Saturday, 31 December 2011


Our beliefs are spookily powerful. They run as sort of unconscious background programs (to use a computer analogy) in such an unobtrusive way that we are rarely even aware how much they influence our thoughts and responses to the events that occur in our lives. Paradoxically, we get our beliefs as a product of our interaction with our environment, our social situation, our culture (they aren’t “hard wired”)...and then we use those beliefs to create the filters that modify our experiences, affecting how we perceive, interpret, assess, and act on those life events.

Belief is rarely a conscious thought, but rather such a fundamental, heart-felt sense of what is right, correct and true, it is often difficult to imagine that others might not share our fundamental understanding of how the world works. Thus we have some people who believe it is best to save your money in case you need it later, and others that reckon if you’ve got it you should use it and enjoy it because you might not even be around later. You have some people who believe it is better to stand up and be noticed (be a tall poppy), while others admire those who choose to work behind the scenes without calling attention to themselves (don’t be a tall poppy). You have some that believe wrong-doers should be punished—‘’let ‘em rot in jail”—while others believe in the power of rehabilitation and redemption, and still others who stand back and refuse to judge another person’s rightness or wrongness, believing that is not their place. It’s funny stuff, this belief business.

Belief is a powerful theme in a couple of books I’m reading at the moment. I often read more than one book at a time, and sometimes I find myself surprised at how seemingly incongruous books echo similar or related themes, because I don’t intend or expect that when I pick them up. Such is the case at the moment.

Gregg Braden’s book The Spontaneous Healing of Belief: Shattering the Paradigm of False Limits examines the nature of belief from a scientific, quantum physics level. Frequently using a computer analogy, Braden develops a serious of belief “codes” in the book. For example, Belief Code 5: “Our beliefs have the power to change the flow of events in the universe—literally to interrupt and redirect time, matter, and space, and the events that occur within them.” It’s the seemingly little choices we make in our day-to-day life, based on our beliefs, that can have implications far beyond our personal lives. We are, according to Braden, “interacting with the essence of the universe.” The old butterfly flapping its wings in South American affecting the tropical storm in Vietnam.  We see it happen all the time: one person says something that gets someone else thinking about something else and then they say or do something they wouldn’t have said or done if the first person hadn’t said something, and then it gets carried on. Sort of like Chinese whispers. And things change.

Or Belief Code 15: “Beliefs, and the feelings that we have about them, are the language that “speaks” to the quantum stuff that makes our reality.” On a health level, for example, science still puzzles (but fully acknowledges) the power of placebo: if you think something will help you get better, it probably will. In a religious sense, it may well be the power of belief that creates miracles ranging from divine healings to stigmata to levitation.

Braden’s book is easy to read and interesting, taking an almost mechanical approach to how beliefs work and how we participate in creating our own reality. For a compelling example of applied belief theory, however, I cannot more highly recommend the other book(s) I’m concurrently devouring: fantasy writer Karen Miller’s Godspeaker Trilogy. In the first book, Empress, Miller creates Mijak, a world and society so totally caught up in a culture and religion of such violence and bloodshed that even the ancient Aztecs would blanch. In Mijak, godspeakers and warriors divine the god’s will through sacrifice, torture, blood-drinking, and total emersion in a bath of blood (or a pit of scorpions), and life is very, very cheap; it is hard to imagine that we could “buy” into this world based on beliefs so incredibly different from ours, let alone accept the belief structure and thought processes of the characters, and ultimately care about those characters, but we do[i].

 In the second book of the trilogy, The Riven Kingdom, Miller presents a new cast of characters in a  completely different society in Ethrea, an island nation that seems to come out of a 16th century fairy tale complete with princess, toymaker, old herbal wisewoman, and an evil prolate (who wants to put his nephew on the throne when the king dies and will stop at nothing to thwart our doughty princess). One could be forgiven for thinking they’d picked up the wrong book for a trilogy that started with Empress. Ethrea’s society is founded on peace, justice, sanctity of life, and separation of church and state: a belief system that couldn’t be more different from Mijak’s.

