his latest play, “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures,” he made a point of praising the prose of someone whose work features prominently in the play’s title: Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science Church and author of “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.”

“Mary Baker Eddy was a really wonderful writer,” said Kushner. “And she writes gorgeously. [Science and Health is] endlessly quotable. And I sorta fell in love with it. I didn’t become a Christian Scientist, but I found it tremendously moving.”

To commemorate the upcoming celebration of our nation’s independence, here’s a timely sample from “Science and Health” that relates both to humanity’s continued quest for freedom and, as Eddy puts it, our “inalienable right” to less suffering and better health:

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Is Prayer No More Than a Placebo?

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My Massachusetts colleague, Ingrid Peschke, discusses how prayer can pick up where placebos leave off.  Here’s Ingrid…

Debates abound on the power of the placebo.  There’s one man who has made it his mission to try and settle that debate, or at least shed significant light on it.

Described as wanting to “broaden the definition of healing” (The New Yorker), Ted Kaptchuk is considered the leading researcher on placebos as a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Harvard.

Kaptchuk’s research points to a question often left unanswered in medical treatment:  To what extent does a patient’s thought affect outcomes? The unseen, yet powerful elements of healing, such as hope in a certain result, may, according to his research, “fundamentally contribute to the improvement of patient outcomes” (programinplacebostudies.org).

Kaptchuk was one of the experts on a panel discussion I attended at Harvard designed to explore the topic, “Placebo and Prayer:  Why Prayer Practice Might Help.”

I’ve heard skeptics compare prayer to placebos.  And while I’m no expert on the placebo effect, I have had a lot of experience seeing the effects of prayer on health.

I would suggest the prayer referred to as placebo is based on blind belief.  That kind of prayer, I will agree, is no different than placebo.  But the prayer that has depth of conviction, that seeks to understand and appeal to a distinctly divine Mind, ceases to rely on the human mind for healing.

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Genetic choice – our thinking can change our genes?

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I write about how our thinking affects our health.  A previous post, Expectation: the ultimate placebo effect shows how thinking can be effective medicine – even when patients are told beforehand about a placebo, yet still expect and experience good results.

But what if a problem is genetic?  Is that conclusion that last word?  NO.

Can our thinking still have an effect?  YES.

A book that has something relevant to offer here is the Bible.  It gives examples of people who were “born” with certain conditions and then cured through an entirely new spiritual perspective of their well being.

A newer book, written over a hundred years ago, (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy), states:  “Heredity is not a law.”  It explains how changing our mental response to that subject – changing how we think about theories associated with our genetic inheritance – can help heal and even prevent disease. Continue reading

I Was Addicted To Gambling — Here’s How I Overcame It

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My London colleague, Tony Lobl, gives a heartfelt account of how spiritual growth enabled him to gain control over his thoughts and actions.  He was permanently cured  of the disease called, addiction.  Here’s Tony…

When did I cross the line and become “an addict”?  Perhaps during my final year at high school.  Day after day, I’d play hooky from class to join a covert clan of gamblers playing card games in the seniors’ common room.

It didn’t seem like an addiction at the time — as a good bluffer, I’d regularly turn a healthy profit.  But it wasn’t the money that drew me; it was the buzz of pitting my wits against my peers’.  However, the fact remained that the writing was on the wall.  On days when luck ran out, I’d still carry on until I lost everything, including my bus fare home.  Thankfully my father never asked why he had to pick me up.

Despite my lax approach to classes, I got into University.  For a few years, an array of extracurricular activities kept the gambler at bay, hidden within.  So did a couple of cash-light years following graduation, as I pursued a vain dream to be Britain’s answer to Bob Dylan.

But the desire to gamble remained and quickly resurfaced when I finally got a job at a video production company.  Instead of saving my money, I immediately began feeding it to voracious slot machines in London.

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To be healthy – focus on HEALTH, not disease

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If your test comes back negative, you’re glad because “They found nothing.”

Is that really true?  Was nothing found?

Yes, the diseased condition or problem they were looking for isn’t there.  Then what is there?  Health.  And health is not nothing, it’s something.  Something was found.

It’s popular to think of health just as the absence of disease.  I remember being struck by this years ago while in a “health” food store.  Every product was geared not on wellness, but on treating or warding off sickness.

Most agree that our health care system is primarily designed for the treatment, management and sometimes prevention of disease rather than establishing and maintaining health.

