holistic health magazine






Interview with Larry Dossey, M.D.
On the role of prayer and meditation in medicine

By Dennis Hughes, Share Guide Publisher

Dr. Larry Dossey i
s a well known authority on spiritual healing. He is a Health Educator and bestselling author of Reinventing Medicine, Healing Words and Prayer is Good Medicine. He lectures throughout the country and has been a frequent guest on Oprah, Good Morning America, CNN and The Learning Channel. Dr. Dossey is responsible for introducing innovations in spiritual care to acclaimed institutions across the United States.

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The Share Guide: You describe three eras of healing in your book, Reinventing Medicine. Can you elaborate on this?
Dr. Larry Dossey: They basically are a way of making sense of all the confusion and chaos going on in medicine today. Era One began in the 1850s, 1860s. Today we call this mechanical medicine. It's the use of drugs, surgical procedures, radiation and so forth. And it's obviously still with us; it dominates medicine. But beginning in 1950, or there abouts, a new era began which I call Era Two. Today this is known as mind and body medicine. It used to be called psychosomatic disease. Basically, it's the idea that our emotions and thoughts, and feelings can affect health. Era Three includes the ability of consciousness to reach out beyond ourselves to make a difference in other people. Intercessory prayer is an example of an era three therapy--healing intention. Gaining information from the world, such as through premonitions and dreams, that are relevant to health, is also an example of Era Three. So we have these three categories, which differ radically in how they view consciousness, and how they acknowledge, or fail to acknowledge, the cosmic consciousness. Cosmic consciousness is virtually absent from Era One. It makes an appearance in Era Two, but is limited to your own body. In Era Three, consciousness is freed from the body, and is freed from its limitations in space and time.

The Share Guide: Do you use the word spirit at all in this? Do you use that phrase in connection with the non-local phrase?
Dr. Larry Dossey: Sure. For me, consciousness is a huge umbrella under which many things gather. I think consciousness is infinite; I think it's immortal, an eternal. I think it's equivalent to what many people call spirit. I use "consciousness" in such a broad way that it includes the concept of spirit.

The Share Guide: In your experience, does meditation affect healing?
Dr. Larry Dossey: Meditation is a powerful way of entering into healing states. Herbert Vincent, for 20 years at Harvard, has shown that meditative states, and almost any kind of contemplative state, can be good for the body. When people meditate, the blood pressure comes down, the heart rate falls, immune changes take place in the body, and so on. So meditation is certainly a way of bringing about healing influences in our own body. But this certainly doesn't approach non-local, or Era Three type influences--where the influence escapes our own body, and reaches out into the world.

The Share Guide: I asked that because I'm involved in a meditation group myself, locally. Yogananda's form of Kriya yoga. And, one of the things that happen at the end of our group meditations is healing for other people. We chant Om three times, and then hold our hands up, and radiate energy out of our hands and hearts in the direction of the individuals named. We don't say what town they're in, but we say who they are, and what's wrong with them. Have you experience with this type of thing? A group focusing on one person?
Dr. Larry Dossey: This is actually been tested in certain studies, and has achieved positive results. For example, at the University of California San Francisco Medical School, they actually tested healing intentions, which were initiated at a great distance by several individuals, for people with advanced AIDS. This was a double blind study. The people who received the healing intentions statistically did much better than people who did not. So this is not just fantasy. This is a valid phenomenon, which has been tested.

The Share Guide: One healing system that I've been studying lately is shamanic healing--the indigenous shamans of South and Central America. It seems like, with or without drugs, they're doing non-local healing, going out of the body, and also diagnosing intuitively.
Dr. Larry Dossey:  Sure. Shamanism is non-local to the core. Shamans are good with local therapies too. For example, shamanism is wound up with the use of native methods, including herbs, and so on. Plus, shamans are just darn good psychologists. They're some of the world's best. So shamanism is a beautiful mix of local and non-local therapies. But it certainly does include non-local mind.

The Share Guide: Larry, aside from healing, I've also heard that group meditation can actually lower the crime rate in cities. That there have been tests about this.
Dr. Larry Dossey: The Transcendental Meditation movement, popularized by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, has done many tests on the ability of people to lower crime rates, and improve the quality of life in geographic areas. And with positive results, they claim that if the square root of one percent of the population enters into a particular framework of consciousness, then these changes happen. Actually, these studies are very intriguing. They have been published in first rate journals, scientific journals from time to time. They support the idea that group consciousness can make a change in the world for the better.

