LOS ALTOS, CA, February 21, 2013 – Dr. James Doty is a world-class neurosurgeon and professor at Stanford University. He’s an inventor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist who supports a number of global health initiatives; a member of the Board of Directors of the Association of Medical Ethics, and is recognized by his peers as one of the top 5% of neurosurgeons in the country.
But perhaps most importantly, he’s one of a growing number of medical professionals who recognize that what and how we think matters just as much to our health as what we eat or how often we exercise.
As founder and director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), he and his colleagues have spent the last five years investigating methods for cultivating compassion and promoting altruism within individuals and society through research, scientific collaborations, and academic conferences.
What they and many similar organizations around the world are finding is worth noting.
For instance, in a column written last summer, Dr. Doty highlighted research by expert well-being psychologists Ed Diener and Martin Seligman indicating that the social connectedness fostered by compassion “is a predictor of longer life, faster recovery from disease, higher levels of happiness and well-being, and a greater sense of purpose and meaning.” He also noted that, “While survival of the fittest may lead to short-term gain, research clearly shows it is survival of the kindest that leads to the long-term survival of a species.”
This is remarkable stuff, a major advance in the way we look at the human body. And yet you’d be hard-pressed to find many working in mainstream media these days paying much attention – perhaps most surprisingly here in the San Francisco Bay Area, a veritable hotbed of mind-body research.
I’ll admit that mine is no scientific survey. But as someone who lives in the Bay Area and makes it his regular practice to watch what the major media outlets are reporting about health, there is a noticeable lack of coverage. The focus seems to be more on what conventional medical researchers are finding or what health insurers are charging than what medicine’s avant-garde is discovering about other effective means of caring for our health.
This leads to one of two specious conclusions: Either the research is not credible or the public is not interested.
Although credibility is often in the eye of the beholder, the discoveries being made in the field of mind-body medicine are compelling. Take for instance the so-called “Love Study” conducted by researchers at the Petaluma-based Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS).
In this experiment subjects were placed in an electromagnetically shielded chamber. Meanwhile, their romantic partner was placed in another similarly shielded chamber with a closed-circuit television that would go on and off at random intervals. Whenever an image of their partner would appear, they were asked to think of them in a loving and compassionate manner.
Researchers found that when one person focused his or her thoughts on their partner, the blood flow and perspiration of the individual receiving this attention began to change within two seconds. The odds of this happening by chance are 1 in 11,000. Dozens of double blind, randomized studies conducted by institutions like the University of Washington and the University of Edinburgh reported similar results.
Now, as for the public not being interested, the latest figures hardly bear this out. According the National Institutes of Health, 40% of us are spending upwards of $34 billion on complementary or alternative medicine. This indicates not only interest but a considerable financial commitment as well.
So why is it that this kind of news rarely makes headlines, especially here in the Bay Area? Perhaps it’s because the media, like so many of us, have been educated to believe that health is solely a condition of matter and that the mind plays little if any role. I find this ironic, especially when you consider that 3 out of every 4 healthcare workers themselves use some form of complementary or alternative medicine – including prayer and meditation – to help stay healthy.
The good news is that personal healthcare decisions are not always based on what we read – or don’t read – in the local paper, or what we see or hear on TV and radio. Consciously or not, an increasing number of us are gravitating, instead, towards what works best for us.
Even if the media aren’t paying as close attention as perhaps they should, my hunch and my hope is that this trend will eventually lead to a greater degree of health and wholeness for us all.
Eric Nelson is a Christian Science practitioner, whose articles on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.
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