by Dr. Isaac Eliaz
Does thinking positively about yourself and your external environment actually produce a noticeable and positive change in your life? And can you cure yourself of disease simply by affirming yourself to be healthy and whole?
Well certainly, having a positive outlook can alter your perception of reality—which can be beneficial—but does it actually alter reality per se? As an integrative physician, holistic healer, and meditation practitioner, I am confronted with this issue every day. In fact, this may be the most profound question in the age-old contemplation of consciousness within spirituality, philosophy… and yes, even science: What role does consciousness play in the establishment of reality?
There are many extreme views on this topic. On the one hand, Western science has traditionally clung to the dualistic concept that subject and object are separate, and there is no room for subjective (i.e., consciousness-based, or emotion-based) experience in the scientific “rational” observation of the material world. Taken experientially, this interpretation states that a human being is simply a passive observer of a reality that is imposed by a totally deterministic external world—in other words, our experience is determined by forces of nature that we have no internal control over.
The opposite view, held by many mystics and spiritual practitioners across the ages, is that all experience in this world is created by consciousness, and that all tangible elements of physical reality are therefore ultimately an illusion. Then there are many beliefs—spiritual, philosophical, and scientific—that fall in the middle ground, existing as flexible mediums between these two extremes. One such belief system, celebrated especially by the New Age Movement, is the belief in the “Power of Affirmations”—also known as the power of “positive thinking.”
When we make an affirmation, we generate a positive thought—but unfortunately, it often doesn’t result in a real difference. Why? More often than not, the thought is generated in a contrived way, and is not genuine. You may tell yourself that you are healthy and happy—but deep down, you might not really believe it. For many of us, positive thoughts comprise just a few thin layers that cover a multitude of suppressed negative beliefs generated by fear, aversion, attachments, and the like.
These negative beliefs can be both conscious and unconscious, but regardless of their specific location in our psyche, they are clearly the obstructing force in any real effect of positive affirmation on our reality. So yes, positive affirmations do work—but only to the degree that they are truly genuine, and that you generate them and sustain your belief in them from the deepest core of your being possible. This means being in touch with yourself, experiencing the true potential of your existence, and then being genuine to that experience.
So what is the deepest core of your being, and how do you access it? This is the difficult part. I like to use the metaphor of the onion and its many layers: Our deepest core is our true essence, and it is in no way separable from the essence of the Universe. When we peel back the layers of the onion—the layers of negative beliefs, distractions, fears, and so on—we can actually reach this core essence and rest in it, naturally and effortlessly radiating energies of love, compassion, and healing.
The deeper we go, the more layers we peel, the more access we have to our true essence, and the more genuine our affirmations can be—for this essence is simply pure openness and love, which is the true essence of positive affirmation. Often, and especially in moments of crisis, we can become more genuine to ourselves, and to our experience of existence—and this is the true opportunity presented by crisis. If we keep going deeper, and have the right guidance, we can start peeling into the depth of our experience, peeling back the layers that obstruct our essence.
Then, when the openness is there, love and compassion flow effortlessly as a natural expression of our true nature… and anything can happen. Lama Giatsu, who just passed away, taught me these three principles of Buddhist healing:
1) The Substance: The medicine that you are giving
2) The Mantra: The power of prayer. This is the affirmation.
3) The Wisdom (yeshe): This is the knowing of our true essence.
He told me this as part of a story how his teacher in Tibet healed all the yaks and protected them from an epidemic. The lesson of this story: When we touch our wisdom, our essence, the power of healing and change takes a quantum leap.
It is interesting to note that the traditional dualistic system of rational western science is beginning to give way to a more holistic view of reality, especially in the field of Quantum Physics. Scientists in this field are starting to discover the subjective nature of reality: that the influence of mind and consciousness is more—perhaps much more—far reaching than previously believed. In fact, a program at Princeton University called Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research is currently devoted to a range of scientific studies on consciousness-related physical phenomena.
Dr. Isaac Eliaz, a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine since the early 1980’s, is a respected author, lecturer, researcher, product formulator and clinical practitioner.