The Share Guide: It does seem like, whether we're talking about healing individuals or groups, or lowering the crime rate, it's all part of the larger thing, which is expressing our unity.
Dr. Larry Dossey: I think we shouldn't put these techniques in a box, and look at them as an individual therapy, or a group-related therapy. The studies show clearly, in my judgment, that the intentions of single individuals can make a difference. And also that the intentions of groups can make a difference. So it's both the individual and the group.

The Share Guide: We often hear about the different parts of a human being broken into the spirit and the mind, and the body, and the emotions. I know in the West they're treated separately. How do you view these, yourself?
Dr. Larry Dossey: Well, for me there's such a fluid interaction between them that it's difficult to put them in a box and separate them one from another. I think we get into real trouble when we try to do that. There is a kind of a structural relationship between them, in my judgment. In my view, consciousness is over everything. It informs the body. The ancient idea that the physical derives from the non-physical is a valid way to approach this. In other words, the body is contained in consciousness. Not the other way around, which is what's said in Western science. So, I see the Absolute, my term for the Divine by the way, over everything. Consciousness is under that, and then the physical derives from that. So there's a kind of hierarchy involved. This is the approach that's taken by virtually all great wisdom traditions.

The Share Guide: So if there is a hierarchy or structure, we can't necessarily enter in on a certain level, and preclude things from down below there from happening?
Dr. Larry Dossey: That's exactly right. The very idea that you can use any therapy--whether it's Bach flower remedies, or penicillin--apart from, and separate from, the actions of consciousness that go on at the same time, is an idea that's really in trouble. To try to assign some fundamental influence to a certain remedy, or even listening to Mozart, and separate that from what consciousness may be doing at the same time, I think is virtually impossible. As if these things don't interact with each other.

The Share Guide: So better to use all the modalities together? You know, playing Mozart is good, Bach flowers may be good, but you don't want to forget the penicillin either.
Dr. Larry Dossey: Right. And the very idea that we could use something, such as inoculation, is in trouble. If you go to your doctor, and he writes you a prescription for penicillin, you may regard that as a physical therapy. I mean, that's a chemical. But the moment you take the prescription in your hand, you begin to use your own powers of consciousness, in terms of your expectations of what's gonna' happen. Suggestion, or positive thinking may enter. And, who knows, your doctor may pray for you, or send you healing intentions. "I want my patient to get over this." He or she may do that when you leave the office. All of those enter into your clinical response, when you take that pill. I don't think that therapy is as simple as we often make it out to be. Whether we're trying to assess penicillin, or herbal remedies, or anything else.

The Share Guide: Do the different forms of energy medicine, such as acupresure, Jin Shin Jyutsu, Reiki; do these balance energy in the subtle bodies before the balances manifest in the physical?
Dr. Larry Dossey: I'm not a fan of the term "energy medicine." I've written widely that I think that term is mis-construed, particularly when it comes to the non-local forms of healing. For example, a Qi Gong Master tries to interact with someone at a distance, and people call that today a form of energy medicine. No one inside of science, or outside of science, has been able to demonstrate any exchange of energy in that situation. Zero. This is a metaphor, which people talk about as if it's real. We talk about sending energy, and talk about subtle energy. There isn't any evidence that energy is subtle or otherwise is exchanged. I think it's misleading to call this energy medicine, because that suggests that something measurable and tangible is being exchanged, when the evidence suggests otherwise. I think that our vocabulary has gotten us into deep trouble regarding how we think about these kinds of therapies.

The Share Guide: They're expressions of non-local mind?
Dr. Larry Dossey: Yes, they're expressions of non-local mind--because all of them involve intention, and willing, and the images and visualizations of healing, and so on. Here's the key point: non-local mind, non-local phenomena, are widely known in physics now. But they do not involve the exchange of energy. Nothing is sent in non-locally correlated events.

The Share Guide: Nothing is sent. So, what's happening?
Dr. Larry Dossey: Consciousness is everywhere; it's omnipresent. There's no necessity for anything to go anywhere, because consciousness is already everywhere. We don't need to lapse back into these old classical images and metaphors drawn from mechanical physics, which is what this whole movement of energy medicine is wallowing in. I've challenged people to go beyond this kind of thinking--to get out of the energy straight jacket. It really does distort how we think these things happen. And coaching things in terms of these energy concepts short changes us spiritually. It separates us. It says for example, "You're there in Sebastopol, and I'm here in Santa Fe. And if you want to do energy healing on me, you're gonna have to send something to me, because you and I are separate. We have to bridge the gap." And that's where we insert subtle energy, or some form of energy. This is a devastating image, because it separates us. Non-locality brings us together. It says that these things can happen in principle, because you and I are not separate--our consciousness is already one. So there's no necessity for you to send any sort of subtle energy to me. As long as we call this stuff energy medicine, we're engaging in the images and ideas of separation. This is terrible in my judgment--terrible because it doesn't fit with ancient wisdom, which recognizes the great unity between individuals at the level of consciousness. It short changes us because it denies the interdependencies in each of us, which is unitary to the core. It consigns us to a world of separation and distance, instead of one that's in unity. For all these reasons, I must say, I wish we could go beyond these images of energy healing and energy medicine, which I think need to be abandoned. That's a general comment. I just disagree with folks about that.

