Neurasthenia, the “Rest Cure,” and Modern Life

Katie Carlin

Carlin_Image

In 1892, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, an American author, published “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The fictional story provides an account of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s own mental breakdown (Radcliffe Institute). In the story, the narrator suffers from neurasthenia, a nervous disease, and her doctor, Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, puts forth the idea of the rest cure (Gilman). She is taken to a country home, but she is unsatisfied with the room, fixating on the aesthetics of the wallpaper (Gilman). Enduring the isolation of the “rest cure,” she starts to personify the wallpaper, stating, “[t]his paper looks to me as if it knew what a vicious influence it had” (Gilman). At the end of the short story, she claims to see a pattern in the yellow wallpaper and “a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure;” a woman behind the paper (Gilman). Although a fictional story, “The Yellow Wallpaper” provides commentary on neurasthenia a decade after Beard identified the disorder and an account of the patient experience.

In the 1880s, George Beard identified neurasthenia as “a disorder…that was caused by a malfunctioning of the nervous system, and if left untreated, it could result in collapse” (Harrington 142). In other words, the modern stresses of civilized life resulted in exhaustion of the individual. Neurasthenia was diagnosed when no physical illnesses were present in the patient; however, the physician issued a physical treatment. For men, the cure for neurasthenia was taking part in nature-related activities, while women were often prescribed a “rest cure” (Harrington 144). The “rest cure” was designed to remove people from their family context, deny access to visitors, limit intellectual stimulation, and allow the patient to rest without disturbance (Harrington 144).

The artifact allows us the opportunity to consider the role of the patient, the role of physicians, and the role of family. The narrator’s experience provides a first-hand account of the people she interacts with. Her husband and the physicians dictate her life, keeping her in the country despite her pleas for companionship (Gilman). She is isolated from her family, other than those designated to care for her. They do not ask about her affliction, how she is coping, or her mental stability. Instead, they focus on weight gain and physical appearance. The story provides information on how mind-body illness of the 19th century is viewed and addressed.

Gender also plays a major role in the history of neurasthenia. In the text, the narrator finds hiding her actions more tiring than the actions themselves. The view that she is weak and incapable of acting in an everyday fashion reinforces her isolation and limits her ability to acclimate back into her everyday routine. She is seen as too weak to be in charge of herself, but a man can do as he pleases. Arguably, the confinement of women and the freedom of men suffering from the same affliction shows the role and expectation of the genders at the end of the 19th century.

It is clear that neurasthenia was not equal between the sexes. In fact, the prescription of a “rest cure” disempowered women. While men were sent outdoors, women were confined to the bed and removed from the modern life stressors. For example, the narrator in Gilman’s work desires companionship, but her husband says, “he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now” (Gilman). The rejection of visitors puts unwanted strain on the narrator to recover from her affliction. The way neurasthenia is defined and the gender-designated treatment shows how people of the 19th century viewed neurasthenia as a woman’s illness. Women were given more extreme treatment because they were the weaker of the two sexes. Men could recover through relaxation, but women required isolation from modern civilization.

Other questions to consider:

How does neurasthenia tie into shellshock/PTSD and how mental illness is viewed in the 20th and 21st centuries?

How gender and illness interact in contemporary society?

How does a personal account reflect the time period? What are the limitations?

How does defining an illness create stigma?

How does stigma isolate the ill from the well?

 

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY, 1996; Project Gutenberg, 2008. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1952/1952-h/1952-h.htm.

Harrington, Anne. The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008.

Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. “From Woman to Human: The Life and Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman.” Harvard University. Accessed February 9, 2015. https://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/schlesinger-library/exhibition/woman-human-life-and-work-charlotte-perkins-gilman.

