Dr Larry Dossey, author of Be Careful What You Pray For …once noted that negative intention is the very foundation of most healing. Healing from an infectious agent or a rogue cell line such as cancer requires intent to harm.
It works from a desire to kill something: to inhibit bacterial enzymes, alter cell membrane permeability, or interfere with the nutrition given to the cell or the synthesis of DNA. In order for the patient to get better, the offending agent has to die.
Many pioneers of mind–body medicine in the treatment of cancer, such as Dr Bernie Siegel, Dr Carl Simonton, and Australian psychiatrist Ainslie Meares, have encouraged their patients to use vivid forms of mental imagery – a metaphoric representation of their illness – to enhance their healing.
Fighting a battle
The majority of the cancer patients who first made use of these visualization techniques imagined a battlefield, on which good (the patient) is pitted against evil (the cancer), with the cancer patient possessing the larger weapon.
Some patients imagined their white blood cells as an army killing the cancer cells or a ‘tap’ containing the blood that feeds the cancer cells, which they can turn off. Others visualized themselves as participating in a violent video game.
When Simonton first introduced this technique to his patients in the 1970s, Pac-Man was the most popular video game of the time. He encouraged his patients to imagine a little Pac-Man inside their bodies, gobbling up cancer cells in its path.
But whatever the particulars of the imagery, the intention itself needed to be murderous; the patient had to want to annihilate the enemy.
Why be negative?
Although negative intention appears capable of disrupting the most fundamental biological processes when precisely targeted, one study suggests that healing does not necessarily require negative intention.
Leonard Laskow, an American gynecologist and healer, was recruited by American biologist Glen Rein to test the most effective healing strategy for inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. In his own practice, Laskow believed in establishing an emotional connection with his subject – even with cancer cells – before sending out healing.
Rein prepared five different Petri dishes containing identical numbers of cancer cells and then asked Laskow to send out a different intention while holding each one.
Laskow’s first intention was that the natural order be reinstated and the cells’ growth rate return to normal.
With the next Petri dish he adopted a Taoist visualization that entails imagining that only three of the cancer cells remained in the Petri dish.
For the third dish he was not to have an intention, but simply to ask God to have His will flow through Laskow’s hands.
He offered unconditional love to the cancer cells of the fourth dish, which involved meditating on a state of love and compassion, much as Davidson’s Buddhists had done.
For the final dish of cancer cells, Laskow carried out his only truly destructive intention, by visualizing the cells dematerializing, either going into the light or the ‘void’.
Releasing or offering a choice?
Rein gave Laskow a choice of imagery largely because he was uncertain which visualization would be most effective in obliterating something. Was it more effective to release an entity by offering it an endpoint (the light), or simply to give it a full range of potential (the void)?
As a yardstick of Laskow’s effectiveness, Rein would measure the amount of radioactive thymidine absorbed by the cancer cells – an indicator of the growth rate of malignant cells.
Laskow’s various intentions had quite different effects. The most powerful were undirected intentions asking the cells to return to the natural order, which inhibited the cancer cells’ growth by 39 per cent. Acquiescing to God’s will with no specific request was about half as effective, inhibiting the cells by 21 per cent, as was the Taoist visualization.
An unconditional acceptance of the way things were had no effect either way, nor did imagining the cells dematerializing. In these two instances, the problem may have been that the thought was simply not focused enough.
In a follow-up study, Rein asked Laskow to limit himself to two possibilities, the Taoist visualization and a request for the cells to return to the natural order. This time, he achieved an identical result with both intentions; the cancer cell growth was inhibited by 20 per cent.
However, the strongest effect of all occurred when he combined the two approaches, mixing an intention to return to the natural order while imagining only three cells left; his rate of cell inhibition doubled, to 40 per cent.
Clearly the combination of asking the universe to restore order while imagining a specific outcome exerted a powerful effect. Rein asked Laskow to repeat this combined approach, but to target the medium in which the cancer cells grew, rather than the cells themselves.
Laskow achieved the same result as when he had focused directly on the cells themselves.
Finally, Rein instructed Laskow to hold each of his five states of mind in turn while grasping one of five vials of water, which would later be used to make up the tissue-culture medium of the cancer cells.
The water treated with the ‘natural-order’ intention again had the greatest effect, inhibiting the growth of the cancer cells by 28 per cent. In this case, water apparently ‘stored’ and transferred the intentions to the culture medium and on to the cancer cells.
A very specific request
Laskow’s approach was instructive. The most effective healing intention had been framed as a request, combined with a highly specific visualization of the outcome, but not necessarily a destructive one.
With healing, the most effective approach may not be to destroy the source of the illness, but, as with other forms of intention, to put out your specific request, then move aside, let go of the outcome and allow a greater intelligence to restore order.