Larry Dossey's journey of transition from mainstream physician
to holistic medical philosopher was something he had no way of predicting,
and still finds to be something of a mystery.
The first in his Texas family to graduate high school, Dossey says that
when he finished his medical education, "I was as typical and orthodox
a person as you could find, akin to stage three anesthesia. I was asleep."
He served as a battallion surgeon in Vietnam, which provided the early seeds
of an awakening, as he witnessed the depths of the unconscious drives in
the human psyche, and the emergence of his own shadow. Shaken to the core,
he began to look more deeply at the world around him. In this he has persisted.
He later helped establish the Dallas Diagnostic Association, the largest
group of internal medicine practitioners in the city, and served as Chief
of Staff of Medical City Dallas Hospital.
Practicing standard Western medicine, he became intrigued by patients who
were blessed with "miracle cures," remissions that clinical medicine
could not scientifically explain. Searching for an understanding of the
interaction between mind, body and spirit, he developed a biofeedback department
at the Dallas Diagnostic Association, and started to study religion, philosophy,
meditation, oriental literature, parapsychology and quantum physics.
Dr. Dossey is the author of Space, Time and Medicine; Beyond Illness;
Recovering the Soul; and Healing Words. He was the first physician ever
invited to deliver the Annual Mahatma Gandhi Peace Foundation Memorial Lecture
in New Delhi, India.
In this interview with Dr. Daniel Redwood, Dr. Dossey discusses fascinating
medical research which demonstrates the healing effects of prayer. He also
points out the differences between directed and non-directed prayer, and
his belief that introverted people may need different strategies for prayer
and affirmations than do extroverted people.
Dossey has retired from active medical practice, and devotes his time to
writing and lecturing. He is the editor of Alternative Therapies in Health
and Medicine, a journal which debuted in 1995. He lives in New Mexico.
LARRY DOSSEY Interview
DR: What would you say was the major turning point in your medical
career, or in your life, which has led you in the directions you have pursued
in recent years?
LARRY DOSSEY: I don't think there was one key turning point. It was
a gradual development of a different way of seeing, and a different way
of being. It was an evolutionary path. When I got out of medical school,
I was as typical and orthodox a person as you could find, akin to stage
three anesthesia. I was asleep.
I discovered a body of knowledge in Eastern thought which influenced me
tremendously. I grew up in the South, and when the forms of religious thought
on which I was raised wore thin, I abandoned them, gradually replacing them
with other concepts over the years. I was greatly influenced by the tenets
of Buddhism, particularly Zen. I also discovered the mystical traditions
of Christianity, and the medieval mystics, who for the life of me I have
a hard time telling apart from the Zen masters.
I also had to come to terms with a personal health problem, classical migraine
headaches. That led me into biofeedback therapy in the early 1970's, after
nothing else worked personally for my problem.
This led me to explore further the mind-body connection, and I developed
and managed a biofeedback laboratory in my practice. From a philosophical,
spiritual and a personal level there were many influences in my life which
pushed me in these directions, but no one specific wake-up call or single
DR: Hearing you speak, I sometimes have the impression of your being
a professor of philosophy or one of the other humanities. Did you always
want to be a doctor?
LARRY DOSSEY: I haven't the slightest idea how I drifted into medicine.
I signed up in college as an electrical engineer, which lasted six weeks.
Because I had an identical twin brother who was in pharmacy school, I switched
to pharmacy, and got a degree. He and I both decided to get pre-med degrees
along with our pharmacy training, and I worked my way through medical school
as a pharmacist.
There had never been a doctor in my family. No one in my family had ever
gone past tenth grade until my brother and I did, so there's no tradition
of either medicine or of scholarship in my family. I just thought that physiology,
biology and chemistry were interesting. So I wound up in medicine without
really knowing why. I don't know how these things happen. It almost makes
you believe in past lives.
DR: Do you believe in past lives?
LARRY DOSSEY: If nonlocality is for real, which I think it is, then
past lives make sense. So do future lives.
DR: Speaking of nonlocality, could you define what you call Era III
Medicine, and how it differs from Eras I and II?
LARRY DOSSEY: Era I is good old everyday mechanical medicine, technical
orthodox medicine. Drugs, surgery and radiation. Era II is involved any
time we talk about mind/body events within the person. My mind affecting
my brain affecting my body, for good or ill. It's confined to the present
moment, it's "here and now" medicine, it's local.
Era III is mind/body medicine with a different slant. It's a collective
mind, a mind not localized to the brain or the body. It's mind possibly
affecting many bodies, across space. Mind that is not localized to the present
moment, breaking time barriers, as in the recent studies where people received
a message three days before it was sent. Temporal nonlocality.