 

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Orientalism: A Look Back and a Look Ahead

Millie Smith

Gérôme, Jean-Léon. The Snake Charmer, 1880. Oil on canvas. 32 3/8 x 47 5/8 in. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

Gérôme, Jean-Léon. The Snake Charmer, 1880. Oil on canvas. 32 3/8 x 47 5/8 in. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

For my “Mind-Body Medicine” artifact, I have selected The Snake Charmer, a painting completed in 1880 by French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme. This piece immediately came to mind while I was reading chapter six, “Eastward Journeys,” of Anne Harrington’s The Cure Within, as I was struck by the section’s focus on orientalism and the Western tendency to exoticize and borrow specific images and customs that originated in the East. I first learned about this piece in my Art History class last year, and have carried its messages (intended or otherwise) with me ever since; it was mere coincidence that when I went to look up the image, I realized that it was featured on the front cover of Edward Said’s Orientalism, a book that is referenced multiple times in The Cure Within that defines the implications of Western colonial and cultural appropriation of the East.

Not only does this artifact provide a look into late 19th century art, but it also allows a glimpse into the events of the 1880s and how those shaped Western conceptualization of all things “Eastern”. The Snake Charmer represents a very specific time in European history, when France held colonies in North Africa and there existed a hyper-popular fascination with those exotic destinations. Gérôme himself had taken many trips to Egypt and had been deemed an authority by French audiences to his work; in reality, his art- although visually immaculate- was romanticized and emphasized to the point that it did not accurately portray Eastern life whatsoever. The great efforts that Gérôme went to in order to depict the displayed group as a society entirely distinct from that of France were more successful in establishing that the painting’s subjects were unquestionably “the other”. The focal point of the naked young boy facing a crowd of older men distinguished this painting on a whole other level of eroticism than the normal nudes that Académie audiences were used to. By isolating, dramatizing, and contributing to stereotypes held of people, traditions, and places of the East, this piece “[advanced] European colonialist and imperialist agendas.”1

This chapter focused less on the historic stories of mind-body medicine specific to the time period in which The Snake Charmer was produced, but it raises some important questions about our past and present views of Eastern traditions and images. The chapter begins nearly one hundred years after the painting was created in the late 19th century, and although there is technically no longer Western colonization of Eastern Asian states, one could argue that there is a similar borrowing system on the part of Western cultures towards Eastern practices. Orientalism may not have the same exploitative face as it did in Gérôme’s time, but is the Western obsession-turned-medicalization of ancient Eastern practices a modern take on it? Or have we perhaps crossed the threshold of appropriation and genuinely turned to Eastern medicine as a legitimate form of care that we can learn from?

1Harrington, Anne. The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine. New York: Norton, 2009.

2The Clark Art Institute. “Jean-Léon Gérôme.” Accessed February 12, 2015. http://www.clarkart.edu/Collection/559.

 

 

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Meditation: The End of a Journey and the Start of the American Way

John Yu

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The woman on the cover of the January 2003 edition of TIME Magazine sits in a full lotus position – a commonly known meditation pose typically associated with Buddhist monks who regularly practice meditation.

The visual elements of this cover portray the new stages of the “Eastward Journey” narrative – or more accurately, how the “Eastward Journey” has come to an end and is now in the process of settling in at home in the United States.

Firstly, I’d like to start off with the less obvious by pointing out what is absent from this cover. This cover is void of religious garments, electrodes, or fancy computers [in contrast to p 238 of The Cure Within]. The woman’s outfit suggests how modernized meditation has become; long gone are the days of the experimentation and investigation of meditation. We have successfully removed it from its Buddhist origins and have dissociated it into a secular experience. When you look at it this way, it becomes less of a question of how a religion might save your soul, and more of a question of how your mind can save your body.

Secondly, a more obvious observation is that the woman sits in the midst of a minimalistic backdrop. This could mean a couple of things, of which the latter will be further discussed. One interpretation is to view her surroundings as a representation of her mind. The implications are rather straightforward from this perspective, as the sub-title suggests: Clearing your mind is how you heal your body.

Another way to look at the backdrop is to view it as a representation of her living environment. It begs the question that maybe clearing the mind starts by clearing up our lifestyles? Maybe it starts by cleaning our personal spaces, removing the clutter from our lives, so we can be more at peace with ourselves?

This “Eastward Journey” narrative started in quest of an antidote to the stresses that characterize our modern lifestyles. We are stressed because we make expectations for ourselves; we place too much value in how productive we are. We are stressed because we want to stay busy and we grow uneasy when we are not busy. We have become overly concerned with being connected to our world, and our brains have been rewired to live in frenzy — but at what cost?

