Richard G. Petty, MD

Having Your Life Shine Forth

geoffrey hodson.jpg

“Gentleness, tenderness, caring deeply – these are the ways, however humble, by which the very best in a person’s life can shine forth.”  

–Geoffrey Hodson (English-born New Zealand Theosophist, Mystic, Teacher and Author, 1886-1983)      

“The Call to the Heights: Guidance on the Pathway to Self-Illumination (Quest Book) by Hodson, Geoffrey published by Quest Books Paperback” (–N/A–)  

Diseases of Discipleship

You will not find them listed on WebMD, but “Diseases of Discipleship” are nonetheless very real. I have mentioned them in Healing Meaning and Purpose and also here. They are the result of sudden access to spiritual energies that can upset the balance of the body, mind and spirit. The great value of having a teacher is to help you balance and work with these energies without being harmed by them.

Several of my own teachers talked a lot about these diseases of discipleship, but I would particularly like to single out Douglas Baker and the writings of Roberto Assagioli, Del Pe, Torkom Saraydarian, Stan Grof and Alice Bailey.

I have also had a great deal of experience with people undergoing spiritual crises. Many have been referred to me by priests, clergy and intuitives, because many of the individuals thought that they were “going crazy,” and some had ben given psychiatric diagnoses. That extensive experience has helped me and some of my students to describe some of the “symptoms” in more detail.

Roberto Assagioli identified five critical points where problems may arise:

  1. Just before spiritual awakening begins
  2. Crises caused by spiritual awakening
  3. Reactions to spiritual awakening
  4. Phases of the process of transmutation
  5. The “Dark Night of the Soul

Today I am just going to focus on the crises caused by spiritual awakening, because a great many people are experiencing them at the moment.

Here are some of the more common signs and symptoms include:

  • Visual disturbances
  • Extreme sensitivity to light and sound
  • Paradoxically they often also find a raised pain threshold
  • Increased metabolic rate, which may cause a slight increase in body temperature and a little weight loss
  • Variable libido: some people lose all interest in sex, but most experience an increase in sexual desire, which can take them and any partners by surprise
  • Disturbances in circadian rhythms
  • Disturbances in thyroid and adrenal function: the thyroid often becomes slightly – or sometimes more than slightly – overactive and the adrenal glands slightly less responsive to stimulation
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Hypertension
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Anxiety and a feeling of “butterflies” in the region of the solar plexus
  • Inexplicable sensations roughly corresponding to the channels identified in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine
  • Irregular breathing patterns, usually hyperventilation
  • Something that feels like electricity under the tongue and under the palate
  • Crying for no readily apparent reason
  • As peoples’ consciousness rises, it is quite common to experience “Synesthesia” in which senses overlap: people may taste sounds, feel colors and “hear and see” with different parts of the body
  • Psychic abilities often begin to appear: clairvoyance, clairaudience, spiritual intuition and the ability to heal
  • Many begin to feel and see their own Inner Light and the Inner Light of other people

Not everyone gets all of these symptoms and they may come and go for a while. Some people don’t get any at all, but they are unusual. There are two books by Hazel Courteney that detail some of what happened to her, and they are well worth a read.

It is important to emphasize that all of these signs and symptoms can also be caused by illnesses. So although most people who are going through all this want to avoid doctors, it is a very good idea to ensure that everything is okay. I once saw someone who had been told that she was having a kundalini experience, even though she did not have any of the usual features. She became very unwell, but felt much better when an insulin-producing tumor was removed from her pancreas.

The most important thing is to help people remain grounded. I have seen many people become extremely grandiose and even fanatical after going through a rapid spiritual awakening. It is also important to ensure that any physical symptoms – such as thyroid or blood pressure problems – do not continue unchecked.

Helping people who are going through spiritual change or crisis needs the help of a person or persons who understand physical and psychological problems, as well as being some way along the path of spiritual development. By “crisis” I do not mean crisis of faith, but a critical turning point in an individual’s personal development.

