Law, Policy, Medicine, Spirituality, & Movies

In the Tibetan tradition of the medicine Buddha, everything becomes medicine. The Medicine Buddha brings healing, dispels sickness, and awakens the innate healing potential within every individual.

Yet, for everything that exists, its opposite also exists: yin and yang, good and evil, matter and anti-matter. If everything can be medicine; it can also be poison. On that theme, I suggested in Future Medicine that we apply Maslow's hierarchy of needs to health care regulation. Specifically, we would regulate all of health care, including complementary, alternative, and integrative medical therapies as well as conventional therapeutics, from multiple perspectives, ranging from those aiming to stem the shadow side of human nature, to those that embrace the possibility for transformation. In Future Medicine, I tried to show how much of regulatory policy is currently pitched in the former category (a/k/a "fraud control") and very little in the latter.

This post continues the theme that crafting regulatory policy parallels the evolution of the collective psyche. Creating legal rules for healing is a much deeper and more interdisciplinary process than simply writing a piece of legislation to solve a current problem.

In that vein, here: are a parable; some words on energy medicine; politics and spirituality; human darkness and the silver screen; and a bit about current archetypes in vogue. Let's tie them all together.

The Tale of Two Barbers

They say that Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, but when I was growing up, I thought my brother Daniel (whose celebrates a birthday this month) was giving Solomon a run for the money. We were both moving toward a slightly orthodox phase; although while I was in the stamp and chess club and reading science fiction, the entrepreneurial Daniel had a lucrative business making yarmulkes with fellow fourth-graders' names stitched, in Hebrew, on the pattern.

Danny posed this paradox, a koan typical of my younger sibling: "There are two barbers in town. One has a good haircut, the other an awful haircut. Which one would you go to?"

"It's obvious," I said confidently. "The one with the good haircut!"

"Ah," he replied with a wry smile, "but that one got his haircut from the other barber. You'd want to go to the barber with the bad haircut, because he got his hair cut from the only barber in town with any talent."

That mystified me--even though I had just written a poem entitled, The Aftermath of World War Three--and found in access to other worlds the answers I was seeking. But Dan had a point. (He would later get a master's in philosophy.)

Free Will and the Purpose of Energy Medicine

We have free will, after all, that was the lesson of Eden. (Recall that according to Adam, Eve, and the Serpent and The Gnostic Gospels by religion scholar Elaine Pagels, the serpent was an initiator of knowledge for our forebears, not a slimy, dirt-mucking adversary. The snake taught us how to distinguish good from evil--the primordial ethicist, if you will.) We can choose either barber. And according to Dan, the one with the good haircut is not always the one you want to cut your hair. Tuck that message, Dan's tale suggested, into some intra-psychic cavern of consciousness for future reference.

Speaking of barbers--the forerunners to today's modern surgeons--let's turn back to health care. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) includes prayer and meditation within the definition of CAM. This has been subject to much debate; yet, it is difficult to separate, for example, a tradition such as Tibetan medicine from its whole-system roots in Tibetan Buddhism. Medicine and spirituality are coterminous; and drawing from the analogy of the Medicine Buddha, everything in our environment can be used for healing (or its reverse, depending on our exercise of free will).

This is one of the themes or premises of energy medicine--which NCCAM also calls, "frontier medicine"--the notion that spiritual energy can have tangible effects in the world; that one's intention can be healing or toxic; that the mind-body connection is much stronger than a relaxation response, and indeed, may be able to facilitate physical health and emotional well-being, even at a distance.

As He Lay Dying

A few days ago, Arafat lay dying.

A few candid assessments of his legacy have begun to appear in the news. My meditation on his life is brief and to the point: the only question being, did he accelerate the evolution of consciousness, or the reverse? Was his a healing presence on Earth, or the opposite? Once one asks these questions, the politics are transcended; as I wrote in Future Medicine, "love is love and hate is hate no matter what the banner." From the perspective of energy medicine--an attempt to peer into things as they are, not as they are portrayed--words cannot cover up ugly intentions; slogans cannot disguise contempt for life.

