Spirit and Healing

On the heels of an election in which the term “values” was bantered around, was used, abused, and strategized by both Democrats and Republicans, I feel the need to clarify the terminology of “values,” “religion,” and “spirituality.” We will move from national healing to the importance of understanding and incorporating spirituality into mental and physical healing.

According to one Eastern spiritual philosophy (Vedanta), there are five core human values, namely: truth, right action (dharma), peace, love, and non-violence. There is no one word in the English language equivalent to “dharma,” but it means, “super integrity or powerful moral conduct…doing the right thing no matter what.” In looking back through history, we can look at great leaders and how they exemplify one or more of these five core human values. George Washington was recognized for his adherence to truth. Krishna and Abraham Lincoln are examples of dharma. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King are classic examples of non-violence. Jesus and Mother Teresa are wonderful examples of love, and the Buddha and Dalai Lama exemplify peace.

Spiritual evolution, which is the same as positive transformation of consciousness, involves a deepening of these five core human values. And what is spirituality? At first blush, it seems like a foolish question. When a book I authored, “Are You Getting Enlightened Or Losing Your Mind?” was going through its initial edits by Harmony Books, my editor circled the word “spirituality” every time I used it, asking what the word meant. At first I was bewildered by her question (and a little ticked off). “Doesn't she know what it means?” Then I began to research the writings of the experts in the field of spirituality, consciousness, psychology, and healing. To my surprise, no one had a satisfactory answer. I then turned to a number of local spiritual seekers, had lengthy discussions, and arrived at a simple definition. Spirituality means “sacred awareness.” Everything that we think of as “spiritual” flows out of sacred awareness. Spirituality deals with the questions: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Where did I come from?” “Where do I go after this life is over?” and “Who is God and what is my relationship to him or her?” Sacred awareness is the “knowing” of the unity of all beings, and of all things. Out of knowing that the same soul or spirit dwells within each of us, we begin to look for unity in diversity, rather than diversity in diversity. Out of the experience of the unity of all beings arises dharma and non-violence. When we “know” our Self to be the same Self that resides in all other people, we can no longer harm others, for they are us. To harm others is to harm ourselves. The new physics understands consciousness as being present in all things visible, and all things invisible, and is the foundation of chaos theory.

Spirituality is the “juice” of life. Religion is a container for that juice and involves rites, rituals, buildings, and authority. Ideally the juice of spirituality flows into the structure of religion, but when all of the juice leaks out of the container, people leave that container because they are still thirsty for the juice. And that is why so many have left their religions of origin in search of something to quench their thirst. Religion requires spirituality, but spirituality requires nothing. It is what it is. A major part of sacred awareness, of spiritual juice, is the five core human values. As consciousness expands and deepens, so do truth, dharma, peace, love, and non-violence.

But these are not the “values” that many politicians use as weapons. Given that 98 percent of Americans believe in God, it is clear that no political party has cornered the market on devotion to God. What paraded as human values were really social and cultural norms. The recent political battle was fought over cultural norms rather than universal spiritual values.

We stand a nation divided. It will take great effort for us to come together, and enormous effort for our leaders to be lead by conscience, truth, and dharma. “Conscience” is the inner voice of spirit, speaking 100 percent free of external influence. The election of 2004 cost two billion dollars. Given financial realities, it is nearly impossible for a candidate to remain completely true to his conscience. The power of special interests of the few makes it extremely difficult for a Nelson Mandela to be elected in America , but that is what will ultimately be required. And it is actually not difficult to identify who is acting according to spirituality and who is “using” spiritual terms for political gain. False spirituality is dominated by fear and control. Genuine spiritual motivation is reflected in love, forgiveness, and lack of judgments about others. It is that simple.

Just as our nation is a house divided “in the name of God,” many of us are internally divided and confused. In order to become whole and healed, we need to reconnect body, mind, and spirit. We have splits occurring on all levels. A mind-body split will result in pain and suffering. A mind-body complex poorly integrated with spirit will lead to spiritual emergency, the dark night of the soul, and more mental and physical suffering. The dark night of the soul is not relieved by anti-depressant medication, and so it behooves psychiatrists to learn to differentiate depression from the “dark night,” and samadhi from insanity.

Spiritual health will heal psychological suffering, but psychological healing will not necessarily heal the spirit. At the interface of medicine and healing the following issues and questions must be raised:

1. What is the relationship between spiritual practice and health?

2. Do belief and meaning have anything to do with recovery?

3. What is the role of faith? Spiritual and religious faith is an enormous asset in assisting in personal healing. Without faith, recovery from illness is dominated by fear.