I wonder if we have been looking for an antidote in the wrong places? I mentioned earlier how removing the religious elements of meditation have made it entirely secular. While this is true, to take it a step further, I suggest that the aforementioned facets of this American magazine cover show how meditation will continue become very much an American experience. It has become a trademark of our culture to get six-pack abs with six-second abs, or cook a scrumptious dinner feast in 30 minutes or less. We basically try to fit more and more into our schedules to keep up our rapid lifestyles, without taking the time to slow-down and reflect on our lives.

I wonder if we have made meditation a five minute (or less), American thing too? Instead of finding peace within our minds, maybe it would help to try making peace with our surroundings or our schedules first? Or maybe it is only when our bodies start crying their final maydays that we think to take the time to reconsider what our priorities in life are?

 

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Diseases of the Soul: The Exploitative Potential of Mind-Body Medicine

Jonathan Eisenhamer

 

[SAFE]. Directed By Todd Haynes (1995; New York, NY: Criterion, 2014), DVD.

[SAFE]. Directed By Todd Haynes (1995; New York, NY: Criterion, 2014), DVD.

 

In the summer of 1995, director Todd Haynes took a critical look at how mind-body medicine could be used to deceive and exploit those suffering from illness with his magnum opus, [Safe]. The film tells the story of Carol (Julianne Moore), an incomprehensibly uninteresting house wife who lives with her husband and his son in an opulent L.A. neighborhood during the late 1980’s. Things do get interesting, however, when Carol begins suffering from allergic reactions that do not appear to possess a tangible cause. Salvation appears to come in the form of Wrenwood, an alternative treatment center whose charismatic leader advocates seclusion and the needs for individuals to learn to love themselves. Carol travels to this compound in order to treat what appears untreatable, and soon falls under the spell of its patriarch and his subtly manipulative methods of “treatment”. Initially created as a criticism various new age health practitioners who exploited HIV/AIDS patients during the 1980’s, [Safe] is a chilling account of both the inherently mysterious nature of disease as well as the danger of relinquishing one’s autonomy to authority figures.

Authority, the ability to command and control others, is hugely important both in Anne Harrington’s discussion of “the power of suggestion” and [Safe]. For Harrington, the amount of control a practitioner has over their patients’ lives is at best troubling and at worst completely unethical. These ethical concerns with authority are exemplified in [Safe], as the film spends a great deal of time tracking the manner in which authority figures affect Carol’s life and mental state. Throughout most of the film’s first half, Carol is so weak willed and possesses such a stunted sense of self that she can barely speak a declarative sentence. This changes dramatically when she enters the authoritarian environment of the treatment compound, which forbids activities such as sexual conduct and even speaking at certain meals. It is in this environment that Carol begins to root her newly discovered personality, naively taking in the ideas of Wrenwood’s staff and leader without truly understanding any of them. This culminates in one of the film’s final scenes, where Carol gives a speech in front of an entire room of party goers about the need for the treatment center and its positive effect on its inhabitants. Essentially, her weak and stunted personality has been tailored by those in power to serve their own endeavors.

Another complex issue found in both The Cure Within and [Safe] is how disease is defined by the environment and culture that it operates within. Harrington’s example concerns the shift from defining certain symptoms as demonic possession to describing them as the result of a fluid imbalance as societal values changed. In [Safe], Carol’s definition of her condition corresponds to the society she decides to surround herself with. The symptoms of Carol’s condition remain generally stable throughout the film, with the anxiety they bring heightened by the film’s inclusion of stressful, ambient sounds to indicate their ominous nature. These symptoms are at first thought to be the result of a physically identifiable medical condition, and Carol seeks out mainstream medical practitioners accordingly. When Carol’s focus instead shifts to Wrenwood’s ideas, the symptoms instead become indicative of a problem with Carol’s world view and understanding of herself. The final scene of this film exemplifies this shift in perspective, as it shows Carol looking at herself in the mirror, attempting to improve her health by saying “I love you” over and over again. This scene is both an incredible depiction of an individual whose core idea of sickness has shifted with her environment, as well as deeply chilling finale to the film as a whole.

