Top positive review
186 of 190 people found this helpful
Presents something profound and of enormous value
on September 7, 2001
Andrew Weil, who is a graduate of the Harvard Medical School and the author of a number of best-selling books on medicine, consciousness, health and diet, is one of those rare men who have managed to acquire a prestigious conventional education and then build on that with unconventional experiences in other parts of the world. He has studied botany and medicine in the Amazon jungle and elsewhere, and alternative medicine in the far east before establishing his practice in the United States. This book, first published in 1995, is the result of what Weil has learned over the years. There is nothing spectacularly new here, but there is a carefully presented, enormously compelling argument for the power of our bodies to heal themselves if only we would give them the opportunity.
Problem number one is a medical establishment that sees its interventions as the cause of healing, when it occurs, and the failure of the body, when it does not. Every physician should humbly realize that it is the healing mechanisms of the body that defeat disease, not the treatment. Weil makes this point even in the case of antibiotics: "Antibiotics reduce numbers of invading germs to a point where the immune system can take over and finish the job. The real cause of the cure is the immune system, which may be unable to end an infection because it is overwhelmed by sheer numbers of bacteria and" their toxic products (p. 110). I would add that even in the case of setting a bone or removing a bullet, it is the body that does the healing. Properly understood, Weil advises, the function of the physician is to aid the defenses of the body. This is how medicine is understood in cultures of ancient linage around the world, particularly in the time-honored Chinese and Ayurvedic systems. There is much we could learn from them. The tech-heavy Western approach fails to treat the whole patient--mind, body, emotions and spirit--and therefore has great difficulty in dealing with chronic illnesses. Weil emphasizes prevention, and when illness does occur, the cultivation of habits and a lifestyle conducive to spontaneous healing.
Included in the text are a number of testimonials of spontaneous healing from people given up on by conventional medicine. Dr. Weil is fascinated by these "anecdotal" cases and believes that the medical establishment is missing something by dismissing them because they cannot be scientifically validated. Weil counts heads and comes to the obvious conclusion that something is going on here, whether it can be baselined and graphed or not. People do indeed get well for no apparent reason. There are literately thousands of documented cases. How does this happen? Weil calls it the phenomenon of "spontaneous healing," and believes that we are all capable of performing this "miracle." Personally, it happened to me (if you'll forgive the Yogi Berra-ism) at my daughter's wedding. I had strained the instep of my right foot playing basketball and it would not heal. Weeks went by. I either could not stay off it enough and/or I was re-injuring it to the point where I could not walk without pain. A friend and I walked around the Stanford campus during the day, which I should not have done. The pain was very annoying, but in the evening, fortified with the festive occasion and the refreshments, I danced wildly, joyously, one might say, ignoring the pain, realizing that I would pay for it the next day. But in the morning when I woke up there was no pain at all, and although it has been almost ten years, the pain has never returned.
Not exactly a miracle, but proof enough to me that spontaneous healing is a reality.
What Dr. Weil does here, relying on his wisdom and experience, is to present a program of right practice, right habit, right diet, and right attitude (e.g., "Regard illness as a gift...a powerful stimulus to change...[an] opportunity...for personal growth and development..." p. 251) that will, he believes, greatly increase anyone's chance of healing spontaneously. (Chapter 17, "Seven Strategies of Successful Patients" is a precise prescription.) I think he makes a cogent and compelling case. And, as usual, his felicity of expression, almost meditative in tone and effect, is a huge plus. Weil has a gift for making the spiritual and mysterious aspects of our existence seem the very bedrock of rationality! Noteworthy is a chapter on "Medical Pessimism" in which Weil argues that conventional doctors consciously or unconsciously infect their patients with a reverse placebo with their negative attitudes. "Simply put: too many doctors are deeply pessimistic about the possibility of people getting better, and they communicate their pessimism to patients and families" (P. 59). He calls this "medical hexing" (p. 64). He adds, on page 61, "So-called voodoo death is the ultimate example of a negative placebo response."
Weil believes that the pessimism of the medical profession has its roots in "the lopsided nature of medical education, which focuses almost exclusively on disease and its treatment rather than on health and its maintenance...the word <healing> is used rarely...the term <healing system> not at all."
This last point, I believe, points directly to what is the central problem with conventional medicine in this country. Medical schools are too exclusive and expensive, preventing many people who would truly love to help others from attending. Their programs are also flawed because of a too narrowly focused curriculum that ignores the thousands of years of experience of practitioners from around the world. The emphasis is on the exclusivity and status of the profession and not on the healing arts. Dr. Weil, because he is a rare product of that system, is a man especially to be listened to. I consider this book a "quiet classic" that someday will be recognized as a catalyst that helped revolutionize conventional medical practice. At least I hope so.
--Dennis Littrell, author of "Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)"