4. What spiritual practices are effective in improving health, in helping to re-connect the mind to the body, and the mind-body to the spirit?

In terms of mental and physical wellness, spirituality plays a most interesting role. Let's start by talking about cellular biology. Every cell in our body is covered with receptor sites, each of which is activated by a specific molecule, usually a short chain of amino acids. What is interesting is that every cell in our body is loaded with GABA receptor sites. GABA is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel calm. The GABA receptor site is where Valium and Xanax work. Ordinarily it is difficult for GABA to move from the brain to the rest of the body. GABA does not cross the blood-brain barrier very well. According to Dr. Candace Pert, our body is hardwired for bliss. There must be a reason that our body is simply loaded with GABA receptor sites. It is a good possibility that a yogi or realized saint has entered a state of consciousness in which GABA floods the body, in which case every cell would be activated by GABA to be in a peaceful state. In other words, the peace of mind of a great yogi goes down to a cellular level, and metaphorically, each cell is in a state of bliss. In a state of “cellular bliss” our bodies are more resilient.

In general, then, by raising one's consciousness, mental and physical healing has a much greater chance of taking place. David Hawkins, M.D, Ph.D., author of “Power Vs. Force,” describes his own physical healing. Hawkins once had the largest psychiatric practice in New York City , with a staff of fifty. Simply by virtue of his level of consciousness, people traveled from all over the world to be in his presence and “under” his treatment. Against the protests of his friends, Hawkins eventually closed his psychiatric practice and spent the next ten years in spiritual practice. From reading his books, it is clear that one is reading the words of someone living at an extraordinarily high level of consciousness. In fact, his books read more like scripture than spiritual psychology.

After his years in samadhi, Hawkins decided to return to society and translate his experience into terms that the masses could understand. Hawkins, who had long left the world of mind and thought, had to re-learn how to communicate with words to average people. He was almost like a stroke victim, having to re-learn how to walk and talk. But he did learn.

Hawkins had suffered for decades with a progressive illness that was going to be fatal. He does not describe the details. When he attained a certain level of consciousness, all of his illnesses disappeared permanently, his vision improved, and he threw out his glasses.

Spirituality boils down to “level of consciousness,” and level of consciousness boils down to the development of core human values. The greatest obstacle to spiritual evolution and unconditional love is the ego. Most of us live at a level in which the ego has a strong hold on us. “Ego” and “mind” are synonymous. Ego has to do with wishes and desires, the need to make comparisons and judgments, and to deal in the world of duality (good vs. bad).

The ego handles data and experience in the following sequence, which takes place in the blink of an eye:

1. Comparison. “She is smarter than I am.”

2. Judgment. “Being less smart (dumb) is bad or wrong.”

3. Self-reward or punishment for being “right” or “wrong.”

4. Story Integration. We integrate the comparison, judgment, and reward/punishment into our life story.

Now let me slow this down so we can understand this in more detail. The ego assesses and compares every thought, word, and deed and then decides if it is good or bad, right or wrong. Whatever is “wrong” will be punished in some way, and whatever is “right” will be rewarded in some way. This applies to how we see others and how we see ourselves. Western religions encourage this dualistic worldview.

One technique I recommend is the simple practice of watching how the mind makes comparisons. 1) “This one is shorter/taller, smarter/dumber, richer/poor, more/less beautiful, etc.” It is not difficult to decide to watch the mind making comparisons, and it does so all day long. The ego survives in this world of duality or opposites. 2) Comparisons lead to judgments. First we note, “She is smarter than I am.” Then a judgment immediately follows, such as, “I am not as good a person as she.” 3) We beat ourselves up (punishment) with guilt or blame for being “dumber.” 4) The ego absorbs that assessment into its own life story.

The mind moves so quickly that we do not comprehend what our senses are taking in. We immediately make comparisons and judgments of each perception. After we punish ourselves psychologically, we fit that assessment into our life story. We may have a life story that goes something like this — “No matter how hard I try, nothing ever comes out quite right and I keep failing. I'm not smart enough. Life is unfair.” That is one life story. We unconsciously cling to our stories and embellish our life experience and all the sensory input according to that story. So, very quickly, whatever we perceive, whatever words are shared in a conversation, are quickly made part of our worldview and life story. Through the ego's mechanisms, we stay in relative balance, but we suffer.

It can take many years of spiritual practice before the comparing mind becomes tamed. As comparisons finally fall away, we stop feeling separate from others and from our own Higher Self. And, with that shift, comes peace of mind and unconditional love for all.

