Whether or not you’re conscious of it, your body is under dual control. Sure, your body is self-regulating—but you also have a good amount of power over your body. Whether you pay attention or not, you breathe in and out automatically; it’s a basic survival mechanism. But anytime you want, you can intervene and breathe a different way, faster or slower, deeper or shallower. Because the body operates as a whole system, your interventions aren’t local—a different style of breathing could be linked to a panic attack at one extreme and a mindful yoga practice at the other. Which means that every intervention has the possibility of moving you away from your natural state of wellness.
Apparently, millions of people have done just that. The signs are obvious in dozens of ways—poor sleep, chronic lifestyle diseases, obesity, anxiety, and depression head the list. The healing response is compromised by a huge disruption like pneumonia or polio, but these devastating events are becoming rarer and more curable. The real threat to healing comes from the daily interventions we make that have negative or unforeseen consequences; these are the raindrops that can eventually cause a flood.
Because everyone’s life is a mixture of good and bad choices, everything in life must be viewed as either raising your state of wellness or lowering it. Our cells, all the way down to the genetic level, tolerate our indulgences but are paying the price for them as well.
So what’s the solution? Use the body’s dual control as a tool of healing. In the most basic terms, there are two kinds of healing going on in every person right now:
1. Automatic healing.
Everyone inherits automatic healing in their genes through millions of years of evolution.
2. Conscious healing.
This covers every opportunity to assist and improve automatic healing. Any experience is a possible candidate for healing. The simple fact is that even if you go a day without any physical pain, you can still experience the following sources of emotional pain:
- Feeling depressed, helpless, or hopeless
- Worrying about the future
- Feeling anxious, fearful, or unsafe
- Feeling stuck in old behaviors or bad habits
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of fulfillment
- Troubled relationships
- Feeling lonely, shut out, and unappreciated
- Leading a life without much purpose or meaning
- Guilt and shame from old traumas and wounding
Who can say that something on this list isn’t afflicting them right now or didn’t occur in the past? Impressive studies have shown that invisible subjective states can have a powerful effect on the body. For example, researchers at the University of Texas Medical School looked at mortality rates among a group of men and women who had received open heart surgery, including heart bypass and replacement of the aortic valve. If you take the routine medical approach, the reason someone dies six months after open heart surgery, while someone else doesn’t, must come down to a physical difference. But the team headed by Dr. Thomas Oxman took an unorthodox approach. They asked these patients two questions about their social situation: Do you participate regularly in organized social groups? Do you draw strength and comfort from your religion or spiritual faith?
These are simple yes-or-no questions, and when assessing the answers, the researchers excluded the typical risk factors for dying after heart surgery, including age, severity of the disease, and severity of a previous heart attack. With these factors zeroed out, the findings were startling.
The study found that a person who answered "yes" to both questions had less than a 5 percent chance of being dead six months after their surgery. A person who answered "no," on the other hand, to both questions had between a 20 percent and 25 percent chance of being dead six months after the surgery.
Here’s the main take-away: Being socially supported and taking comfort from your faith makes you seven times more likely to survive major heart surgery than someone who has neither of those things in their life. This outcome is almost certainly the only sevenfold difference in any risk for heart mortality, even bad cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and a genetic history of heart attacks in the family. While asking somebody if they belong to social groups like a club or church is an objective measure, the question about religious or spiritual faith is entirely about how the person feels.
How you feel is entirely subjective, but just as important, it’s an activity in consciousness, a small indicator of your self-awareness. The support for conscious healing couldn’t be more obvious.