Dossey is a medical internist and former chief of staff of Medical City Dallas Hospital, who at that time did some less-than-gentle stirring by suggesting that compassion and empathy play a key role in a surprising number of doctors’ practices, and that many doctors would like to see those qualities receive a lot more institutional support.
Dossey also shared his insights in a gathering in The Mary Baker Eddy Library in Boston, during which he confirmed that, as he saw it, religious affiliation can be a key factor in healing. He said: “We know enough now about interviews with effective healers and pray-ers to be able to say that love and compassion are probably the most important factors accounting for the success of prayer, which we’ve been able to identify.”
At a conference in Bethesda, Maryland, on “The Science of Whole Person Healing,” Dossey defined spirituality as a “sense of connection with something that’s generally considered a higher power.” He said that one of the reasons to “respiritualize medicine” is that “medicine is in trouble, and is viewed by millions as too inhuman, remote, cold, detached, mechanical, expensive, uncaring, and unavailable or too late.” Continue reading →
Send just one letter of appreciation to someone who has never been properly thanked and the feel-good benefits could last up to a month. Write in a gratitude journal every day for 10 weeks and you will likely feel more optimistic about your life and visit your physician less often. If you’re a manager and you take the time to say thank you to your employees you’ll find they’ll be motivated to work harder. That’s according to research at Harvard Medical School (“In Praise of Gratitude”).
In the new movie “About Time” starring Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson, the main character, Tim, has the special ability to repeat days in his life. In one scene, he climbs into bed at night and tells his wife he’s had a bad day. But on the replay, each formerly negative moment in his day becomes an opportunity for him to bring out the good. He jams to a fellow commuter’s (annoying) loud music, makes light of a tense situation at the office and takes in the beauty around him instead of rushing because he’s late to work. This time when his wife asks him about his day he says, “It was great!”
That’s what gratitude does. It causes us to pause for the good. It prompts us to see the day’s events in 20/20 clarity and reminds us to focus on the white space rather than the lone black dot on the canvas that is our life. While we may not be time travelers like Tim, gratitude turns us back to the past and puts the emphasis on the good in our lives. And that is a perspective that can bring healing. Continue reading →
I recently met John, a trim, silver-haired, energetic man in his mid-sixties who was a guest at our church. In my remarks at our evening service for the community, I shared some of the ideas I had gained after attending a lifestyle medicine conference.
John introduced himself to me afterwards and offered his story. We both feel our meeting wasn’t a coincidence.
A few years ago John was a self-described chocolate and Mountain Dew addict, ate the “American” diet of meat and potatoes, and was 70 pounds overweight. He often felt tired and had no energy. His doctor diagnosed him with diabetes and said he would have to take medication for the rest of his life, progressively requiring more pills as the years went by. John followed his doctor’s orders for a year and he got a little better, but when his health took a turn for the worse, his doctor told him he should expect more of that.
Health experts often point out the connection between diabetes and obesity. In the Metrowest Boston area where I live recent reports found that “18.1 percent of adults are considered obese, more than 76 percent of the region’s adults aren’t eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables each day, and more than 16 percent aren’t getting enough regular exercise” (Community Health Assessment, Metrowest Daily News).
In my remarks during our church service, I shared how I’d learned that many doctors and their patients are finding that diseases, such as diabetes, can be reversed by changes in lifestyle. I also pointed out that I felt encouraged that more health professionals are acknowledging the necessity of mental changes, not just physical ones. This makes sense because behind each physical change–whether it’s a change in the food one eats or daily exercise–is a thought. We all know that diets don’t work unless they substantially change poor habits for better ones. So behind each “lifestyle” change is a commitment to do something good, to bring balance, restraint, order, etc. to one’s life. Continue reading →
Guest blogger Kim Shippey is a full-time writer and editor in Boston. He often writes in the company of Piper, who is a fluffy source of inspiration, and scratches away at lines that don’t work!