Spiritual practice has two goals: 1) fostering of spiritual qualities, such as love, truth, forgiveness, generosity, and 2) weakening the grip of the ego so that our true Self or Soul can shine through. That is the simple equation. Yoga, meditation, prayer, fasting, and all other spiritual practices are aimed at weakening the grip of the ego. The core reality of our existence has always been in place. We are spirit encased in a human form. As we strip away layers of ego, the light of the spirit shines brighter and brighter.

This may sound paradoxical but the best way to help the ego let go, or help us let go of the ego, is to befriend it, rather than condemn it. Whatever we push away (with force) pushes back (with equal force). Force is a product of the ego. Power is quite different and is the quality of the soul or spirit. Force diminishes over time and space, while power remains unchanged since it is part of the giant power source, namely God or Infinite Intelligence.

Healing involves the consciousness of the healer as well as the healee. The consciousness of a great saint or avatar is so great that people can be healed simply by being in that presence. Consciousness is one. A person with elevated consciousness will automatically help shift the consciousness of someone of lesser or lower consciousness. Because of this, it is quite essential that the healer spend his or her entire life rooting out the defects in his ego, and uplifting his own consciousness. By so doing, the healing process, with a patient or client, is automatically taken to a new level. A major part of healing work is accomplished before a patient walks through the door. The calibration of the healer's consciousness will automatically impact the healing process, for better or for worse. The same holds true in politics. The consciousness of a president has an enormous impact on the nation, even if that president never interacted with the public. For this reason, it is wise to pray for our leaders. The science is in showing that prayer works. If 200,000,000 Americans regularly prayed for their president, his or her consciousness would automatically become elevated over time. We expect our leaders to be the examples, but we can quietly assist them in their work.

To bring the issue of prayer into a clinical setting — a recent Gallup Poll showed that 50 percent of Americans would like their doctors to pray with them. Furthermore, the huge numbers of people flocking to complementary and alternative health care practitioners have one major thing in common. People are looking for spirituality to be part of their healing, and that is the number one reason that a huge number of Americans are choosing a more holistic approach.

Prayer is indeed good medicine. The data is so strong that a nurse in Boston approached the hospital's medical director to recommend setting up a prayer system for patients in the emergency room. She flatly stated that the data was so strong that failure to institute a prayer program would constitute medical malpractice. The medical director saw her logic and wisdom and agreed. The E.R. then implemented a system in which each patient entering the E.R. was asked if they wanted to be prayed for. If the answer was, “Yes,” the information was entered into a computer, which relayed the “Pray for” message to prayer groups around the world. Somewhere in Tibet there is a Buddhist monk with a laptop, who prays for people in that Boston E.R. Perhaps a group of Trappist monks in France are on-line and on their knees praying. People from all religions all over the world are part of the system.

That's the macro level. On the micro level, sometimes the spiritual assistance I offer my patients is as simple as putting them back in touch with spiritual practices they have used in the past. They had simply lost their focus and commitment and needed to be reminded why they chose a particular practice in the first place.

I teach my patients and clients several kinds of meditation — mantra, breath, and mindfulness. I ask them to practice. Over time, they will find that one technique suits them better than another. Meditation has clear utility in mind-body medicine. It lowers blood pressure, opens the airway, decreases stress and the fight-or-flight overdrive, and brings peace of mind. Simply put, lowered stress impacts the nervous system, immune system, digestion, and endocrine system. Our over-taxed adrenals need the rest that meditation brings.

Meditation has another more subtle purpose than stress reduction. Once you begin to meditate, you quickly become aware that you are the witness of the ego-mind and all its racing thoughts, but you “are not” the ego-mind. This can be pointed out quite easily. Once people begin to identify less with their ego and more with the Witness and the Higher Self, their consciousness shifts for the better. The ego-mind generates fear and lives in fear. The spirit IS love.

In witnessing that we have a mind, but that we are not the mind, we begin to move into deeper and deeper levels of self-acceptance. We can even accept the fact that we have an ego and that it is not the enemy. We can appreciate how the ego has served us. It has its origins in biology, evolution, and conditioning. When early man lived at the level of survival, the basic functions of the ego were useful. Being analytical, linear in thinking, and somewhat fearful and vigilant was a matter of protection. But, now we live at a time when it is much safer to let go and realize that the ego-mind has remained in existence due to conditioning. Conditioning by parents, school, peers, and society. We need help in loosening the grip of the ego and moving into love. The ego is quite tricky and fearful of its own death. The spirit knows of its immortality, but the ego-mind is terrified of perishing.

Because of the ego's built-in defenses, almost all of us need assistance in the journey from self to SELF. As an individual becomes more highly evolved spiritually, the ego finds new refuge within the very fabric of spiritual pursuit. Hence, it is said that, “Spirituality is the last refuge for the ego.” God, guru, or conscience can be that guide to help reveal how and where the ego is hiding.

