Stand Like Mountain Flow Like Water: Reflections on Stress and Human Spirituality
By Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D.
Stephanie is a mother of three children. Her husband, Ted, is a sales representative for a large corporation; he travels at least four days of each week. It's a tough job raising the children alone. Despite her love for Ted, Stephanie resents his job, which has affected her health. Her story is a good example of the mind-body-spirit connection.
"Just look at me," she said to me one day. "I've lost three organs - my spleen, gall bladder, and ovaries. On top of that I'm thirty-five pounds overweight. You better believe there has been a lot of stress in my life: stress in the form of anger."
Stephanie is perhaps one of millions who has experienced the stress and disease connection. The mind understands the concept of balance; so does the body. Acute or chronic stress throws the physiological limits out of whack. Within minutes after an episode of acute stress, the body will return to a normal resting state, or homeostasis. Exposure to chronic stress, however, may prevent the body from fully regaining its physiological balance. So it is easy to see how, when various organs are denied a rest, dysfunction will follow.
Today, experts in the field of psychoneuroimmunology suggest that as much as 80 percent of all chronic disease is associated with stress. Worker compensation claims to holistic practitioners' patient data document this disturbing trend. Moreover, research studies show a direct (if not causal) relationship between stress and disease, from the common cold to cancer, and nearly everything in between. Although the effects of emotional stress on our physical well-being are obvious to many, many doctors trained in a different paradigm remain unconvinced. Physicians are taught that the body is like a machine, and that only drugs and surgery can fix it. The Western approach to medicine still views the mind and body as separate entities. Moreover, this approach does not recognize the spiritual component of health.
But concepts can change. Such is the case with the emerging ideal of mind-body-spirit healing, an ancient concept that has been recently rediscovered in the West. In 1974, while researching various aspects of health behavior, Robert Ader came to the conclusion that emotional thought has a profound impact on physiological function. Recalling Pavlov's experiments with dogs, Ader was curious to know how long a conditioned response would last in laboratory rats. Teaching the rats to associate sugar water with a one-time injection of a nausea-producing drug commonly used in chemotherapy, Ader was astonished to learn that in a short period of time, the association proved lethal. He concluded that it was the rats' perception of the sugar water that led to their demise. Upon further examination, it was discovered that the rats had learned to suppress their immune system merely by associating the noxious drug with the sugar water. Ader's research, later corroborated by several others, soon laid the groundwork for a new understanding of the dynamics between mind, body, spirit, and emotions. In 1981 Ader coined the word psychoneuroimmunology, a term now associated with the study of mind-body medicine.
While Ader was busy with his research, which looked at immune suppression, other scientists were busy looking at the mind-body connection in terms of enhancing the immune system. Since that time numerous additional studies have supported the premise that, without a doubt, our emotions can either suppress or enhance the nature of the immune system.
The emerging field of psychoneuroimmunology is composed of several different disciplines including biochemistry, behavioral medicine, complementary healing, psychology, physiology, and several others. However, what was once called mind-body medicine by those who formed this alliance in the early 1980s has slightly changed its focus to include the spirit-as in mind-body-spirit medicine. In studies investigating the remarkable recoveries of patients with terminal illnesses, it is the human spirit that takes center stage to initiate the healing process.
Times have changed since Galileo was locked in a tower by Pope Urban VIII in 1633 for going against the prevailing paradigm of the center of the universe. Today the fields of science and religion are merging onto common ground. Explorations in the fields of quantum physics, biochemistry, transpersonal psychology, and clinical medicine have shown that the reaches of human consciousness far exceed the gray matter of the brain cells. In fact, human consciousness, as a part of divine consciousness, seems to be connected to, not separated from, all aspects of life.
With regard to stress and disease, these new insights show that our thoughts and emotions can significantly affect our physical health. It should be noted that these mavericks who bushwhacked their way to the vanguard of higher consciousness didn't gain their insights solely from reading books and articles. Their exposure to this universal wisdom came equally from personal experience. So has mine.
One day while roaming the aisles of a bookstore, I found myself drawn to a picture book on healing. Flipping though the pages, I came across a photograph of a couple outside their house. Looming in the background was a rather large power plant generator with power lines reaching toward the horizon. The story that accompanied the photograph described their bouts with cancer and their concern about the effects of electrical currents (extremely low frequencies, or ELFs). It was a startling story.