In recognition of Veteran’s Day, Kim’s post points out that the U.S. Army currently has funding to study the ameliorating effects of service dogs on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Various programs across the United States provide trained service or therapeutic companion dogs to US Veterans suffering from PTSD or traumatic brain injuries, such as Soldier’s Best Friend or Vets Adopt Pets, whose website quotes Dr. Edward Creagan, Oncologist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota: “A pet is a medication without side effects that has so many benefits. I can’t always explain it myself, but for years now I’ve seen how instances of having a pet is like an effective drug. It really does help people.”
My wife recently flew from Boston to Rome for a family reunion. When she took her seat, she found most of her legroom already taken by a huge Labrador-Saint Bernard heaped on the floor. The takeoff was delayed for two hours, which called for extraordinary endurance from the passengers before a flight that was expected to take seven hours.
The only one who was not ruffled by the delay and the discomfort, was the dog at my wife’s feet. His name was William. He wagged his tail every time she caught his eye and then dropped back to sleep. William turned out to be a therapy dog caring for the woman in the window seat. For obvious reasons, he was on tight rations, and limited liquids. Yet there were no audible complaints from him about airline food! Continue reading →
“Would you like your doctor to be a mechanic or a gardener?”
That’s the question Dr. Donald B. Levy posed at a talk I attended in mid-October at the Kessler Library in Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He addressed the almost entirely female audience, giving an introduction to integrative medicine and speaking on “Health Care for the Whole Person.”
“A mechanic fixes broken parts,” he said, “and a gardener is interested in the whole plant. You have to till the soil, strengthen the plant, add in nutrients and care for it at each stage of growth.” He acknowledged the strengths of a doctor (especially surgeons) who are often more like meticulous mechanics, but suggested his current practice was more in line with a gardener’s perspective when treating patients.
Anyone who openly declares that consciousness is not brain is going to get some attention. Especially when it’s from an established neurosurgeon whose knowledge of brain science includes 25 years of clinical practice, including 15 years at the Brigham & Women’s and the Children’s Hospitals and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
After a year of being on the shelves for public consumption, his book has sometimes taken a beating from critics who have poked holes in his story of surviving a very rare case of meningitis, which nearly left him dead or at best a vegetable.
Still, no one can dispute the proof that he’s alive and well today. His very existence begins to unravel common theories about the brain being the source of life and experience. Now he travels throughout the world, lecturing in churches, hospitals, and at symposiums, giving interviews to journalists the likes of Oprah, as well as working on a new book he says will unpack the science behind his recently adopted theories on brain, consciousness, and spirituality.
I read Proof of Heaven when it was first released and I met Dr. Alexander briefly at a talk he gave in New Bedford, MA in the spring, but I relished having an hour of his time to discuss the questions I’d considered since I first followed his story in the headlines.
I started off by telling him I write exclusively about the connection between consciousness, spirituality, and health to which he replied, “Right on the money!”
The following are highlights from our discussion:
Why do you think you came back to tell your story?
Well, I know that my initial connection to come back, as I explain in the book, was my love for my ten-year old son, Bond. Even though I did not recognize my son with my eyes when I was aware of his face and I didn’t hear him with my ears as he was pleading with me to come back, he had somehow reached across all of those dimensions and brought me back to this world. I came back because of that connection of love.
I also think what I bring to the table helps to legitimize near death experiences (NDE’s) from a scientific standpoint and explain the nature of our reality–how our mind and consciousness basically can never die. The reality that unfolds has tremendous implications for health, too.
The following is a post I published on this blog last year. Hope you enjoy “Take 2!”
Today is Labor Day in the United States, a national holiday that has come to mean many things since its original inception in 1882.
Celebrated on the first Monday in September, it is now often seen as the final day of the summer–the mark of a new school year and a day for picnics, family time, and relaxation.
It was first celebrated as a way of honoring the achievements and contributions of American workers to the economic success and ongoing well-being of our nation. But in today’s economy, a day of work is still better than a holiday for many, despite improvement in unemployment figures.
According to a study by the American Psychological Association the three top cited reasons for stress among Americans are:
You can also read this blog on Huffington Posthere.
Is happiness preventive medicine?
