March 8th, 2007

Books!

This started out well ...

OK, let me get one snarky comment out of the way before delving into this book ... in the section on Chinese medicine, this lists "the seven human emotions" as "joy, anger, melancholy, brooding, sorrow, fear and shock". I never realized how Chinese I must be ... a 6-1 ratio of negativity! Go me, eh?

Healing and the Mind is a book by TV reporter Bill Moyers, which appears to be a "companion volume" to a PBS series from the early 90's by the same name. I don't recall ever seeing the TV version, so I was coming to this fresh (if 15 years late). Organized in five sections (with various chapters focusing on interviews with individual doctors and researchers), it "peaks out" early, with the first three building a fascinating examination of "what causes healing" (including some amazing research on how intention and mental states can dramatically effect what's happening to the body on a microscopic level), but then "falls off the table" with a long "gee whiz, they do everything different there!" look at Chinese medicine (revealing little not commonly known to folks conversant with metaphysical topics), and then closing with a pointless section with two maudlin chapters looking at one small "cancer group" which offers nothing towards the thesis of the book.

This could have been a Very Important Book had it continued building on the first three sections rather than essentially abandoning the thrust built there to chase after "exotica" and "emotional content". The book initially makes a very potent case for meditation, ritual, and (by implication) things like hypnotism and shamanic work, and contrasts that with the western "medical orthodoxy". It makes me wonder if "political forces" came to bear to switch the focus here, as Moyers was getting very directed at some of the real under-lying issues with our Health services ... as an example, here's what Dean Ornish had to say at one point: "The insurance industry is really the major determinant of health care in this country - not science and not clinical experience, but what a third party will pay for." ... it was repeatedly noted that hundreds of people can be taught basic preventative exercises (focused meditations in the guise of a "stress reduction" clinic) a year for far less than the costs of a single operation, but still the money isn't there to do the prevention. Oh, wait ... how about we go to China?

At least the Chinese section had some focus on the mind/body issue (although Moyers seemed to have a very hard time dealing with the concept of "chi"), but the final section was either there to pad out a contracted number of episodes, or was particularly connected with Moyers. Both of the final chapters dealt with a small program where people dying of cancer get together for a few days' retreat, and form a "therapeutic group" which often makes it easier for them to deal with death. I'm sorry, but for a book that starts out showing how mental states can completely change biochemistry, ending up with two chapters of cancer victims singing "Amazing Grace" is just pitiful.

That being said, I still have to recommend this book for the first three sections, which are well worth reading. If you have no clue about traditional Chinese medicine, I guess the fourth section is OK, but just skip the last part, as it really ruins what starts out as a very good book! This does still seem to be in print (in a reprint paperback), but you can get "very good" copies for as little as a penny from the Amazon new/used vendors, which is what I'd recommend. My copy was from my Mom's place (still shrink-wrapped) and was no doubt left over from some promotion that our local PBS station had done back in '93 (given that it has the ISBN of the initial hardcover edition, but is a paperback with no UPC). Again, the stuff in the first three sections of Healing and the Mind is good enough to make the effort worthwhile, and since you could get a "very good" copy for $3.50 delivered, I'd say go for it!


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