Monday, December 3, 2012

Spiritual Mindfulness - A Healing Consciousness

Interest about the place of mindfulness in health studies has grown over the past 30 years with much of the research finding that mental and physical health is related to mind. The often studied placebo effect illustrates that health outcomes improve significantly when the patient believes medication has been administered, when no medication has. The effect of mind on health is continually evidenced in medical research. It is an evolving form of caring for health worth watching.

Mindfulness as thought of in modern psychology typically involves three components:

  • Being in complete attention or awareness
  • Being in the present moment
  • Being nonjudgmental and without elaboration or biased interpretation

The idea of mindfulness is to allow one’s thought and consciousness to be free of limitations imposed by educational and social boundaries. It is to be aware of what is presenting itself for consideration such that intelligence is active rather than suppressed or dormant. Perception, conclusion and action can then result from intelligence rather than bias.

For example, centuries ago authorities ‘mindlessly’ rejected the mindful presentation that the earth is a sphere circling the sun rather than the belief that the sun passes over the earth. Sure enough, we see a flat world if we look over a prairie or a large body of water. So, the conclusion that the world is flat has viable, visible evidence. Yet, the higher evidence of the earth as a sphere circling the sun opened a boundary that allowed further discovery. More importantly, the opening of that boundary teaches the vital point that there is always more to understand about infinity.

Foundational work on the topic of mindfulness has been done by Ellen Langer, professor of Psychology at Harvard University and author of multiple books and articles including: “Mindfulness,” (A Merloyd Lawrence Book; Perseus, 1989.) In it she translates for general audiences much of her scholarly, award winning research.

Dr. Langer points to some practices which stand in the way of a mindful response:

  • repeating what was done in the past
  • considering the situation at hand similar to others that have been handled
  • limiting thought through belief of limited resources and time
  • not recognizing influence of context

She recognizes that health is one of the areas in which mindful approaches would benefit mankind.

Langer discovered during various experiments that elderly residents of nursing homes had improved health and longevity through increased liveliness, awareness and control of their circumstances. In one experiment, certain residents were given a plant to care for and this group showed definite improvement compared to those who were not given a plant.

An active, caring mind made a positive difference.

Langer also became aware that mind rather than physiology is at work when a placebo brings about a positive result. She writes on page 190 of her book, Mindfulness; “Placebo effects are real and powerful. Who is doing the healing when one takes a placebo? Why can’t we just say to our minds, ‘repair this ailing body?’ Why must we fool our minds in order to enlist our own powers of self-healing?”

Again, mind rather than a pill makes a happy difference.

Such discoveries continue to generate research on understanding how mind heals where attention to a material body was previously the general focus of medical research. The exploration has brought together academics and spiritual thinkers and a closer look at both eastern and western traditions.

My interest in spiritual mindfulness stems from personal experience with spiritual healing. A study published by the Centers for Disease Control shows that almost half of Americans pray for healing and I am one of them. Researchers of the role of the mind in health and the role of spirituality in healthcare like influential advocates Dr.’s Larry Dossey and Herbert Benson are finding that those who engage in spiritual activities have better health results than those who do not. Spirituality and prayer can be a powerful form of mindfulness.

Consider these questions: What role does active spiritual thought have in bringing about health? Does it have real power?

In other words, if mindfulness can bring about improvement in health, is there a mindful awareness of spiritual power that brings to bear a factor beyond the brain, physiology or biology?

For example, The Holy Bible provides readers with these statements:

“I am the Lord that healeth thee.” (Exodus 15:26)
“I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord;” (Jeremiah 30:17)

These powerful affirmations are then illustrated by the healings of various prophets and followers of the Word. Christ Jesus and his students encouraged yielding to a divine power that heals and saves us from limitations in the ever present Now.

My eyesight was corrected by mindful attention to spiritual intelligence. I had worn eyeglasses for over 40 years and required fairly heavy bifocals for reading and driving. After losing my glasses at one point, I obtained a new prescription for trifocals and a statement from the physician saying that my eyesight would continue to decline. It sounded like a sentence, and I knew the sentence did not come from God. I chose to break free from limiting thoughts about the future of my eyesight.

