Cover story -- Spiritual Health
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Issue Date:  May 6, 2005

Mind/body medicine and spirituality: a new vision of healing


Asked if faith heals, medical psychologist Joann Duffy, who deals with patients’ responses to and anxieties about their illnesses, replied, “I think it depends on how you define ‘heal.’ ”

The recent life and health experiences of Wheaton Franciscan Sr. Jane Madejczyk may help provide a definition. More than that, Madejczyk’s successful search for an “integrated physician” opens up a second discussion: the new dimension in medical care today through the growing influence of the spirituality of healing and mind/body medicine on mainstream medical practice.

Beginning with Duffy and Madejczyk, NCR looks at this new dimension’s challenges and promises through patients, individual practitioners and scientists.

Madejczyk, senior vice president at Wheaton Franciscan Services corporate office in Wheaton, Ill., described her everyday workload in terms familiar to modern Americans, as “the worst work of a corporate executive: very busy, lots of time on the road, lots of meetings, lots of days back-to-back where you come in in the morning, go all the way down to the end of the day and get home.

“After a very long day you make something to eat, maybe stay conscious for a little while, then fall asleep. And do the same thing the next day,” she said.

Then came the diagnosis: breast cancer. “And this pushes me into a place inside myself: What is happening to me? Not in an accusing way. From the perspective of curiosity: Why is this happening to me?”

But, said Madejczyk, “the experience I’d had with my own physician whom I’d been seeing for 10 years was just horrific. I mean she was a woman who couldn’t give me any advice other than lots of technology, lots of chemo, lots of radiation. And I did all of that.

When Madejczyk, now in remission, pondered her life, it “came down to the question of what’s going on here? I had to start to search for an integrated medicine physician who would be able to listen to me at another level. Not such an easy thing to find.” And with that comment regarding “integrated medicine,” Madejczyk was addressing a new and developing field of medicine, the integration of spirituality and mind/body medicine into mainstream medical thinking and practice.

She did find her integrated medicine physician who, said Madejczyk, “spent a lot of time with me. She asked: Why do you think this happened to you? And I found my mouth saying -- you know how sometimes you find your mouth saying something that you hadn’t put into your mind -- ‘I guess I haven’t been nourishing myself.’ And when I heard with my ears what I had said with my mouth I was surprised. I thought, this is coming from a deeper part of myself, not just the rational level.”

Madejczyk said she always found her work “meaningful and fulfilling, at the same time very exhausting. Even in the corporate world of Catholic health care there are characteristics, expectations. You’re just expected to be there and ready all the time. I was feeling well, belonged to a gym, there’s no cancer in my family, all that stuff.”

So Madejczyk began examining ways she had been cutting corners in her life and calling it taking care of herself. She looked at the things she’d let go in order to do her job better, because she couldn’t manage the energy for everything.

When she looked deeper, “I was seeing years ago a me that loved to go to concerts, the theater, to read and paint -- all that had gone to sleep,” she said. “That ability to sit with a book, read a few sentences, take your eyes up and let that come in to you.” She needed time to pursue doing less.

She went to see her immediate boss, John Oliverio, Wheaton Services CEO, and talked with him about cutting back on her workweek. “I was nervous, but I was able to say to him there is more to life than what’s on my desk and on my computer and the mileage on my car. That I needed to make space and an awareness inside of me for part of me. And to my amazement, John was very understanding, saying to me that my value to the system was as a person fully alive and grounded.”

She cut back to four days a week, won’t work after 4:30 p.m., and reintegrated relaxation into her life. “Colleagues notice I don’t get as -- upset is too strong a word -- focused that we have to get this done [immediately]. They see a balance in me. The shift is causing others to do some thinking as well.” Next for Madejczyk, a sabbatical.

Dr. Peter Madill, who practices integrated medicine in Sebastapol, Calif., understands Madejczyk’s physician-finding difficulties. Madill quoted from a recent medical journal editorial to the effect that “we in the Western world, especially in the United States, are educating 100 percent of our graduates to treat 20 percent of disease.”

“Integrated medicine,” he said, “is not a medical specialty.” By that, Madill means it’s not something physicians can acquire through internships or residencies; they need life experiences that may include meditative and/or spiritual practices along with openness to non-Western notions.

There are clues in Madill’s own journey, from his parents’ sheep farm on the pastures of the North Island of New Zealand to the West Coast of the United States.

Educated at a prestigious Episcopal boarding school from the age of 9 onwards, during his confirmation Madill had a profound religious experience. “No sooner had the bishop laid his hands on my head than I experienced from above this huge ‘inrush’ of what I can only describe as a huge bolt of blue electricity, an energy-like or light-like force. Not only was I embraced by this dancing sea of light and delight,” he said, “but this light was also showing me that it was my very essence and the core substance of all the people I was with and all of the other objects in my immediate environment.”