Recent efforts to promote healthy lifestyles as a path to wellness mostly emphasize nutrition and exercise.  There’s been little shift in how we think of health.  People still see these lifestyle changes as strategies to evade disease.

Accepted logic says that disease is inevitable and you deal with it either through mainstream or alternative treatment, management and prevention.  But that’s upside down.  What about gaining a better understanding of health itself?

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Owning our Health: Time for a little Ecotherapy?

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In Minnesota, we’re just emerging from a winter of winters.  Twin Cities statistics (kept since the 1870s) rank 2013-2114 the ninth coldest average temperature from December-February (9.7 degrees) and the fifth highest number of sub-zero days (50).  It’s time to warm up to the concept of being out in nature again!  My colleague from British Columbia, Anna Bowness-Park, shares how the great outdoors is great for our inner and outer health.  (Spoiler alert:  there are terrific quotes at the end!)  Here’s Anna…

The understanding that nature benefits our mental and physical health seems obvious.  However, the outdoors is now being touted as a new therapy called “ecotherapy” – or restorative contact with nature.  What scientists have been studying is what our mothers and grandmothers already knew – that being outside is good for us.  In fact, being out in nature, according to studies, is as good for us an anti-depressant or some other medications.

And, there’s another new term coined by scientists who are studying the effect of a lack of nature in our lives.  It’s called “nature deficit disorder”, which of course ecotherapy is called upon to correct.

What these new names do for me is to complicate and medicalize what should be a natural and simple activity.

For many people, being outdoors can be a restorative – even spiritual – experience, whether it is conscious or not.

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To forgive and to be forgiven each benefit our health

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Thoughts of unforgiveness aren’t good for us.  They affect us like water in our car’s gas tank – we don’t run right.  And those we won’t forgive can be affected too.

The health-giving effects of forgiving have been well documented, to the point of becoming common knowledge.  Back in 2004, a Harvard Medical School publication summed up:

“Researchers found that mentally nursing a grudge puts your body through the same strains as a major stressful event…a link between forgiving someone for a betrayal and improvements in blood pressure and heart rate…those converting anger to compassion felt less pain and anxiety than those who received regular care.”  (See also 11/23/11 report by the Mayo Clinic staff)

And that’s just about the body.  Of course forgiveness can heal relationships and bring more peace and happiness.

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What stops you from being healthy?

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TV news anchors announced that a higher percentage of Minnesotans watched the Olympics’ opening weekend than in any other US state.  From our warm living room, with yet another sub zero night outside, my wife and I helped create that statistic.  It was inspiring, as we saw people break free of limits — sometimes in ways they’d never even tried before.  My Texas colleague, Keith Wommack, tells us how barrier breaking can also apply to our health.  Here’s Keith…

Will World-class competition and the medaling of champions keep you watching the 2014 Winter Olympics? Or will you watch in anticipation of barriers and limitations being shattered?

When it comes to breakthroughs and victories, though, you don’t just have to witness Shaun White pull off a Double McTwist 1260 (a snowboarding feat), you too can be an achiever, a champion.

Yes, your victories may start out smaller than Sochi gold, but in the long run, they may actually be more beneficial to you.

While practicing the guitar and learning languages, I’ve noticed a phenomenon that might help explain how you can shatter limiting expectations.

In order to master a guitar riff or learn a phrase, I sometimes struggle for days or weeks with no progress. Then, out of the blue, I experience a breakthrough. One minute I can’t, and then the next, I can. What couldn’t be done before now seems natural, as if I’d always had the know-how.

How does this happen? Well, I’m learning that each of us has conscious control over our experience; I was simply failing to recognize and use it.

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Bonnie Horrigan: Health Care Transformer

shapeimage_2“I was aghast at how mechanical health care was.  The person was being bypassed.  It was as if people were cars – you know, you go in and fix the brakes or replace the oil.  I knew that people were much more than machines,” says Bonnie Horrigan, describing to me what drew her to become a pioneer publisher for the now burgeoning field of integrative medicine.

Horrigan is an enlightener, educating and encouraging the public and those in health care to see that health is about more than just bodily components.

She came to that realization after publishing reports and papers for The American Association of Critical Care Nurses.  Those nurses, on the front lines of caring for people, gave her a grant to start one of the first integrative medical journals:  Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, which she co-founded in 1995 with Dr. Larry Dossey and Dr. Jeanne Achterberg.

Anyone interested in a “mind-body-spirit” approach to health owes Bonnie Horrigan a huge debt of gratitude that this concept is now accepted in today’s health conversation.

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