DR: Could you tell us about that study?
LARRY DOSSEY: Sure. Era III is nonlocal medicine, with "nonlocal"
meaning that minds are not confined to points in space (such as brains or
bodies), or time (such as the present moment.) At the Princeton Engineering
Anomalies Research Laboratory studies have been conducted for a decade by
the ex-Dean of Engineering Dr. Robert Jahn and his colleague Brenda Dunne.
There were many experiements, but the ones that shows this nonlocality of
the mind are their remote-sensing experiments.
They had one person in Princeton attempting to mentally send a computer-selected
image to a person 6000 miles away. Frequently, the receiver not only got
the message in great detail, but received it in many instances up to three
days before it was even sent! This is mind operating outside of space and
time. Minds seemingly united, not totally confined to brains. This means
it's broken through spatial locality, and it's also broken temporal locality
with this inversion of the future and the present.
There is absolutely no way you can accommodate this kind of evidence with
a local definition of the mind/brain/body relationship. So you are forced,
if you take this information seriously, to make a model of reality and mind
that accommodates it. You're driven to a nonlocal model.
DR: How would a grounded, rational scientist, one who would disclaim
the possibility of nonlocality, reply to data like that?
LARRY DOSSEY: Let me tell you why I picked the term "nonlocality."
Over the past several hundred years, many people have talked about the mind
doing things like this. They have used terms like "one mind" and
"universal mind." Jung talked about the "collective consciousness"
and the "collective unconscious." I picked the term "nonlocal"
because it doesn't have as much metaphysical baggage and history hanging
Besides that, "nonlocality" is an accepted term in modern physics.
There are books written in that field explaining that the nature of the
world, at rock bottom, is nonlocal. Nick Herbert's book Quantum Reality
clearly shows that whatever model you make of the world has to be a
fundamentally nonlocal model. So physicists have made their peace with this
But doctors have had a serious case of physics envy for the past 150 years.
Thus, in speaking to my fellow physicians, I have felt that the best term
with which to describe the mind's phenomena is one already accepted in physics.
If it's okay for physicists to talk about it, I figure it'll be okay for
doctors to at least entertain the data and the concept.
DR: Why do doctors envy physics?
LARRY DOSSEY: A bad case of inferiority complex. In the 1860's, the
decade when Lewis Thomas says medicine became a science, medicine wanted
to embody the precision and predictability of the exact sciences, the most
spectacular example of which is physics. This not only true of medicine,
but also economics, education, psychology, and psychiatry, many of the "softer"
DR: How did your experience in Vietnam affect your growth?
LARRY DOSSEY: It was a phenomenal experience for me. I drifted into
it, not in a fully conscious way. I'm not sure I would repeat that experience.
I was naive politically about it. But after I got there, I learned a lot
about the Warrior archetype. I'm not talking about the "Peaceful Warrior"
concept. I'm talking about killing.
DR: Were you a doctor or a soldier?
LARRY DOSSEY: I was a doctor who had the worst assignment I ever
heard of in Vietnam. I spent 200 hours in helicopters. I spent time on combat
assault missions, carrying a rifle, a revolver, a knife and an aid bag.
I volunteered for much of that. I got involved in warriorship in a huge
My way of rationalizing it morally was that as a batallion surgeon, I was
not out to kill anybody, but rather to save lives. But I found myself volunteering
for patrols, missions, combat assaults and so on. How did that affect me?
It taught me a tremendous amount about the depth of the unconscious drives
in the human psyche, which aren't always very nice. It taught me a lot about
my own shadow and what lies inside my own psyche.
I found myself doing things that six months before I had sworn I would never,
ever do. It showed me that people can be overtaken by deep, unconscious
archetypal drives in certain situations, and that there are within us things
that in our rational moments we would deny to the hilt, but which we are
fully capable of. This is basic Jungian archetypal psychology. Vietnam taught
me that those things are for real.
DR: You have spoken about science pervading everywhere. Does science
LARRY DOSSEY: There has been a battle between science and religion,
because since Darwin, science has said that religion isn't science. In the
schools it's the evolutionary biologists who have the upper hand, not the
creationists. They don't give Nobel Prizes in religion. The honor goes to
the thinkers, the intellectuals. Back in the Forties, C.P. Snow wrote about
the two cultures, the literati on one hand and the scientists on the other,
noting this deep division in our culture. I think that since then, science
has become even more entrenched in the ways we think and operate. Look at
the fascination during the Gulf War with the scientists who made those smart
weapons that could go down chimneys. Scientists are adulated in this culture.
If you don't practice scientific medicine, you are not considered worthy
of being reimbursed. It's very pervasive.
