Horatio W. Dresser
Spiritual Health and Healing
WE come now, in conclusion, to certain questions of a psychological nature which need to be considered if vistas for further thought and study are to be opened before us. These questions are often asked. They are on the whole secondary questions, and yet the pathway of advance into the spiritual life is the more thoroughly cleared if we regard them as of interest in themselves.
For example, the question is often raised whether or not it is possible to explain spiritual healing on the basis of “suggestion.” Many writers on the subject believe that such healing can be thus explained. Indeed, they hold that it is merely a question of applied psychology, anyway, and so-called spiritual thought need not be introduced at all. They insist that suggestion is the prime factor, whether understood and acknowledged or not. And they seem to have scored a point in the argument against devotees of this or that spiritual faith, as if the whole idea of our relationship to God and the spiritual life were superfluous.
From the point of view of this book the theory of suggestion is adequate only so far as the mental elements of the healing process are concerned, that is, only so far as it is a question of telepathy or thought transference, and of the changes of mind wrought in the patient other than regenerative or spiritual changes.
It has long been recognized, for example, that in order for the therapeutist’s suggestion to take effect in the mind of the percipient there must be predisposing conditions, such as faith or expectant attention. The percipient’s favorable attitude amounts to self-suggestion. This auto- suggestion would no doubt explain many of the results occurring at sacred shrines where so-called miracles of healing take place, and in all instances where there is no activity from without sufficient to produce a decisive change within. It would then be a question of the favoring conditions in the percipient’s mentality as a whole, in contrast with any element of his nature which might act as a counter-suggestion.
Mr. Myers long ago contended that “not one suggestion in a million reaches or influences the subliminal self,”–that portion of our nature which lies below the level or threshold of ordinary consciousness. But even in the case of the one suggestion which is instrumental in producing a cure, the suggestion must be something more than a name or form of words. There must follow, as Mr. Myers has shown more plainly than most writers on the subject, a profound nervous change started by some powerful nervous stimulus from without or within. Granted this change following upon the suggestion, what are its conditions, what are the forces at work, and what lies back of the nervous activities? What is healing in its final analysis?
Suppose we agree that suggestion conveyed by telepathy is the instrumental cause in many cases, what shall we say about those cases where the favoring auto-suggestions and conditions are lacking, and where there are so many inhibitions or counter-suggestions in the percipient’s nature that it is practically impossible to introduce a suggestion edgewise? Spiritual healers have succeeded when there was no faith, when there was pronounced opposition in mental attitude, when, in fact, all known conditions were unfavorable. They have maintained that there is a higher or more direct access to a patient’s inner nature than by means of thought transference. Indeed, some have insisted that no suggestion of theirs could have produced such a decisive effect as sometimes results. It may well be that “vibration” is transferred, they will say. But at times there is less mental activity or “thought,” the realization seems to be almost wholly that of maintaining an inner state, a state of peace and exceptional command in the “inner centre.” The favoring process set up within the patient is incidental to a higher activity, of which the nervous change is only an expression. The decisive activity appears to be spiritual in type. To the therapeutist the “thoughts” he thinks seem to be incidental, just as his personality is secondary. He seems to be rather a partner to an experience which does indeed manifest itself in his thoughts, but which is greater in power than they are, a spiritual experience which he shares but does not assume wholly to control, And to drop out the idea of these beatific values in favor of suggestion as decisive would seem to be to lose a supreme reality.
Mr. Myers maintained that there is “some unknown cause” which determines whether the suggestion is to “take” or no. Looking further than the theory of suggestion can carry us, he finds it imperative to believe it possible by a “right disposition of our minds to draw energy from an environing world of spiritual life.” The real question then is, What is it that touches the spring which moves us so potently in our deeper selfhood? How is it that we draw strength from the unseen? It is plainly something dynamic within us that is set free. But this attitude of the heart or response of the secret place of the spirit is the prime essential which we have been considering all along in the preceding pages. The majority of readers will care more to learn under what conditions it is to be attained than to explain the psychological process. And plainly there is a very great advantage in assigning the efficiency directly to the Eternal Presence, whatever the mental aids may be.
Why is it that even when the theory of spiritual healing is stated clearly and persuasively it is still difficult in some cases to put it into practice?
