Posts tagged ‘Christian Science’
By John D. Clague, Christian Science Committee on Publication for Oregon
For as long as I can remember, new athletic achievements were initially regarded as unsurpassable. Records never to be broken. And yet, again and again, those records were shattered.
I’m guessing that we will see it happen more than once in the next couple of weeks at the Summer Olympics in London.
How does this happen? What is the force behind this phenomenon? Of course there are the latest techniques in performance: Advanced training, new diets, and regular rest. But most athletes use these. What gives that exceptional athlete an extra push at just the right time? Every coach and trainer strives to unlock that illusive element. How can they help their athletes perform beyond what they’ve done before?
I know there are others who want to know the answer to this question as well.
Northumbrian University in England has a researcher who is one such person. As head of the Sport and Exercise Science Department, Kevin Thompson wondered if he could get bicyclists to go faster than they had ever gone before, by tricking them. Tom Boland of The Canadian Press reports that Dr. Thompson had bicyclists try to catch a virtual avatar on a computer screen that was going faster than the cyclist thought it was. “The cyclists ended up … going significantly faster than they ever had gone before.”
Interesting study, but certainly not every athlete who ever broke a record had an avatar tricking her into better performance. In fact, this deceptiveness is reminiscent of the placebo effect usually associated with pills and surgery.
Doesn’t it seem like this study points out that the thoughts and expectations of the athlete allowed them to perform better, just like placebos tap into the consciousness of patients to cause them to get better?
Would any thoughts work? Certainly most athletes aspiring towards outstanding performance are hoping their thoughts will give them the margin of victory.
Perhaps Brent S. Rushall of San Diego State University hit on something significant when he looked at “thought content” and athletic performance through an extensive literature review. Rather than “tricking” athletes into performing better, he looked at how they can train their thinking, along with their bodies, to enhance performance. What he found was:
Task-relevant content, positive self-statements, and mood words … are … the structures that should be employed as thought content during a segmented competitive performance…the use of thought-content skills [is] an imperative for athletes wishing to maximize their performance and for coaches seeking to optimize their effectiveness.
It looks like athletes need to direct their thoughts in a specific way to maximize performance.
When I was a serious runner, occasionally I could hit “the zone” and have a very satisfying run. I was always trying to beat my best time, but usually with little success. I just couldn’t seem to get over the hump. Runners know exactly what I’m talking about.
But then, just when I thought I would never break the “barrier”, I did. And that happened several times over the course of my running career.
In looking back on how that happened, I see now that I did many of the things athletes should do. I trained, I ate nutritious food, I made sure I got a good night’s sleep, and I controlled my thoughts, especially while running. But the thoughts I used don’t match Rushall’s approach.
My mental ‘exercise’ was prayer. What Rushall calls “Task-relevant content, positive self-statements, and mood words” I would call communing with a higher being that is the source of my strength and ability. The more I did this, the better I seemed to perform athletically.
Now here’s the interesting thing. I’ve found that the same mental exercise that enhanced my physical abilities also seems to give me a sense of well-being all the time, not just when I’m engaged in an athletic activity. And, I’ve learned that when I address my health through prayer I seem to stay healthier and heal quicker than when I don’t.
One idea I’ve found helpful throughout my life, when applied directly to my health and physical pursuits comes from the writings of 19th century health researcher, Mary Baker Eddy. She says that “[t]he moral and spiritual facts of health, whispered into thought, produce very direct and marked effects on the body. (S&H, page 370)
I’m wondering if others have found “thought content” important to their athletic performance. Is it possible that a spiritual impulse can be a major factor behind health and athletic excellence?
It’s hard to imagine that administering routine medical tests would have negative consequences, especially when the test in and of itself is completely harmless. Checking to make sure there aren’t problems lurking in our bodies makes perfect sense. At least until the consequences of doing so are carefully examined.
Here’s what’s happening: a lowering of the threshold of indicators when tests are called for. In fact, some tests are being administered at the onset of some general risk factors that everyone will experience at some point in their life, such as their age.
Examining this issue carefully in her book Overtreated, Why Too Much Medicine is Making Us Sicker and Poorer, Shannon Brownlee points out that:
Today, the number of tests has exploded, and doctors no longer just treat the sick but instead go looking for disease among the well. (p. 200)
Why? Looking for disease so you can catch it before it becomes a big problem. At least that’s the argument. But it’s not the end of the story.
The increase in testing has caused another phenomenon. In his Op-Ed piece in the L.A. Times (May 6, 2011) Dr. H. Gilbert Welch argues that, not only testing but “treatment thresholds are too low.” He goes on:
We look harder for things to be wrong. We test more often, we are more likely to test people who have no symptoms, and we have changed the rules about what degree of abnormality constitutes disease.
Diagnostic thresholds that are set too low lead in turn to a bigger problem: treatment thresholds that are set too low.
