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A number of recent scientific studies have explored the question of whether one person can heal another at a distance. While the results of these studies have varied, I recently read about one such study which offers strong evidence that distant healing is truly possible. This finding dovetails perfectly with A Course in Miracles, which regards distant healing as not only possible but completely natural, given the true nature of reality.
I read about this study in an article by Srinivasan Pallay called "The Science of Distant Healing." The study itself is presented in an article entitled "Compassionate Intention As a Therapeutic Intervention by Partners of Cancer Patients: Effects of Distant Intention on the Patients' Autonomic Nervous System," available in the journal Explore. One of the authors of this article is well-known parapsychologist Dean Radin.
In this study, an experiment was conducted on thirty-six couples divided into three groups. Twenty-two of the couples included one person who was a cancer patient. Twelve of the couples with a cancer patient were designated the "trained group": In these couples, the healthy partner was trained in how to send "compassionate intention" to the cancer patient, and did so daily for three months prior to the date of the actual experiment. Ten of the couples with a cancer patient were designated the "wait group": In these couples, the healthy partner was not trained until after the experiment, so this partner participated in the experiment without any prior training. Finally, an additional fourteen couples (all of whom were healthy) formed the "control group," who received no training either before or after the experiment.
During the experiment itself, the partners in each couple were separated from each other and placed in distant, shielded rooms. Then, each partner was asked to try to feel the presence of the other. The designated "receiver" relaxed while the designated "sender" (the trained, healthy person in the couples who had received training prior to the experiment) sent compassionate intention toward the receiver for ten-second periods, interspersed with random non-sending periods. While this was going on, the skin conductance of both members of each couple—a measure of activation of the autonomic nervous system—was measured. Since the autonomic nervous system is activated unconsciously, the idea is that if it were activated during the sending periods, this would be evidence that the senders were having an effect on the receivers.
The results? There was indeed a significant effect during the times the compassionate intention was sent, and the effect was present in all three groups. The effect was strongest in the trained group, followed by a weaker effect in the wait group, and finally a still weaker effect in the control group. These results were hugely significant: There is only a 0.09 percent chance that they were due to chance. Of course, we don't know from this experiment whether this effect would actually help heal the cancer patients in the study (though other studies have shown that tumors can be reduced with such methods). But the experiment does provide evidence that intention can affect another person's body at a distance, and that this effect is strengthened when a person is trained in how to direct it.
Pallay goes on to discuss various explanations for how this works, explanations rooted in modern physics. Yet he also notes that other distant healing experiments have had mixed results. Some have shown no effect, and a couple have even shown harmful effects. Why is this the case? Pallay posits four possibilities: "(1) the quality of the intention is not high enough; (2) different intenders have different capacities; (3) different illnesses may require higher levels of intention; (4) there may be other intentions coming from elsewhere that disrupt the intention being measured." He concludes that distant healing is a genuine phenomenon, but that many factors can influence how well it works.
As a student of A Course in Miracles, I find this fascinating. I'm especially intrigued by the finding that there was a stronger effect even when a person did the training after the experiment; somehow, future training has an impact on the present. The Course is quite emphatic that distant healing works, for "communication is not limited to the small range of channels the world recognizes" (M-25.2:2). According to the Course, reality itself is totally nonphysical, and thus there are no barriers to intention passing from one person to another; minds are completely joined.
In the Course's view, healing of the mind through nonphysical channels is in fact the only thing that truly works; physical forms of "healing" are merely magic, which can temporarily alleviate symptoms but cannot effect a true, permanent healing. Thus, the Course's aim is to train us to become "distant healers" to each other (though of course healing may often involve physical proximity, especially when it comes through behavioral extension). Our vocation in this world is to be miracle workers who extend healing miracles to miracle receivers.
Extending miracles is a form of directing compassionate intention toward another person. But it isn't so much beaming the intention of "let this cancer go away," which is the kind of thing you often see in alternative spiritual circles. Rather, Course-based healing is rooted in its teaching that the fundamental cause of all illness is unforgiveness: our belief that we are at heart vicious attackers, horrendously guilty sinners who deserve punishment in myriad forms, including sickness. In Course-based healing, the intention of the healer is to reverse this entire picture through forgiveness. The healer uses the vision of Christ to see the patient as the wholly innocent Son of God he really is; a pure, limitless being of infinite love whom sickness of any kind cannot even touch. This intention, this vision, shines into the mind of the patient and heals his deeply rooted perception that he is a sinner. When the patient's mind is healed in this way, the healing of the body naturally follows
I think the Course would agree with Pallay that multiple factors can make our healing efforts less effective. As miracle workers in training, the quality of our intention is not anywhere near as high as it could be. We are still learning how to do this, and most of us are quite frankly at the beginning stages. The Course also presents other reasons why our healing efforts are not as effective as we would like them to be. One reason it gives is that even when the healer has truly extended healing to the patient's mind, the patient may be afraid of healing because it threatens her thought system too much. In these cases, the healing will not manifest physically until the patient is able to accept it without fear (see M-6).
But while we have a long way to go before we become proficient healers, the Course is clear that we all have the potential to become healers as great as Jesus was, there is literally no condition that cannot be healed, and healing is ultimately certain. After all, as the first principle of miracles tells us, "There is no order of difficulty in miracles" (T-1.I.1:1). We certainly haven't realized this yet, but at least we are seeing promising evidence that distant healing really does work, just as the Course says it does. I look forward to seeing more research in this area, and hope the day will come when we all discover that distant healing is not only possible but inevitable.