A Seminar with Dr. Andrew Weil
This issue of The Mutable Dilemma is being written in L.A. without my usual collection of journals, so in place of the miscellaneous items usually presented in News Notes, I’m going to report on a five-day seminar I attended at the Feathered Pipe Ranch where Maritha and I teach astrology each year.
Dr. Weil teaches at the University of Arizona Medical School in Tucson, AZ, but he is definitely not an orthodox allopath. He has written many books about his travels investigating alternative methods of healing around the world. He is currently finishing another book which should be published in 1995 and which promises to be very interesting. Weil describes it in three sections. First, a description of the body’s healing systems with case histories. Second, methods to keep the healing systems working optimally. Third, three lists of physical problems: those which are almost always self-healing without any attention like small breaks in the skin or mild colds; those which are frequently self-healing; and those which are rarely self-healing.
I found almost all of Weil’s opinions compatible with my own, though, of course I had different ideas about a few things like fluoride and I go even farther than Weil in emphasizing the power of the subconscious mind over the body. In general, Weil emphasized that allopathic (normal western) medicine is good at handling crises but very poor at dealing with chronic problems. He said that almost all of modern medicine is based on suppressing symptoms rather than dealing with root causes. Strong drugs to suppress symptoms should only be used for short periods of time, to get one over a crisis. Then, more “natural” methods should be tried, including many traditional herbs which Weil thinks are generally better than most chemical drugs.
One of Weil’s major points was that the English-speaking world tends to distrust nature, to consider it “wild and dangerous,” while drugs produced in the laboratory are “controlled” materials and quantities and somehow safer. Weil thinks the opposite is true, that herbs rarely cause serious problems while chemical drugs almost always produce serious side effects. Other continents, including continental Europe, are way ahead of England and the U.S. in their use of “natural” methods, and even England is more open to homeopathy and spiritual healing than the AMA in the U.S.
One of the side bits of information that came out was that the present, recently appointed head of NIH, the U.S. federal government’s National Institute of Health, is a rigid mechanist-materialist. A few senators, led by Harkin of Iowa, forced NIH to set up a department to study alternative methods of healing like homeopathy and acupuncture and meditation, but NIH is resisting as much as it can. The amusing side bit of information is that the NIH head (whose name I did not get) has a sister named Carolyn Casey who is an astrologer in Washington, DC. I heard her speak once at a conference in San Francisco, and she is a real dynamo. Weil has known Carolyn for years and he says that her brother, the NIH head, is enormously embarrassed to have a sister who is an astrologer.
Weil is very frustrated that no one in science is really studying the ability of the body to heal itself! Science studies disease! Doctors rarely see anyone who is not sick, so they rarely see the natural healing ability of the body and even more rarely see the power of the mind to heal the body. Weil strongly emphasizes the power of belief which operates through what medicine calls the “placebo” effect and which is considered a nuisance that interferes with serious research into new forms of chemical medicine. Weil emphasizes that we should be studying how to generate the beliefs that produce healing!
Weil told some wonderful anecdotes which most doctors dismiss without even listening, often just assuming that the patients who had the experiences are deluded, exaggerating, or even lying. Two of the stories had a parallel theme; a wife who was afraid that her marriage might break up. In one case, the wife was married to a professor who was studying a very rare illness. His mentor was the doctor who had first described and named the illness, and reportedly there were only about three people in the world doing a serious study of this particular illness. There was no known treatment for the illness, and normally it killed the patient within two or three years. By a remarkable “coincidence,” the wife contracted this very rare problem. When Dr. Weil worked with her, she had suffered from it for some ten years and it was under reasonable control though she still had it. The wife commented that she first thought maybe her husband had brought home the illness from the laboratory but he assured her it was not contagious. Weil suggested that what he brought home was the “idea” of the illness which so absorbed his interest and which kept him interested in his wife.