There is a connection between the two cultures, though, with the exiled warrior prince of Mijak, Zandakar, who joins the Etherean princess’s unlikely band of helpers. Zandakar’s presence in Ethrea provides the perfect vehicle for examining what happens when someone with a solidly-grounded and fundamentalist belief system comes in contact with those who have/use a profoundly different set of beliefs and values to govern their daily lives, decisions, and choices[ii].

A fantasy writer has the luxury of creating new landscapes, cultures, and social conundrums, and as readers of fantasy, we are able to take off the filtering glasses we inevitably wear in our own everyday realities and accept different paradigms and beliefs within the context of a story. It is useful to realize, however, that we DO see the world through belief glasses that filter what we perceive, how we perceive it, how we assess and judge everything around us, and that ultimately determine what we think and what actions we choose to take. It’s also useful to realize that other people wear different glasses. And although our beliefs feel “true” at any given time, and we acknowledge them as such, truth—like beauty—is generally in the eye of the beholder.  Our beliefs are just filters, and like any filters, they change and modify with time—occasionally in a dramatic fashion but more often by almost imperceptibly subtle shifts.

[i] Many years ago, I tried my hand at writing a film script, and I chose as my subject the (true) story of Boadicea, the warrior queen of the Iceni tribe, a remarkable woman who nearly drove the Romans out of Britain in AD 60. Writing the script was an interesting and enjoyable exercise, but ultimately I could not manage to make the central character a woman one could empathize with. Her world, I decided, was just too different from our own, with a set of beliefs and values that worked then, but are not acceptable now. My hat is off to Karen Miller who manages to do so with her Mijak knife-dancing warrior empress Hecat and her entourage, at least throughout most of the first book.
[ii] In the third book, Hammer of God, the two cultures collide.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A fire, and musings on the role of fate in a seemingly random coincidence

A couple of days ago, we went camping. Our favourite campsite alongside the Ruamahanga River is fairly remote and unsignposted but popular with locals who know about it[i]. Separated from a paved country road by a grassy stop bank[ii], campers and boaters remain invisible to passing motorists. This particular spot is popular over the Christmas and New Year summer holiday period, and there are often half a dozen or more tents and caravans taking advantage of shady  willows, picturesque river views, excellent boating, water skiing, and water play.

The last few days over Christmas this week have been sunny and hot. The farmer who maintains the land has cut the hay, leaving dry, brown, stubbled grass, both where we camp and alongside the road. 

In the sultry heat of mid-afternoon, I headed off on a walk along the stop bank. I had ambled along for some distance, and then dropped down onto the river-side of the bank to investigate an area of trees where high water had flooded around their roots, creating an under-forest-canopy lake—unusual and pretty. When I came back up onto the stop bank and headed back towards the campsite I noticed a thin tendril of smoke rising up from the grass by the roadside. In the couple of moments it took for my brain to register “fire”, the grass caught and flames licked up. “Fire!” I shouted, as I ran towards two women I saw standing on the stop bank closer to the camping area. They turned towards me, saw the smoke, and began to run back to camp as well.

I arrived back to our tent-site along the river breathless and gasped out, “Grass fire” and fast as anything we loaded our two big jugs of drinking water into the back of my car, and I ran down to the river to wet a couple of towels and the sheet I’d used to protect the backseat of my car from dog hair, and then I jumped into the car and headed back to the fire. By the time I got back to the fire, just a couple of minutes, the fire had spread from a few tentative flames to an area covering several square meters. Other campers were running with buckets of water hauled from the river. We poured on water and beat out the flames until all that was left was a good-sized patch of blackened, smouldering earth. We also found the tossed cigarette butt of the passing motorist who undoubtedly was the culprit.

