Institute of Noetic Sciences: I want to welcome everyone to the program today. We’re very excited to be interviewing IONS’ own vice president of research and education Marilyn Schlitz. She’s got a book out called Consciousness and Healing. She’s been a long time pioneer in the interface of medicine and consciousness as well as a wide diversity of fields and world views. Welcome today. Thank you for joining us, Marilyn.
So what we’re doing here is asking a lot of different leading thinkers the same questions and getting their perspective on the central shift of our time. So we’ll start from the big picture. How do you see our current global situation?
Marilyn Schlitz: Well, I think that this is an extraordinary time to be alive. I think that there has never been such a rate of accelerated convergence, and by that I mean that there are different world views, belief systems, ways of engaging reality that are now coming together at a rate and a pace and an intensity that have never existed in world history before. And so that’s both an opportunity and a great challenge I think for navigating into the 21st century. How do we negotiate all these complex differences that are converging? And one of the ways in which you can look at that is the convergence of science with religion, for example. These are areas that basically had been kept separate and now are increasingly coming together in various ways. For example, in the context of healthcare, spirituality and health, we see that people’s participation and practices, spiritual ideas and principles have actually helped some others. And yet there’s a lot of resistance within the scientific establishment to bring these kinds of questions together. So you find that health care is another place where so many people have different models of what causes illness, what causes disease, what promotes health, what triggers the healing response. And so what does that look like when all of these people are converging in the same health maintenance organizations and having to deal with a system grounded in a certain set of assumptions and then dealing with a population of people whose world views are all very different.
I think that it’s both an opportunity right now to deal with this engagement, and it’s a profound challenge, because we can look at the kind of tribal concepts that we see across the globe and recognize that empowerment is a pretty fundamental reaction to difference.
IONS: Thinking about some of the insights from a more integrated or integral model of medicine and how that seems in the larger systems in which we are embedded and how health arises from that, how does that translate into looking at our collective situation as a society? Where are we in terms of that more integral model of health?
MS: Well, I think, you know, Ivan Illich said it’s hard to be healthy in a sick society, and I think that’s very true. So when we think about an integral model of healing, I think about it as fundamentally relational. It’s having developed a clear relationship between the parts of the body so that the organic aspects of our physiology are functioning optimally; it’s relationship between mind and body. There’s increasing evidence that our beliefs, our thoughts, our expectancies, have a measurable effect on our physiology.
I think it’s our relationship to our loved ones, our families, our communities. Healthy relationships in that sense, again, are health-promoting at the biological level, at the psychological level.
I think of a healthy relationship in the context of our environment. We become so disconnected. One of our colleagues here at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Tina Amorok, talks about eco-trauma. Just in the same way there have been social traumas, alienation from the environment is traumatic to our psyches. So how do we meld that relationship?
And then that sense of something greater than ourselves, that sense of the sacred or the Divine, that call for meaning and the existential question that we have. So an integral model of medicine is also about that relationship, and holding these various dimensions is part of what needs to be factored in as we think about how to create a new model of medicine.
IONS: What is the path forward? How do you see it getting from a relatively unhealthy and disintegrated kind of model to this more integrated vision, not just for our healthcare but also for our society, that we are really seeing this relational context? What are the shifts that need to happen?
MS: I really don’t know what shifts need to happen to make the world a better place. It’s so complicated. On the one hand, we are kind of hard-wired for aggression and competition, and on the other hand, there is increasing evidence within positive psychology, for example, that maybe we are equally hard-wired for conviviality, good will, good relations. We feel good when we are in right relationship, and if you can get reinforced for right relationship in ways that are socially redeeming that may help to shift things.
I believe the change model that works best is individual transformation and then watching as our own sense of balance—emotional, psychological, spiritual balance—within ourselves can then translate out into our relationships with other people.