General Questions and Issues Raised By the Film

  • How is illness defined? Who has the final say on this definition?
  • How are treatments deemed to be viable?
  • What is the effect of one’s mental state on their physical state, if those states can even be deemed separate?
  • When, if ever, is it appropriate to relinquish one’s autonomy?
  • When does medicine go from being “alternative” to “mainstream”?

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Qigong: A New Gateway of Healing

Daniel Surinach

Surinach_Image1

This painting/carving was imprinted within the tomb of Mawangdui Han, who was buried in 168 B.C. The ancient manuscript depicts the different positions related to channeling one’s qigong, or chi energy. This spiritual energy was highly regarded (and is still highly regarded) as a leading cause in influencing one’s well-being, both mentally and physically. Any disruption in this energy is seen to cause physical illness, and mental distress. In this specific energy, different exercise and meditative positions are described in ways that were believed to open up one’s qigong channels, thus promoting health and well-being, and improved livelihood of a person.

For thousands of years, this style of thinking has ruled over traditions in the East, spanning throughout most of Asia, and is even practiced in some areas of the West. This is described in Eastward Journeys chapter in the book, The Cure Within. This chapter describes the transition from the quantitative, “hard-science based” methodology of diagnosing disease solely based on strict, medical tests, to a more lenient kind of medicine, which was focused more on the effects the mind had on the body. These new methods were adopted from a different perspective, which relied more on the effects that the mind could have on the body. The energy by which the mind affected the body was known as qigong, and several practices such as meditation and acupuncture, which are mentioned on pages 222-230, describe how calming the mind and fixing blockages in this chi energy was shown to not only reduce stress, but also cure certain ailments (especially pain).

With the new changes implemented in Western medicinal organizations, which included training doctors in a novel way (with a bigger focus on curing patients with medicine, rather than empathizing with them), many patients sought out different approaches into looking at curative medicine. This new exploration led to a new era of integration, where a combination of chemical and spiritual healing was used to both diagnose, and treat patients. This Eastern-Western combination used the best of both worlds, implementing chemical treatment when curing disease, and implementing spiritual disease to answer the question “why am I sick?” By realizing that people’s methods of thinking could affect their health, focus on medication and relaxation, along with certain exercises (as seen in the ancient painting), provided people with a belief that their minds could not only change their bodies, but could also change the way they felt about life.

With this in mind, one of the most interesting aspects of the tomb painting was the fact that over the course of thousands of years, the belief that a mind-body connection exists has been passed on through several generations, and is found throughout our world now. The most important aspect of this new medicine was the fact that it could be self-administered; that is, you didn’t have to go do a doctor or get some artificial drug to cure your sicknesses. Instead, relaxation, self-reflection, and a combination of movements and needles (acupuncture) were seen to be as preventative and curative as most “Western medicines.” This dramatic paradigm shift opened up the world to a new way of looking at life, and often began new studies that looked at both the possible effects that the mind, and body could have on the physical and spiritual well-being of people.

“Mawangdui Archaeological Discoveries.” Beijing Digital Museum of Technology and Science. Accessed February 15, 2015. http://www.tcm-china.info/art/2012/11/22/art_2420_63547.htm

Harrington, Anne. “Eastward Journeys.” InThe Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine, 222-230. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008.

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John Lennon’s Eastward Journey

Ellie Pirozzi

Pirozzi Image

Anne Nightingale. “What I Believe – by Beatle John.” Daily Sketch, October 9, 1967

Embedded in a time of “fighting the man” and “inner peace” Beatle John Lennon gave an interview for a popular magazine, Daily Sketch, singing the praises of meditation and ancient eastern peaceful ways. Americans and Brits alike were coming to protest the daily grind and exorbitant expectations demanded by modern culture in order to find greater happiness. Stress had infiltrated all areas of life and the new generations were looking for ways to fight it without fighting. Naturally, many looked to popular figures for examples and guidance, resulting in reflective interviews such as this one with John Lennon. As Anne Harrington discusses in The Cure Within, Lennon and the Beatles looked eastward to find new avenues to peace.