Turning a few more pages, I focused on a photograph of a woman doing a technique called therapeutic touch. Not familiar with the technique, I read the story to discover a concept called the human energy field. Both stories, I was to later learn, spoke of the nature of entrainment, a term introduced through the work of Dutch mathematician Christiaan Huygens in 1665 to describe the sympathetic resonance between the oscillating vibrations of two objects. (Huygens noted this occurrence with pendulum clocks.) And while my first thought was one of skepticism, I turned back to the photo of the couple with cancer and decided this topic merited more attention.
Not long after that experience, I bought a few books on the topic of the human energy field and began to compile notes for a lecture I was giving. In the section on healing there were several books, but one caught my eye-Robert Becker's Cross Currents. Becker is an orthopedic surgeon with a deep interest in electromagnetic fields. Twice nominated for a Nobel prize in medicine for previous work in this area, Becker took the task in hand to elaborate on the topic of electro-magnetic fields and the dangers of cancer.
Just as I was about to reach for this book, a woman beside me also reached for it. With only one copy left, i asked: "Just out of curiosity, may I ask what your interest is with the topic of the human energy field?"
"Well, my house has turned into a freak show. If I walk into the kitchen with the lights off, the lights come on. If I walk by the television, it turns off-all by itself. Appliances go on or off whenever I enter the room, and I am just trying to figure what's going on," she said.
When she paused i kindly looked her in the eyes and said, "I think you need this book more than I do."
As it turned out, the store clerk found another copy in the back room, so we both left happy. But I was reminded that the human energy field is a very real phenomenon.
Becker's book introduced me to Mietek Wirkus, a healer who can actually see the human energy field. What's more, Mietek can also detect the emergence of disease and illness in the energy field, even before symptoms appear in the body. Through a technique he calls bio-energy healing, Mietek senses distortions in the energy field as energy "clouds." Where possible he removes these emotional congestions, which then allows for the free movement of subtle energy through the chakras (energy centers located in various regions of the body that connect to the endocrine and nervous systems).
During my lecture on the human energy field, one of my students raised his hand and mentioned that he, too, had been to a healer named Mietek Wirkus who lived in the Washington area. Through the subtle mystery of synchronicity, I soon found myself at the home of Mietek and Margaret Wirkus. Under their direction I took a year-long course in bio-energy healing.
As Mietek and Margaret explained, the human entity is not composed merely of a physical body. We are mind, emotions, and spirit as well. Various layers of energy that surround and permeate the body are associated with the emotional, mental, and spiritual vibrations. Thoughts and emotions are not a result of impulses sent from one neuron to another throughout the brain; they originate in the energy field. Like water that cascades down terrace steps to collect in a pool below, thoughts and feelings cascade down through the layers of the energy field to the most dense layer of energy-the physical body.
Over time, unresolved emotions such as anger and fear tend to cause a distortion in the human aura. In essence, emotional baggage can become tumors, arthritis, and clogged arteries. From years of experience and observation, Mietek has learned to recognize illness that will result from unresolved stress. His rate of accuracy is astonishing. And he is not alone. My conversations with other renowned healers, including Donna Eden and Caroline Myss, all confirm the same premise-disease begins in the energy field.
The concepts of the human energy field and chakras (a Sanskrit word for spinning wheel) may be foreign to the Western scientific mind, but they are not completely unknown to those familiar with the Judeo-Christian culture, particularly in the artwork and sculptures passed down through the ages. For centuries, the crown chakra, which signifies a conscious awareness of the divine, has been painted as a halo over the head of those saintly figures who were consciously aware of a divine presence in their lives.
Recently I was reminded of the concept of the human energy field while walking through Catholic hospitals, where there are several statues of holy figures adorned in golden auras, and again when I took a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was in Santa Fe where I became most impressed with the exquisite frescoes that adorn the sides of many buildings. Paintings of the Virgin Mary, a figure highly regarded by those of the Catholic faith, typically show her enshrouded with a golden aura of light. The good news is that you don't have to be a virgin saint to have an aura. We all do!
Richard Gerber, M.D., is a radiologist who has thoroughly explored the theory of the human energy field. His interest was piqued when he experimented with Kirlian photography, using several of his cancer patients as subjects. Kirlian photography, developed in 1940 by a Russian researcher, Semyon Kirlian, is considered one of the first methods to measure one aspect of the electromagnetic field. By observing tiny electronic particles displayed in a formation of brilliant colors emanating from the body, the Kirlian photograph creates an image of what is believed to be the closest layer of energy surrounding the body. Gerber noted that the pattern and intensity of colors around the hands of cancer patients were significantly duller when compared with the vibrant colors emanating from the hands of healthy control subjects.