And I think that really assessing the nature of our world views and understanding that so much of what drives our behavior are embedded assumptions that we don’t even question. So how can we become more aware of the assumptions we are making about what is right or what is true, what is good? But I don’t know that it’s easy to solve issues of intolerance and the kinds of social maladies that seem so prevalent, other than to say that there are tools, tools like gratefulness and forgiveness, reconciliation—tools of social healing, that if people could begin to appreciate the personal benefit that comes from that sense of balance, it could then translate out into a better opportunity for social healing.
And I also think there are a lot of people trying to promote positive transformation in the world and now with tools like the internet I think we have an opportunity to recognize our common identity. And I think that awareness of not being alone, not being the only voice in this turbulent time, is really empowering. And so the more we can recognize our “us-ness,” our “we-ness,” as a collective that’s trying something about positive transformation, the more likely we can see that tipping point manifest.
IONS: So if we can bring this down even more into your specific passions and current activities right now—the springboard to the Consciousness and Healing book talks a little bit about how that’s helping to shift things in the medical profession—and some of the other passions you have right now.
MS: Well we did this book Consciousness and Healing as a way of bringing together this integral perspective on health and healing. So we were interested in advocating an integral model and looking at the ways this kind of relationship-centered approach can be important. Central to the integral perspective is transformation, the idea that individuals need to understand their role as agents of change and in that their own personal change.
World view is an important piece of that—recognizing that we hold these different models of reality, and that as we come into a greater awareness of our own world views, it makes it easier then to connect to other people’s world views.
So I’m really interested in those principles as they relate to medicine. I’m particularly interested in looking at healing educational programs for health professionals as they relate to this kind of transformational work, looking at simple ways that healers, doctors and nurses, social workers, psychologists can easily begin to integrate these things into their practices so that they are not so burned out or overwhelmed by what’s happening. I’m always interested in understanding the nature of healing, but so much of the emphasis in terms of the national agenda is on a disease model rather than on a healing model. And so I think that we are really trying to shift the focus to salutogenesis, the idea of nurturing our own innate feeling capacities and better understanding the link between intention and healing.
For example one of the projects I’m interested in doing is looking at the effects of a specific kind of intention entraining as it relates to wound-healing. And in particular then, we are working with a hypnotherapist who’s an anesthesiologist, and she will do both focused direct intentions through therapeutic suggestion during the anesthesia induction as compared to a generalized intention for relaxation as compared to a control condition. And what that helps us to do is to begin to look at the specificity/generality aspect of intentions. And then what we would be measuring is a very specific aspect of wound-healing which is the rate of collagen deposition in a little polyethylene tube that is implanted under the skin. So what we have is a very rigorous, objective measure of wound-healing combined with a discerning beginning of an attempt to operationalize what we mean by intention.
So there are different things that I’m interested in. We are also very interested in transformation, and we have a big project on transformation and looking at change, how it is that change happens. What are the catalysts of personal change? How do you distinguish between an exceptional moment and a transformational moment? What are the tools that people need in order to sustain a transformation and really then begin to move into a different model of what’s possible?
I am particularly interested in looking at the distinction between positive transformation and the shadow side of transformation. I think that the concept of transformation is used so widely that you hear Condoleezza Rice talking about transformation in diplomacy. Jim Jones is talking about societal transformation. I think Hitler was talking about societal transformation, and all of them had an idea that what they were going to transform into was something better. So I think we have to be really cautious and circumspect about what it is we’re advocating. And a lot of temerity about recognizing at this point maybe the biggest mandate is figuring out the right questions to be asking.
IONS: That is a very open and humble perspective to ask the questions, rather than simply just have the agenda.
MS: Well I think that essentially our assumptions drive our questions, our questions drive our methods, and our methods drive our answers. So if you’re flawed at the beginning, you’re going to have an incomplete answer in the end. So how do we try to be a little more circumspect, recognizing you always have blinders? But that’s part of the due process.
The reason I love to do collaboration, and I work well with groups, is that I think each of us has a piece, and if you can find that kind of coherence in a group, to work toward a common goal, that’s very transformational. Now is it transformation in a sense of one of these positive transformations or a negative one? And obviously different people have different interpretive frames for that. It’s a tricky area.