While spirituality has not been the usual territory of psychiatry and medicine, many doctors are choosing to incorporate the most important dimension of human life into the practice of medicine. Without making an attempt to help my patient raise her consciousness, she could easily talk about her problem for five or ten years in psychotherapy. The entire standard psychotherapy model only works with the ego-self, and hence does not help the individual rise above it whatsoever. By simply helping someone address issues of consciousness and spirituality, enormous suffering is alleviated as are years of expensive, ego-enhancing psychotherapy.

Ultimately I want to help my patients heal into the moment, the eternal Now. That is my hope and prayer for them and you, and sometimes it happens. In the Now, only truth, peace, goodness, love, and beauty exist, and suffering falls away completely. It is my aim to be in the Now when my patients arrive, so that they don't move from “before the session” to “after,” but rather from “before” to “Now.”

David Gersten, M.D. practices nutritional medicine and psychiatry out of his Encinitas office and can be reached at 760-633-3063. Please feel free to sign up for Dr. G's Health Digest newsletter at www.aminoacidpower.com and access 1,000 on-line pages about holistic health, amino acids and nutritional therapy.


Dear Louise

Dear Louise,

Although I'm 28 years old, I sometimes feel like I'm 128. My life is lonely, as my friends have all emigrated to other countries, and I haven't found my Mr. Right to share my life with. This is frustrating because I feel that I have so much to give. Your book You Can Heal Your Life is helping me, but at times I feel so sad and helpless. How do I bring happiness and love into my life (and Mr. Right, of course)?

G.R., Zambia

Dear G.R.,

Old thoughts make you feel old. Choosing sad and helpless thoughts makes you feel like a victim. Yes, many of your friends have left, but you must realize that the Universe has given you an opportunity for a new life. Awaken each morning with an anticipation of good things happening today. Affirm: I look with wonder at all the good in my life . When you truly love yourself, and enjoy being with yourself, then you'll be irresistible to others. No one is attracted to a sad, helpless victim.

Also affirm: I now become the happiness and love I want in my life. I bring joy wherever I go. Everybody loves me .

Dear Louise,

I'm 22 years old and have been suffering from quite a severe depression for about two years now. I'm at the end of my medical treatment (antidepressive) and have just ended psychological therapy. I've got a wonderful boyfriend who supports me in every way and my life is totally changed from what it was before. The thing is, now, when the healing is showing good results, I still totally lose faith in life and it all seems so painfully gray and vacuum-like. I'm afraid of getting hurt again and it prevents me from saying a full and honest 'yes' to living a healthy life.

Any advice for me?

J.R., Norway

Dear J.R.,

It's just an old habit of yours—choosing all this depressive thinking and losing faith. Say the affirmations below to yourself and then go and live life to the fullest. Be a wonderful girlfriend to your wonderful boyfriend. Let the past go!

I am not that old, depressed person any longer. I am a new being and I love every bit of my life. I appreciate myself, my friends and my loved ones. No one will hurt me again, for I absolutely refuse to hurt myself with my own thoughts ever again. Life is good, and I am enjoying it all!

Dear Louise,

I'm in high school and I have such a bad habit: I bite my fingernails all the time. I don't even know why I do it anymore. What do you suggest I do?

G.D., Los Angeles, CA

Dear G.D.,

You're so afraid of doing something wrong. You're worried sick that someone will find you failing. This is terrible pressure to live under. Don't do this to yourself. Let it go.

The fingers represent attention to details, and nail biting often masks frustration and anger. You're literally eating away at yourself with angry thoughts and feelings. Nail biting, like any addictive habit, is a means for coping with these uncomfortable feelings. The best way to release a negative habit is to find a more effective form of expression for your frustration. Active journaling or drawing may be helpful. An excellent book on this subject is Recovery of Your Inner Child by Dr. Lucia Capacchione.

Also, kiss your nails several times a day with love. They've been hated for far too long.

Affirmations to use are: I have a high regard and respect for myself. I support and love myself unconditionally. As a result, I am safe to express all that I am! I release and I let go. It doesn't matter what others think. I love myself, and I am perfect just as I am right here and right now. I am safe and filled with joy. All is well in my world.

If you would like Louise to answer your letter in this publication, please send it to: Dear Louise Column, c/o Hay House, Inc., P.O. Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100, or e-mail your letter to: admin@hayhouse.com (letters used in this column may be edited for length and clarity). Please visit Louise's website at: www.LouiseHay.com or the Hay House website at: www.hayhouse.com.