How the College of Marin Course Came About
As detailed in my literature reviews, the findings of which are all in my book, the latest research reveals that if you make an effort to live the way the happiest and healthiest people live, you will optimize wellbeing and even health.
Researchers discovered after controlling for confounding factors, that when people have a sense of belonging within a particular community, they are healthier and happier than people who live more isolated lives. The differences in morbidity and mortality reach well beyond statistical significance.
Other factors include meaning and purpose, openheartedness, assertiveness (without aggression), a sense of control over one’s life (which can also be described as having awareness of conscious choice throughout the day), and authenticity.
Effort and determination are necessary in order to make the changes in your life that allow those factors to be in place. In working with my mind-body medicine clients, and more recently in my teaching, I came to realize that empowerment and self-efficacy are what motivates us to put in the effort to make healthy life changes.
Furthermore, empowerment and self-efficacy catalyze improved wellbeing and health just by acquiring a state of mind of self-efficacy. In other words, although effort is required, the belief that you can succeed, in and of itself, serves to improve results in all endeavors.
Therefore, self-efficacy and empowerment are the focus of what I teach. This is because they are powerful catalysts for success in every endeavor, including the pursuit of health and wellbeing.
The factors mentioned above, such as belonging, meaning and purpose, openheartedness, assertiveness, authenticity, and gaining a greater sense of being in control of one’s life are addressed in each of the seven weeks of the College of Marin course.
When these attributes are cultivated, we begin to relax into a sense of freedom and curiosity not experienced since childhood. This reduced level of daily stress improves wellbeing and can even improve health.
My Background Leading to My Current Teaching
There is nothing in the entire world more fascinating to me than the power of the mind to alter the course of illness, and nothing more personally rewarding than to teach others how to unlock the mysteries of self-healing with the mind.
My teaching has evolved from many years of training and personal experiences with many teachers. In the three years of training and getting certified at the Simonton Cancer Center, I was very influenced by (both personally and professionally) O. Carl Simonton MD, from whom I learned about the vast potential of the mind to change the course of life-threatening illness. I was also very influenced both personally and professionally by Lawrence LeShan PhD, from whom I learned about the potential of finding meaning and purpose to stimulate recovery from major illness. From Jeanne Achterberg PhD, I learned about the power of the images in our minds to improve physiological functioning, and how to improve health outcomes by working with self-created healing images. From James F.T. Bugental PhD, with whom I trained for six years, I learned the importance to one’s health of pursuing authenticity. Gerald Jampolsky MD taught me about the healing potential of attitude, gratitude, love, and acceptance. The certification training at the Academy for Guided Imagery helped me to hone my skills in teaching my clients how to access their own healing mental imagery.
My teaching is also influenced by my many years of working with people with life-threatening and chronic medical conditions at The Center for Attitudinal Healing in Sausalito, California and 19 years working with individual clients using psychotherapy, applied psychophysiology, and applied psychoneuroimmunology.
However, my greatest training has not come from any outside source; it has come from my own “inner work.”
This inner work has helped me keep my own health stable and to even improve. This has resulted in needing less medication and fewer medical treatments. For example, I have learned to use my mind to self-convert cardiac dysrhythmias to normal sinus rhythm, reduce a malabsorption problem that had caused very severe osteoporosis, and recover from painful and debilitating Ankylosing Spondylitis, and even improve my lymphocyte count. I have managed chronic arthritic pain by learning to access the opioids produced by the brain. Medications have worked better than expected, and with fewer adverse effects, and I believe it is because I always imagine them working well.
My daily personal practice consists of observing my breathing throughout the day as a mindfulness anchor. I also pay attention to my emotional state throughout the day, identifying the thinking that either created a particular emotional state, or resulted from it. I examine the pleasant emotions as well as the unpleasant; this helps me recapture the pleasant ones when I am not feeling well. In addition, my practice includes setting aside specific times to use my mind to effect specific physiological changes. Two to three times a day I spend 20 minutes engaged in a practice which has elements of both concentration-type and insight-oriented meditation. One of my concentration-type mental imagery practices involves imagining a specific physiological change, often utilizing very specific mental imagery in order to catalyze various healing mechanisms.
One of my other personal practices capitalizes on a conditioned response and placebo effect. I go into a focused, receptive mind state and imagine taking a medicine (including the appearance, taste, smell, and feel of that medicine) which has worked well in the past, and imagine it having the desired effects; doing this allows me to be able to get the benefit of the drug without the expense and side effects of the actual drug. At the same time, I imagine myself as vibrant and robust.
In addition, I practice the tai chi form every day. I trained in tai chi chuan, the martial art, when I was young, but today, my approach to tai chi is purely for the health aspects.
I work in partnership with my doctors, valuing their expertise and experience. However, I believe that I am living a full life today primarily because I practice what I teach. I would prefer to have perfect health. However, accepting medical conditions as a challenge and adventure gives my life meaning, purpose, opportunities for experiential learning and about the world of possibilities. Also, it is because of living this way that I have something to offer others.