Richard G. Petty, MD

Intuition, Flow and the Avoidance of Danger

"Flow with whatever is happening and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.”
–Chuang Tzu (Chinese Philosopher, c.369-286 B.C.E.)

There is some intriguing evidence, summarized in a very interesting article that fewer people ride on trains on the days that there are accidents. Even when you take into consideration things like vacations, there still seem to be fewer travelers on days when an accident is to occur. Some people seem to know when it’s not a good day to be traveling: they exercise a form of unconscious intuition that keeps them out of harm’s way.

In the 1971 novel Recoil, Claude and Rhoda Nunes describe a boy called George who is so in tune with the pulse of a city that he arrives every intersection at the precise moment when he can cross; he reaches his destinations without any of the normal delays. And in any shops that he visits, he immediately attracts the attention of an assistant who just happens to be unoccupied. Though this is a novel, it is also a good illustration of the way things can happen for you when you are attuned to the world around you.

At one time I was doing a lot of work in Chicago, which involved visiting various sites in the city. My hosts used to joke about the way that they would normally struggle to find a place to leave the car, but that when I was their guest, we always get “rock star parking.” A space would open up for us in just the tight place at the right time. However, they were not quite right. We invariably did find a parking spot so long as I remained calm and detached, but the moment that either of us became fretful about being late, as soon as emotion was being stirred up, then the parking spots would vanish.

I once learned this lesson the hard way. I had some prized tickets to see a performance at the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden. And on that day, despite everything that I had been taught about how we choose our emotional states, despite all the things that I had tried to inculcate in my students, I forgot the lessons. My last patient of the day had required more help than I expected, the person accompanying me to the performance was very late, the traffic was awful and I became more and more anxious and then irritable. Not surprisingly, on this particular day, there was to be no special parking anywhere and I missed the whole of the first act of a favorite opera. Though painful, this was a valuable lesson.

The spiritual Master or Mistress is in a constant state of flow: being in the right place at the right time. Anyone can achieve this with a little practice. Step one is to gain some control over your emotions. Attunement with your body and with the world around you is difficult until you have been able to develop a measure of control of your emotional states. The best ways that I know for doing that are not simply trying to talk yourself into emotional control, but also to use three extra things: Flower essences, the Tapping therapies and acupressure.

There’s a very helpful little acupressure trick. If you run your fingers along the top of the trapezius muscle that runs from the back of your skull to your shoulder, in the very middle is an acupuncture point: Gallbladder 21. If you find yourself being overwhelmed by emotion, gentle pressure at that point for just a few moments will usually help you re-establish control of your emotions very quickly.

“When you do things from your soul you feel a river moving in you, a joy. When action come from another section, the feeling disappears.”
Jalal al-Din Rumi (Afghan Sufi Poet, 1207-1273)

“To offer no resistance to life is to be in a state of grace, ease, and lightness. This state is then no longer dependent upon things being in a certain way, good or bad. It seems almost paradoxical, yet when your inner dependency on form is gone, the general conditions of your life, the outer forms, tend to improve greatly. Things, people, or conditions that you thought you needed for your happiness now come to you with no struggle or effort on your part, and you are free to enjoy and appreciate them – while they last. All those things, of course, will still pass away, cycles will come and go, but with dependency gone there is no fear of loss anymore. Life flows with ease.”
–Eckhart Tolle (German-born Author and Spiritual Teacher, 1948-)

Testing for Telepathy

“By means of thought, we are able to obtain all the elements we need from the universe and to reach all the beings we want to contact. Yes, through the law of affinity, thought takes charge of seeking out these elements or these beings. Even if the person you have in mind is on the other side of the world, out of the six billion people on earth, your thought will go directly to him or her and to no one else, as if it had been magnetized to make contact with precisely this person. So from now on, when you want to acquire an element from the universe or to contact someone, think about this element or this person without concern for their whereabouts. Provided your thought is intense, it will go straight to its target.”
–Omraam Mikhaël Aïvanhov (Bulgarian Spiritual Master, 1900-1986)

Of all the subjects that I’ve discussed, one of the most difficult is telepathy. It is difficult not because of a lack of empirical data, but because it is such a polarizing topic. Some people believe in it, and others claim it is impossible, that any research that says otherwise must be wrong and if you believe in it, you will believe in anything. Yet it is an important subject, and the research data keep on coming.

The English biologist and writer Rupert Sheldrake has just published a study in a well known and peer reviewed journal. Perceptual and Motor Skills is a journal with a reputation to protect, so you can be sure that this study was scrutinized particularly carefully. This study investigated possible telepathic communication in connection with emails. In the study there were four potential email senders, and for each trial one of them was selected at random, and there were 50 email receivers, who had to guess who was going to send them an email one minute before it was sent. Further experiments were done with a small number of people who were videotaped continuously. All the experiments generated results that were significantly above chance.

What this means is that we have another piece of evidence to add to the overall body of knowledge about telepathic interactions between people and animals.