Later, back at camp, the “what ifs” set in. What if I had not gone for that walk at that particular moment? What if I hadn’t seen that tendril of smoke and raised the alarm? In just a few minutes we could have had a serious, perhaps life-threatening fire on our hands—the grass was very dry and the fire spread fast. The roadside (and spot where the fire started) was invisible from the camp area, and the fire was right by the gate through the fence that was the only entrance/exit point for the camp area. We could have been trapped there with no place to go but into the river, abandoning camps and cars.

Like so many of these things, we’ll never know if it was just a coincidence that I decided to go for a walk at that particular time, or go in that particular direction, or be there right when the first flames caught. We’ll never know if the fates decreed that the person driving by with the cigarette butt would toss it at exactly a place and time where and when someone would see the start of the fire and there would be enough people in the vicinity to put it out. This country road out in the Waiarapa is pretty isolated, and there might only be ten cars in an hour go by, maybe fewer.

What hand does fate play in an incident like this? I felt no foreboding compulsion to randomly “go for a walk,” and it was the hottest part of the afternoon, so why did I do that just then?  A rationalist would chalk it all up to mere coincidence, but I dunno. And if there was an element of divine manipulation here—and I open-mindedly wouldn’t discount it—then how far ahead did that manipulation begin? Before I went for a walk? Before the smoker lit his/her cigarette? Before I went camping? Or is it all just one of those random coincidences? I dunno, but it’s funny stuff to think about...

[i] In New Zealand, camping in officially undesignated areas is known as “free camping” or “freedom camping”. The practice has a long tradition in New Zealand, but is increasingly discouraged as, without facilities, such camping can degrade the environment when people leave behind their rubbish and waste materials. Always, please, if free camping, leave the area at least as pristine as you found it and pack out all waste materials!
[ii] In much of American they call this a levee.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Reconnection and Dr Eric Pearl

In my last blog posting, I mentioned the rather circuitous journey that brought me to the book The Reconnection: Heal Others, Heal Yourself by Dr. Eric Pearl. In this post, I’d like to share a little about the book and my thoughts on Dr Pearl’s reconnection movement.

I found the book a fascinating and compelling read. Pearl, who maintained a thriving practice as a Los Angeles chiropractor for over a decade before becoming a practitioner and advocate of energy healing, begins the book with his own story: of a rather ordinary childhood and young adulthood punctuated with some extraordinary, inexplicable moments. His journey to figure out why these “odd” things occurred led him to some strange and unusual people and places, and ultimately transformed his understanding and appreciation of life, the universe, and everything[i]. A natural sceptic and entertaining raconteur, Pearl’s “you’ve got to be kidding me” response to many of these “woo woo” events and people had me laughing out loud, and at the same time appreciating his sense of bewilderment, wonder, frustration, and insight.

In the middle section of the book, Pearl takes on quantum physics, string theory, the multi-dimensional universe, matter vs. energy, the nature of vibration, and genetic coding, and how all of this applies to energy healing as he understands it. (Don’t worry—you don’t have to be a brain box to get the gist.) The final section of the book deals with the actual practice of energy healing, not only how he does it and what happens, but how anyone can do it, or learn to do it. Pearl explains that as human beings we’re not actually “doing” the healing, we’re simply acting as a channel for the healing energy to move through. At the end of the book, Pearl presents several easy exercises for developing one’s own energy at the vibrational level of healing, and offers suggestions for working with clients.

The book as a whole is easy to read, enjoyable, and inspiring, and Pearl seems down-to-earth and thoughtful with his suggestions and analysis. He wrote the book ten years ago (© 2001). I am less impressed with Eric Pearl’s current presence on the web. His website at shows him to be not just a healer but a whole industry offering seminars, trainings, conferences, CDs and DVDs, all claiming to be part of the process of “reconnection”, the rediscovery of our connection to universal forces, the elevation of human energy to a higher frequency, and the restructuring and transformation of our DNA. Even kids and pets are targeted in a sort of “This is so wonderful, why wouldn’t you want it?” online advertorial. It all seems rather “cultish” to me, and I’m not nearly so comfortable with that.