I am not his judge. What I wonder, though, from the perspective of energy medicine, is this: can he now, in whatever state he is in, be able to review his life objectively? Because the body has now dropped; there are no more "Israelis," "Americans," and "Palestinians." Whatever the next plane looks like, it is hard to imagine that the physical trappings of this century necessarily accompany the soul on its continuing journey. (Read Jewish Views of the Afterlife by Simcha Paull Raphael--also discussed in Future Medicine--for a fascinating comparison of ideas found in the Apocrypha, rabbinic literature, medieval philosophy, and other sources to those found in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the writings of Ken Wilber and Alan Watts, and other sources. According to Raphael, once the body is stripped, with all its emotional entanglements, one becomes naked again--even more naked than embodied, fig-leaved Eden).

Many who have had near-death experiences (NDE's) write of the 'past life review;' the past is not really "past," if one reads Stephen Hawking and other physicists, since the thermodynamic arrow of space-time can theoretically flow backwards as well as forwards. My bet is that Arafat--or whatever that being becomes--now has opportunity to meet and greet all the people for whose deaths he was responsible. I wonder: will he still divide humanity into parts, or will he see the lives, souls, individuals, families his actions have affected? Will there be an impetus to work in a healing fashion in the next round?

Adolf Eichmann was infamed for having said he would "leap into the grave laughing" with the knowledge that he had been responsible for the deaths of six million individual fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters who were Jews. He did not get to "leap" into the grave; he was hoisted upward to Father Sky by the throat. And on arrival at his next destination, we have no evidence to conclude whether or not he was still laughing. Perhaps, on reviewing the effects of his time in the body, he would be contemplating repair.

Hannah Arendt's book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, held great sway during my adolescence. The title says it all. Eichmann was an unremarkable individual, except for his critical role in butchery of millions, and the fact that he expertly modeled the psychic defense of rationalization. According to later scholars, such an individual has managed to feed, live off, the demon of psychic numbing, or perhaps that demon lived off him.

And we know from psychological theories of projection, and shadow consciousness, that the same evil (condemnable as it is) we despise in others may also live in all of us--and so may the good that we idealize in figures such as Gandhi or Mother Teresa. To paraphrase a Native American parable, two barbers live within us: one a surgeon, the other a butcher. "Which one is greater," the child asks? The elder answers: "whichever one you feed."

(Digression: This parable in its original form was on the door to the Center for Psychology and Social Change (now the John E. Mack Institute) when I first visited John Mack, MD in 2003. On reading the story, I knew part of me had found home). In any event, today that parable gives me a way to frame Arafat's death. He too, was part of the great chain of good and bad medicine, in the word's most inclusive sense.

Medicine Buddha on the Silver Screen

With the "spiritual cinema" movement, director Stephen Simon (What Dreams May Come) is highlighting the spiritual aspects of film. This effort has the potential to deepen appreciation of the medicinal aspects of movies: they too can accelerate consciousness or intensify devolution.

I find most contemporary film reviews flat, as uni-dimensional as much political commentary. Everything is divided into good and bad (imitating the serpent), with an aim to persuade the reader to adopt one pole or another, one part of the polarity to the exclusion of the other.

One editorial recently lambasted a particular Hilary Duff film as a waste of time. I happened to be waiting in a long line at the video store while Duff's remake of Cinderella was playing. I am no Duffite, but was curious to see that today's Prince charms his mate through text messaging. Films educate on more than one level of consciousness.

Yet, the anti-healing aspects of film are less obvious than their medicinal potential, since our threshold for violence appears to climb steadily higher. The two barbers are there, text and subtext ... and the phrase "copycat murders" has strangely entered our vocabulary. Sadism is no longer merely "banal"--in some films, it becomes fashionable.

There was a scene in Batman, some years ago, in which the bad guy enters a restaurant and gasses everyone. People are trapped and they asphixiate. Sound familiar, Zyklon-B stockholders? What was remarkable about the scene was the delight and guilty pleasure of collective sadism (a shared energy in the movie house) the graphic images seemed to invite: one image showed a man on his back, legs in the air like a deceased insect, with a funny expression on his face.

