In the face of heroic efforts needed to save our own lives, what chance do we have to save the world? Confronted with current global crises, we understandably shrink back, overwhelmed with a feeling of insignificance and paralysis-unable to influence the affairs of the world. It is far easier to be entertained by reality TV than to actually participate in our own reality.
But consider the following:
For thousands of years, people of many different cultures and religions from all parts of the world have practiced fire walking. A recent Guinness World Record for longest fire walk was set by 23-year-old Canadian Amanda Dennison in June 2005. Amanda walked 220 feet over coals that measured 1,600 to1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Amanda didn’t jump or fly, which means her feet were in direct contact with the glowing coals for the full 30 seconds it took her to complete the walk.
Many people attribute the ability to remain burn-free during such a walk to paranormal phenomena. In contrast, physicists suggest that the presumed danger is an illusion, claiming the embers are not great conductors of heat and that the walker’s feet have limited contact with the coals. Yet, very few scoffers have actually removed their shoes and socks and traversed the glowing coals, and none have matched the feat of Amanda’s feet. Besides, if the coals are really as benign as the physicists suggest, how do they account for severe burns experienced by large numbers of “accidental tourists” on their firewalks?
Our friend, author and psychologist Dr. Lee Pulos, has invested considerable time studying the fire walking phenomenon. One day, he bravely faced the fire himself. With his pants rolled up and his mind clear, Lee walked the gauntlet of burning embers. Upon reaching the other side, he was delighted and empowered to realize that his feet showed no sign of trauma. He was also totally surprised to discover upon unrolling his pants, his cuffs detached along a scorch mark that encircled each leg.
Whether or not the mechanisms that allow fire walking are physical or metaphysical, one outcome is consistent: those who expect the coals to burn them, get burned, and those who don’t, don’t. The belief of the walker is the most important determinant. Those who successfully complete the firewalk experience, firsthand, a key principle of quantum physics: the observer, in this case, the walker, creates the reality.
Meanwhile, on the extreme opposite of the climate spectrum, the Bakhtiari tribe of Persia walk barefoot for days in snow and ice over a 15,000-foot mountain pass. In the 1920s, explorers Ernest Schoedsack and Merian Cooper created the first feature length documentary, a brilliant award-winning movie titled Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life. This historic film captured the annual migration of the Bakhtiari, a race of nomads who had no prior contact with the modern world. Twice a year, as they have done for a millennium, more than 50,000 people and a herd of half a million sheep, cows, and goats cross rivers and glacier-covered mountains to reach green pastures.
To get their traveling city over the mountain pass, these hardy, barefooted people dig a roadway, through the towering ice and snow that blankets the 14,000 foot high peak of Zard-Kuh (Yellow Mountain). Good thing these people didn’t know they could catch a death of cold by being shoeless in the snow for days!
The point is, whether the challenge is cold feet or “coaled feet,” we humans are really not as frail as we think we are.
We are all familiar with weightlifting, in which muscled men and women pump iron. Such efforts require intense bodybuilding and, perhaps, some steroids on the side. In one form of the sport called total weightlifting, burly male world record holders lift in the range of 700 to 800 pounds and female titlists average around 450 to 500 pounds.
While these accomplishments are phenomenal, many other reports exist of untrained, unathletic people showing even more amazing feats of strength. To save her trapped son, Angela Cavallo lifted a 1964 Chevrolet and held it up for five minutes while neighbors arrived, reset a jack, and rescued her unconscious boy. Similarly, a construction worker lifted a 3,000-pound helicopter that had crashed into a drainage ditch, trapping his buddy under water. In this feat captured on video, the man held the aircraft aloft while others pulled his friend from beneath the wreckage.
To dismiss these feats as the consequence of an adrenaline rush misses the point. Adrenaline or not, how can an untrained average man or woman lift and hold a half ton or more for an extended duration?
These stories are remarkable because neither Ms. Cavallo nor the construction worker could have performed such acts of superhuman strength under normal circumstances. The idea of lifting a car or helicopter is unimaginable. But with the life of their child or friend hanging in the balance, these people unconsciously suspended their limiting beliefs and focused their intention on the foremost belief at that moment: I must save this life!
