The Future of the Body

The Future of the Body:
Explorations into the Further Evolution of Human Nature

by Michael Murphy. Jeremy P. Tarcher.

Michael Murphy, co-founder of the Esalen Institute, writes about human potential with the clarity of a scholar and the energy of an activist. The Future of the Body, epic in scope and many years in the making, is his up-to-the-moment summation of the state of human evolution, with special emphasis on evidence of extraordinary human abilities.

Some commentators have compared Murphy’s book to William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience, and amazingly this comparison may not be much of an overstatement. It’s been a century or so since James’ work was published, and as Murphy clearly demonstrates, a great deal has been discovered since then. He covers a tremendous amount of ground in nearly 800 pages, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this book survives as a relevant text well into the next century.

Murphy reminds us that “exceptional abilities develop most fully in cultures that prize them,” and he ranges far and wide, across disciplines and cultures, in search of powers and abilities that surpass our usual definitions of “normal.” As one might expect, he draws often from the wellsprings of Eastern yogic and martial arts traditions, but he also guides us with great artistry through the best of the West, reminding us that our culture is in its own way an equally rich repository of wisdom. Murphy’s lavishly footnoted compilation of scientific and anecdotal evidence in support of a wide array of powers is truly breathtaking.

This book is strikingly unique in its emphasis on two areas with which the author has great familiarity: sports and Catholicism. Murphy sees sports as a kind of Western yoga, musing in one passage that many of the great American athletes would likely have become yoga adepts had they been born in a place like India.

Many years back, Murphy first brought to public attention the metaphysical aspect of sports. His writing on figures like former San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie, who speaks with great lucidity on what are essentially paranormal states of mind accessed through deep immersion in high-level athletic competition, was well ahead of its time. Brodie and other kindred spirits appear in inspiring cameo roles in The Future of the Body.Regarding Catholicism, I was not fully aware of the rigorous procedures of documentation which have been pursued for many centuries within the Church, as part of its continuing effort to determine which purported miracles are to receive official recognition. Murphy provides a great deal of impressive evidence on “charismatic phenomena recognized by Catholic authorities,” including stigmata, telepathy, bilocation, and much more.

The Church not only accepts the existence of these paranormal abilities, but has developed detailed no-nonsense research protocols with which to organize the winnowing process. Few will read the chapter on “The Charisms of Catholic Saints and Mystics” without recognizing that we humans have abilities scarcely imagined by minds self-limited to the domain of the rational.

Michael Murphy has brilliantly performed a mammoth task, researching and cataloguing a vast amount of fascinating material. No brief review can come close to touching on all the major areas of emphasis. To his credit, he allots about equal time to the realms of body, mind and spirit, affirming that the three are indivisible. Every public library in the nation should have at least one copy of this book. If yours doesn’t, donating a copy would be an excellent community service.

Life Without Disease

Life Without Disease:
How to Control Free Radicals,
a Major Cause of Aging and Disease

by Hari Sharma, M.D. Veda Publications.

It is widely recognized in the scientific community that free radicals in the body play a crucial role in the aging process and in the development of the major and minor degenerative diseases of our civilization. Free radicals are now understood to be central to the causation of everything from heart attacks and cancer to cataracts and wrinkled skin.

Among the major research breakthroughs of the past decade is the discovery that nutrients which combat free radicals (vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene prominent among them) act preventively against cancer and heart disease. Nonetheless, the power of these nutrients is limited-when arrayed against pathological cells, they are helpful but burn out quickly.

Hari Sharma’s research on the traditional Ayurvedic herbal formula Amrit Kalash may herald a major breakthrough on controlling free radicals, with potentially far-reaching effects on the major killer diseases. Dr. Sharma, a medical physician who left his native India and its traditional ways for the high-tech lure of Western medicine, is uniquely situated to act as a cross-cultural bridge. Now Professor of Pathology and Director of Cancer Prevention and Natural Products Research at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, Sharma has found that the free-radical fighting capacity of Amrit Kalash is between 100 and 1000 times as strong as the best known anti-oxidant vitamins,and that its effects are much longer lasting. Dr. Sharma’s findings have been replicated at other universities in the United States and elsewhere.

