The Placebo Effect in Daily Life
The body/mind connection is now well established, though often ignored, since most medical personnel simply haven’t been trained to work with it. Science is learning, however, from its experience with placebos, that the mind plays a powerful role in healing.
The “placebo effect” refers to a health benefit caused by a person’s expectation that a certain treatment will be helpful, even though the treatment itself is a substance with no intrinsic value, possibly even a sugar pill. Science has shown that the more a person believes in a treatment, even when the treatment is a placebo, the more likely it is that the treatment will be beneficial. More recently there are studies showing that people can be helped even when they know they are taking a placebo.
The power of the mind
The placebo effect illustrates the importance of the mind for both wellness and disease. “Mind” comprises far more that just thoughts. It also includes our subconscious and emotional realms as well as our intuitive superconsciousness. Mind and consciousness are one and the same.
Delusion tries to persuade us that the physical world is real and that the world of the mind, of consciousness, is imaginary. But just the opposite it true. It is our consciousness, working through the subtle laws of magnetism, which creates our circumstances, just as it is God’s consciousness that creates the universe as a whole. Consciousness, not form, is the ultimate reality.
The first step to wellness is to accept and utilize the enormous power of your intentions. As you think, so you will become. A clear resolution to be well can produce amazing results, helping you to avoid illness and adding years to your life.
Banish the thought of disease
It is very helpful to watch how Swami Kriyananda uses the power of the mind to transcend the limitations of ill health. When we were last in India, Kriyananda gave a satsang at the Ananda community in Pune. He was not feeling very well and planned to rest when he returned home after the satsang. But Indians love spirituality in much the same way that many people in the West love new technology. Kriyananda had just settled into a chair when the door opened and in came three Indian ladies—an elderly mother and her two middle-aged daughters. They didn’t speak any English but, as a gesture of appreciation and respect, they wanted to touch Kriyananda’s feet.
When Kriyananda first saw them enter the room, the look on his face said, “I don’t know if I have any more energy to give.” But in one or two seconds he became radiant. Using the power of the mind to banish all thought of illness and fatigue, he shifted his focus to the indwelling Spirit and allowed the power of God to flow through him.
The early stages of a disease are often filled with fear and confusion. If you are ill, always try to identify with wellness not disease. Identifying with the illness shuts down the flow of positive energy. You need to pursue whatever treatments you think will help, but not identifying with the illness helps to break the hold that it has on your mind. A clear resolution to be well can add years to your life.
A dear friend of ours was diagnosed with AIDS and told she had but a few months to live. Swami Kriyananda told her, “Don’t identify with the illness.” She often credited that advice with giving her nearly a decade of “extra time” during which she became a glowing source of strength and courage for others. By acting as if robust wellbeing is just around the corner, you will help it to manifest in your life.
We are not our mistakes
We need to learn to accept the challenges and difficulties of our lives, without allowing them to define who we are. These challenges or difficulties include not only those of ill health but also of our jobs, relationships, family life, or any other area of life.
There’s a book about a woman who had a near-death experience following a suicide attempt and went to one of the lower astral regions. She was very surprised, as she looked around, to see many people who were nuns and monks. Her first thought was, “What are they doing here?” She realized that they had been drawn to that region because they had identified with their weaknesses or mistakes: “Oh, I was such a bad person!” “Oh, I didn’t do twenty Ave Marias!” “Oh, I didn’t go to Mass that day!”
Compared to most people, these monks and nuns had led exemplary lives. But because they died with the thought “I’m a terrible person,” they generated a negative magnetism which took them to the lower astral regions — though not for long. Their good karma from dedicating their lives to God would eventually pull them into the light.
As devotees, it’s very easy to get into negative mindsets by identifying with our weaknesses or mistakes. We’re supposed to get up early and not sleep too much because sleep drugs the mind. So we get up early, we do our energization exercises, we meditate, and then we turn to our “to-do” lists with all the things we’re supposed to complete by the end of the day. And if we don’t complete the list, it’s easy to get down on ourselves for not having done enough. But all we will have accomplished is that we get to join those monks and nuns, in the lower astral regions, who are blaming themselves for not doing enough.
Always use your intellect to discriminate between mind-sets that are helpful spiritually and those which are not. Identify with your soul nature, not with weakness or error. One way to avoid the placebo effect of wrong attitudes is always to ask the question, “Does this attitude move me toward God, or away from God?”
Be grateful, receptive, and positive
What are the attitudes that always move us toward God? Swami Kriyananda gave us the answer in the advice he gave to a devotee suffering from a serious illness: “Be grateful for everything, be receptive, and above all, be positive.” When practiced regularly, these three attitudes are life-changing.
— Be grateful for everything: Gratitude is one of the most important of all attitudes. It expands the heart and opens the door to life’s blessings. Make it a conscious practice to be grateful for everything that comes, including the things that seem difficult or negative. Paramhansa Yogananda said, “All conditions are neutral. It is how we react to them that makes them seem positive or negative.” Once we develop the habit of saying, “Thank you, God” for everything that happens, even negative situations can become great blessings.
–Be receptive: We become receptive to the flow of God’s grace when we think of Him as our friend. We once discussed with Swami Kriyananda how beautiful it was that God, through the Virgin Mary, has so often appeared to young children throughout the world. Kriyananda replied, “The sweetest relationship with God is that of a friend or just a simple playmate. That’s how I relate to God – as my playmate.” He said his favorite poem by Paramhansa Yogananda is “I am Here,” which ends with God saying to the devotee, “Hello, playmate, I am here.”
Kriyananda’s statement isn’t just a nice sentiment. When we think of God as distant, uncaring, and judgmental, we produce the conditions – the placebo effect – that keep us in delusion. Thinking of God as our playmate or friend draws Him closer. To help drive home the importance of a sense of familiarity with the Divine, Yogananda said we should pray to God not only as our Heavenly Father and Divine Mother, but also as our Friend and Beloved.
–Above all be positive: Say “yes” to life! Do everything you can—physically, mentally, and spiritually—to increase your stream of positive energy. Always try to focus your feelings in a positive direction by being a channel of love, kindness, and caring to others. Being a channel for love and friendship is one of the most beneficial things you can do for others, and for yourself. A positive outlook will draw solutions that you presently don’t even know exist.
Form a new habit
Develop the habit of asking God and Guru several times a day to guide your thoughts and actions so that they are always in alignment with the flow of their grace. It would be even better to ask in every situation what the right thing to do is. In a recent satsang, Swami Kriyananda suggested that we specifically ask, “Is this pleasing to You?”
A ship sails much faster when the wind is behind it. Having the grace of God and Guru behind whatever we do, will speed our progress toward God. Their guidance and help are tremendously important.
From a February 2, 2012 talk at Ananda Village and two books by Jyotish Novak: How to Meditate and 30 Day Essentials for Wellness (currently out of print)