That probably depends on how you define it. If you think of it as fleeting and resulting from factors outside of yourself, like a new job or a Hawaiian vacation, well then it’s probably not so beneficial. But if you see it as inherently within you–something you give, rather than get–then it’s a different story.
This might sound like a tall order or even blue-eyed optimism. But what if behind this attitude was the grounded belief that good is natural and happiness is permanent, based on a more spiritual view of your life? Perhaps more in line with what nineteenth century theologian, religious-founder and author, Mary Baker Eddy, had to say: “Happiness is spiritual, born of Truth and Love. It is unselfish; therefore it cannot exist alone, but requires all mankind to share it” (Science and Health With Key To The Scriptures).
Beginning from the standpoint that happiness is spiritual and that it naturally benefits and includes “all mankind” changes the equation from one of “getting” to “sharing.” And that just might be a life-changing, health-altering approach. Why health-altering? Well, it’s hard to overlook the results.
For instance, Martin Seligman, PhD describes a case study involving severely depressed people in his book, Authentic Happiness. These people had just one task a day: to go to a website and record three good things that happened to them over the course of their day. After 15 days they went from a label of “severely depressed” to “mildly or moderately depressed” and ninety-four percent of them reported feeling better. All they had to do was focus on the good in their lives and they were happier.
You could say focusing on the good is an active prayer that has transformative results.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the ambitious 75-year Harvard Grant study that set out to answer the question, “What predicts a happy life?” Considered the longest study of human development of its kind, it followed the lives of 268 male Harvard undergraduates–considered the best and brightest–from the classes of 1938-1940, regularly collecting detailed personal data.
The many decades and twenty million dollars expended on the study ended up pointing to one simple conclusion: Giving and receiving love = happiness.
Dr. George Vaillant, a Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry, directed the study for more than three decades and recently published a summary of insights the study yielded called, Triumphs of Experience (November 2012). In Vaillant’s own words: “ ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’ ” He goes on to say “Happiness isn’t about me.” In other words, our lives have meaning when we are in the business of giving to others. This echoes the point that “happiness is unselfish and cannot exist alone . . . “
In a video produced by The Atlantic, Vaillant comments on the impact of working with these men over a long period of time, “If you’re going to study lives, you’ve got to study trees. Redwoods are a whole lot more interesting than saplings!” (I particularly related to that analogy, since my childhood home was built in a grove of the towering giants and I often pondered their long lives–how these beautiful trees endured fire, wind, rain, earthquakes, and yet still stood tall.)
Vaillant says his image of real happiness in the Grant Study is that of a man whose laundry room was filled with dirty clothes because his children and grandchildren and extended family all came to his home to help him garden or sail and that resulted in dirty laundry that needed to be cleaned. This man and his wife lived their lives as matriarchs and patriarchs–connected to loving relationships–and that amounted to happiness and meaning.
Vaillant says probably the greatest human skill you can have is the ability to take love in and “metabolize it.”
The study doesn’t point to money and social class as a means to happiness. Vaillant himself told The Take Away’s John Hockenberry, “I think if you asked my children they would all say that I’ve been more interested in having a brilliant career, and less interested in just hanging out with them. And if I had it to do over again, I would’ve spent more time with my children.”
In a recent interview I had with Dr. Eva Selhub, author of The Love Response, she also pointed to love and connection to people who cared about her as the number one contributing factor to health and healing in her own life.
When was the last time your doctor prescribed a regimen of love and care, rather than a prescription drug for depression or even a lifestyle change with diet and exercise? In Dr. Lissa Rankin’s new bestseller, Mind Over Medicine she writes, “…the scientific data linking happiness and health is shocking enough that it just might convince you that treatments aimed at increasing happiness should take center stage when you’re interested in preventing disease.”
What if you approached each day with the perspective: Today I am going to live and give joy. I’m going to see it as an unlimited commodity that I possess. I’m going to guard it like a prized possession even if something unexpected happens that threatens my peace.
Happiness is a treatment we can all prescribe for ourselves and watch as it truly does take center stage in our life.
Watch Dr. George Vaillant discussing the Harvard Grant Study:
Guest blogger Kim Shippey is a full-time writer and editor in Boston.