Freedom from Disease is well-written and at times inspired. Particularly engaging is Sharma’s description of an international meeting of physicians, convened in India in 1987 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for the purpose of initiating research on Amrit Kalash. The formula, provided by one of the top Ayurvedic physicians in India (where Ayurveda has governmental recognition), was a combination of dozens of herbs, prepared in a specific manner involving hundreds of distinct steps.

As Dr. Sharma listened to what he considered to be a series of amateurish research ideas, he grew steadily more impatient. Finally unable to contain himself, he let everyone know exactly what was wrong with their proposals, and laid out a proposal consistent with the university-based research protocols he was familiar with from his work at Ohio State. At that point the Maharishi said, “Good. Now you should do it.”

Out far enough on the limb that he felt he could not say no, Sharma took on the task. He found colleagues at the University of Kansas Medical Center, the South Dakota College of Pharmacy, and the Indiana University School of Medicine to collaborate in his efforts, and together they and others have produced a growing body of high-quality research with revolutionary potential. At this relatively early stage, it’s certainly premature to declare victory and award Dr. Sharma the Nobel Prize. But watch for further developments-this one may turn out to be a breakthrough of high magnitude.

Timeless Healing: The Power of Biology and Belief

Timeless Healing:
The Power of Biology and Belief

by Herbert Benson, MD with Marg Stark,Scribner. 304 pages. Hardcover.

Herbert Benson’s research on meditation, described in his 1970s bestseller The Relaxation Response, proved crucial in moving mind-body medicine into the medical mainstream. Benson took a traditional Indian mantra meditation method, adapted it to a secular western format, demonstrated its effectiveness in counteracting stress, and then spent the next two decades spearheading an effort to include this proven stress reduction technique in hospitals and medical practice. His success at this endeavor marked a key early breakthrough in the late 20th century mainstreaming of alternative medicine.

In Timeless Healing Benson emphasizes the deep human need for faith, and explores what he finds to be a crucial role for belief in catalyzing the healing process. He offers telling examples of patients for whom faith was a crucial factor in their recoveries.

Benson also contends that “remembered wellness,” his name for what is commonly called the placebo effect, is a source of tremendous untapped potential in the healing arts, and should be consciously cultivated in the practice of medicine. He reviews the wide-ranging scientific research supporting this concept, presenting in terms accessible to a general readership concepts which once lay solely within the domain of specialists. According to Benson, the three components of remembered wellness are: belief and expectancy on the part of the patient, belief and expectancy on the part of the caregiver, and belief and expectancies generated by a relationship between the patient and the caregiver.

Keeping one’s beliefs positive is not always easy in an era when we are constantly bombarded by negative messages, particularly from advertising. As Benson puts it, “we harangue ourselves for not being perfect, for not living life with the panache portrayed in magazines or on TV. We adulate the firm-bodied, we exercise like zealots or wallow in guilt if we don’t, choosing diet shakes over moderation . . . we aspire to parent perfectly, to juggle flawlessly the demands of work and home, and to have marriages and relationships of unwavering passion . . . In this climate, it’s very hard to remember wellness.”

While no one has a perfect antidote for all the ills of civilization, Benson offers some helpful hints for reversing negative patterns. First, he strongly urges us to modify our addiction to pre-programmed information designed to manipulate us for commercial purposes. Then he suggests visualizations and affirmations, “not to deny reality, only to project images and ideas of something better for yourself.” Next, he reminds us of the healing power of humor.

Finally, Benson offers the following set of recommendations, striking in simplicity and value, offering with each a clear, cogent explanation: (1) Practice and apply self-care regularly; (2) Know your truth; (3) Beware of people with all the answers; (4) Remember the power of the nocebo (negative programming); (5) Trust your instincts more often; (6) Remember that [physical] immortality is impossible; (7) Let faith, the ultimate belief, heal you; (8) Respect others’ beliefs. Don’t impose yours; (9) Believe in something good.