There are plenty of good ways of grounding using some physical, psychological and subtle system exercises. I have dozens of excellent techniques that I can publish if you are interested. Sometimes it is also a good idea to eat some heavy food.

It can be very helpful to get away form other people for a while. This doesn’t mean becoming a monk or nun, but just to avoid a bad case of people poisoning. In their overly sensitive state they can pick up a lot of negative things from the people around them. I have known a good many people who would begin to experience all the physical and psychological symptoms of the people around them.

Once we have confirmed that the person does not have all this as a result of thyroid disease or anxiety, it is essential to show them what is going on and the best way to approach and conceptualize it.

Next we help people to control some of the impulses that can otherwise swamp them. One of the many reasons for development of the sophisticated mind control techniques developed by Tibetan Buddhism was to help people watch their spiritual unfoldment without being overwhelmed by it.

We also try to help people to transmute psychological energies so that they can be used constructively.

Everybody is different, but in some people acupuncture, qigong, Reiki and homeopathy have all been helpful. Several of the flower essences can be very useful, in particular:
Star Tulip
White Yarrow
Pink Yarrow

Every expert that I know in the field of spiritual development agrees with my observation that there are currently more people having major spiritual changes than ever before. It is essential for us all to know how to protect, support and birth them.

“To penetrate into the essence of all being and significance, and to release the fragrance of that inner attainment for the guidance and benefit of others, by expressing in the world of forms – truth, love, purity and beauty – this is the sole game that has any intrinsic and absolute worth. All other incidents and attainments can, in themselves, have no lasting importance.”

–Meher Baba (Indian Spiritual Teacher who, from July 1925 maintained Silence, 1894-1969)

“You knock at the door of Reality. You shake your thought wings, loosen your shoulders, and open.”
–Jalal al-Din Rumi (Afghan Sufi Poet, 1207-1273)

“Life is a series of awakenings.”

–Sri Swami Sivananda (Indian Physician and Spiritual Teacher, 1887-1963)

“What we usually call human evolution is the awakening of the Divine Nature within us.”

–“Peace Pilgrim” (a.k.a. Mildred Norman, American Peace Activist, 1908-1981)

The Biology of Beauty

When we think about the characteristics that make someone physically attractive most of us probably think that they are purely subjective and culture bound. But recent evidence suggests that this is not true.

In an astonishingly comprehensive study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Devendra Singh from the University of Texas at Austin has analyzed references to fictional beauties from modern times back to early Indian literature. He found that slimness of the waist was the most common term of praise from an author.

I found it very surprising that this association even seemed to hold in times when a more Rubenesque figure was in fashion.

But I think that the key is not the actual number of inches, but the ratio of waist to hips.I have commented several times that the waist to hip ratio is probably a better physical marker of health risk than body mass index (BMI). Though even this needs to be supplemented by other tests.

Professor Singh’s work has nothing to do with making value judgments, but is instead looking at some of the factors involved in mate selection and this work adds to evidence highlighting the role of the ratio between waist and hips in attracting a mate.

All the recent furor over the dangerously shrinking fashion model has again raised the question that although female waist size has become important in modern Western society and culture – and is likely a factor fueling eating disorders – it is not completely clear whether this waist obsession has always been the case.

In what can only be described as a labor of love, Singh has spent years examining representations of women through history, and in one study, he measured the waist-hip ratio of hundreds of statues from different eras.

In the most recent research, he looked at how "attractive" women were depicted in literature, analyzing more than 345,000 texts, mainly from the 16th to 18th centuries. While most of the writings were British and American, there was a small selection of Indian and Chinese romantic and erotic poetry dating from the 1st to the 6th century of the Christian era.

Singh had this to say: "The common historical assumption in the social sciences has been that the standards of beauty are arbitrary, solely culturally determined and in the eye of the beholder. The finding that the writers describe a small waist as beautiful suggests instead that this body part – a known marker of health and fertility – is a core feature of feminine beauty that transcends ethnic differences and cultures."