There are several reasons. Our conventional education proceeds on the assumption that the human mind is chiefly intellect, that we have reached the “age of reason” in the world at large, and all that is necessary is to find the right form of words, the persuasive argument. Mental healing in all its forms still shows the effect of this intellectualism, hence the emphasis on the “power of thought” and on suggestion, to the neglect of the will and the other mental elements, as I have shown at length elsewhere. We cling to the notion that the intellect is something like three-fourths of life, despite Matthew Arnold’s wise remark that “conduct is three-fourths of life.” Therefore when our intellectual methods fail we are nonplused.
Meanwhile, our nature as a whole is intimately related to the unconscious and the subconscious. There is, for example, the whole range of instincts, including the instinct for self-preservation, the sexual instinct, and all those promptings which manifest: curiosity, imitativeness, and the like. These actuate the human being long before there is consciousness of them. So, too, our desires and emotions begin on an impulsive or unconscious basis; we are aware of feelings of pleasure and pain because of processes going on which were originally pre-conscious. Again, our habits are outgrowths of the unconscious. Consciousness in anything like an explicit sense comes in with choice, that is, with thought and will, when the self is developed enough to intervene, emphasizing some of the desires, trying to outwit others. As highly developed as thought may be, the major part of mental life still remains below the threshold, carried on subconsciously, as we say. Our whole conscious life is a progressive discovery of the elements of our nature which have been operative all along but over which we have had little control. If our technique is to become complete it must take all these elements into account, also our suppressions and repressions, our dissatisfactions and inner conflicts, especially our inhibitions. We are not carried very far by assuming that the chief obstacles within us are “wrong thoughts.” They are much more likely to be misunderstood or unexpressed desires and emotional complexes. All these may act as counter-suggestions to offset a healer’s work. Hence the necessity of carrying that work much further than suggestions can carry it, in favor of deeply interior spiritual understanding.
Now, mental healing may indeed be lifted to the spiritual level by realizations involving the idea of “the Christ within,” and the results may greatly surpass explanation. That is to say, the healer may have touched some of these submerged elements of a patient’s nature without knowing what he was touching. For there is ordinarily no such penetrating insight into the deeper self as made possible the remarkable pioneer work of P. P. Quimby in this field. But what is needed is an adequate spiritual psychology, a science of all these mental and spiritual elements centering about the will or “prevailing love” with its accompanying activities.
These deeper activities include, for instance, the so-called “besetting sin,” the temperamental problem. Spiritual therapy sometimes falls short by aiming at mere harmony, inner poise or control, without touching upon the more central question of self-love, self-esteem or selfishness. It does not always push through to the point of radical changes in conduct, in “the life.” But in many instances it is plain that there is need of something more searching than “transmutation” or “sublimation.” The newly formed habit of enjoying “the silence” is not enough. Nor are all matters cleared up by reading or by attending lectures and taking lessons. The pathway that is “straight and narrow” still lies ahead for some of the devotees. Individual salvation is no more adequate in the realm of health than it is in the Church, since the real consideration after all is regeneration, is change into the life of service. The true “Christ within” is social, universal, and this Christ is not attained by complacently identifying oneself with the Christ in interior contemplation.
In short, there appears to be no suggestion, silence, sublimation of lower emotions or transmutation of unworthy desires, which takes the place of the Christian necessity of coming to judgment and seeing things as they are; and sometimes a person’s illnesses and troubles are so connected with this the deepest problem of the soul that there is no freedom except through regeneration. In a way this is true of all of us. The method of spiritual healing is another way of finding it out. We realize after a time that the initiatives do not all rest with the individual, as if everything within us could be controlled by thought. We need all the development possible in this direction. We need a complete technique for disclosing the subconscious. But there is also need of the consecration to spiritual service which in the case of Quimby and his more ardent followers beautified the therapeutic work and made of it a religion in the spirit of the original gospel. Such consecration borders too nearly on the greatest self-sacrifice to attract many of us. Consequently there still remain to be accomplished those greater works which were said of old to be made possible only by “fasting and prayer.”