Said Madill, “Intrinsic to this was the sense that all of this was held in place and enlivened by the fundamental glue of the universe, love.”

He’d begun “this faintly understood and minimally articulated view that there was something much deeper and much more profound to religion than the beliefs, formalities and rituals of the Christian church.”

He graduated and entered medical school, a decision arrived at during three months in bed following a severe car accident. A year into medical school he left and went to India. He was influenced by his time at Sri Ramanashramanan at Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu state, and by Ramana Maharshi.

“I decided that yoga, mind/body practices and spirituality had a lot to offer medicine -- modern medicine did not give much credence to the body’s capacity to heal itself,” he said. “I had to return to medical school. Luckily I had not burned my bridges when I left.”

In addition to his spiritual practices and his medical studies, Madill read widely, including Herbert Benson’s The Relaxation Response (see story on page 16). In that same period, the mid-1970s, physician Madill visited a Northern California ashram.

“Moving into that rogue guru’s ashram,” said Madill, was an amazing, eye-opening experience into everything that was good and bad about New Age groups -- sexual experimentation, inappropriate behavior, the hidden psychological pitfalls.”

For his California medical practice he hired a “pure-hearted nurse practitioner who knew nothing about religion or spirituality.” They wed and moved to Sebastapol. “I wanted to be one of the pioneers of holistic medicine through an understanding of how spirituality, meditation, prayer, acupuncture, nutrition could be part of medicine in a local practice. It’s hard to believe that in the mid-1970s even many doctors doubted that what you put on your plate could affect your health and how you felt.

“I wanted to offer a caring attitude toward the ‘walking wounded,’ people with chronic ambulatory illnesses: difficult pain patients, addictions, people with complex allergies.”

This year, to his delight, Madill, great-nephew of a famed brain specialist John Hughlings Jackson (1835-1911), “the father of English neurology,” also will deepen his understanding of where the brain begins and ends, and where the divine begins and ends. He is hosting and working with Hermona Soreq, head of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University Life Science Institute. Soreq is a molecular neurobiologist researcher into what Madill calls the “banged-up brains, both structurally and functionally” of people who have been through war.

Madill is a member of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. The association is a collection of researchers like its past president, clinical psychologist Donald Moss, who in a 2002 address explored “the spiritual dimensions in biofeedback practice,” and quoted poet John Milton’s sonnet about his blindness to illustrate how Milton provides a “cognitive reframing” of his disability:

When I consider how my light is
E’re half my days, in this dark
   world and wide,
And that one talent which is death
   to hide
Lodg’d with me useless …

…“God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts:
   who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him
   best ….
They also serve who only stand and
   wait. ...”

These modern visionaries are the spiritual and intellectual and wellness-oriented descendants of the Greek healers, fathers of modern medicine. They are descendants, too, of Hildegard von Bingen and Buddha, of Dr. Herbert Benson’s Mind Body Medical Institute at Harvard, of yoga as clinical intervention in stress management, and of the “Golden Thread” of the Christian tradition of healing dating back to the Desert Fathers, of Hindu practices, and of funding from the National Institutes of Health’s recently established National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

They are, in sum, the answer to psychologist Joann Duffy’s question about the defining the word “heal.”

In her Baltimore practice, said Duffy, “when people come to me it’s not to deal with the illness, per se, it’s to deal with their response to their illness. If people can find acceptance, it may be an indication that they have moved “their understanding of life to a higher state, a higher level, to a sense they are more than this condition, that their life is more than this.”

Arthur Jones is NCR editor at large. His e-mail address is

Definitions and guides

Complementary and alternative medicine therapies (biofeedback, neurofeedback, herbal medicines, acupuncture) are interventions not yet included in most medical school curriculums. Complementary medicine derives largely from the same paradigms as mainstream medicine. Not broadly accepted yet, they make sense in terms of familiar models and the vocabulary of medicine. Alternative medicine and therapies come from an alien paradigm, a paradigm that is unconventional and does not make sense in terms of Western science, and frequently require a leap of faith for the conventional scientist.

A compilation of many values and emphases commonly found in complementary and alternative medicine literature:
1) A holistic view of mind, body and spirit;
2) Viewing and treating the patient as a unique human being;
3) A personal supportive role between healer and patient;
4) An active role for the patient in the healing process;
5) The inherent healing power of the living organism;
6) Lifestyle and habit changes as tools to optimize health;
7) Interventions to elicit the body’s healing powers;
8) An aversion to invasive treatments that crush disease but harm the patient;
9) A belief in eclecticism and empiricism;
10) An acceptance of unconventional interventions and models that appear to work;
11) An openness to prayer, meditiation and spiritual practice as tools for healing;
12) An integration of physical, psychological and spiritual practices.

Source: Donald Moss, presidential address, Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 2002.

-- Arthur Jones

National Catholic Reporter, May 6, 2005

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