IONS: I want to go back a little bit and maybe you could say more about the specific programs for health care professionals that you have been involved in helping to create. That might be something that people might be interested in getting further involved with or participating in.
MS: We’re creating a program that will be offered at IONS in August on creating a conscious life. And here is an attempt for us to look at some of the tools and technologies that are being developed to enhance personal transformation and to integrate that into within a research framework in a community of like-minded people who can begin to explore these new ideas in a way that’s grounded. We’re talking about it as being a heart-centered weekend that focuses around this concept of coherence. So it’s coherence within ourselves, that integration of our mind-body spirit. It’s that sense of resonance. These are kinds of metaphors when we use these terms that come out of physics to mean something very precise, but we know that we feel something when we are in a flow state with another person or a group of people. Even with a national agenda—when something resonates so fast – “We’re going to take men to the moon and bring them successfully home.” Suddenly there was a collective intention that allowed us to hold a larger set of imagining of what we’re capable of. So we interested in trying to create programs that will help us expand our sense of self and of our possibilities.
IONS: Wonderful. The fourth question that we are asking everybody is—I want to bring it down to a very personal and practical level. What kind of recommendations do you have for folks who want to participate in these larger shifts of our time and want to take positive steps in that direction?
MS: I think there are some really simple things we can do that don’t require moving to India or selling our house or giving up the school system. I think there are simple things we can do that can start us each day on a path, recognizing we’re all flawed creatures.
I think things like recognizing that a walk in nature is profoundly health-promoting and helps one to balance and integrate their sense of relationships.
I think that there are lots of exercises that come out of the different contemplative traditions that allow us to monitor our breath or to monitor our steps as we are doing a walking meditation, ways of accessing interiority and that sense of the subjective, that sense of the I am as a practice, a practice of observation. I think that there are fun things we can do—dance. Anna Halprin talks about the power of two people dancing together or a group dancing together that promotes this sense of belonging and connection, you know being in the same rhythm and the same flow with other people. Is this fun? And it’s very healing.
I think art—art is something that many of us think it’s something somebody else does. You know—I can’t be an artist and yet we all have creative potential. You know for myself, somebody who doesn’t have a lot of the ability that I see in others on a canvas, but there are other ways that I can create, and when I do create a work of art it is very therapeutic. It’s fun and it’s expansive, and it has a very satisfying feel to it. Working in a garden, taking time with animals—it’s really clear from the scientific literature that touching and stroking a pet can have a very positive effect on the immune system. So again recognizing the simple things we can do in our lives that don’t require necessarily a whole radical reframing, but begin to calibrate what’s important and how we live subtly, because I think ultimately these are subtle changes that are, in the end, quantum. You know, it’s a state shift; it’s a tiny little perturbation, and yet it’s an entirely a different way of perceiving reality once the shift has happened. But I don’t think things have to happen by pounding a sledge hammer over somebody’s head. I think it can be as organic as stopping to smell the roses.
IONS: I’d like to have a scientist advocating stopping to smell the roses. It’s a nice very integrative framework.
MS: Everybody needs to. Scientists are people. We’re all people. Doctors are people. They need to stop and smell the roses. We all do.
And there is this sense of urgency in the times that I think is disruptive to our ability to actually manifest what we are seeking. We are just racing from one solution to another solution. It’s often a like a band-aid operation, whereas what I think really needs to happen is a pausing long enough to ponder. Are we asking the right questions? Have we made the right assumptions here? Are these the right people to be configured with? And are we moving in a way that feels promoting to ourselves, promoting to our coherence within a larger group?
And also I think our responsibility to the seven generations to come is very critical, so how do we live our lives today in such a way that it’s responsible to the future?
IONS: Beautiful. I think that’s a good place to wrap unless you have something else you want to bring forward about the essential shifts.
MS: I don’t.