It would doubtless open a new field of thought for some if they should try out the idea of spiritual influx, that is, by putting emphasis on the incoming life as the decisive element rather than upon the thought which may be only an effect of this life. For this conception of our spiritual nature involves emphasis on the will or love as prior to and more interior than the understanding. More explicitly, the Divine love is said to flow into the will and the Divine wisdom to flow into the understanding or intellect. The “inmost” region of the spirit first receives the influx before it enters what we commonly know as the “mind.” If we then think of the understanding as receiving this life after it has touched “the heart” as love, and distributing it through the inner world in general, we have a way of thinking about the operation of the healing power which produces the decisive nervous change and touches the bodily organism. The ideal then is that we may be so open at the centre that the Divine life shall freely course through our affections, quicken our thoughts, and pass without let or hindrance into our activities as a whole. Perfect spiritual health would be the result.
Reverend Mr. Evans incorporated this idea of the Divine influx into his interpretation of the
Quimby philosophy before publishing his first book, “The Mental Cure,” 1869. But very little has been made of this view. The result of its adoption would be a more thorough study of the whole relationship of the soul to the body. It would then be important to distinguish between the two influxes, that from the spiritual world and that from the natural. If we understood the latter influx better we might in time have an adequate idea of our heredity, and we should see why the new therapy has sometimes failed.
Our interest in the elaborate process should not however keep us from concentrating upon the working ideas which bring direct results, Granted that the quickening impetus comes from the Divine love, and that love or sympathy on our part is the central motive, we naturally seek the most practical means of realizing it in actual service. And so the question arises whether in giving silent treatment one should think of the specific trouble or need on the part of the patient.
This depends upon the case. Sometimes a general realization is effective without direct thought of the patient or his needs. The healer’s spirit, absorbed in contemplation of the “perfect love” which casts out fear, the peace “which passeth all understanding,” may be instrumental in the best sense of the word in overcoming the nervousness, excitement, or irritability in the patient. But there are cases which are reached only through detailed understanding, followed by specific realization. Patients differ in temperament, also. Some readily respond to a general realization, while others are unyielding in type. The intuitive healer believes there is guidance for every occasion and every case. He does not assume to control the whole situation. He seeks to do what is given him to do, in the Divine wisdom.
Should we treat the subjective mind?
This term, “subjective mind,” suggests Hudson’s, “The Law of Psychic Phenomena,” with its artificial distinction between the subjective and the objective. Actual mental life does not appear to confirm the distinction. Those who ask this question are apt to believe that the whole trouble with us is subjective, that is, there is something hidden which can be taken from us as a tooth might be extracted, leaving us free to go on thinking and living as before. It would then be a question of finding the right combination in each case, the suggestion which strikes home. But not even a prejudice comes forth thus easily. We are on the road to freedom from a prejudice when we catch ourselves in the act of expressing it, when we note that it is a prejudice and undesirable, and will to overcome it. Nothing can take the place of recognition. And recognition is conscious, not “subjective.” Spiritual healing is not a process to be performed on us only while we sleep. Our woes have sprung in part from our own conduct. We have been sowing as well as reaping. Our responsibility still remains, even when it is partly a question of unconscious complexes which must be brought to the surface.
There are indeed inner and outer phases of the same mind. There is a difference between inner thought, thought “with the spirit,” and thought as most people know it when they use their brains in intellectual work. There is intuition. There is guidance. We come to know what spiritual thinking is by learning about the secret place. What we need is more intimate knowledge of the spirit in contrast with bodily life. What should be treated is the whole self. And silent treatment is a means to an end, the end being the inculcation of that spiritual wisdom which shows people how to live. Some of the former therapeutists gave up the practice of treating silently many years ago, in favor of the more important work of helping people to understand themselves as spiritual beings. The so-called “subjective” is only a small part of this our total spiritual selfhood.
What is the function of the subconscious mind in healing?
Again, the question suggests theories involving exaggerated emphasis, to the neglect of our conscious selfhood. What is needed is a clear conception of the unconscious, the subconscious and the conscious in proper relation. Most of the mental elements of disease are in the realm of the unconscious, so far as the patient is concerned, although all these are related to the life he leads, that is, to conduct. Consequently the hidden causes need to be brought to light, the repressed desires, the dissatisfactions, the inner conflicts, the gnawing fears, the suppressed emotional complexes, or what not. The healer discerns and understands these first. He then explains them to the patient in the re-educational work following upon the treatment. The patient then has opportunity to change his attitude, if he will; to lead a wiser life, with less friction, decreasing fear, less worry, less rebellion and conflict. If the patient thus wills to modify his life in accordance with the new possibilities put before him, beneficial subconscious after-effects will follow. But nothing can take the place of coming to judgment. The subconscious mind is not a miracle-worker. It must be given its cue. It is as obedient as a shadow. It is a phase of consciousness in general, not a separate “mind.”
