HEAL: A Documentary Film Night Essay

As part of our ongoing film studies at Sat Yoga, we screened HEAL, a documentary by Kelly Noonan Gores which explores the power of the mind to heal the body.  This is Shunyamurti's introduction and reflections on the film. 

Heal is a documentary about new age approaches to healing bodily illness with the power of the mind. What is shown is valid and well known. For those who are new to this field, it will be very moving and possibly life changing—and even life extending.

But there are certain problems with the film due mostly to errors of omission that create a distorted and limited frame of reference that we should keep in mind.

First of all, there is little sense of the true history of spiritual healing. All religions at their core are approaches to healing the soul—through attainment of union with God or Ultimate Reality, or at least accord, resonance, and atonement. It has been recognized since the dawn of time that physical dis-ease is at its root spiritual.

Thus, the main miracles performed by the Jesus of the gospels are acts of healing, including through removal of evil spirits; and to the extreme of bringing back to life one who was already dead. These sorts of miraculous healing stories were common in the ancient world, and even today there are many spiritual healers of renown in all parts of the world, most of whom are doing their work in religious contexts.

The Raising of Lazarus an Italian fresco by Giotto (1304)

In the modern world, numerous secular forms of mental healing have come into being. The most famous is probably the work of Franz Anton Mesmer in eighteenth century France, who successfully healed thousands of patients using the power of what he called “animal magnetism.” Today, it would probably be referred to as prana or chi. His work was threatening to the medical establishment and he was forced into exile and retirement. The same thing happened to Wilhelm Reich in more recent times, imprisoned for his discovery of orgone energy.

Many people do not realize the long history of the therapeutic use of hypnosis, either. But it was employed in the British Raj in surgery—due to a lack of chemical anesthesia in the field—and resulted in better outcomes than doctors were getting from the same kind of surgery performed in London with the aid of anesthesia.

"Let us allow the wisdom, love, healing energy, and unifying presence of the Absolute to live through us." ~ Shunyamurti

Sigmund Freud was a neurologist in Vienna who studied hypnosis with the great psychiatric pioneer Charcot in Paris, and later he discovered he was able to use the technique to cure his patients who suffered from what he called hysterical paralysis.

As he deepened his research into the nature of hysteria, he discovered a great deal about the subconscious mind, which led to a change of methodology from hypnosis to free association, which revealed much more of the roots of trauma locked in repressed memories, the remembering and working through of which led to rapid healing of physical illness as well as mental disturbance.

The painting "A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière" by Pierre Aristide André Brouillet. This painting shows Charcot demonstrating hypnosis on a "hysterical" Salpêtrière patient, "Blanche" (Marie "Blanche" Wittmann), who is supported by Dr. Joseph Babiński (rear).

The field of psychoanalysis has deeply studied for over a century now the subject of psychosomatic illness, its underlying psychic structure, its dynamics and the triggering factors, and its treatment. But psychoanalysis was completely left out of this documentary. In fact, many schools of psychology and psychotherapy have been excluded from the investigation into healing explored in this film. That is unfortunate, because some cases of illness do require adept and intensive psychoanalytically-informed treatment if healing is to be achieved.

There is one line spoken by the narrator saying that the new age approaches being shown are more effective than “talk therapy,” as if there is only one type of talk therapy, and as if the approaches being shown are also not mostly talk. The question of what kind of talk heals was not very deeply explored.

In addition, the theoretical understanding of both the subconscious and super-conscious levels of the mind is barely touched. The focus is on conscious belief, faith, and intention. There is occasional reference to the subconscious, but not enough to give a full picture of the significance of consciousness in its total spectrum of activity and potentiality.

The film asks toward the end about the illnesses of infants and children, and wonders about the reality of karma, but there is no scientific investigation of that phenomenon, even though there have been many studies of the spontaneous past life memories of children and the documentation of their validity. There is also a great deal of information about the subject of karma in the esoteric texts of such traditions as kabbalah, alchemy, Buddhism, and Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Moreover, there is little mention in the film of homeopathy, a very successful form of healing practice, which allopathic medical associations sought to destroy in the U.S. for decades, and nothing about its theoretical underpinnings. But there is a good deal of information about the placebo effect. However, they are not the same.

There is a lot of focus on diet and other lifestyle changes, visualization, prayer, and energy healing, the reality and healing potency of near death experiences, featuring of course Anita Moorjani, and a particular, if somewhat primitive, therapeutic approach involving tapping the face of the patient with one’s fingers while having her repeat affectively charged sentences.

There is also a lumping together of different forms of healing, some of which involve only the transmission of energy and others which include psychic surgery of various kinds, a la John of God.

Only at the end does the film come to focus on meditation, which is really at the center of all the other methods, at least on the part of the practitioner. The explanation of the effectiveness of meditation is laid more at the feet of neurological factors than spiritual ones.

Alas, the film also avoids dealing with such more subtle aspects of healing as the intersubjective dimensions of healing work, the power of the field phenomenon in all the senses in which noetic, morphogenetic, and energy fields of various kinds are involved, the profound attractors that emerge as teleological factors in healing, the function of dreams and the power of oneiric work, the force of the drives, and the decisive effect of the Will of God. Of course, all the above are deployed in the practice of Atmanology, which for some reason is not mentioned in the film.

Despite the many omissions and the limited paradigm, this film offers a useful introduction to the reality of healing the body with the resources of consciousness. May it inspire you to go further on your own healing journey, and discard all limiting beliefs that impede your attainment of wholeness, healing, and happiness.




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