In a world with so much violence, inequalities and overwhelming negative news, it is easy to feel discouraged and forget that people can overcome trauma. Take charge of the news and images that surround us since the sounds and images impact our brain. Instead of watching disheartening and violent news before going to sleep, inspire yourself by watching the following two videos.
Mandy Harvey who at age nineteen lost her hearing and is an outstanding American pop singer and songwriter. Even though she is deaf, she received Simon’s Golden Buzzer in America’s Got Talent 2017 while singing her original song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKSWXzAnVe0
It was late in the afternoon and I was tired. A knock on my office door. One of my students came in and started to read to me from a card. “I want to thank you for all your help in my self-healing project…I didn’t know the improvements were possible for me in a span of 5 weeks…. I thank you so much for encouraging and supporting me…. I have taken back control of myself and continue to make new discoveries about my identity and find my own happiness and fulfillment.,,, Thank you so much.”
I was deeply touched and my eyes started to fill with tears. At that moment, I felt so appreciated. We hugged. My tiredness disappeared and I felt at peace.
This student had completed the daily self-healing practices . When the university students practice a sequence of daily self-healing exercises outlined in the book, Make Health Happen (Peper, Gibney & Holt, 2002), most report significant improvement in their health and well-being as shown in Figure 1 (Peper et al, 2014).
Figure 1. Self-rating by students after completing a personal health improvement project over a period of four weeks (Bier, Peper, & Burke, 2005).
The practice which students report impacts them profoundly and by which they experience a deepening connection and sense of agape (selfless unconditional caring and love) with another person is Sharing Gratitude.
Take the opportunity during the holiday season to give joy to others. Just do the following:
- Remember someone who did something for you that impacted your life in a positive direction and whom you never properly thanked.
- Write a 300 word testimonial describing what the person did and how it positively impacted you.
- Visit the person and when you meet her/him, read the testimonial to her/him (if the person cannot be visited, use Skype so you can see and connect with each other).
Although it may seem awkward to read the testimonial, after you have done it, you most likely will feel closer and more deeply connected to the person. Moreover, the person to whom you read the testimonial, will feel deeply touched and both of your hearts will open.
For more background information, watch Professor Martin Seligman’s Ted presentation below.
Bier, M., Peper, E., & Burke, A. (2005). Integrated Stress Management with Make Health Happen: Measuring the Impact through a 5-Month Follow-Up. Presented at the 36th Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. Abstract published in: Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 30(4), 400.
Peper, E., Gibney, K.H. & Holt. C. (2002). Make Health Happen: Training Yourself to Create Wellness. Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt. ISBN-13: 978-0787293314
Peper, E., Lin, I-M, Harvey, R., Gilbert, M., Gubbala, P., Ratkovich, A., & Fletcher, F. (2014). Transforming chained behaviors: Case studies of overcoming smoking, eczema and hair pulling (trichotillomania). Biofeedback, 42(4), 154-160.
“Healing is best accomplished when art and science are conjoined, when body and spirit are probed together. Only when doctors can brood for the fate of a fellow human afflicted with fear and pain do they engage the unique individuality of a particular human being…a doctor thereby gains courage to deal with the pervasive uncertainties for which technical skill alone is inadequate. Patient and doctor then enter into a partnership as equals.
I return to my central thesis. Our health care system is breaking down because the medical profession has been shifting its focus away from healing, which begins with listening to the patient. The reasons for this shift include a romance with mindless technology.” Bernard Lown, MD, The Lost Art of Healing: Practicing Compassion in Medicine (1999)
I wanted to study with the healer and she instructed me to sit and observe, nothing more. She did not explain what she was doing, and provided no further instructions. Just observe. I did not understand. Yet, I continued to observe because she knew something, she did something that seemed to be associated with improvement and healing of many patients. A few showed remarkable improvement – at times it seemed miraculous. I felt drawn to understand. It was an unique opportunity and I was prepared to follow her guidance.
Three remarkable healers: Dora Kunz, Mitsumasa Kawakami and Norihiro Muramatsu.
The healer was remarkable. When she put her hands on the patient, I could see the patient’s defenses melt. At that moment, the patient seemed to feel safe, cared for, and totally nurtured. The patient felt accepted for just who she was and all the shame about the disease and past actions appeared to melt away. The healer continued to move her hands here and there and, every so often, she spoke to the client. Tears and slight sobbing erupted from the client. Then, the client became very peaceful and quiet. Eventually, the session was finished and the client expressed gratitude to the healer and reported that her lower back pain and the constriction around her heart had been released, as if a weight had been taken from her body.