How is absent healing possible?
In the same way as a silent treatment given when the patient is present. There is as much to explain in the case of healing which takes place when the patient is three feet away as when he is six hundred miles distant. Silent treatment, that is, healing without manipulation or the use of electricity, medicine, hypnotic “passes,” or any other visible device, takes place through inner affinity, “vibration,” telepathy or some mode of communication which we may briefly call “wireless.” The explanation usually offered is that it occurs through the operation of faculties or senses higher than those functioning through the brain. These powers are said to act independently of space. Hence space is no obstacle–unless the idea of space stands in our
Whether it is desirable to try to heal people absently whom we have never seen is a different matter. Those who are conscientious will ordinarily say that they must first know the patient, for they need some clue or means of identification. A highly intuitive healer might discern this clue at a distance.
Why do former patients sometimes relapse into their old troubles?
Because there has been no real interior change. There may have been a glossing over through acceptance of some form of mental therapy involving denials rather than understanding. This may have given the appearance of a cure. The illusion may have been kept up for years. But nature always compels us to disclose our hidden illusions after a while.
Our deeper troubles are apt to be temperamental. We may find some temporary remedy in the form of a theory that is pleasing. But eventually we need to see just how our temperamental tendencies cause our trouble; for example, in the case of a highly emotional or artistic temperament, an impulsive or high-strung type. Hence life brings us to the point where we must face the underlying attitude or prevailing love which has entered into all that has brought us our trouble.
What is the connection between healing and psychical experiences?
It would take a whole volume to answer this question adequately. In “The Open Vision” I have argued that in this new age we are working forward into insight where all seemed dark, because of ignorance of the powers that function in us when we are psychically active, and because we have failed to discriminate between experiences which can be explained from within the personality and those which may be said to imply the presence of angels or spirits. The “open vision” of old was possible when there was spiritual perception and innocence, in the world’s spiritual childhood. People came to believe in spiritual realities because they enjoyed spiritual experiences. Later generations believed in such realities because of doctrines referring to such experiences, when “there was no longer any open vision.” We in our day are passing beyond the doctrinal stage to the period of verification through inner experience. We need to know spiritual experience as such before we can understand “psychical” experiences. For we need vision, a standard, wisdom. Hence it is important for us to grow in spiritual understanding rather than in the cultivation of anything bordering on the psychic.
Now, in spiritual healing we, of course, use the same powers, such as intuition, clairvoyance, clairaudience, the discernment of “mental atmospheres” at a distance, talking “with the spirit,” as in experiences set apart from another point of view as “psychical.” But we ordinarily call them “spiritual,” because we seek to realize the Eternal Presence, not to commune with “spirits.” Hence there is a difference of motive or interest. Spiritual healing may be practised without concerning oneself with psychical phenomena, popularly so-called. It is better thus. Then one may come to see that such a work pursued through the years has brought the mind into possession of a standard by which to judge the psychical.
Again, it is important to help the sick to see their way through to spiritual understanding. Psychism is a kind of disease, with some. There is need of spiritual re-education and enlightenment. It is not orderly to seek communications with departed spirits.
As indicated in “The Open Vision,” Dr. Quimby acquired the same powers in high degree which people with spiritistic interests would have cultivated so as to become psychics. But he steered clear of the psychical side-issues and used his clairvoyance and his other powers in the spiritual diagnosis of disease and the alleviation of human suffering. In his writings, as recently published in “The Quimby Manuscripts,” we find one of his strong reasons. Spiritualism was just then coming into extensive vogue. Mediums claimed to summon up “the dead,” and to heal by their aid. Dr. Quimby sought to make clear the way to spiritual healing through Divine aid, through life in contrast with the “the dead.” The airy shapes summoned by mediums seemed to him creations of a person’s belief. But what we need is something more than a product of our own fancy. We need that truth which will set men free.
Is it necessary to believe in obsession or demoniacal possession in order to explain certain types of obstinate disease or insanity?
