What other things could they control?
Brain waves, blood pressure, heart rate, skin conductance, muscle tension, peripheral circulation, and respiration pattern and rate. Besides just looking at these individually, we fed all these simultaneous readings into a computer and looked at the relationships between them.
We were struck at the degree to which our subjects' patterns were very coherent—when one went up, they all went up. When one went down, they all went down. The systems that controlled all these very different functions were very highly integrated.
How does that compare to a normal person's response?
Non adept individuals were much more fragmented. Their heart rate would increase, yet their muscle tension would be very low; or their skin conductance would show a big change, but their brain waves would remain the same.
As though their different regulatory systems were out of touch with each other.
If the adepts were more coherent than normals, how did normals compare to people who already had illness problems?
I think it's mostly just a matter of degree. People who've become ill have gotten even more disrupted in their level of functioning. In this context, the adepts could be seen as people who were physiologically superhealthy. So, recently I've gotten interested in how one can move from a state of average good health—and all that really means is that you're going to get sick, grow old, and die along with everyone else of your age, sex, and weight—to a state of more than average health.
When you go through an annual physical and your doctor pronounces you healthy, that only means you're average. The really exciting question, and one that a lot of people are beginning to ask, is how can you become more highly integrated than average, in the way that the adepts and meditators certainly were.
Can you give an example of how someone might develop an illness as a result of the kind of imbalance you're talking about?
Whew! It took me a whole book to try to do that! What I tried to do in Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer, was to show how we move from a state of relative health to a manifest disorder. That's where stress comes in.
What we found in our research is that there are two kinds of stress, short-term and long-term. Short term we can take. That's the kind we share with every other biological organism. We react in a certain way when we're in a threatening situation.
Like when I came to the branch in the freeway on the way over here and didn't know which war to go.
Exactly! So what was your experience at that point?
Well, I realised I didn't know which turn to take, so I decided just to stay in the lane I was in. After I was past the junction, I let out a long breath.
You had a feeling of relief, of release?
Yes. The point was passed. Even though, as it turned out, I'd chosen the wrong turn.
That's what happens with short-term stress. You encounter a stressor, you deal with it, and then there's a period of relaxation.
Point 1 is your baseline level before the stress. Point 2 is the stress reaction that's been so well described by Selye (The Stress of Life). It corresponds to the firing of the sympathetic nervous system. Point 3 is the period of compensatory relaxation after the stress has passed. This corresponds to the firing of the parasympathetic nervous system. Point 4 is the return to baseline.