When—in the book—Pearl starts talking about channelings from Kryon (“a loving angelic entity” via Lee Carroll to help him understand what is happening with the healings, I start feeling like I’ve truly gone down the rabbit hole. Still, I’ll keep an open mind here. I DO have some experience playing with energy myself, and I DO believe that energy healing happens. Whether this guy is the new Messiah, I have my doubts. (Not that he claims to be, it just sort of looks that way.)  Still, he’s written an interesting and thought-provoking book that’s also remarkably entertaining and occasionally moving. Recommended, if you’re into this sort of thing.

[i] Okay, alright. This is also the title of the third book in Douglas Adams “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and the answer is 42. But that’s another story...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Of Connections, Reconnections and Play with Energy

The other day my friend Richard Bolstad posted this youtube link on that great social connector Facebook. 

The video is of an Indonesian energy healer whose touch is so powerful that not only does the patient respond with uncontrollable involuntary movements, but others in the room respond as well. Later the man demonstrated the ability to use qi (or “chi”) energy to set a piece of newspaper on fire. Filmed for SkyThree TV, it appeared that the camera crew, at least, found him to be pretty genuine. The clip has had more than 481,000 views, which in the youtube universe is quite a lot.

Of course when you view a clip on youtube, youtube gives you a selection of other clips on a similar theme that it thinks you might like. So I clicked onto a couple, and I found this one

In this video, Mark D. Meurs demonstrates a very simple exercise anyone can do to play with qi energy with their hands. Now I’ve been doing this one for years—nobody taught me how, I just discovered it on my own—and I was delighted to discover someone else played with energy like this. (Try it!) I was also caught by the background music Mark used in the clip because it sounded Hawaiian (slack key guitar), so I clicked into Mark’s website and discovered he’s based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but he used to live in Hawaii, and that’s where he first studied Chinese medicine, qi gong, and Reiki .

Now I haven’t been to Chaing Mai (yet), but I grew up with Hawaii not exactly as a second home, but I lived there some of the time when I was growing up, and my parents retired to Hawaii, so I’ve been back and forth to the islands quite a lot. I spent several months in Hawaii when my mother was terminally ill in 2004, and it was then that I first discovered Reiki, although I didn’t actually train in Reiki until I returned to New Zealand after my mother’s death.

In spite of the training (1st and 2nd degree), I’ve never touted myself as a Reiki practitioner. I believe in the power of energy healing, but Reiki just never resonated with me, and although I feel capable of using it to alleviate my own minor ailments—sometimes—I’m not convinced of my ability to make any discernible difference in anyone else’s health with it. What’s more, the secrecy and power symbols and all that just seemed a little too hokey for my grounded Capricornian sensibilities.

Anyway, Mark calls what he does now “Reintegrative Healing”, which apparently comes out of the "Reconnective Healing" stable. So I googled that, and discovered the “doyen” of Reconnective Healing seems to be a man named Eric Pearl. I’d never heard of him before, but his website ( touts him as “the world’s leading authority in energy healing and beyond,” and he’s clearly a bit of a showman, doing the rounds of American talk shows and doing stage shows and the like, and I'm not so into that. I like books, though, so when I discovered he’s written a book, The Reconnection, I first jumped over to Amazon to see what folks said about it. The reviews at Amazon were all pretty good, so I clicked into my local Hutt Library—isn’t the internet wonderful?!— and I put the book on request.

I finished reading Pearl’s book yesterday, but more about that, and Eric Pearl’s reconnection energy movement, in another post.

You know the ad on tv for The one where the guy says “So I followed this little leaf, and it lead me to another little leaf...” That’s what it seems like these connections are all about. Richard’s video link lead me to Mark Meur’s video, and the Hawaiian music in that made me click into his website, and my brain connected “Hawaii” and “Reiki” and “qi gong”, and also tallied in “Chiang Mai,” and that made me look for new connections on a healing energy theme. Now I’ve read Eric Pearl’s book, and it makes me think maybe it’s time for me to reopen the casebook on this energy healing stuff. I wonder why I didn’t discover his book back in 2004/2005 when I was exploring energy healing —after all the book is ©2001—but maybe this is just the universe working in mysterious ways. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to read it until now. Maybe this really is about reconnections. (And then again, says my earthy Capricornian internal reality checker, maybe it isn’t.) Anyway...