I have always loved Poetry magazine without realizing what an inspiring story lies behind the seesaw life experience of its editor for the past decade, Christian Wiman.
His new book of essays, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux), reveals that even through the secularism of his college days, which led to disillusionment and a break with his childhood church in West Texas, he never actually lost his faith. It just lay dormant until love and a bout with cancer unearthed it.
In an interview with the magazine Christianity Today (January/February, 2013), Wiman describes how religious feeling went underground for him. In the midst of all the contradictory influences and emotions that besieged him, he suffered a writing drought such as he had never known before.
Then, eight months after he had fallen “suddenly and utterly” in love with the woman who is now his wife, he received a surprise diagnosis of cancer, and he was plunged back into despair.
He and his wife found themselves saying little prayers together before dinner and one day wandered into a church. A couple of days later he started to write. It wasn’t so much a “return” to Christianity, he explains, as an assent to the faith that had long been latent in him. Continue reading →
You can also read this on my syndicated blog, Health Conscious, forMetrowest Daily News.
On a recent weekend trip to Philadelphia, our twelve-year old broke through the perfect blue-sky morning with: “Uh oh, where’s my iPhone?”
He was sure it had slipped out of his shorts pocket during the cab ride from the airport and it was now bumping along in the back seat, conveniently set on mute.
It was iPhone’s location services that rescued us.
Soon we were looking at a satellite image of our son’s phone traveling–sure enough–in the cab near the airport. We sent an alert to the phone and Abdul from Philly cab #250 was happy to deliver it to our hotel. Now that’s technology at its best!
Technology is making huge in-roads in the health industry, too. As more people track their health stats at home, doctors can now make A 21st Century House Call.
“We want to watch how you’re living in the home,” John Halamka told The Boston Globe. Halamka helped pioneer electronic record technology among Boston hospitals in the 1990s and is now the chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Boston’s Partners HealthCare is reportedly the first to incorporate at-home devices into electronic health records. The Globe says Partners recently launched a system “that allows patients to upload information from their medical devices, often wirelessly, directly into their electronic records in doctors’ offices.”
This “real time” view of health is appealing, but there are other ways to get an instant read on your health, too. Countless studies show the benefits of practicing forgiveness, gratitude, and reducing stress through mindful meditation or prayer. Monitoring stats like feeling peaceful or grateful is something only you can do.
But there are apps that can help you along the way. The YouVersion Bible app just made the top 40 list for apps. It reached 100 million users on July 8, competing with the likes of Instagram. The handy app is free and offers verses and daily study plans with specific topics (the most popular being “dating” and “love and marriage”) that are designed to help people engage with the scriptures in a modern on-the-go world. (Bible App YouVersion Is Getting As Big As Instagram With 100 Million Download Milestone.)
The link between a spiritual practice and tech apps is discipline–neither works without it.
A friend of mine, who’s struggled with weight much of her life, started using an app called “My Fitness Pal” about six months ago. Her regular routine begins with a discipline of scripture-inspired prayer that gives meaning to her activities, but this app has helped her reach her fitness and nutrition goals. In the last 6 months she’s shed just over 50 pounds.
In a recent phone conversation she told me, “What the app did for me was help me to be honest with myself about how much I was eating. You tell it what you weigh and what you want to weigh. You input how much exercise you want to do in a week and the app calculates how much you can eat based on that. It has also alerted me how to order better in restaurants and how to watch my portion control.”
My friend says although the app is helping her track her food intake, she’s not letting it control her. “I choose what I put in my mouth–and also my thoughts. For me, everything begins with prayer and turning to God–that’s how I start and end my day. I’m not letting the app or the food tell me who I am, but this routine has helped me get back to the point of being more aware of my actions.”
She says she knows she still has a ways to go, but she feels lighter now, she’s able to do more things and she keeps the emphasis on “shedding” rather than “losing” weight.
Some users of the YouVersion Bible app claim it’s like God is reaching out to them…or watching them? Of course the presence of the divine in our lives doesn’t depend on an app for validation, but if it takes one to get there, well then that truly is technology at its best!