Harrington’s discussion mentions the “new” forms of meditation that had been derived by Maharishi, the Beatles’ guru for meditation and enlightenment. However, these novel ways were adaptations of the ancient practices of Eastern tradition as Lennon discusses in his interview. He said that to overcome the times one had to go back to simpler times and mentalities to find the peace everyone was searching for. Harrington also touches upon this simplistic quality in her discussion of stress and its relief. She poses that overtaxing happenings of the modern Western world cause anxiety and unhappiness that people look elsewhere to alleviate, just as Lennon had. However, where Harrington frames the idea of ancient wisdom in a common narrative, Lennon is a proponent that meditation is a personal endeavor, a uniquely inner peace. As a result, he encouraged that notion that all persons could participate, religious or not.

Endorsements such as Lennon’s hold a significant amount of weight and validity, making this interview a relevant example to the underlying social aspect of the “Eastward Journey” narrative. Harrington’s take on the movement of reverting back to ancient wisdom has an underlying emphasis on the cultural influence that these narratives rely on. One person’s opinion on meditation as a stress buster does not a movement make. It takes many to start the crusade and notable leaders for others to identify with. Lennon’s interview serves as a public endorsement of meditation that informs others of the validity and effectiveness that encompass the movement. This subtle cultural influence molds how the general populous often responds to novel ideas and practices. Celebrities and figureheads, like the Beatles, possess enormous sway over the accepted practices within a culture, overtly creating new norms. These personal journeys towards eastern simplicity then become the eastward journey narrative that everyone can participate in.

The interview itself raises issues of fads and unwanted influence that can dictate what becomes accepted within society and how mental health’s identity is viewed. In this context, the Beatle’s endorsement creates a surge in meditation interest, people look to become more at peace, but then many revert back to their high stress life styles. As a result, the concept of mental health is not taken as a serious concern in life; instead it is something that is “in” at the moment. Lennon even makes a point to say the Americans are more likely to “drop out” of the craze. Is this notion of a fad why Americans have continued to complain about high levels of stress since the 1960’s and continue to struggle with mental health? Why is it that we identify so many areas that can be de-stressed and ways to do so, but little is changed? Is it that we like complaining and as a result we alleviate stress temporarily so that we don’t stick to long term behaviors? The interview also raises the question of whether religion is inherently coupled with meditation and ancient traditions. Could this have been a deterrent for potential practitioners? Conversely, could looking to oneself for peace rather than a deity have turned-off religious persons from looking to eastern practices for stress relief, causing a further differentiation between the east and west? Finally, the interview with Lennon hints at the medical differentiation between eastern and western traditions in that they discuss the influence of drugs versus that of meditation. Is the relief produced by eastern practices as effective as western pharmaceuticals? Was this a turning point towards our modern day fascination on products being natural?

 

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The Whole World in His Hands

 Jay Barnwell

Ronit Bigal, Body Scripture II, 2010, photograph, 14.6 in x 9.4 in, Artist House, Tel Aviv.

Ronit Bigal, Body Scripture II, 2010, photograph, 14.6 in x 9.4 in, Artist House, Tel Aviv.

This photograph by Israeli artist Ronit Bigal transforms the body from being a simple aspect on this earth to a beautiful creation adorned in calligraphy.1 These words are not just random words that were intricately placed on the body but they are passages from the Bible, translated into Hebrew. Bigal takes pictures of the models nude then overlays the pictures with the calligraphy in black Indian ink. This is one of many images that she has created in her “Body Scripture II” exhibition. Many people have asked why she does this and no one really knows what the purpose is for the placement of the art, along the seams of the body, but the artist has been noted to respond with, “Imagine a world where your words appear on your skin. Would you be more careful of what you say?” This artifact can relate to Chapter 3 in, The Cure Within because not only does the viewer have to assess their intrapersonal relationship and the way he or she may speak but it uses Bible passages as part of the mysterious message.