How was this possible? I had so many questions to ask the healer: “What were you doing? What did you feel in your hands? What did you think? What did you say so softly to the client?” Yet, she did not help me understand how I could do this. The only instruction the healer kept giving me was to observe. Yes, she did teach me to be aware of the energy fields around the person and taught me how I could practice therapeutic touch (Kreiger, 1979; Kunz & Peper, 1995; Kunz & Krieger, 2004; Denison,2004; van Gelder & Chesley, F, 2015). But she was doing much more.
Sitting at the foot of the healer, observing for months, I often felt frustrated as she continued to insist that I just observe. How could I ever learn from this healer if she did not explain what I should do! Does the learning occur by activating my mirror neurons? Similar instructions are common in spiritual healing and martial arts traditions – the guru or mentor usually tells an apprentice to observe and be there. But how can one gain healing skills or spiritual healing abilities if you are only allowed to observe the process? Shouldn’t the healer be demonstrating actual practices and teaching skills?
After many sessions, I finally realized that the healer’s instruction to observe the healing was an indirect instruction. I began to learn how to be present without judging, to be present with compassion, to be present with total awareness in all senses, and to be present without frustration. The many hours at the foot of this master were not just wasted time. It eventually became clear that those hours of observation were important training and screening strategies used to insure that only those students who were motivated enough to master the discipline of non-judgmental observation, the discipline to be present and open to any experience, would continue to participate in the training process. It was training in compassionate mindfulness. Once apprentices achieved this state, they were ready to begin the work with clients and master the technical aspects of the specific healing art or spiritual practice.
A major component of the healing skill that relies on subtle energies is the ability to be totally present with the client without judgment (Peper, Gibney & Wilson, 2005; Peper, 2015). To be peaceful, caring, and present seems to create an energetic ambiance that sets stage, creates the space, for more subtle aspects of the healing interaction. This energetic ambiance is similar to feeling the love of a grandparent: feeling total acceptance from someone who just knows you are a remarkable human being. In the presence of a healer with such a compassionate presence, you feel safe, accepted, and engaged in a timeless state of mind, a state that promotes healing and regeneration as it dissolves long held defensiveness and fear-based habits of holding others at bay. This state of mind provides an opportunity for worries and unsettled emotions to dissipate. Feeling safe, accepted, and experiencing compassionate love supports the biological processes that nurture regeneration and growth.
How different this is from the more common experience with medical practitioners who sometimes have too little time to listen and to be with a patient. We might experience a medical provider as someone who may see us only as an illness (the cancer patient, the asthma patient) instead of recognizing us as a human being who happens to have an illness (a person with cancer or asthma). At times we can feel as though we are seen only as a series of numbers in a medical chart – yet we know we are more than that. People long to be seen. Often the medical provider interrupts with within the first 90 seconds with questions instead of listening. It becomes clear that the computerized medical record is more important than the human being seated there. Sometimes the patients can feel more fragmented and less safe, when they are not heard, not understood. In this rushed state, based upon “scientific data,” the health care provider may give a diagnosis without being aware of the emotional impact of the diagnosis.
As one 23 year old woman reported after being diagnosed with vulvodynia,”I cried immediately upon leaving the physician’s office. Even though he is an expert on the subject, I felt like I had no psychological support. I was on Gabapentin, and it made me very depressed. I thought to myself: Is my life, as I know it, over?” (Peper, Martinez Aranda, P., & Moss, 2015; Martinez Aranda, P. & Peper, E., 2015)
What was missing for this young woman was compassion and caring. Sometimes, the healthcare providers are unaware of the effect of their rushed behavior and lack of presence. They can issue a diagnosis based on the scientific data without recognizing the emotional impact on the person receiving it.
Sitting at the foot of the master healer is not wasted time when the apprentice learns how to genuinely attend to another with non-judgmental, compassionate presence. However, this requires substantial personal work. Possibly all allied healthcare providers should be required, or at least invited, to learn how to attain the state of mind that can enhance healing. Perhaps the practice of medicine could change if, as Bernard Lown wrote, the focus were once again on healing, “…which begins with listening to the patient.”
Denison, B. (2004). Touch the pain away: New research on therapeutic touch and persons with fibromyalgia syndrome. Holistic nursing practice, 18(3), 142-150.
Krieger, D. (1979). The therapeutic touch: How to use your hands to help or to heal. Vol. 15. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Kunz, D. & Krieger, K. (2004). The spiritual dimension of therapeutic touch. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.
Kunz, D., & Peper, E. (1995). Fields and their clinical implications. in Kunz, D.,(ed). Spiritual Aspects of the Healing Arts. Wheaton, ILL: Theosophical Pub House, 213-222.
Lown, B. (1999). The lost art of healing: Practicing compassion in medicine. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
Martinez Aranda, P. & Peper, E. (2015). The healing of vulvodynia from the client’s perspective.