The other case involved a wife who had married a man obsessed with mushrooms (fungus). His whole life was spent raising many varieties of mushrooms. The wife commented early in the marriage that if she was a big mushroom, her husband would be interested in her. A year after the marriage took place, when it was in danger of breaking up, the wife developed a rare rash on her arms which actually looked like little mushrooms. The doctor who had first described the illness thought it was connected to fungi and the scientific name he gave it included the word “fungi” or “fungus.” As in the preceding case, the illness was normally fatal within a few years, but the wife had survived it for many years without a great deal of discomfort and the marriage had stabilized.
A couple of other anecdotes involved Dr. Weil himself and his wife and were told to describe the power of the subconscious mind. A therapist in Mill Valley, CA named Bressler (and possibly a colleague whose name I did not get written down) developed and named the technique “Interactive guided imagery.” Subjects start by relaxing and breathing deeply. Then they imagine themselves in a very secure place which they describe in detail. While in that secure, relaxed state, they begin a dialogue with the body area which has a problem. The technique assumes that the subconscious mind knows the reason for the physical problem and can often do something to rectify it. The therapist facilitates the dialogue.
Weil and his wife attended a workshop on this technique which was led by a woman therapist in Oregon who had trained with Bressler. Weil’s wife was several months into pregnancy and had been seeing a chiropractor twice a week for chronic back pains. There was no chiropractor available near the workshop and Weil’s wife was in considerable pain. The therapist suggested that Mrs. Weil (whose first name I never heard clearly) be a subject in the workshop. Mrs. Weil was willing, but did not want to focus on her back which she considered purely a “mechanical” problem unrelated to her mind. She chose to dialogue with her unborn baby which was in a breach position that would normally produce a difficult birth. Her previous children’s births had involved long periods of labor and difficult deliveries and Mrs. Weil hoped to change this pattern.
The dialogue with the baby went well. The baby “told” her prospective mother that she could have a normal delivery after a relatively short time of labor. After this “interchange,” the therapist asked Mrs. Weil whether she would consider a dialogue with her back. Mrs. Weil was feeling mellow by this time, and she agreed to do this. When she turned her attention to the painful back, she was surprised to visualize an inflamed mass which turned out to be anger. She had been putting cold compresses on the back, and it informed her that it wanted warm, wet towels instead. It also agreed to stop hurting. The warm towels were applied and the pain did disappear, to the amazement of Mrs. Weil. Moreover, it remained absent throughout the remaining two months of Mrs. Weil’s pregnancy! But even more amazing, while temporarily in the kitchen after a session with hypnotherapy during which the baby agreed to change its position, Mrs. Weil felt a major movement of the baby in her uterus, and later x-rays showed that it had shifted into the position for a normal delivery! The baby was delivered on time and easily using the “delivery in water” which was pioneered in France—a first for both of the Weils.
Despite that mind-challenging experience in Oregon, en route home Dr. Weil soaked in a hot tub while visiting friends and developed a skin infection. The rash produced pustules on his arms and body, and eventually on his face which was the most upsetting. Weil kept squeezing them to try to discharge the pus, but they kept getting worse. Finally, he called the woman therapist in Oregon and asked her to do an interactive guided imagery session with him over the phone. Though she had never done this, she was willing to try. The infected areas “told” Weil that they could not get well by having the pus squeezed out — it had to be internally absorbed and neutralized. Weil was told to put wet compresses and red pepper on the rash areas. He did that, and the problem disappeared in 24 hours.
Much more was covered in the five days, but I will end with one bit of information which was new to me. Weil said that the flu epidemics which regularly sweep the world always come out of China where they are produced by ducks and pigs! In July-August every year, there are reports describing the current type of flu and scientists try to develop an effective vaccine for it as it spreads around the world. Some varieties are relatively mild but others are much more deadly. The 1918 flu epidemic was the most deadly in this century, killing 20 million people in six months, including relatively young and healthy adults. Infections in the upper respiratory system are called “colds” and are less dangerous that the influenzas which are in the lower respiratory system. Our best protection is always a healthy immune system which requires a sense of self-confidence and self-worth. Exercise, healthy food, adequate water and air and rest are certainly part of the picture, but I think that liking oneself and one’s life is the number ONE way to help the natural healing systems of the body.