A statement, “There is more Christianity in seeing and hearing spiritually than materially,” awakened my understanding that spiritual power is real and available to heal. Over the next weeks, I began to find that I could remove my glasses frequently for my daily work. Several months later I took the eye exam to renew my drivers’ license and passed without glasses. I have not needed aid for seeing in any way since then.

The statement comes from a book written by spiritual teacher and healer Mary Baker Eddy titled, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. This work has renewed my interest in the teachings of the Bible and shown me a kind of mindfulness that merges Dr. Langer’s findings with spiritual presence.

As Dr. Langer’s work shows, awareness of the resources and truths around us as contrasted with mere acceptance of unhappy or unhealthy circumstances can change not only our outlook, but also our experience. How high can we look for those truths? The possibilities are infinite.

Blog author, George Gregory, loves to talk with others about the power of spiritual consciousness in healing.  He is a Christian Science practitioner and represents Christian Science with the media and legislature in Iowa.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Rethinking healthcare through overcoming obesity

Obesity in America is bringing about a rethinking of what is meant by “healthcare.”  The problem seems bigger than the present system of disease-care can handle.  Could a more spiritual approach change the picture?


In August the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released their latest report on obesity indicating that again, as in recent years, a third of American adults are obese.  Worldwide, obesity has more than doubled since 1980.  Medical science links a number of diseases to obesity including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. 


What does poverty have to do with it?

Obesity is stated as a condition of excess body fat.  The term obese conjures up pictures of people eating more than is useful for their body condition.  And certainly, we Americans in this fast food nation eat lots.  (Notice the NYC ban on large sugary drinks.)  However, obesity seems as related to too little as well as too much.  Poverty and obesity are linked.


Poverty is a lack of something desired or needed.  It may be seen as a lack of financial support and the great preponderance of obesity occurs where income is low or absent.  


“Part of this [obesity] is due to lower incomes and education, which … also reflects lower public investment in education, public transportation, and recreational facilities.  The bottom line: cheap, unhealthy foods mixed with a sedentary lifestyle has made obesity the new normal in America. And that makes it even harder to change.”  So says Walter Willett who chairs the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health as reported in “Why we’re so fat” by Rachel Pomerance in


Poverty may alternatively be a lack of hope or purpose such as in the story of Jennifer Bonner.  Following an accident involving her brother, Bonner relates a sense of hopelessness.  She compensated for a lack of fulfillment with heavy eating.  From 334 pounds she got herself to a sustainable weight in the 100’s.  The change, in short, was that she fought back against transferring her weighty practices to her newly born daughter.  She found her joie de vivre anew.  Healthy thinking and living are connected.


The need to fight back

"It will take time and resources to win in the fight against obesity," said Dr. William Dietz, director of CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. "This epidemic is complex and we must continue to change the environments that make it hard to eat healthy, and make it hard for people to be active. By doing this, we not only help today's adults, we also invest in our children and grandchildren, so they won't have to endure this serious and costly health burden."


Healthcare or disease-care?

As reported in, “Dietz believes that beating obesity may even require a recasting of our entire healthcare system, since obesity needs to be prevented rather than treated after it happens. ‘We can't afford to treat obesity and its consequences,’ Dietz says. ‘So this begs the question whether it's time to move from a disease-care system to a real healthcare system.’"


Is the fight with obesity one to be addressed by added resources or are there other approaches?  Isn’t the thought that there are insufficient resources to fight obesity another kind of belief in poverty?


It’s interesting to contemplate what could be meant by a real healthcare system as distinct from a disease-care system.  The disease-care system is familiar.  It starts with disease as a fact and manages it, such that disease is always present until or unless the disease is cured.  By contrast, a healthcare system or wellness system could be one that starts and stays with health, preventing disease.  The focus is not so much on the body as on useful, fulfilling activity.


Models of whole health care are found in communities today in which attention is not so much on health as on caring for each other and the environment.  Although these models may not be the direction of a healthcare system we will see developed, they provide useful insight into alternative ways of thinking about health.


