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Healing as an Interfaith Practice

By Francis Geddes

Science and the Spirit Interwoven?

Dr. Lawrence LeShan

Dr. Lawrence LeShan

The practice of healing is present in all of the great religions of the world today. I have taught a healing practice for the past three decades that I learned from Humanistic psychologist Lawrence LeShan. The practice is described in his book, The Medium, the Mystic, and the Physicist. In the healing training Dr. LeShan taught us spiritual exercises drawn from Hinduism, Theraveda and Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism, Judaism, and Christianity. I have adapted LeShan’s method for my training, which is presented in the context of Progressive Christianity. It has been offered to more than a thousand people, a dozen at a time, over the past thirty-seven years in classes, workshops, and five-day retreats. I call it Contemplative Healing, which is also the title of my book on the subject, published in 2011.

In July, 1998 a hospital chaplain intern attended my healing training at a Roman Catholic retreat center. She had been living with significant pain for a number of years with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Her whole life revolved around one issue: how to minimize the pain, keep it a bay so that it did not dominate her whole life. She took 70 mg. of Prednisone every day, which is a very high dose.

Everyone in the training receives a ten-minute healing from the group. During those ten-minutes she received, by God’s grace, a very significant release from pain. It simply vanished. She was astonished, and group members were dumbfounded. There was a slight residue of pain, but three weeks later it was gone completely. It has not returned since July of 1998.

Some skeptical scientists would call this an “anecdotal case.” They dismiss the reality of the above account, and many others like it, because there is no accepted theory that can explain it. Prof. Richard Sloan, of Columbia Medical School in New York city, writes, “There are no plausible mechanisms that account for how somebody’s thoughts or prayers can influence the health of another person. None. We know of nothing.” Can one person’s thoughts affect another person’s body? Prof. Sloan responds, “The answer is pretty unequivocally no.”

Other scientists disagree. Dr. Marilyn Schlitz is an anthropologist and president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, California. She is a world authority on the scientific studies of distant healing.

Dr. Schlitz and other scientists at the Institute have conducted what has come to be called “The Love Study.” It is an experiment that shows how the focused, loving thought of one partner in a loving couple is registered as a change of blood flow and perspiration in the other partner, though they are in separate rooms many feet apart.

Dr. Marilyn Schlitz

Dr. Marilyn Schlitz

In one experiment Dr. Schlitz worked with a loving couple, Teena and J.D. Miller. The implications of this experiment are that when love is focused consciously to another person at a distance, that focused love can be measured in a change of blood pressure and perspiration of the person receiving love at a distance. It follows that prayer for another person’s health at a distance is a form of focused love which can show up on scientific instruments.

Here is a quote from the script of a broadcast on National Public Radio describing part of this experiment. It was presented by Barbara Hagerty, on her program, “The Science of Spirituality,” on June 5, 2009. “Schlitz takes Teena into an isolated room, where no sound can come in or go out. Teena settles into a deep armchair as Schlitz attaches electrodes to her right hand.

“This is measuring blood flow in your thumb, and this is our skin conductance activity,” the researcher explains. “So basically both of these are measures of your unconscious nervous system.”

Schlitz took Teena into the electromagnetically shielded chamber, then ushered J.D. into another isolated room with a closed-circuit television. She explains that the screen will go on and off. And at random intervals. Teena’s image will appear on the screen for ten seconds. “And so during the times when you see her,” she instructs, “it’s your opportunity to think about sending loving compassionate intention.”

As the sessions begins, Dean Radin, a senior scientist at the Noetic Institute, watches as a computer shows changes in J.D.’s blood pressure and perspiration. When J.D. sees the image of his wife, the steady lines suddenly jump and become ragged. The question is: Will Tenna’s nervous system follow suit?

An hour later, Radin displays Teena’s graph, which shows a flat line during the times her husband was not staring at her image, but when he began to stare at her, she stopped relaxing and became “aroused” within about two seconds.

After running 36 couples through this test, the researchers found that when one person focused his thoughts on his partner, the partner’s blood flow and perspiration dramatically changed within two seconds. The odds of this happening by chance were 1 in 11,000. Three dozen double blind, randomized studies by such institutions as the University of Washington and the University of Edinburg have reported similar results.

How can we explain this? No one really knows. But Radin and others think that a theory known as “quantum entanglement” may offer some clues.

Here is how it works. Once two particles have interacted, if you separate them, even by miles, they behave as if they’re still connected. So far, this has only been demonstrated on the subatomic level.

But Radin wonders: “Could people in close relationships – couples, siblings, parent and child – also be ‘entangled’? Not just emotionally, and psychologically – but also physically?”

“If it is true that entanglement actually persists, by means of which we don’t understand,” he says, “if they are physically entangled, you should be able to separate them, poke one, and see the other flinch.”

This idea of unity – that we can be connected at some molecular level – echoes the words of mystics in the great religions of the world down through the ages. In LeShan’s healing method this focused connection is made possible through the practice of interfaith spiritual exercises from several traditions.

Those of us who have seen some positive results of a healing practice now have an interesting possible explanation of what might be happening when we focus our love in prayer for God’s healing.