Chapter 3 discusses in great detail about how positive thinking is essentially much more important than credit is given. In earlier notes of the chapter it talks about the Bible and how people who claim to have faith need to believe positively in its word. Miracles can happen if positive thinking is implemented. This artifact unleashes a great deal of thought about the gospel and human body. It makes it very interesting because it is poorly understood what is being said or why the artist chose to put it on that particular part of the body, but questions can be raised. Questions like is this passage on there for healing of that area? If so, if it is spoken and seen into existence will that area be healed? The chapter did discuss science as an aspect of power in positive thinking but I feel this image can step outside the realms of medicine. This image can be a testament of a person’s faith or belief that can be a possible reward from God for staying rooted in the Christian tradition. Then again the story of the model is not known. Why is the model naked? Could the same message be portrayed if the model was clothed? This artifact, specifically, could represent a persons’ views on the way the world functions. Briefly in the text, it was discussed that God has a predetermined destiny for things he has created. This image could be for change, forgiveness, or even death, like the woman who prayed ill to towards her son, in what could be God’s hands.

Moreover, this artifact could argue the weight of the word, due to the size of text. The slowly shrinking text could be the last efforts to hold onto to faith. What was supposed to represent strong and powerful thinking has now given in to the normalization of western society, which is to function on medication. The placebo affect may no longer be working because all faith was lost or positive thinking failed him or her and the hands in that position could represent giving up and letting the conscious mind take away the fight.

All in all, the image simply appears to unfold upon first sight and attempts to help the viewer understand certain aspects from the reading. Even if it is not explicitly said the piece of work can be interpreted in many ways from the chapter and has the ability to disrupt a generalized mind.

  1. Ronit Bigal, Body Scripture II, 2010, photograph, 14.6 in x 9.4 in, Artist House, Tel Aviv.

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La Grotte Gratuite

Walid Anwar

La Grotte d’après une photographie orginiale, 1858

La Grotte d’après une photographie orginiale, 1858

In 1896, The Chicago Tribune covered the miracles witnessed in the city of Lourdes, the pilgrims attending, and some results that came of their encounter with the “Immaculate Conception”, the Virgin Mary. The article questions the reader if the devotees who visited Lourdes perceive the statue and grotto as holy as it pretends to be, if their “spiritual guides” believe it, and if the people of the village believe it. More than 7,000 visitors took part in the pilgrimage only a week prior to the publication of the paper, exhibiting the popularity that was present at the time surrounding the grotto and the healing powers found there. As Harrington discussed in the novel, Bernadette Soubirous, a peasant from Lourdes, France, was berated for telling her community that she was seeing an apparition. The doctors visited her and didn’t find anything wrong, notably hysteria, which was prevalent during that time and a cause for major outburst/delusions (presumably with some of the same mentality that was also held around the time of the Salem Witch Trials). But, when Bernadette hinted that the apparition showed signs similar to that of the Virgin Mary, the “authorities” (seemingly the Churches) accepted her hallucinations as a sign through the “Immaculate Conception”. Bernadette happened upon a grotto, led by an apparition to a fresh water spring. Soon after, locals who visited began reporting healings after contact with the water. Was this an act of God? Or, more specifically, was this the villagers believing in spiritual powers at work and feeling better due to positively thinking about their disease going away? In 1876, the Papacy recognized Lourdes as a holy place of “healing and pilgrimage” (Harrington, 106). The 1876 article questioned the characterization that was attached to the Lady of Lourdes grotto and the Catholics attending, if their beliefs held true or was it a testament of the natural ability of water to heal the human body. As noted in the paper, “Health is the thing sought for…as the effect of waters to which none but the most ordinary natural effects have been attributed.” (Chicago Tribune, September 24, 1876, 13).