This is a mooted question just now. We seem to be returning to a period when one can believe anything once classified as superstition. In accordance with the principles advocated in the foregoing chapters, let us say that our direct concern in any case is with the centre of attraction and development which has brought the given individual where he is today. Let us then look as deeply as we can, and ever more deeply into his inner life to discover its hidden complexes and its points of contact. Even if we believe in obsession we would need to break the connection from within. We are primarily concerned with these inner connections. We may well undertake to explain as many of them as possible in terms of what has been going on within the self, with its instincts and impulses, its habits and emotions, its desires and inner conflicts. Whatever may be outside the self, it is to the self just what it appears to be in terms of what the self believes. Thus a temptation may be objectified into a contest with the Devil. But our devils subside out of the objective as we grow in wisdom and in psychology. At last we come face to face with self-love, and that is demon enough.
What light does Mr. Myers’s theory of the subliminal self throw on spiritual healing?
A very clear light. In terms of this theory, most of the self lies below the level or threshold of consciousness, as we ordinarily know it; the deeper or “subliminal” self has wider points of contact with reality, including realities in the spiritual world. Thus the mathematical prodigy is able to give immediate answer to a complex problem ordinarily involving long processes of computation. Thus genius in general is explicable. So, too, P. P. Quimby had wider contacts of a certain type enabling him to have direct communion with the energy or power through which he accomplished his works of healing. Essential to this deeper process was his clairvoyance or intuition, which disclosed the states to be healed in patients of many types.
According to this theory we come nearer understanding what the spirit is and what it can accomplish. We see that it undoubtedly possesses what Quimby called “spiritual senses,” as counterparts of the natural senses. That is, we possess not only clairvoyance (“telesthesia” or inner vision) and clairaudience (inner audition), but other direct perceptions which include the discernment of “mental atmospheres,” the detection of what Quimby called “odors,” perceptible at a distance. There are “emergences” or “uprushes” from the subliminal which disclose processes that have been going on subconsciously. There is a sense of independence of space. Then too in some cases there may be what Myers calls a “clairvoyant excursion” by which information is gained at a distance as if by self-projection. All these abilities appear to be needed in order to explain actual experiences.
The explanation is safer in Myers’s hands, because he keeps close to the facts of psychical research and does not allow himself to adopt the extravagances of popular believers in the “subconscious mind.” One may find in this clearcut theory of the subliminal self a way to develop a sound spiritual psychology. We may then see how it was possible for Quimby to discern what we call the unconscious portion of a patient’s life, long before the days of psycho-analysis and the Freudian technique. A spiritual discernment which should be as far-reaching as his would disclose more elements in the hidden life than any mere psycho-analysis of dreams or suppressed complexes. The study of the implied points of contact below the threshold of consciousness would take us into the wide region of relationship or correspondence with the spiritual world. Myers sought an explanation of the whole human self in relation to that world and the natural world as well. His insight opened up the most promising vistas for our study. And we need scope. a specialist’s theory, like that of Freud with his analysis of dreams, is likely to leave us in a limited region, with exaggerated emphasis on one or more of the instincts. Again, we are apt to be limited by the physiological psychology of the day, as if the whole sphere of the unconscious and the subconscious could be reduced to states of the brain. In contrast with these special views, Myers’s interpretation of the subliminal self opens up the whole field of the relationship between the present world of experience and the future life.
The various inquiries tend however to converge. We need not be negative or skeptical in our attitude toward the “subconscious mind” just because over-emphasis has been put upon it. The tendency of thought in this field is toward the conviction that there are deeper or more interior receptivities, wider or more varied points of contact in the subliminal than as conscious beings we are aware of. This is a great truth. Then with this truth let us not fail to put that no less important one, namely, that however great the powers of our hidden nature nothing ever takes the place of consciousness as selective and volitional. In the long run everything goes back to , what we love most as conscious beings. If there is an open door in our consciousness with regard to spiritual realities there will be an open door subconsciously. But if our hearts are closed up here on the level of consciousness, we in vain expect our subconscious mind to be open-hearted. Consciousness was given us for judgment, for choice, for moral decision. Granted a volition in favor of love to God and man, the rest of our nature will do its best to carry it out into the realm of conduct. What we love most affects the whole self, however me may name its various departments. What we love most affects the whole realm of our conduct too. So any special interest, such as spiritual healing, is concerned with the prevailing love. And the more directly we can appeal to the love-nature to change from selfishness in any of its forms to service and love to God, the more will all the other special interests having to do with the human self be benefited also.
* * * * *
Spiritual Health and Healing
Free Online Book by Horatio Dresser
Return to Index