The Share Guide: So when the group's chanting "Om", they're not sending energy to another person, but stimulating the energy that they have already, like triggering a resonance response?
Dr. Larry Dossey: That's right. Energy talk is okay to describe what's going on in your body. We all know that there are electrical and chemical energies that are operating inside human bodies. But to describe what goes on between you and me at great distances, energy talk is helpless to describe that. We've got to go beyond the energy metaphors to describe how the influence happens at a distance. How distant intentions work, how love works, how passion works, how prayer works at a distance.

The Share Guide: So, you're awakening the energy that's in the distant person?
Dr. Larry Dossey: Yes, but you don't do that by tweaking the distant person by sending any sort of energetic signal, subtle or otherwise.

The Share Guide: How would you say it instead?
Dr. Larry Dossey: It's an action of consciousness. It's a non-local, distant action of consciousness, which doesn't require energy for its activity. Nothing is sent, nothing goes anywhere.

The Share Guide: All right, nothing is sent. What is happening to the recipient?
Dr. Larry Dossey: Oh, all sorts of things. Things are being played out in their body as a result of your healing intention, and your prayer, and your loving thoughts, your empathy, etc. In these studies in distant healing, in intercessory prayer, for example, all sorts of things happen, things that can be measured. Disease often goes away. Heart attacks heal up, many things have been demonstrated as a result of the healing intention. You know, Qi Gong Masters are people who are praying, trying to heal at a distance. They often describe energy-type changes in their own bodies. For example, healers often describe their hands being warm. They experience tingles through the body. These things are energetic phenomena happening in the body. The distinction I'm trying to draw for you here is that there are these local changes in the body of the initiator and the recipient. But there are non-local phenomena that bridge the gap, which cannot be described by any sort of energetic electromagnetic signal. Actually, its not easily articulated in common language.

The Share Guide: I don't want to get hung up on this, but because I am a meditator, and I'm interested in spiritual matters, it's of interest to me.
Dr. Larry Dossey: Oh, well it's of fascination to me too. I think this is a crucial issue. You could devote an entire issue of your journal to try to sort out this flap over energy medicine. People are completely unclear about this. And they don't distinguish between what's happening in the body of the sender and the receiver--and what happens in between. They lump it all together. And it comes out as some super unintelligible mish mash. And it's killing us, as far as how to carry these things into modern hospitals and medical institutions, which is what I want to do. First of all, there isn't any measurable evidence for any kind of energy that bridges the gap. So this gives the skeptics and the cynics open season. And they'll say, "Here are these people talking nonsense about subtle energies being sent between people…this field is just as crazy as I thought it was. It really hurts those of us who are trying to legitimize this field, and bring it into eventual mainstream medicine, which is crucial. This may just seem like symantics to somebody who doesn't care what you call it. But if you go out into the real world, and you try to make a difference in the highest levels of medicine, you'd better care what you call it. Because the vocabulary and the concepts you use will either make or break it. This is why this subject has been very important to me, and why I get rather irritated at the loose language that people in this movement use who do know about science. I want to say, "Come on guys, sharpen this thing up here. I mean, this is really getting pretty loose here." And unfortunately the response of some of the folks to what I've had to say is, "Well, you're denying distant healing." Or, "You're denying that this stuff is real." Which is utterly not true.

The Share Guide: You're just giving it a different emphasis?
Dr. Larry Dossey: Yes! For God's sake, I've spent the best part of my adult life standing up for these phenomena. I just think we have to be careful about how we language it.

The Share Guide: What about people who don't have a positive mental attitude, or, are less spiritual. Do you see those kind of people having a harder time physically healing?
Dr. Larry Dossey: Yes, I think it's harder for them to heal. But it's certainly not hopeless. For example, your group meditation session …you can have a healing influence on those people regardless of what they think. Whether they have a negative attitude, a positive attitude, or something in between. How do we know this? You can test it. By now, there have been enough experiments with enough people to show that healing intentions operate regardless of what the individual thinks.  I think that positive attitude--what we used to call faith, and what doctors now call the "placebo response"--I think that empowers any sort of healing, whether it's penicillin or prayer. But it's certainly not essential. Most of these studies that I'm referring to have been double-blind, which means that the recipient is not even aware that he or she is being prayed for, or being sent healing intention. The healing intentions work any way. So there you go. Plus, you can do these things on animals. You can even pray for a bacteria to multiply faster in these 100 test tubes, versus those 100 test tubes that are controlled, that don't receive healing intention. And those that are offered the prayer or healing intention grow faster. Presumably bacteria don't think positively or negatively. You get my drift here?