An important consideration to make is the knowledge of society and views on religion during the 19th century. The Medical Bureau, composed of a commission of Catholic doctors, determined what healings at Lourdes met the criteria for “medical inexplicability”, in other words, that which could not be understood by traditional (or hard) medical methods. So, out of more than thousands of cases at this sanctuary, the Church had recognized only 66 as true “signs of God”. We must question ourselves, was this minimal chance that played out the body healing itself by beating the odds of disease or the work of God at play by those who believed, with the holy water an agent of cure? A challenge posed by Harrington was that the natural healing powers of the mind were “more extensive than the medical profession had previously appreciated” and included a point made by Charcot, writer of “The Faith Cure”, who exemplified the fact that those who ventured out to Lourdes from far away were exhausted when they arrived and must have had “their faculties…diminished.” (Harrington, 109). At that point, water would be of help to the mind and body. The article states, “We cannot doubt that some of the crowds who were at Lourdes last week, and who will flock there for some time yet, have a more sincere faith in the efficacy and importance of what they are doing (Chicago Tribune, September 24, 1876, 13). Harrington recognized that those who attended the grotto were immersed in a setting where they had no choice to believe, surrounded by many people filled with hope and sacred symbols of healing. The next question to ask is: are we more comfortable with accepting or rejecting our fate as long as we have the discouragement or support from society? These factors can influence our mindset and ultimately play a part in whether or not we choose to believe we can beat a disease, or whether or not we believe that a holy power/spirit is at work, there to help us rid of some suffering.

 

  1. Lourdes – La Grotte d’après une photographie orginiale, 1858 <http://www.actuacity.com/medias/cpa/65/16324.jpg>, accessed 2 Feb. 2015.
  2. “The Miracle Season – A Trip to Lourdes.” Chicago Tribune, September 24, 1876. Accessed February 2, 2015. http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1876/09/24/page/13/article/religious.
  3. Harrington, Anne. The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2008.

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Believing in the Lourdes: The Power of Faith on Healing

Joanne Amposta

Anwar_Image

Lourdes, France is a destination that raises many questions for Christians and secularists alike. The first artifact is a photograph of the sick based in front of Lourdes’ sacred grotto in 1870, just seven years after the Catholic Church recognized the credibility of Bernadette Soubirous’ 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary, “the Immaculate Conception.” By the 18th apparition, wherein the Virgin Mary requested that a church be built in Lourdes in her honor, the Church noted that by complying with the requests of the witness, the fruits of holiness would continue. Through the unity of thousands of Christians, the church was built in a matter of three years, and the miracles continued; however, out of 7000 cases only 69 were recognized as official miracles by the International Medical Committee of Lourdes, consisting of 20 Christian scientists and the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes.

Why rely on a man-made committee and its criteria to determine which miracles of are true acts of God? The power of suggestion is evident; the Catholic Church, appointing experts of science and religion alike, is an extremely powerful, trusted authority figure that publicly conducted a valid investigation. Upon the first apparition, the Church noticed marvelous happenings, such as a rapid increase in faith as large crowds became curious about the water’s power. Scientists and religious leaders alike have examined the chemical properties of the water, to which they found no special compound that could cause its healing power. Some who were known to be ill and have undergone several treatments and surgical procedures, like those pictured in the artifact from 1870, have been cured without any explanation after being brought to the grotto on wheelchairs and stretchers. Bernadette Soubirous herself stated that the “water have no virtue without faith.” When there is no longer hope in medicine, a worldly solution to illness, secularists and Christians would agree that the sick pictured in the photograph would turn to the concept of faith. Regardless of whether or not there is a deity or a powerful authority, miracles are relative to each and every individual; small miracles could be large miracles to others. The tiniest fraction of hope, even if the Church may not recognize their restoration of health as a miracle, could be the catalyst to a lifetime of positive thinking and the absence of sickness.

If there is such a low possibility of being deemed an official miracle, why do thousands of visitors and pilgrims from all over the world continue to travel to Lourdes so they may obtain the miracle water? The second artifact is a photograph of Lourdes in 2008.5 The mysticism of the water has transcended generations; in fact, technology has become incredibly useful in making the water more accessible to people, providing faucets outside of the grotto so that they may drink the water or get as much or as little as they want. Individuals representing religion, science and technology have evolved to work together in order to support the belief of millions. Additionally, with Lourdes having exposed the power of the mind on the body, the sick have more control over their illnesses than they originally thought. The happenings at Lourdes shifted the dynamic of the physician-patient relationship. As authority figures themselves, physicians were always assumed to be correct in regards to their diagnoses, and patients would willingly submit to their treatments and procedures. Even though scientific experts like Émele Zola state that “the healings at Lourdes [were] cases of undiagnosed hysteria,”the body’s response to positive thinking, regardless of authenticity, is still very real, as evidenced in the artifact from 2008.

