‘The Connection’ explores potential for mind-body medicine

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PETALUMA, CA, Oct. 5, 2014 – The story is pretty straightforward. Shannon Harvey got sick, really sick, and began trying all sorts of therapies, both conventional and alternative, to get better. Then she happened to read something on Google – on page 20 of her search results, no less – that made her realize that, in her words, in order to change her health she needed to change her mind.

She did. And she got better.

It was then that the filmmaker and former Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) journalist decided to make a documentary – including interviews with such notable mind-body medicine experts as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Herbert Benson and Dean Ornish – to help others do the same.

Aside from what she discovered on Google, the real turning point for Harvey came during an interview she did with George Jelinek, an emergency medicine professor who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease similar to what she was suffering from. “If he could recover, then I could, too,” said Harvey following the San Francisco premiere of her film “The Connection.”

Jelinek attributes his complete recovery from what is considered an incurable disease to such things as an improved diet and regular exercise – what he calls “the easy part” – as well as meditation, a practice Harvey adopted as part of her own healing process.

“The doctors were never going to cure me with drugs,” she recounts on her web site. “The healing had to happen from within.”

As it turns out, stories like Jelinek’s and Harvey’s aren’t that unusual, dating back at least three millennia clear up to present day. Apparently it’s just taking us awhile to figure out how it all works, even in this age of modern medicine.

For Suzann Wittenberg, her healing of multiple sclerosis wasn’t so much a brain-based adjustment as it was a prayer-based recognition of what God, or what some refer to as “divine Mind,” was telling her about her innate spirituality and consequent freedom from disease. Since receiving treatment from a Christian Science healer more than 40 years ago, she has been symptom free.

“I viewed my wife’s healing at first with cautious optimism inasmuch as her ailment was known for lengthy but temporary remissions,” writes Larry Wittenberg in a 2013 account of his wife’s recovery. “Nonetheless, from that point on, she stopped falling down. As the years without a return of the symptoms became decades, my optimism became gratitude for a complete and permanent healing.”

Certainly there are those who read stories like this – or watch films like “The Connection” – with a hefty dose of skepticism. Others see them as much-needed reminders that our health has a lot less to do with our body than it does our thought about the body or, in Wittenberg’s case, our thought about the deeper, more spiritual aspects of our lives. Still others seem them as harbingers of an evolved – and evolving – mode of medicine, one that takes into account more than just our biological or physiological components.

“We had the CEO of Massachusetts General Hospital on the panel,” said Harvey, referring to a discussion following her film’s U.S. premiere in Boston, “and he said that the film was so important that he was going to see that it be shown to all first and fourth year medical students.”

Imagine that: A new generation of doctors being trained to appreciate, if not incorporate, a new-old approach to medicine, aspects of which could, at the very least, greatly reduce the need for drugs and surgery. Maybe then we wouldn’t have to read so far into our Google searches to discover something that could radically change our outlook and our health for the better.

Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs.

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  • J. Bowers

    I too am of the belief that there is much about the world and the universe that we do not know. The mind can indeed have an effect on the body. That’s been well proven. However, you cannot simply “pray away” serious disease or injury. Mr. Nelson ascribes to a religion that preaches just that. Christian Science teaches “radical reliance” on prayer for healing, and I have seen family members succumb to unpleasant deaths doing just that. As for the “healing” of multiple sclerosis, I remain skeptical. It is a disease that’s known to go into remission, but is it still there? I wonder. To cast one’s fate solely to the vagaries of faith healing is akin to playing Russian Roulette with one’s life and health. Do it at your own risk.

    • Eric Nelson

      I couldn’t agree more, J. Bowers, you can’t just “pray away” serious disease or injury. Having practiced Christian Science for quite a number of years, however, that’s not how I would describe it. It may be a simple analogy, but for me praying is sort of like a child being willing to hold on to their parent’s hand as a means of assuaging some fear that’s causing them all sorts of mental – and sometimes physical – distress. Sure, there may be some measure of hope and faith involved in this decision, but there’s also a lot of trust based on umpteen previous incidents when even this modest, gentle gesture had a profound impact.

      • J. Bowers

        I go with what I know to have been scientifically proven to work; proven by verifiable and repeatable results as is the case with science-based medical practice. It is not the bogeyman I, as a child raised in Christian Science, was led to believe it was. Christian Science failed members of my family who relied on it for physical healing in the worst possible way. That will not be my fate. People need to be aware of the dangers of radical reliance on metaphysical means of healing such as Christian Science.