Part of the difficulty about telepathy is in understanding how it could happen. When people are in close physical proximity they can pick up on subtle physical cues like body language and dilation of the pupils. I am also persuaded by the data from the HeartMath Institute, indicating that the electrical field generated by the heart can be detected by other people at a range of several feet, and that it can lead to entrainment of the electrical rhythms two people’s brains. But the email experiment is important because none of these factors come into play. My own take on this is that we are all constantly and inextricably interlinked with one another. Most of the time we don’t notice it because of the constant chatter of the mind and the efforts of the ego to protect our individuality. But under certain circumstances – shock, meditation, deep relaxation, sex, and near-death experiences – the walls come tumbling down and we experience our connection for what it truly is. And then we see the non-dual reality of the world.

The other point is this: I have made the point that the Laws of Healing have been gradually changing and evolving over the last century, and our individual and cultural consciousness is evolving and adapting. Because of that, more and more people are having first-hand experience of the interconnected web of life.

“The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together . . .” {All’s Well that Ends Well, Act IV, Sc. Iii} –William Shakespeare English Poet and Dramatist, 1564-1616

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Hypnosis and Electrical Activity In the Brain

Following my post on Meditation and the Brain a perceptive reader just asked a great question:

“Has any of the research found any difference between hypnosis and meditation as it relates to brainwaves. And do people in a state of hypnosis demonstrate these high gamma waves?”

This is so interesting that I thought it was worth a short note of its own.

On the first occasion that I was hypnotized during my training, I remember thinking that the experience was very like the first stage of meditative practice: I was primarily using Vipassana back then. Subsequent subjective experiences have all tended to confirm that view: there are some similarities between trance and early meditative experiences.

There is a good amount of empirical research that tends to confirm that. John Gruzelier’s group at Imperial College in London has published some very fine work using not just electroencephalographic (EEG) measurements, but also functional MRI (fMRI). Gamma waves are between 30 to 100 Hertz, or cycles per second, and appear to reflect the way in which cells exchange information about the environment and form mental impressions. Gamma oscillations have a role in the subjective experience of pain. Not only has Gruzelier’s group shown some of the same gamma wave coherence, but also, research published in October of last year suggests that individual differences in hypnotic susceptibility are linked with the efficiency of the frontal lobe attention system. Hypnosis appears to involve a dissociation of the prefrontal cortex from other neural functions. Both the meditation and hypnosis studies have indicated that the key regions are primarily in the left frontal lobe.

The difference is that although people can demonstrate similar gamma wave activity when hypnotized, in the experienced meditators the gamma wave activity was there all the time, but would increase dramatically when meditating. How dramatic? Thirty fold higher activity than in a non-meditator. The trained brain is physically different from the untrained one.

Bob McCarley’s group at Harvard has done some interesting work in which healthy volunteers and people with schizophrenia were asked to look at images. The people suffering from schizophrenia showed no gamma wave activity at all.

Interestingly, there is also a very recent paper out in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs showing the same EEG gamma coherence in two experienced people using the Brazilian drug ayahuasca, which suggest further similarities between meditation and shamanic psychedelic practices.

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Meditation and the Brain

In the last few years, there have been a number of studies of the brain in people who are practicing different forms of meditation. Andy Newberg at the University of Pennsylvania has looked at cerebral blood flow of meditators, and there has been a long-standing collaboration between Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin and the Dalai Lama, who has provided the University with a steady flow of experienced meditators for an array of different types of electrical measurements of their brains. One of the most consistent findings in experienced meditators is that some of these electrical rhythms become synchronized. This was first reported over 20 years ago, but some of those early experiments had some technical problems associated with them. But the new findings seem to be very robust. Meditators also produce an unusual type of high frequency electrical activity known as gamma waves, that oscillate at 40 cycles per second.
This work has some important implications:

1. There are many types of meditation: many are a form of intense concentration, others are a witnessing or watching of thoughts, yet others are a form of profound devotion. So it is no surprise that different forms will produce different effects in the brain.

2. The fact that the brain can be trained to produce certain types of electrical activity is in line with multiple lines of evidence demonstrating that the brain is not the static structure that we used to think it to be: it can learn and develop. We already knew that with motor functions and some cognitive abilities, but now we can extend those findings into the emotions: feelings of love and empathy can be developed, expanded and deepened. The old metaphor that the brain can be exercised like a muscle may not be a metaphor after all, but a biological fact.

3. The fact that there are neurological correlates of meditation or of any emotional or psychological state does not mean that we can reduce the experience to the firing of some neurons or the synchronization of regions of the brain. Some of this research has been misinterpreted to mean that meditative states or mystical insights are no more than the calming of neural activity. It is vital that we also acknowledge the subjective experiences and reports of individuals and recognize that they are as valid descriptors as changes in the brain.

4. Meditation has been shown to have a great many physiological and psychological effects, from lowering blood pressure, to improving the performance of sleep-deprived individuals, reducing age-related cortical thinning and ultimately leading to demonstrable psychological and spiritual development. So the neurological and psychological findings provide a partial explanation for those observations.

The fact that some researchers are cooperating with the Dalai Lama has not sat well with some critics, but I think that it is important for us to remember that we are living in a time when it is essential for us to synthesize different approaches and to find common ground. So I applaud these studies and will continue to report them.

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