Herkel, Emmanuel. “Rosary Crusade Clarion: Devotional Bulletin of the Rosary Crusade  in Canada.” Society of Saint Pius X in Canada. February 2002.

Herkel, Emmanuel. “Rosary Crusade Clarion: Devotional Bulletin of the Rosary Crusade
in Canada.” Society of Saint Pius X in Canada. February 2002.

Diocese of Tarbes and Lourdes. “Sanctuaries Notre-Dame de Lourdes.”

Georgy, Joseph N. “The Basilica at Lourdes, France.” Turnback to God. November 5, 2008.

Harrington, Anne. The Cure Within. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 2008.

Herkel, Emmanuel. “Rosary Crusade Clarion: Devotional Bulletin of the Rosary Crusade in Canada.” Society of Saint Pius X in Canada. February 2002.

 

 

 

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Taking Back Control of the Body That Speaks

Samra Mekonen

Mekonen_Image_1

In Harrington’s The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine, she looks at the many dynamics of medical humanities and mind-body medicine. In the second chapter, “The Body that Speaks”, she focuses on the effects of the mind on the body, the idea that our mental and emotional response to external events can affect our bodies. Can this direction of communication between the mind and body be reversed? Can we make our bodies affect our emotional and mental response to external events? This is what behavioral scientist and Harvard University professor Amy Cuddy looks for in her research on how behavioral choices can affect our hormone levels.

The source of consideration here “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance”, the primary publication of her research on this topic published in the Association for Psychological Science’s Journal of Applied Psychology in 2010 (link below). I first heard of this research in the middle of browsing through several TEDTalks, where her video “Body Language Shapes Who You Are” is one of their most popular videos of all time.

http://www.people.hbs.edu/acuddy/in%20press,%20carney,%20cuddy,%20&%20yap,%20psych%20science.pdf

As a professor at Harvard Business School, her interest was sparked by the behaviors and power dynamics she observed in the classroom. In her research, she finds that a very simple, but deliberate change in our behavior can significantly change our body’s response (Cuddy 2012). Forty-two randomly selected subjects were randomly assigned to take high and low power poses for two minutes, as demonstrated in the picture attached. Saliva samples were collected before and after the poses were made to compare testosterone and cortisol levels over that time (Cuddy et al. 2010).

Mekonen_Image_2With that took high power poses, there was a statistically significant increase in testosterone, decrease in cortisol, and were more likely than low-power posers to take gambling risks. These high power posers seen “reported feeling significantly more ‘powerful’ and ‘in charge’”. The exact opposite was observed in those who took low power poses—lower testosterone, increased cortisol, and less likely to take gambling risks (Cuddy et al. 2010).

Cuddy concludes, “a simple 2-min power-pose manipulation was enough to significantly alter the physiological, mental, and feeling states of our participants. The implications of these results for everyday life are substantial” (Cuddy et al. 2010).

In terms of “The Body That Speaks”, Cuddy shows that instead of passively allowing our bodies to talk to us, we can actively change what our bodies are saying to us.

What I found interesting about this experiment is that it did not involve the behaviors between two individuals, which is how we typically consider body language, but rather individuals’ reactions to themselves. This makes me wonder, are there are other ways in which body language can help us to talk to our bodies? Can we manipulate our body language to make ourselves feel more than just powerful? Can deliberate, yet minor changes in our behavior make us feel healthier, and then actually make us healthier? As I feel challenged to be more aware of what I allow my own body to tell me, these are the questions her research inspires me to investigate.

 

Amy Cuddy. “Body Language Shapes Who You Are”. TED. Web, 21:02. Oct 1, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc.

Amy J.C. Cuddy, Andy J. Yap, and Dana R. Carney. “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance”. Journal of Applied Psychology XX(X) 1–6. (2010) Accessed January 29, 2015. DOI: 10.1177/0956797610383437

Anne Harrington. The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine. (2008). W. W. Norton & Company

 

 

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