Other studies have found a link between a woman’s waist to hip ratio and her fertility which may offer some explanation as to why during evolution it became a factor in selecting a mate. The ratio, like breast size and smooth complexion, is partly under the control of estrogen, which is, of course, a key hormone in the maintenance of fertility.

There has been a great deal of work – and even more speculation – about why men and women are found physically attractive. The idea is that beauty is an indicator of genetic and developmental health. There is also some evidence that physically "attractive" people are healthier than less attractive people.

In 2004 Satoshi Kanazawa and Jody Kovar from the London School of Economics published an intriguing study in the journal Intelligence with the controversial title: “Why Beautiful People are More Intelligent."

The basic idea is that evolutionary processes have, both genetically and socially, led to what we call assortative mating, in which partners have been chosen for their strength, good health and even height: all attributes which have given their possessors a high status. I must be honest that even though I’ve seen the data, when I see and hear some of the comments of a few people in the public eye I still question the association between beauty and intelligence.

There appear to be a few features that characterize physically attractive faces: bilateral symmetry, averageness, and secondary sexual characteristics. Attractive faces tend to be more symmetrical than unattractive faces. 

Fluctuating asymmetry (FA) – random differences between the two sides of the face – is usually not found to be attractive. And this may be why: it increases with exposure to parasites, pathogens, and toxins during development. FA also increases with genetic disruptions, such as mutations and inbreeding. Developmentally and genetically, healthy individuals have less FA and more symmetry in their facial and bodily features.

Across many societies around the world, there is a positive correlation between parasite and pathogen prevalence in the environment and the importance placed on physical attractiveness in mate selection. The theory is that in societies where there are a lot of pathogens and parasites it is especially important to avoid individuals who have been afflicted with them when they select mates. 

Facial averageness in another feature that increases physical attractiveness: faces with features close to the population average are more attractive than those with extreme features. The evolutionary reasons for why average faces in the population are more attractive than extreme faces are not as clear as the reasons for why facial symmetry is attractive. Some current speculation is that facial averageness results from the heterogeneity rather than homogeneity of genes so that would mean that individuals with average faces are more resistant to a larger number of parasites. Therefore like FA, facial averageness may be an indicator of genetic health and parasitic resistance.

There is good data that infants as young as 2-3 months gaze longer at a face that adults have judged attractive rather than a face judged unattractive. And other research has shown that 12 month old infants exhibit more observable pleasure, more play involvement, less distress, and less withdrawal when interacting with strangers wearing attractive masks, than with strangers wearing unattractive masks. They also play significantly longer with facially attractive dolls than with unattractive dolls.

2-12 months is not nearly enough time for infants to have learned and internalized the cultural standards of beauty through socialization and media exposure. So the research data seems to suggest that the standards of beauty might be innate, rather than learned.

Even though there is all this evidence for a evolutionary and biological factors in beauty, it is a mistake to use such a simple model  to try and explain away all of our partner preferences.

By the time that they leave high school, most people have grasped that physical attractiveness is an important first step in attraction, but after that becomes highly
subjective: delightful but not essential.

This work also fails to take into account the attractiveness of factors like radiance, humor, attention, attentiveness, energy, self-assurance, movement, grace and gesture.

Neither can it take account curiosity, presence, charisma, compassion and spiritual awareness. All of these can be extremely attractive, but are hard to explain on simple biological and evolutionary models.

And, by the way, all of these additional factors can be learned: whatever your weight and measurements, whether you are tall or less so and whatever your age.

You can learn to develop many of the things that genetics may have forgotten.

“Beauty awakens the soul to act.” –Dante Alighieri (Italian Poet and Philosopher, 1265-1321)

“Beauty is not in the face, beauty is a light in the heart.” –Kahlil Gibran (Lebanese Poet and Philosopher, 1883-1931)

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