This means we are treating as disease conditions which we used to consider normal. This triggers a whole host of problems for our medical system which are now coming to light. But more importantly, Brownlee points out:
…many other tests, which have their place if a patient has symptoms, have had the perverse effect of benefiting only a small minority when they are given routinely to apparently healthy people in the name of prevention — while exposing the majority to invasive, often dangerous treatment they don’t necessarily need. (p. 200)
Even the humorous comment, “Now I can do all the things I did before, but with the assurance that I am doing them while medicated,” is offset by the serious claim that health is not benefited by over treatment.
Simply put by Welch, “low thresholds have a way of leading to treatments that are worse than the disease.”
These revelations might well be disconcerting to those relying on multiple medical tests for reassurance that they are healthy. There is an alternative worth considering.
Richard Schiffman writes in the Huffington Post (January 18, 2012) that …
“regular prayer and meditation has been shown in numerous scientific studies to be an important factor in living longer and staying healthy.” Schiffman discusses the underlying research and surveys that support this conclusion.
I’ve found that to be true. Regular prayer, along with well balanced living, has been invaluable in maintaining my health without a host of low-threshold medical tests. Mary Baker Eddy figured this out over 140 years ago and wrote about it in her book Science and Health. I daily use prayer and her system of health maintenance.
The test that I’ve found to be essential is an examination of my consciousness. I look to see what unhealthy attitudes are lurking there, and treat those–with dismissal. There are no negative side effects from finding and eliminating unhealthy thoughts. This process doesn’t result in a cure worse than the disease.
This form of health care can effectively achieve and maintain health. That’s been my experience for many years.
Yes, there is danger in lowering the threshold for medical tests and treatment. But I’ve yet to find that there can be too much prayer and reflection as long as it leads to real change in my thinking and my life.
We often talk about health in terms of treating disease or not getting sick. But there are other factors that can negatively affect one’s health that aren’t so obvious, such as violence. This is a major public health issue that is monitored by the Center for Disease Control.
Take for instance young people. The CDC reports that:
“Youth violence results in considerable physical, emotional, social, and economic consequences. Although rates of youth homicide have declined substantially during recent years, much work remains in reducing this public health burden. Homicide is the second leading cause of death among youth aged 10–24 years in the United States. Violence is also a major cause of nonfatal injuries among youth. In 2009, a total of 650,843 young people aged 10–24 years were treated in emergency departments for nonfatal injuries sustained from assaults.”
Children are not the only vulnerable group, however. Those in intimate relationships are another group that suffer at the hands of others in significant numbers. The CDC goes on:
“On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States, according to new findings released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Over the course of a year, that equals more than 12 million women and men. Those numbers only tell part of the story – more than 1 million women are raped in a year, and over 6 million women and men are victims of stalking. These findings emphasize that sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence are major public health problems in the United States.”
At what point does a neighborhood begin to acquiesce to violence? When does apathy, fear, or futility cause us to accept crime as inevitable? On the other hand, what galvanizes individuals, neighbors, or community members to protest against rising violence and decay?
Well-intentioned efforts such as installing home security systems and taking personal safety training can make people feel safer. But what turns the tide for a whole community? It has to come from a mental protest against violence in our midst, followed by effective action. Even before my retirement from a law enforcement career, prayer has been the catalyst that strengthens my resolve to challenge a violent status quo. What could the heartfelt prayers of many accomplish? Prayer provides a resolve that can be a tipping point toward safety and well-being for every member of our community, especially the more vulnerable and least represented. This can bring measurable improvement to community health. It might include beefing up law enforcement and improving public policy, or providing youth centers and safe, affordable childcare.
As a Captain in the Lane County Sheriff’s Office, I often prayed about my work. One day a wanted suspect, who was known to be violent and have firearms, was located in a house where children were also living. All the ingredients for a bad situation were in place. I needed to be there when he was taken into custody. Complicating the situation, I also needed to be in church in two hours to conduct a church service. Because SWAT events are volatile and unpredictable, I had some heavy-duty praying to do.
While driving to the suspect’s location, I prayed that God’s wisdom and care were present with the Team AND with the suspect. I prayed to know that I was led by God to the position I was in with these tremendous responsibilities, both in law enforcement and church, because Spirit wanted me there, to serve my community in both capacities. I was put there to give. I prayed to be willing to receive divine direction and control, to listen and follow God’s direction guidance even if I was tempted to feel stressed or unable to fulfill my responsibilities.
I did not allow myself to take in anything but God’s calm and loving presence. As we approached the location, we rounded a curve in a rural road. Under standard procedures, we would quickly exit our vehicles, take cover, and assault the building with noise from explosive diversionary devices and shouting. But instead, sitting on the split rail fence enjoying the sunshine, was our suspect. With no resistance, he allowed himself to be taken into custody.
You can imagine my heartfelt gratitude for God’s grace and control. I couldn’t have planned this any better. I feel that God’s timing and wisdom guided us, allowing this to unfold the way it did. And, yes, I was at my post in church that night, continuing to give in God’s appointed way.