Peper, E. (2015). Towards the end of suffering: The contributions of integrating mind, body and spirit by Mr. Kawakami. In: Kawakami, M., Peper, E., & Kakigi, R. (2015). Cerebral investigation of a Yoga Master during Meditation-Findings from Collaborative Research. Fukuoka, Japan: Showado Publisher, 7-13.
Peper, E., Gibney, K. H. & Wilson, V. E. (2005). Enhancing Therapeutic Success–Some Observations from Mr. Kawakami: Yogi, Teacher, Mentor and Healer. Somatics. XIV (4), 18-21
Peper, E., Martinez Aranda, P., & Moss, E. (2015). Vulvodynia treated successfully with breathing biofeedback and integrated stress reduction: A case report. Biofeedback, 43(2), 103-109.
Van Gelder, K & Chesley, F. (2015). A Most Unusual Life. Wheaton Ill: Theosophical Publishing House.
- I thank Peter Parks for his superb editorial support and encouraging me to publish it.
- This blog was adapted the following two published articles, Peper, E. (2015). Compassionate Presence: Covert Training Invites Subtle Energies Insights. Subtle Energies Magazine, 26(2), 22-25; Peper, E. Sitting at the foot of the master-Covert training in compassionate presence. Somatics, 18(3), 46-47.
“I am proud to label myself a nonsmoker… diligently performing practices has profoundly helped me eliminate my troublesome craving…The conscious efforts I have made over the past month have helped me regain control of my life.” –L. F., a college student who became a non-smoker after smoking up to two packs a day since age 11. At 18 month follow-up L. F. is still a nonsmoker.
“I have been struggling with eczema for most of my life and until I began this course, I was feeling very hopeless in managing this condition without the use of costly, and potentially dangerous drugs. My self-healing project proved to be empirically successful. My eczema shrunk in size from 72 mm in length and 63 mm in width as measured at baseline to 0 mm in length and 0 mm in width by the final day of this project.” –L. C., a college student who experienced recurring scaly skin patches since childhood.
In our recent published paper, Transforming chained behaviors: Case studies of overcoming smoking, eczema and hair pulling (trichotillomania), we describe an approach by which students learn self-healing techniques which they practice as part of a semester long class project. After four weeks of of self-healing practices many of the students report significant decrease in symptoms and improvement of health as shown in Figure 1. Their success includes smoking cessation, eliminating hair pulling and eczema disappearing.
One component of the self-healing process is interrupting chained behavior. We react automatically and respond instantly with sadness, anger, neck and shoulders tension, eating too much, veg’ing out watching videos, or playing mindless digital games. After a time, we may notice that we are smoking more, experiencing an upset stomach, back pain, headaches, high blood pressure, or even more skin eruptions. The first step is to sense the initial reaction that leads to the symptom development. Then, the person performs an alternative health promoting behavior and interrupts the chained behavior that triggers symptoms as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Interrupting and transforming the chained behavior. The moment person become aware of the trigger or behavior that is chained to the development of the symptom, he/she interrupts and performs an active new health promoting behavior as illustrated by the dashed lines.
Overtime these automatic patterns may contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases, increased vulnerability to infections or other chronic diseases. The challenge is to develop an awareness to recognize and interrupt the beginning of the ‘chain of behavior.’ The instant you become aware of the first reaction, do something different, such as,
- Shift your focus of attention to something joyful
- Chang your body position and smile while thinking, This will also pass.
- Practice a quick relaxation technique.
- Imagine a positive self-healing process.
The longer the person waits to interrupt the chain, the more difficult it is to redirect the chained behavior. Awareness and immediate interruption appears to be major factors in achieving success. It means practicing the interruption and new behavior all day long. This is different from from practicing a skill for twenty minutes a day and the rest of the time performing the old dysfunctional behavior.
Mastery of this process consists of three steps:
- Becoming aware of what is happening when the chain reactions.
- Learn a more functional alternative health behavior such as breathing, relaxing, focusing on empowering thought, eating other foods.
- Substitute the alternative behavior the moment you become aware of the triggered dysfunctional behavior.
After having integrated this into daily life, many students report experiencing a significant reduction and even elimination of symptoms and behaviors.
“I will continue to do the practices outlined not only to overcome trichotillomania but also to control my anxiety and, therefore, lead a less stressed and happier life. Knowing I have the power to heal myself is such an inspiring feeling, a feeling that can’t adequately be put into words.” –G. M., a 32 year old student with trichotillomania, who reduced her hair pulling, anxiety, and stress
“I have gained much wisdom from this project…I am ultimately responsible for my own health and well-being…I feel empowered, optimistic, and appreciative of every moment.” –L. C., a college student who experienced recurring scaly skin patches since childhood)
For background, specific techniques and successful case reports, read our published paper, Peper, E., Lin, I-M, Harvey, R., Gilbert, M., Gubbala, P., Ratkovich, A., & Fletcher, F. (2014). Transforming chained behaviors: Case studies of overcoming smoking, eczema and hair pulling (trichotillomania). Biofeedback, 42(4), 154-160.