DR: Do you see signs that there is going to be a major paradigm shift,
or do we have two tracks in which we are developing science to its logical
extreme, plus a simultaneously evolving alternative?
LARRY DOSSEY: I think the nature of the scientific endeavor is changing.
I talked about Era III research, and this qualifies as an elegant science.
We are beginning to focus on subject matter that science hasn't previously
seen fit to explore, namely what the mind can do.
It's created a tremendous battle line being drawn within orthodox science.
There's a famous statement from one scientist: "This is the sort of
thing I wouldn't believe in even if it were true." So even though these
new studies are scientific, they're so outrageous with regard to their implications
for reality that many orthodox scientists won't have anything to do with
As science changes, looking at different subject matter, this creates incredible
intellectual indigestion within traditional science. But it's data, it's
good data, and it's not going to go away.
DR: You tell a striking story about a study in which prayer seemed
to affect medical outcomes. What are the implications of that study?
LARRY DOSSEY: I'm not as enthusiastic about this study as I was when
I first discovered it, but it's still worth mentioning. It was done by Randolph
Byrd, in the cardiac care unit at the San Francisco General Hospital. It
involved about 400 patients. Half were treated with routine standard care,
as was the other half, but in addition the patients in the second half were
prayed for. Their names were farmed out to various prayer groups.
The difference in the outcomes was really striking. For instance, there
were no cardiac arrests or necessity to be put on an artificial ventilator
in the prayed-for group, whereas there were twelve in the unprayed-for group.
If this had been a new drug or surgical procedure being tested, it would
have been hailed as a great therapeutic breakthrough.
Nobody among the nurses and doctors knew who was and who wasn't being prayed
for, which prevented them from unconsciously giving preferential treatment
to the prayed-for group. When the results were in, it appeared as if the
group that was being prayed for was being slipped some kind of miracle drug.
There were no deaths in the prayed-for group, while there were three deaths
in the other group. Twelve people in the group not being prayed for had
cardiac arrests and had to have CPR, or needed a mechanical ventilator,
an artificial breathing machine. None of the prayed-for group had to have
that done. Twelve to zero - those are pretty good odds. Most people don't
read the Southern Medical Journal, where this was carried. But the
late Dr.William Knowland, a physician who could always be depended on to
weigh in and criticize any study smacked at all of the psychic, looked at
this study and said, "This looks like an excellent study. I think it's
going to stand up. It appears on the basis of this study that we physicians,
when our patients are admitted to the emergency room and to the coronary
care unit, in addition to our usual recommendations, should be writing orders
that say "Pray for my patient three times daily.'"
Still, this wasn't the best study in the world. At a bare minimum, what
you could say about the study is that it is very strongly suggestive that
prayer has a phenomenal effect, that it has a life-and-death influence on
people, even when they do not know they are being prayed for. This is good-old
classic, Caycean action at a distance.
DR: What problems are there with this study?
LARRY DOSSEY: It was a randomized, double-blind study, but one of
the weak points was that we don't really know the details on how often the
praying people prayed, or whether in fact they did their job. Also, we don't
know how often the people who were sick prayed for themselves. We can't
control that. It's also possible that the "unprayed-for" group
had relatives praying for them, unknown to the scientists doing the study.
This gets really tricky once you think about it. At first, I thought that
it was a really clean study, but the more I thought about it, that's not
I suspect, however, that if the pharmaceutical companies in this country
could figure out how to make money with a therapy that was this potent,
it would be marketed immediately.
DR: Are there other studies which support these conclusions?
LARRY DOSSEY: One of the best-kept secrets I've come across in the
past few years is an organization in Salem, Oregon called Spindrift. If
you look up the term "spindrift" in the dictionary it comes from
an old Scottish word referring to the fuzzy spray where a wave breaks and
meets the air. It's the interface between something ethereal and something
concrete, which is how they chose the name.
The people at Spindrift have performed experiments for over ten years, showing
the ability of what they call "prayer practitioners" to make a
difference in what happens in the development and metabolism of extremely
simple biological systems, such as sprouting seeds and yeast cultures. They
have measured the amount of carbon dioxide a yeast culture gives off to
determine how active it is.
One reason they don't work with human beings is that plants are much simpler.
You can count sprouting beans, and do it time and time again to see if it's
replicable. Beans don't change as drastically as humans. It far easier to
work with yeast, sprouting beans, wheat seeds and so on. So that's what
they have done.
They have gone beyond showing that prayer works, and have examined the issue
of which prayer strategy works best. They have tested two. The first is
a directed prayer strategy, where not only do you provide God, Goddess or
the Absolute with the diagnosis of the problem, but you provide the treatment
too. You say, "John's got carcinoma of the lung, so make it go away."
