“Spirituality, Meaning & Health” Larry Dossey, MD
the meaning of meaning:…what something represents,symbolizes, signifies, conveys,refers to, or stands for
The conventional viewof meaning and health:Disease meansnothing, andmeanings don’tmatter.
The conventional view:Disease is a result of thedisordered behavior of theatoms, molecules, andorgan systemsin the body.
The conventional view:The atoms in the body aremerely following the blindlaws of nature, which bydefinition aremeaningless.
Making the molecules behave has led toa very “anti” approach in modernmedicine: antibiotics antihypertensives antiarrhythmics antipyretics antacids antidepressants antispasmodics antivirals antilipidemics antiinflammatories 37 categories of antihelmintics “antis” anticholinergics antidotes…
Meaning is consideredsuch a minor factor in Meaning —life that we joke about it. how funny!
Illness means nothing. Ascribing meaning to illness leads to blaming the victim. Susan Sontag 1933-2004 1978”…Sontag argues that the myths and metaphors surroundingdisease can kill by instilling shame and guilt in the sick, thusdelaying them from seeking treatment.” — Publishers Weekly
Yet, saying that iIllness means nothing is itself a meaning. Meaning and illness are inseparable.Susan Sontag 1933-2004 1978
Meaning is inescapable. 1885-1962 “The one certain thing is that astatement like„existence is meaningless‟ is itself devoid of any meaning.” — Niels Bohr ____________________________________________________________________ Niels Bohr. In: D. S. Kothari, First Steps to Jainism. Appendix C: Modern Physics and Syadvada (Part 1). http://www.jainworld.com/jainbooks/firstep-2/syadvada-1.htm
Meaninglessness is pathological. 1875-1961“Meaninglessness…is...equivalent to illness.” — C. G. Jung
“The Doctor”Sir Luke Fildes, 1887Tate Britain, London
Q: If meanings matter, do positive meanings guarantee good health?A: No, but they help
Spiritual meaning and its correlates…Spirituality: the sense of connectedness withsomething higher and greater than theindividual self or ego; the certainty thatmeaning, purpose, and direction are validaspects of the world.
Spirituality & religion are not the same…Religion: a codified system of beliefs, rituals,and behaviors that may or may not involvea sense of the spiritual; usually involves acommunity of like-minded believers
Spiritual meaning and its correlates…People who follow a spiritual path generallylive significantly longer, and have a lowerincidence of all major diseases, thanpeople who don‟t …
…but not always. Sickly saints St. Bernadette Ramana Maharshi The Buddha
Meaning can be a matter of life or death. July 4, 1826The deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson John Adams Thomas Jefferson 1735-1826 1743-1826
Meaning is often expressed as optimism or pessimismIs your glass half empty or half full?
Meaning: optimism vs. pessimism Is your glass half empty or half full?
Positive meaning: optimismDaniel B. Mark, MD, Duke University School of Medicine• …followed 1,719 men and women following cardiaccatheterization. After one year, 12 percent of peoplepessimistic about their health had died, compared to5 percent of the optimists. Daniel B. Mark, MD _________________________________________________________________________ Henry Dreher. Mind-Body Unity: A New Vision for Mind-Body Science and Medicine. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press; 2003:59-60.
Positive meaning: optimism Nancy Frasure-Smith, MD, Montreal Heart Institute • Over the course of 18 months, heart patients who scored high on pessimism were 8 times more likely than optimists to die._________________________________________________________________________Henry Dreher. Mind-Body Unity: A New Vision for Mind-Body Science and Medicine.Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press; 2003:59-60.
Meaning is uniqueThe presence of illness probably never meansexactly the same thing in different individuals.
Two women withheart disease andan impendingdivorce
Meaning is unique.There are no “meaning formulas”in health that work identically foreveryone. Formula
Meaning is uniqueBeware the literal read-out approach to illness,in which the presence of illness is said to meana specific personality defect (e.g., cataract =“you don’t have a clearvision for your life”). Formula
Meaning and health“Psychological and socialprecursors of coronarydisease”— C. D. Jenkins________________New England Journal of Medicine.1971; 284: 244-55.
Meaning and health“Circadian variationin the frequency ofsudden death”— J. F. Muller et al______________________Circulation. 1987; 75: 131.