After a catastrophic event occurs a person often becomes depressed as the future looks bleak. One may keep asking, ”Why, why me?” When people accept–acceptance without resignation— and concentrate on the small steps of the journey towards their goal, remarkable changes may occur. The challenge is to focus on new possibilities without comparing to how it was in the past. The limits of possibility are created by the limits of our beliefs. We may learn from athletes who aim to improve performance whereas clients usually come to reduce symptoms. As Wilson and Peper (2011) point out, “Athletes want to go beyond normal—they want to be superb, to be atypical, to be the outlier. It is irrelevant what the athlete believes or feels. What is relevant is whether the performance is improved, which is a measurable and documented event”. They have described some of the factors that distinguish work with athletes from work with clients which includes intensive transfer of learning training, often between 2 and 6 hours of daily practice across days, weeks, and months. This process is described by the Australian cross-country skier, Janine Shepherd, who had hoped for an Olympic medal — until she was hit by a truck during a training bike ride. She shares a powerful story about the human potential for recovery. Her message: You are not your body, and giving up old dreams can allow new ones to soar. Watch Janine Shepherd’s 2012 Ted talk, A broken body isn’t a broken person.
Wilson, V.E. & Peper, E. (2011). Athletes Are Different: Factors That Differentiate Biofeedback/Neurofeedback for Sport Versus Clinical Practice. Biofeedback, 39(1), 27–30.
Shepherd, J. (2012). A broken body isn’t a broken person. Ted talk. http://www.ted.com/talks/janine_shepherd_a_broken_body_isn_t_a_broken_person
When you woke up this morning, how did you feel? Were you looking forward to the day anticipating with joy what would occur or were you dreading the day as if once again you had to step on the treadmill of life?
Whenever I ask this question of college students in their junior or senior year at an urban university about 20% will answer that they are looking forward to the day. The majority answer, “Well not really”, or even “Oh shit, another day”. For many students the burden of living- working 40 hours a week to pay for rent and tuition, worrying about financial debt, and the challenge of commuting, and finding time to do the homework—feels and is overwhelming.
Asking this question about the quality—not quantity—of life is not just a question for students–it is applicable for all of us. The more one chooses to do actively what gives fulfillment and meaning, the higher the quality of life (I do not mean eating more chocolate).
In a remarkable study by Dr. Jennifer Temel and her many colleagues, patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer were given the option of early palliative care versus standard aggressive end-of-life treatment. The patients who were assigned to the early palliative care group had significantly better quality of life, fewer depressive symptoms and lived on the average three months longer than the group who received standard treatment.
Even at the end of life there may be choices. Choosing quality of life and doing what gives meaning may nurture a peaceful transition in death. This process of choice has been tenderly described in the recent New York Times essay, The best possible day. Take a moment and read this article by clicking on the link. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/05/opinion/sunday/the-best-possible-day.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0
Then ask yourself each day, “Am I looking forward to my day and my activities?” If the answer tends to be “No,” begin to explore new options. Ask yourself, “What would I like to do and look forward to?” First begin to dream about possible options and then begin to plan on how to implement your dreams so that you are on the path to where you want to go.
It is a challenging process; however, each of us can do something that will give meaning and joy to our lives. For suggestions, see the outstanding book by Dr. Lawrence LeShan, Cancer as a Turning Point, or explore the practices in our book by Drs. Robert Gorter and Erik Peper, Fighting Cancer- A Non-Toxic Approach to Treatment.
Temel, J. S., Greer, J. A., Muzikansky, A., Gallagher, E. R., Admane, S., Jackson, V. A., … & Lynch, T. J. (2010). Early palliative care for patients with metastatic non–small-cell lung cancer. New England Journal of Medicine, 363(8), 733-742.
A major factor that contributes to illness and health is how we cope with stress. Learning stress management techniques and integrating them into our daily life can significantly reduce illness and discomfort. Patients report significant improvement in numerous disorders such as hypertension, headaches, cancer, pain, or arthritis.
A great health resource are the short YouTube videos by Dr. Mike Evans who is founder of the Health Design Lab at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, an Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Toronto, and a staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital. His informative short video clips cover a range of medical conditions from concussions to stopping smoking (see his website: http://www.myfavouritemedicine.com).
Watch the following video presentation on The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do for Your Stress.