The Share Guide: Yes, I remember that covered in your book Reinventing Medicine. On another subject, since this is our Women's Health issue, are there any women's health issues that you'd like to address, or thoughts for women's healing in general?
Dr. Larry Dossey: My work has been has involved the spiritual aspects of healing. Quite frankly, gender is not an issue when it comes to healing effects from prayer intentions. I'm happy to say that, because this is so universal, it bypasses culture, language, and gender. If there's any area where gender is just rendered almost irrelevant, it's in the area of distant healing, or spiritual healing. But having said that, let me also add that if you look at the scientific literature, and the studies in this area, most of the healers in the experiments are women. There's an openness on the part of women in our culture for spiritual healing, that seems to exceed that of men. So I'm personally indebted to the contribution that women have made to the study of spiritual healing in medicine currently. I'm also fascinated by the fact that 50% or more of many of the medical school classes these days are made up of women. Women are bringing a greater openness, and a willingness, to go in the direction of spirituality in medicine. This augurs very well for the future. My wife and I purposely selected a woman for our private physician. I just think that women by and large have an intuitive, nurturing instinct that feels quite wonderful, if you're a patient. I respond to that. And that's why we have a woman doctor.

The Share Guide: Let's go on to some specific health questions for the women. What are the most common areas of imbalance that you see in women? The most common ailments that you think we have to watch out for in our society? For instance, I know breast and ovarian cancer are on the increase.
Dr. Larry Dossey: Actually, the major threat to women statistically is heart disease. This gets forgotten. You know, the risks of a woman dying of heart disease are far greater than dying of breast cancer in this country.

The Share Guide: I wasn't aware of that.
Dr. Larry Dossey: Many women aren't either. The concern over breast cancer and female cancers of various sorts is so great, that the attentions of women have been virtually distracted from the greatest threat to their health. Which remains as heart disease. Heart disease is the biggest killer in our culture, in both men and women. Women get distracted, I think, because there really is a national phobia against cancer. However, the statistics for survival after diagnosis of heart disease are worse than following diagnosis of cancer. In other words, following their diagnosis, people with cancer on average live longer than people who are diagnosed with heart disease. This is a misconception that we need to address.

The Share Guide: So there's less fear, and consequently, less awareness of the heart disease problem?
Dr. Larry Dossey: Yes, and it's absolutely ironic, because many women will be very diligent with things like mammograms, and diets designed to prevent cancer, but they may not be attuned to preventive measures and behavioral measures to thwart heart disease As an internist, this is a real issue for me, because I hate to see heart disease neglected as a result of the serious attention devoted to cancer. They're both important. Women need to cover all their bases, not just one. I presented the statistics on this at a meeting comprised mostly of women--people involved in healing, but not physicians. This was a lay person's group. And I was attacked afterwards by a woman whose life was devoted to teaching women to avoid breast cancer. She roundly denied that more women denied of heart disease than cancer. In her mind, breast cancer is the number one, hands-down killer of American women.

The Share Guide: But, not statistically?
Dr. Larry Dossey: I told her the statistics. She said, "That's not true."

The Share Guide: She wasn't ready to hear it.
Dr. Larry Dossey: She wasn't ready. She was so obsessed with breast cancer, that she was blind to the larger threat to women's health, which is heart disease. So, I sent her the National Institute of Health's statistics on causes of death for American women. And even so, she had immense trouble acknowledging the facts. This was a vivid example to me of selective blindness. But I'll tell you one way to bring these two areas together. Many of the things that women do to prevent cancer, also prevent heart disease. Exercise is an example. Exercise is a potent retardant to both heart disease and cancer, of all sorts. Another example is the use of antioxidants. Many of the therapies designed for one of these problems has a beneficial effect for the other. So it kind of smoothes out the bumps here a little bit.

The Share Guide: Let's move on to another subject. Have you used medical intuitives? Got any thoughts on that?
Dr. Larry Dossey: I left my private practice in 1988, and at that time medical intuitives were not very widely known, just to put it mildly. But in my new book, Reinventing Medicine, I talk about three medical intuitives, Caroline Myss, Judith Orloff, and Mona Lisa Schultz. Medical intuitives are enjoying a comeback. But this is nothing new in medicine, by the way.