So, to renew my question, could many prayers specifically for safety make this kind of outcome more common and even prevent what causes violence? I believe it is time we address violence in a new, more universal and effective way. And prayer is my starting point.
What I know of Christmas today is certainly different than what I knew as a child. I was really caught up in the magic of the holiday: the Christmas tree, decorations, presents, special treats, and being out of school for two whole weeks. It was a magical time of year.
As a child I was clueless about the sometimes unfortunate backstory of the magic. Stress, lack of money to buy gifts (or even to eat), being alone when you’re supposed to be with family and friends, broken relationships, overindulgence in alcohol and so on. This special time of year turns out to be the most dreaded for some. It doesn’t have to be the case, though, even in the most dire circumstances.
A different perspective on this season has emerged gently in my thought, and it continues to grow. You might think that my Christian affiliation means Christmas to me is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. But really, that is only the most familiar symbol of what Christmas has to offer.
A passage in the Bible in the book of Isaiah really tells the whole story of Christmas. It is the promise of hope fulfilled. In Isaiah it says that..
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. ( Isaiah 9:2)
What do we hope for? It can mean repaired relationships, finding companionship, financial needs being met, and health restored. Restoring and maintaining health perhaps has been the biggest quest of mankind. The human race has devoted untold resources to alleviating pain and suffering, and prolonging life.
Modern medicine makes the headlines, but the ability to heal one’s self and others through prayer has been around for thousands of years. Christ Jesus taught how to change thought in order to bring healing, and this power is still available for everyone. The promise is for all time and there is current evidence that the promise is being fulfilled.
I found the story of Gabrielle Giffords’ remarkable recovery this year to be a great example of the power of the right mental atmosphere in healing. Not only is Gabby someone who never gives up, but her husband, Mark Kelly, and mother, Gloria, also knew that Gabby would recover as well. They saw that she was surrounded by love and a positive and unlimited attitude. This is a story of strength and courage, living out the fulfillment of the promise.
The backstory of Christmas isn’t hopelessness and despair. It’s fulfillment of the promise. Health is the best gift, and we all have more resources than we know to achieve it. Better than seasonal magic is the hope that Jesus brought to 2000 years ago. And the promise is being fulfilled.
By John D. Clague, Christian Science Committee on Publication for Oregon
Or perhaps there is someone you personally know who is a selfless giver, not expecting anything in return.
I think immediately of incidents like:
Hundreds of boat owners and ferry pilots converging on the Manhattan shoreline to evacuate stranded New Yorkers after the World Trade Center towers collapsed.
People in my community working at food banks and soup kitchens for the homeless.
Victor Frankl helping fellow prisoners of war cope through simple acts of sharing and encouragement
These are people engaging in helping acts with no expectation of anything in return.
Where does this desire to help others come from? Not only is history full of people helping people, but the stories of different cultures are full of these examples as a way of conveying a virtue or a moral, like Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Why do we do it if there’s no expectation of reciprocal acts of kindness or money?
In examining my own impulses along this line I can’t find a clear answer. As a Christian, The Golden Rule could be a motivator out of obedience. And for those of other faith traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism there are similar guiding principles. But is this really what motivates adherents of any tradition to act for the benefit or others?
Perhaps we do this simply because that’s who we are. It’s part of the very fabric of our being to help others. From my perspective, it’s how God made us. Mankind is basically good at the very core. And perhaps that’s what impels us to help each other.
There’s a twist to this good samaritan attitude, however, that I hadn’t thought of before. It’s good for your health.
Stephen G. Post, PhD. has been researching this notion that helping others is actually beneficial to the helper. In his report It’s Good to be Good: 2011 Fifth Annual Scientific Report on Health, Happiness and Helping Others, Post makes these observations.
“My working hypothesis is that one of the healthiest things a person can do is to step back from self-preoccupation and self-worry, as well as from hostile and bitter emotions; there is no more obvious way of doing this than focusing attention on helping others.
“…we can no longer afford to believe that we will find happiness and health through self-obsession. Selfishness and greed are not a good way to care for the self, while compassion and doing “unto others” seem to be the successful strategy…
“There is solid evidence to support the perennial hypothesis that benevolent emotions, attitudes, and actions centered on the good of others contribute to the giver’s happiness, health, and even longevity. Although genuine benevolence must be chiefly motivated by concern for others, it has the side effect of nourishing the giver.”
He cites a number of case studies showing a link between better health, more happiness and helping others.
Thinking about this a little deeper, what if more of us worked harder to love and help out our fellow women and men? I mean really love them with compassion, forgiveness, and a longing for their well being that impels us to act when they need our help. Not only would we feel better, but we would live in healthier communities.
The implications are profound. I’ve often held to the axiom that I could never be harmed by doing for others. I certainly feel good about helping others. Now, I see it actually helps my health, too. How about you?