Herbert Benson, author of a widely acclaimed book of the Sixties, “Relaxation Response,” was the first one to point out that just as a stressful state of mind and body is natural to human beings, so is a relaxed state. Now the highly renowned Harvard Medical School physician says that faith too is natural to us human beings. He calls it the “faith factor.” It is a fascinating story of how he stumbled upon this insight into the mystery of human mind.
Benson, while teaching his patients how to relax, asked them to choose a word or a sentence to help them mentally focus. He would then ask them to repeat their chosen word or sentence, silently in their head, so they could quickly reach the state of relaxation. Benson was surprised to find that eighty percent of these individuals would choose a prayer such as, “The Lord is my shepherd!” or “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me!” Needless to say that people of other faiths similarly chose a prayer or a holy word from their scriptures. Therefore, the tendency to spontaneously choose a holy word or a prayer was observed across the religions.
Benson was also impressed by the fact that when his patients regularly
started reaching the relaxed state, twenty-five percent of them reported
“feeling more spiritual.” This occurred regardless of their religion
and whether they chose a prayer or not for their mental focusing,
Even more impressive was the fact that the twenty-five percent who reported feeling more spiritual during the relaxed state reported greater reduction in their medical symptoms than did those who reported no increase in spirituality.
Whether one can claim this to be an evidence that faith heals is still open for debate. However, from this study it appears that one’s personal belief, when added to relaxation, quiets worries and fears better than does relaxation alone without such a personal belief.
Benson further observed that those who reported increased spirituality after practicing relaxation described two things about their experience: 1. The presence of an “energy,” a “force,” a “power,” or “God,” that was greater than them. 2. They felt that this presence was nearby or close to them.
People who felt the presence of energy, force, power, or God close to them reported the greatest medical benefits. This suggests that there is a connection between healing and spirituality.
There are some conclusions that can be drawn from this study. There is something in the relaxed state of mind that makes one receptive to the experience of spirituality. The more relaxed the mind, the greater the experience of spirituality. A researcher by the name of Kass constructed a scale of spirituality making it possible to assign a spiritual score based on how one answered a set of questions. Kass observed that those who practiced reaching the relaxed state for more than a month had higher spirituality scores than those who did so for less than a month.
These reports are not limited to medical patients only. Other people have also experienced a relationship between relaxed mind and spirituality. Meditation too helps to reach a relaxed state of mind. A 1994 Newsweek poll underscored that forty-five of people had “sensed the sacred” during meditation. Similar experiences have been reported during other activities. Same poll revealed that sixty-five percent had a similar sense of sacred at the birth of a child.
Benson, in his recent book, “Timeless Healing” summarizes his twenty-five
years of study of the relaxation response as follows:
“Very peaceful and exhilarating sensations are facilitated by the relaxation response. Some of these sensations seem to transcend daily human experience and feel spiritual in nature. All of these experiences are physiologically healing.”
Some believe that this higher power, force, or energy, reported by the participants in the various studies is always out there in the universe waiting for its presence to be felt. Why we can’t always feel it is because of the internal “barrier” or “the wall.” That barrier or wall is built of the “material” called stress, the sum total of all negative emotions such as anger, fear, or anxiety. When we regularly free ourselves of the stress even for a few moments, we are likely to feel the presence of the higher power. In these studies, it was achieved by the so called “relaxation response.”
Alcohol or drugs cannot elicit relaxation response, but it can be elicited
by practicing quietness with a focused mind. Quietness is a simple
but highly effective method in clearing the mental barrier, the noise.
Someone said that half of the troubles in the world would disappear if
every individual sits in a room quietly by himself or herself every day
just for thirty minutes.
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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications