Last week, I was waxing lyrical to a new acquaintance about the jacarandas in full bloom in my garden and all over Australia at the moment. But it made me think again when she said that all that jacarandas brought to mind for her was the gut-wrenching feeling of preparing and sitting for major examinations. Apparently the annual jacaranda blooming season produced not only mental turmoil for her, but made her physically sick to the stomach. Others have said that it brings on their hay fever.
How can plants be viewed so differently – those who delight in growing and showing off all the highly perfumed flowers and relish frolicking in the newly mown grass, and the others who shrink in fear at the very thought of heading out into the garden let alone dealing with floral arrangements decorating every room of the house.
According to the World Allergy Organization approximately 30 to 40 percent of the world’s population suffers from allergic diseases.
Though deeply sympathising and having lived with someone who suffered for many years with hay fever, it struck me recently how medical science has been concentrating on treating our bodies with vaccinations, pharmaceutical drugs, and homeopathic remedies, to name a few, without giving much attention to how our thoughts affect our health.
In my last post, I mentioned the ABC’s Meditation Challenge running throughout November. Meditation is just one of many mind/body therapies and practices that are techniques designed to enhance the mind’s positive impact on the body. Others include cognitive-behavioural therapy, hypnosis, biofeedback and contemplative prayer.
Prayer is important in a healthcare context not just because it is used so widely. “Among all forms of complementary medicine, prayer is the single most widely-practiced healing modality” (Glazer, S. 2005) … and it works!
A well-noted study by Dr Herbert Benson, a cardiovascular medicine specialist at Harvard Medical School, documented the potential healing benefits of spiritual practices, such as prayer and meditation, which have been proven to reduce stress, insomnia, chronic pain, asthma, coronary artery disease, drug abuse, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, depression and even psoriasis.
A more recent study undertaken by the University of Wisconsin explained these effects by showing that meditators produced more antibodies–a key indicator of a more robust immune system. This must be recognised as having major implications for recent alarming predictions by the World Health Organization about superbugs, resistance to antibiotic drugs and the ‘end of modern medicine as we know it’.
What’s clear is that our thoughts about something seem to dictate our emotions, and even our experience. My friend is a case in point. She really liked cats, but throughout childhood and on into adulthood she suffered acutely and for hours every time she touched them. She also suffered terribly from reactions to other environmental allergies. As she meditated on and prayed about her relationship to God one evening while staying with her family and dealing with a severe physical reaction to their big fluffy cat she’d found sleeping on her bed, her consciousness of herself and her sister’s cat did a massive backflip. She felt bathed in a newfound peace and profound love for everything around her. She felt a oneness with the divine Mind. She said she suddenly knew what Jesus meant when he said, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30).
Since that moment she’s had no ill-effects from environment, seasons, or climate. Better than this, she says that she now has a much stronger sense of who she is and how to think about herself and others.
Are prayer and meditation actually equivalent to doing nothing? Some find the concept of ‘doing nothing’ about a health issue a copout, if not downright irresponsible. While neglect or lack of responsible care can never be beneficial, the evidence of increased health and wellbeing is proof that active mindfulness and contemplative prayer are far from doing nothing about our health and they are welcomed by many in the local medical fraternity as an adjunct to healing.
Might this move away from drug-based therapy be the start of a very positive new era for modern medicine?