Every day we bathe our bodies with antibacterial soaps and scrub our homes with potent antibiotic cleansers. Thus, we protect ourselves from ever-present deadly germs in our environment. To remind us how susceptible we are to invasive organisms, television ads exhort that we cleanse our world with Lysol and rinse our mouths with Listerine… or is it the other way around? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with the media continuously inform us of the impending dangers of the latest flu, HIV, and plagues transported by mosquitoes, birds, and swine.
Why do these prognostications worry us? Because we have been programmed to believe our body’s defenses are weak, ripe for invasion by foreign substances.
If Nature’s threats weren’t bad enough, we must also protect ourselves from byproducts of human civilization. Manufactured poisons and massive amounts of excreted pharmaceuticals are toxifying the environment. Of course poisons, toxins and germs can kill us-we all know that. But then there are those who don’t believe in this reality – and live to tell about it.
In an article integrating genetics and epidemiology in Science magazine, microbiologist V.J. DiRita wrote,
Modern epidemiology is rooted in the work of John Snow, an English physician whose careful study of cholera victims led him to discover the waterborne nature of this disease. Cholera also played a part in the foundation of modern bacteriology – 40 years after Snow’s seminal discovery, Robert Koch developed the germ theory of disease following his identification of the comma-shaped bacterium Vibrio cholerae as the agent that causes cholera. Koch’s theory was not without its detractors, one of whom was so convinced that V. cholerae was not the cause of cholera that he drank a glass of it to prove that it was harmless. For unexplained reasons he remained symptom-free, but nevertheless incorrect.
Here’s a man who, in 1884, so challenged the accepted medical opinion, that to prove his point, he drank a glass of cholera, yet remained symptom-free. Not to be outdone, the professionals claimed he was the one who was wrong!
We love this story because the most telling part is that science dismissed this man’s daring experiment without bothering to investigate the reason for his apparent immunity, which was very likely his unshakable belief that he was right. It was far easier for the scientists to treat him as an irksome exception than to change the rules they created. In science however, an exception simply represents something that is not yet known or understood. In fact, some of the most important advances in the history of science were directly derived from studies on anomalous exceptions.
Now take the insight from the cholera story and integrate it with this amazing report: Rural eastern Kentucky, Tennessee, and parts of Virginia and North Carolina are home to devout fundamentalists known as the Free Pentecostal Holiness Church. In a state of religious ecstasy, congregants demonstrate God’s protection through their ability to safely handle poisonous rattlesnakes and copperheads. Even though many of these individuals get bitten, they do not show expected symptoms of toxic poisoning. The snake routine is only the opening act. Really devout congregants take the notion of Divine protection one giant step further. In testifying that God protects them, they drink toxic doses of strychnine without exhibiting harmful effects. Now, there’s a tough mystery for science to stomach!
Every day, thousands of patients are told, “All the tests are back and the scans concur… I am sorry; there is nothing else we can do. It is time for you to go home and get your affairs in order because the end is near.” For most patients with terminal diseases, such as cancer, this is how their final act plays out. However, there are those with terminal illnesses who express a more unusual and happier option – spontaneous remission. One day they are terminally ill, the next day they are not. Unable to explain this puzzling yet recurrent reality, conventional doctors in such cases prefer to conclude that their diagnoses were simply incorrect-in spite of what the tests and scans revealed.
According to Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona, author of Coyote Medicine, spontaneous remission is often accompanied by a “change of story.” Many empower themselves with the intention that they – against all odds-are able to choose a different fate. Others simply let go of their old way of life with its inherent stresses, figuring they may as well relax and enjoy what time they have left. Somewhere in the act of fully living out their lives, their unattended diseases vanish. This is the ultimate example of the power of the placebo effect, where taking a sugar pill is not even needed!
Now here’s an utterly crazy idea. Instead of investing all of our money into the search for elusive cancer-prevention genes and what are perceived to be magic bullets that cure without the downside of harmful side effects, wouldn’t it make sense to also dedicate serious energy to research the phenomenon of spontaneous remission and other dramatic, non-invasive medical reversals associated with the placebo effect? But because pharmaceutical companies haven’t come up with a way to package or affix a price tag to placebo-mediated healing, they have no motivation to study this innate healing mechanism.