There’s one final connection to note in this story. Richard Bolstad, who posted the link mentioned on the top of this page, does an annual week-long course in Chiang Mai in qi gong and spirituality (along with partner Julia Kurusheva) every year[i]. I found out about it while browsing the net three or four years ago, long before I did my nlp training with Richard, and have been thinking about going ever since. Maybe this is the universe giving me a little nudge about putting it on the agenda for 2012.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

60 Minutes: Unhappy Pills

Last night on TV3’s 60 Minutes they ran a story on antidepressants. Titled “Unhappy Pills”, the story explored the link between antidepressants, suicide, and violence, and hinted at the unhealthy relationship between pharmaceutical companies and our health regulators. Dr David Healy, well known for his “we need to be very careful because they’re dangerous” stance on antidepressants, was interviewed along with a young lad who’d lost his mother and brother to the drugs, and a mother who had lost her teenage son. You can watch the video here:

Sharing the dark side of the antidepressant story has long been one of my most passionate causes. Earlier this year, I published my master's thesis on antidepressant use, called "Collateral Damage", which you can find here if interested: It is, of course, written in a style appropriate for a psychology thesis, which is hardly anyone’s cup of tea, but the first couple of chapters deal with the history and development of antidepressants (a fascinating story), and there are sections on antidepressant effectiveness, suicide, violence, side effects, and off-label prescribing (e.g., to children, pregnant women, the elderly), as well as a few asides about pharmaceutical marketing--before the reader gets to details of my particular research project which looked primarily at patient-perceived effectiveness, side effects, and withdrawal issues.

Probably the best, most readable, and most powerful book examining the role of psychiatric drugs and their marketing is Robert Whitaker's "Anatomy of an Epidemic" (© 2010). David Healy, who was interviewed on the 60 Minutes program, wrote of Whitaker's book, "In making a compelling case that our current psychotropic drugs are causing as much--if not more--harm than good, Robert Whitaker reviews the scientific literature thoroughly, demonstrating how much of the evidence is on his side--the case is solid..." and Nils Bruzelius of the Washington Post wrote "Every so often a book comes along that exposes a vast deceit. Robert Whitaker has written that sort of book. Scrupulously reported and written in compelling but unemotional style, this book shreds the myth woven around today's psychiatric drugs." I highly recommend the book, which is newly available in paperback from Amazon (see for the book and reviews of it).

These drugs are dangerous, and what's most frightening, doctors--in their ignorance--hand them out like sweets. We trust our doctors to make important health decisions for us. However, pharmaceutical companies--ranked the 3rd most profitable business sector in 2009 by Forbes--are far more concerned about returns to shareholders than they are about the health and well-being of the end users of their products, and they market their drugs primarily to doctors, who ultimately are just middlemen passing them on to users. (In the sex industry we call these middlemen “pimps”; in the illegal substance world, “dealers”.) Pharmaceutical regulators, as 60 Minutes showed, are all-too-often shareholders in the pharmaceutical companies they regulate. It is an insidious, nasty, and frightening loop.

If you are one of the 10% of Kiwis (or Americans) currently taking antidepressants, it is essential that you don’t toss them out and quit taking them “cold turkey”. The side effects of withdrawal—including the potential suicidal/homocidal ideation—are often emergent upon withdrawal, along with a whole collection of other nasties like nausea, dizziness, and brain zaps. The drugs must be weaned off slowly, ideally with the help of a supporting physician. I also recommend the excellent forum  Paxil is the US trade name for paroxetine, one of the most common SSRI antidepressants.

(P.S. On a completely irrelevant--to this topic--note, I can't figure out why the last three paragraphs are appearing in a white box! I've even tried deleting and starting over with a repaste from Word and it's still happening. If you have a clue, let me know! :))