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Lions Roar : March 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2008 91 nity of Roseto, Pennsylvania, in the 1960s, a story that lends homespun credence to car- diac health expert Dr. Dean Ornish’s 1998 book, Love & Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy. Harrington concludes the “positive think- ing” narrative with a connection that feels at once revelatory and carefully reasoned: the phenomena of the Lourdes healings came to medical fruition in the placebo (meaning “I shall please” in Latin) effect. She points to dramatic evidence that placebos produce “real” effects from an early 1990s controlled trial of arthroscopic knee surgery. Half of the participants underwent the usual procedure, while the other half had their knees opened and closed without any therapeutic cutting or scraping. The placebo group got better and stayed better, even after being told that they had not had “real” surgery. Placebo, she suggests, seems to be “the faith cure of our time and indeed the key to making sense of all faith cures, past and present.” Harrington is clearly at home with the placebo effect. Indeed, it was the subject of her first deep foray into mind–body medicine. In the 1990s, as a member of a MacArthur Foundation research team commissioned to study mind–body interactions, Harrington received the group’s go-ahead to do a literature review of placebo, and subsequently edited The Placebo Effect: An Interdisciplinary Inquiry (Harvard University Press, 1997). It was lauded by the New England Journal of Medicine as important for researchers “involved in all aspects of clinical pharmacology and therapeutics.” Among Harrington’s six narratives, “Eastward Journeys” is es- pecially compelling, because it is on fast-forward right now. As Harrington writes, “ There is perhaps no other place in contem- porary American mind–body medicine where extraordinary per- sonalities and high-profile moments dominate like they do here; no other place where questions about cultural significance— rather than just scientific and medical validity—matter more.” Indeed, who would have thought that twenty-first century Western neuroscientists and the Dalai Lama would be discuss- ing the potential of Buddhist practices to enhance well-being, and collaborating in efforts to determine the effect of meditation on brain function and structure? Laying the groundwork for these conversations, Harrington notes, was the 1970s medicalization of transcendental meditation, and then of vipassana, or mind- fulness mediation, reflected in Dr. Herbert Benson’s TM-based relaxation response and Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s highly successful, vipassana-based Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at UMass Medical School. Harrington is perfectly positioned to re- flect on the current East–West mind–body dialogues. She served as a panelist in the first U.S. meeting of neuroscientists with the Dalai Lama, at MIT in 2003, and was co-editor of The Dalai Lama at MIT, the volume reporting on the two-day meeting. Also in this chapter is a satisfying dose of the international politics of mind–body medicine. Those of us old enough to re- member President Nixon’s diplomatic missions to Peking in the early 1970s may also recall that New York Times columnist James dilfiii Reston’s emergency appendectomy in a Chinese hospital was big news too. Reston, in Peking to cover the proceedings, consented to acupuncture treatment for post-surgical pain, and after returning to the U.S. he wrote a front-page article delightfully titled, “Now, Let Me Tell You about My Appendectomy in Peking.” A flurry of American interest in traditional Chinese medicine was set in motion. But if acupuncture was catalytic, Harrington reminds us that it doesn’t belong in the smorgasbord of mind– body medicine interventions, because the patient’s mind is not a key component. Reston simply cooperated while the acupunc- turist inserted the needles of his profession into select merid- ians to mobilize the mysterious pain-quelling energy called qi. (Qigong, on the other hand, does fall under the rubric of mind– body medicine, because the student or patient practices directing his or her qi through mental concentration and choreographed body movements, under the supervision of a teacher or healer.) Curiously, had Reston been stricken with appendicitis in Chi- na before the mid 1950s, his doctors would not have encouraged acupuncture. We learn from Harrington that in the early 1900s, the Chinese government began eschewing traditional medicine in favor of educating people about germ theory, in an effort to control the spread of infectious disease. At mid-century, Mao Tse-Tung was calling traditional healers “circus entertainers, snake oil salesmen, and street hawkers” (descriptions that have a contemporary, Western allopathic ring). In the mid-1950s, how- ever, Mao did an about-face and designated traditional Chinese medicine as “a national treasure... a grand cache of knowledge that we should actively bring to light and further evolve.” It was all about politics, Harrington explains. Mao wanted to get out from under the ideological and economic dominion of the Soviet Union, which was providing China with most of its medical sup- plies and training the majority of its doctors. Also in “Eastward Journeys,” an edgier-than-elsewhere Har- rington takes Westerners to task for looking to the East “to func- tion as our Other.” This “exoticizing and patronizing” mindset was reflected in sixteenth-century missionaries’ and colonialists’ accounts of “bizarre yogis” and “indolent opium eaters,” and per- sists in the modern romanticizing of Eastern wisdom and ancient traditions as the cure for our harried Western culture. A dramatic illustration is her depiction of the bedazzled followers of the prof- iteering Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Indian TM guru of the 1960s who was first popularized in the West by the Beatles. Behind Har- rington’s critique is a deeply felt hope for a fully authentic en- counter with the East, one that acknowledges ancient healers and wise teachers not as exotics but as real people, “who come from countries with histories at least as complex as our own.” Harrington’s narratives are so seamless they appear to have sprung forth fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, al- though a mammoth bibliography indicates otherwise. Harrington demonstrates a remarkable ability to hold the long view, while keeping in mind the far-flung parts of the history of mind–body medicine. With Harrington leading the expedition, readers can see the forest and the trees. At the conclusion of the book, you will MAR 78-107.indd 91 MAR 78-107.indd 91 12/19/07 2:43:38 PM 12/19/07 2:43:38 PM