Meaning and healthBlack Monday syndrome:more heart attacks in menoccur on Monday around9 a.m. than at any othertime (~20% increase)._____________________________Monday morning bad for your health.CNNinternational.com. Feb. 3, 2005
What does going back to work symbolizeor represent in one’s life?What is the meaning of Monday?
Job satisfaction “Work in America: Report of a Special Task Force to the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare”_________________________Cambridge: MIT Press; 1973.
Sisyphus reaction (Syndrome of Joyless Striving)_________________________________________________________Karasek, R. A. & Theorell, T. Healthy Work: Stress, Productivity, and theReconstruction of Working Life. New York: Basic Books; 1990.Work Environment Department, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, MA
Sisyphus reaction (Syndrome of Joyless Striving) • psychological stress • lack of control of the job task _________________________________________ Karasek, R. A. & Theorell, T. Healthy Work: Stress, Productivity, and the Reconstruction of Working Life. New York: Basic Books; 1990.
Everything we do has meaning, and these meaningsmatter — e. g., is it work, or is it exercise?• 84 female housekeepers, 7 hotels• Women in 4 hotels were told thattheir regular work was enough tomeet the requirements for a healthy,active lifestyle; women in 3 hotels weretold nothing.• After 4 weeks, the informedwomen had lost an average of 2 lbs.,lowered their blood pressure 10%, andhad improved body-fat percentage andbody mass index, all statistically significant,while exercise and dietary habits remainedconstant between the two groups. _____________________________________ Ellen Langer & Alia Crum. Mind-set matters: Exercise and the placebo effect. Psychological Science. February 2007.
The meaning of a birth date… “A winter birth significantly increasesthe risk of schizophrenia.” “The question is no longer if the seasons affect mental health, but how.” _____________________________________________________________ Motluk, Alison. Born under a bad sign. New Scientist. January 27, 2007: 41-43. http://www.newscientist.com/channel/being-human/mg19325881.700-born-under-a-bad-sign.html
Meaningand theimmune system Lennart Nilsson, Behold Man
Grief and bereavement… During this period, certain elements of the immune system often shut down and cannot be stimulated, even by artificial means.______________________________________________________________________Schleifer SJ, Keller SE, Camerino M, Thornton JC, Stein M. Suppression of lymphocytestimulation following bereavement. JAMA. 1983;250(3):374-377.
Negative meaning:grief and bereavementIn the year following the death of aspouse, the surviving widow orwidower has a risk ofdeath up to 12 timesthat of marriedindividuals of thesame age._______________• James J. Lynch, The Broken Heart: The MedicalConsequences of Loneliness. NYC: Basic Books; 1977.• Rees WD, Lutkins SG. Mortality of bereavement.BMJ. 1967;13-16.
Meaning therapy meaningCoaching involves the restoration or transformation of meaning in someone’s life.
Meaning therapy Bereavement counseling for HIV-positive survivors in the form of a bereavement support group lowers the HIV viral load in the survivors. the AIDS virus__________________________________________________________________________________Goodkin K et al. A bereavement support group of group intervention affects plasma burden ofHuman immunodeficiency virus type 1. Report of a randomized controlled trial. J. Human Virology.2001;4(1):44-54.
Meaning therapy“Can lifestylechanges reverse Dean Ornish, MDcoronary heartdisease?” — Dean Ornish________________________Lancet. 1990; 336 (8708): 129.
Meaning therapy“Intensive lifestyle changes forreversal of coronary heartdisease.”— Dean Ornish_______________J. American Medical Assoc. 1998; 280: 2001-7.
Meaning A “glue” that holds our life together, and that helps us MEANING make sense of healingGlue, n. from the Greek gloios, “sticky”
I caused it! New-Age GuiltThe tendency to shame and blame oneself on getting sick
The healing power of positive meaningthe potted-plant experiment
Ellen Langer & Judith Rodin“The Effects of Choice and Enhanced Personality on the Aged: A Field Experience in an Institutional Setting”________________________________________J. Personality & Social Psychology. 1976; 34: 91-98
Within only three weeks, the potted-plantgroup demonstrated improvements inhealth and an increase in participationin group activities.________________________________________J. Personality & Social Psychology. 1976; 34: 91-98
• By 18 months, their death rate was reduced by 50 percent. ______________________________________________ J. Personality & Social Psychology. 1976; 34: 91-98