I never like the expression "dead bug pose" in yoga; I much prefer "happy baby pose." Something seems awry in humanity, when seeing or describing poses of death gives other humans pleasure.

The extras in Batman are dead, funnily asphyxiated, humorously butchered, mockingly dispatched mid-meal. We are titillated by the details of their gassing and find ourselves laughing at their unnatural death poses, their comical dead bug poses.

It's getting darker still.

Healing Carnage: Light and Shadows of Consciousnessness

"If you liked the beheadings in Iraq, you'll love Shaun of the Dead." I wanted to put this as the title of a post, but realized it was too controversial. Who needs negative mail? So it is buried here in the middle of the road. Still, some readers will take offense. To those I apologize for any inconvenience, and let me be clear: I am honoring the dead, honoring humanity, by attempting to shed light on its--our--darkness.

Shaun had some good barbs, humorous pokes at the social structure, and this is what the rave reviews emphasized. But they completely overlooked the consciousness barometer of the project. My measure is inevitably subjective; but even in the subjective, one can find truth. As with Batman, I quickly began feeling my inner ethical apparatus irrevocably compromised. The place where I could no longer tolerate my growing discomfort was the place in the film when Shaun and his buddy realize the Dead have taken over the English streets, turn to the news channel for more information, and learn that the only way to stop these undead is to behead them.

This sudden infiltration of contemporary horror into a dark comedy amazed me: the brazenly embedding of a newscaster discussing beheading as a survival tool. The film was out about the same week that the beheadings by fundamentalists in Iraq had begun making headlines. My visual cortex had barely absorbed the day's newspaper images of executions when it was suddenly grappling with Shaun and buddy, digging through their old vinyl records, looking for a suitable title with which to lop off the head of an undead in the driveway. I decided enough had gone into my subconscious. The crazy thing was, people loved it. The same people who were glued to their television sets, horrified by the beheadings in Iraq, now laughed deliciously, en masse, at the mock beheadings on-screen.

I am not against "dark humor." Humor plays a useful role in our civilization: read Freud. But I did not think I wanted to face any of those people in the popcorn line again.

A few months earlier I sat through all of The Ladykillers. Like Shaun, this film ventured into sickness. I laughed, uncomfortably, but laughed nonetheless, because everyone was laughing. It was the mass psychology of the "laugh track," so prevalent on television sitcoms. Part of me realized it was sick, but then, wasn't everyone else laughing? Why did I have to be so stiff? The inner debate cycled during the movie, and when it was all over, I felt betrayed and disappointed.

No doubt all the archetypes were present in the movie house, people having soul memories of torturing and being tortured. Was it nervous laughter, perhaps some deep recognition crawling up from some interpsychic cavern? Torturers and tortured sometimes laugh together: there are those who laughed nervously and those who laugh because they have to, because not to laugh means being excluded, and that could mean death. There are associations between history and imagination, documentaries and film, reporting and visualizing; physical and psychic reality. It is a whole cloth, what we take in through the eyes and ears and hands and nostrils and other perceptual apparatus, and as well what we put out, whether on physical or psychical channels.

Watching four bodies in Ladykillers flung--with excruciating humor--into a garbage barge floating on the river--was enough; then, one of the final images in this popular comedy was of one of the main characters being hung on the bridge. This was the same week the papers had photographs of hooded Americans being hung on a bridge in Iraq. It was an odd parallel that nobody seemed to notice--and again, that horrifying laughter; and the prospect of meeting and greeting in banal conversations by the popcorn machine in the company of anonymous sadism.

Enough said--Buddha is as Buddha does. My task is not to lecture, but to process perceptions and if they are different than mass consciousness, so be it. If I can leverage consciousness I am doing my part to help transform our species. To heal the world is to reclaim it for wholeness, and to take law and policy concerning medicine respectfully is to understand that basic notions of dignity permeate ideals of who we are; that there is evolution and devolution; that twisted distortions of consciousness have to be explicitly identified before essence can emerge; that facing shadow is part of living the light.