I actually started this post on Christmas Eve but somehow, preparing for our usual 15-strong, four-day Christmas whirl seems to have taken over… However, still not quite too late…
A few week’s ago I glanced through Ruth’s post on What Allergy? on the power of prayer – with particular reference to illness, or at least the recovery from illness. I was reminded of it when looking at her dairy-free mince pie recipe and thought that maybe Christmas was the moment to read it in a little more detail. Ruth reviews a number of studies examining whether people (themselves, friends and family and strangers) praying for the patients, either with or without their knowledge, was effective as an aid to recovery. It is a very interesting post, as are the studies that she quotes, and well worth reading – but inconclusive. Both they and Ruth herself found that sometimes prayer appears to work, and sometimes it does not. The only thing that is clear is that feeling happy and positive certainly does have a direct correlation with one’s ability to recover successfully from illness. So if prayer makes you feel happier and more positive then it too could be said to contribute to healing.
However, one version of prayer which neither Ruth nor the studies included in their review was Transcendental Meditation. Most 21st century practitioners of TM are interested primarily in the development of self and in the significant personal health benefits that it is known to bring. But the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of TM back in the hippy 1960s, had a far more ambitious vision. He believd that ‘stressed individuals are the units of a stressed society and that if stress is is allowed to build up in a society it will inveitably break out as high crime, social unrest, strikes, terrorism and war’. Conversely, if individuals can reduce their own stress levels, this will also have an effect on the society in which they live, and that society will become more peaceful with lower rates of crime and conflict.
He also maintained that if just 1% of any societal group were to meditate regularly they could influence their fellow citizens and the reduction in their own stress levels would radiate out through society with a significant lowering effect on the rates of crime and conflict in that society. The effect would be especially strong (and the number needed to be following the practice therefore significantly smaller) if the meditators practised an advanced technique known as the TM-Sidhi programme and were able to meditate in a group.
A number of research projects through the 1970s and 80s actually tested this theory and found that it did, indeed, seem to hold good. A study reported in the Journal of Conflict Resolution in 1988, for example, focused on an advanced group practising TM-Sidhi in Israel. Allowing for all variables, there appeared to be a direct correlation between this group’s practice and the quality of life in Israel over a two month period in August and September 1983 as measured by improvement in crime rate, traffic accidents, fires, the number of war deaths in Lebanon, and by increases in the national stock market and improvements in national mood.
Another piece of research (published in Social Indicators Research) ‘found a significant reduction in weekly fatalities due to motor vehicle accidents, homicides, and suicides in the United States (1982-1985) and Canada (1983-1985) when the size of the groups practising the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi programme at Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa, exceeded the square root of one percent of the US population, or of the U.S. and Canadian population together for an effect seen in Canada. During periods when the size of the groups were smaller than the square root of one percent of the U.S. and Canadian populations, fatality rates were higher. The use of time series methodology ensures that these effects could not be due to random variation, seasonal cycles, or long-term trends in the two countries.’
I quote this research not in an attempt to convert you all into transcendental meditators (although that might be no bad thing!) but to highlight the power of mind not only over one’s self but over others. If the concentrated attention of one person in a hundred can seriously alter the mindset of the other 99, why should the power of thought (aka prayer) not also be able to influence the ability of others to heal themselves?
If anyone wants to know more about TM check into the UK site at www.t-m.org.uk