The Share Guide: But it fits into the framework of the non-local mind?
Dr. Larry Dossey: Medical intuition is what I call non-local knowingness. It's gaining information from the world out there, non-locally. Distant healing and intercessory prayer, for example, praying for somebody else, that's inserting information into the world out there to make a difference. It's like extracting information from the world out there. So they go together.

The Share Guide: I noticed that the three that you named are all ladies.
Dr. Larry Dossey: What does that tell you? It tells me that women have a greater openness, and a greater willingness to step forward on these issues. But I don't want to leave the men out of this, you know. I really do not want to make this a gender issue. Men have been great medical intuitives also. In my book, I talk about what in the early 1800's was called "snap diagnosis," which is where a doctor simply gives a diagnosis of the patient, without any information, without ever seeing the patient. This was a "guy thing." This may infuriate people, but it's an historic fact. This took place in the medical schools of Europe in the early 1800's, where you had all these male professors in the medical schools competing with each other, about who could be the best at this game of "snap diagnosis." They were incredibly talented. Some of them could tell the diagnosis by just thinking. Some could tell the diagnosis just by looking at a drawing of the patient. They could even tell you the occupation.

The Share Guide: Wouldn't it be limited to men then because they dominated the medical profession at that time?
Dr. Larry Dossey: Oh, absolutely. But the point I'm trying to make is that both sexes have the talent. It's not restricted to one or another. Medicine was totally patriarchal at that time.

The Share Guide: When did the nursing movement start? And wasn't that led by women initially?
Dr. Larry Dossey: Yes. Florence Nightingale founded modern secular nursing in the 1850's and 1860's in England. Actually, let me throw this in. My wife Barbara is a cardiovascular nurse, who has a book out that's just out, called, Florence Nightingale: Mystic, Visionary, Healer published by Springhouse. And she charts this female nursing development Let me say that, in medical school, women often try to out macho the men, in order to simply cope with the pressures of school. A lot of the feminine intuitive instincts are overwhelmed by the experience of becoming a doctor. I look forward to the day when women cease to knuckle under to all the masculine pressures that are difficult to contend with in medical school. When that day happens, I think medicine is going to change very quickly.

The Share Guide: I see women as tending to be more caring and empathetic than men. Please comment on the integration of women into the healing arts, and the teaching of these qualities to our male healers also.
Dr. Larry Dossey: One of the key developments is the increasing number of women in medical schools. In some schools, 50% or more of the class is made up of women. What we need is for women to claim their feminine instincts, and their innate ability for nurturing, for intuition, and for empathy, and defend them, and stand up for them. And cease to allow them to be battered down by the masculine pressures of medical school. This is not easy…women pay a great price, as do men for that matter, on entering medical school. When women begin to stand up for who they are in the educational process of becoming a doctor, the face of medicine is going to change dramatically.

The Share Guide: Perhaps the face of teaching medicine also.
Dr. Larry Dossey: Teaching medicine also, it will flow downstream. There will be a trickle down movement, in which the face of medicine will become transformed. It will begin to feel better to be a patient, in a medical system that honors nurturing, intuition and empathy. Women hold the promise for greatly transforming this profession.

The Share Guide: It would seem to me that they would have a good running start, now that you've got prayer awareness in so many medical schools.
Dr. Larry Dossey: Yes…60 out of the 125 medical schools currently have courses devoted to the role of spirituality and prayer in healing.

The Share Guide: I noticed the very last sentence of your book was "The rebirth has begun." Can you comment on this?
Dr. Larry Dossey: I think the sense of sacredness can be reclaimed in medicine. And I think medicine can remain scientific as this process develops. If you go back in history, you see that early scientists were deeply spiritual, and believed that science could be a spiritual pursuit. For example, the 17th century scientist, Robert Boyle, who gave us Boyle's Law--he recommended that scientists do their experiments on Sundays, as part of their Sabbath worship. You see the sense of sacredness coming out in studies in distant healing and intercessory prayer. I know one researcher--who's a woman by the way--who says that when she does these prayer experiments in her hospital and clinic, she feels as if she's walking on holy ground. This goes to the idea that when you do an experiment, you're opening the window--for the Absolute, God/Goddess, Allah, whatever you want to call it, to manifest. So I'm convinced we can recover the sense of sacredness, as we are already doing by bringing spirituality back into hospitals and medical schools.

For more information about Dr. Larry Dossey, visit his website at www.dosseydossey.com


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