Dan Buettner in his book The Blue Zones illustrates how communities composed of individuals having a sense of purpose and a spiritual connection have a longer than average life span where obesity is not an issue.  Individuals so occupied have a more fulfilling engagement with life and little focus on the physical body.  The result, at least in the communities his team studied, was longer, healthier, happier life.


Buettner also identified diet as a factor.  Yet, the foods taken were more of what was available than selections of items specifically chosen for health.  Diet was not a prime consideration about being healthy, but was generally a result of engagement with the environment and culture.


The individual picture

Let’s narrow the focus from the community to the individual.  What is the picture of the ideal?  The model in a magazine ad?  A star athlete?  Even if I admire the appearance of these individuals, appearance is all I get unless I get to know them.  If I know them, their physical appearance becomes of less importance to me than our relationship.  The individual is more than a biological specimen. 


To me the ideal is the man of God’s creation, namely “the image and likeness of God,” from Genesis 1, verses 26 & 27 in the Bible.  I am not suggesting of thinking of God as having a physical body in a human form and then imagining man as having the same form.  Quite the opposite, I am referring to man with spiritual qualities of goodness such as beauty, strength, liveliness, intelligence, honesty, integrity and spiritual purpose.  Whatever illustrates those qualities is Godlike to me.  The beauty of a happy smile can be more engaging than a statuesque body.  Intelligence solves problems.


Are these qualities in each individual and can they be uncovered if hidden?  I have found that, just as a rose in my garden responds to sunlight, virtually everyone responds to respect and the kind of love that recognizes their inherent good qualities.  I have found that response in prisons, hospitals, workplaces and family life.  To me this Godlike picture or package of good qualities is not just a distant or future possibility but the reality of the individual now.


Plunging beneath the external picture to find the core value is like finding a treasure. 


I ask myself whether I can look at every individual and find elements of value that transcend the labels attached to them, whether it is race, body condition, religion, wealth or something else.  That may be hard if they are culturally diverse from my experience or have practices that I have been taught are undesirable.  Yet, if I am able to look beyond the label to see the fundamental value, the items being labeled become less prominent.  Years ago I worked as an engineer in Puerto Rico with a young woman who would have been labeled obese.  Women were not easily accepted in engineering at that time in the ‘70s and it was not an easy road for her.  However, as her manager at the time, I was able to assign her to teams working out some of the toughest problems.  Her competence as an engineer and a team contributor brought about solutions.  When new teams formed, she was among the most requested talent.  As the labels of sex identity and size became less noticed, her size reduced.  She eventually left the firm to join a Silicon Valley software firm of national prominence where her stature as an engineer grew.


Knowing that each adult and child has something precious to contribute to the whole is a useful way to think of whole health.  Those individual contributions make a purposeful community that fosters good life. 


For me, starting with God and Godlike qualities in His creation is far more helpful than starting with an unhealthy picture.

George Gregory is a Christian Science Practitioner living and blogging in Iowa

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day is a wonderful day for gratitude.

Having served briefly in the U. S. Army many years ago, I had a view of men and women who serve.  They are ordinary people from all walks of cultural, family, educational and employment backgrounds.  They are people with dreams and expectations similar to those of any of us. 

Military training and experience are great equalizers.  Each participant learns to support the team for survival and progress.  The missions are intended for helping others and for the greater good.

The soldiers I have known were not heroic kinds of people or the kind who would specially stand out as caring for others.  Some didn’t even fit easily with others outside of military organization.  However, when the time came to go to bat for others, most reached beyond ordinary response to duty even to the extent of putting their lives on the line.

Christ Jesus was once asked what the greatest commandment is, to which he answered first with the commandment given by Moses centuries earlier: “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all thy soul, and all thy mind.”  And he added a second that he said is like the first: “love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:36-40)  Jesus was then asked “who is my neighbor?”  His response was the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), a man who cared for another man of a different ethnic background after others had passed him by.  This Samaritan did not just give a passing hand; he took special steps to see that the other man was fully cared for.

Caring for others is divine and a method of illustrating our love of God.

I am not saying that wars and warlike behavior are altruistic.  That is a different discussion.  Yet, our soldiers show a kind of caring that sets a high standard.  Those who we honor on Memorial Day illustrate the depth of their caring.