Or "Harry has a heart attack, we want to see it healed." This
is the kind of petitionary prayer most of us grow up thinking is the only
klind of prayer there is.
But then they tested what they call a nondirected prayer strategy, which
is completely open ended, and does not attach a goal to the prayer. They
have several of these nondirected prayer strategies. The most famous prayer
of this type is "Thy will be done." Another one they used is from
the Beatles tune, "Let it be." My all-time favorite nondirected
prayer strategy is the caption on the back cover of the first Whole Earth
Catalog, "You can't put it together. It is together."
One of the assumptions of this nondirected prayer strategy is that at some
level, in some way, at some deep level of reality, things are just fine,
perfect as they are. Over a decade, Spindrift has shown, and this is the
bottom line, that both methods of prayer work. But working with these prayer
pracitioners, they have shown that the nondirected prayer method is two
to four times more powerful than the directed.
DR: How will this information affect those thousands, maybe millions,
of people out there who are doing specific affirmations in order to attain
LARRY DOSSEY: One of the reasons I believe it's important to disseminate
this information is that in our culture, people are being subjected to the
idea that the only kind of prayer strategy that's worthwhile is the directed
one. With all the books out there on imagery, visualization and prayer,
you will be told by many that unless you make your imagery, prayer and visualization
highly specific, you might as well save yourself the trouble, because it
probably isn't going to work.
You will be told that you have to make your imagery and visualization physiologically
specific, that you need to know what your T- and D-cells do, that you need
to know the way your natural killer cells interact with other types of lymphocytes.
You may conclude that you need to know all the ins and outs of the physiological
process of the disease that you want to work with.
DR: So affirmations may not be the right approach for everyone?
LARRY DOSSEY: The great Swiss psychologist Carl Jung said that there
is a watershed in human personality. On one side you have the extroverts,
and on the other side the introverts. The extroverts are the people who
don't mind at all being forward and outgoing. When they formulate visualizations,
they don't mind telling God what to do. Introverts, on the other hand, don't
feel very comfortable dictating the terms. My wife's definition is the best
I've come across --"Extroverts are people who talk a lot at breakfast."
Most of the books being written in this culture on how to visualize,
image and pray are being written by extroverts. I think it's time somebody
took up for the introverts. If you're someone who is introverted by nature,
and you don't feel that comfortable telling God how to fix a problem, you've
got a lot of scientific data on your side. There are people who, when they're
sick, would just as soon commit to the Absolute, and go up like a jungle
cat, crawl into a cave, and wait to see what happens. On the other hand,
if you are someone who really needs to be aggressive, specific and energetic,
you've got data on your side too. Both approaches are successful.
I have corresponded with the people at Spindrift for several years, and
it's my hunch that they're all introverts. It wouldn't surprise me if that's
the only kind of prayer practitioner they've tested. If they had tested
extroverts rather than introverts, the data might have come out showing
that directed, extroverted prayer is the one that works best.
Don't get hung up and think that there is a formula you must follow. That
would be an abuse of this information, to attempt to prescribe how one should
pray, image or visualize. You don't have to follow what any authority says.
Do what's right for you! Turn inward and turn upward. My advice is that
when you pick up a book that says "This is the way," that you
close it, say thank you, and turn and flee in the other direction.
DR: I've heard it said that when a major paradigm shift spreads through
a profession or a society, it's not so much a question of the old folks
being convinced of the incorrectness of their thinking, but rather that
they eventually pass from the scene, and a new generation comes up which
accepts the new paradigm as a given. Do you have the sense that the current
younger generation is any more open to the new paradigm than were their
LARRY DOSSEY: Most of them are just like their fathers. However,
there is a different element, a different type of younger scientist who
doesn't have the same type of intellectual indigestion that his forebears
had. Max Planck, the physicist who invented Planck's Constant in 1899, is
famous for his saying that science changes funeral by funeral. The old generation
that doesn't accept the new way of looking at things dies off, and the new
generation comes along, looks back, and wonders what the problem was all
about. That's my sense of what is happening.
I carry on a healthy correspondence with young medical students all over
the country, and I've got a file cabinet full of their letters. They are
carbon copies of each other. These letters say, "I am in medical school.
It's painful, I can't stand it. Tell me where I can transfer to a school
where the faculty teaches these kinds of concepts. I'm in pain, I'm in agony,
and I want to do it differently." So they get it, and there's a huge
switch. There's a complete lack of communication between them and their
faculty. The faculty will never get it, but the faculty will eventually
be replaced by people who do.
Change never comes as fast as we want it to. It seems agonizingly slow,
but if you look back over the past ten to twenty years since I've been writing
about this, the change seems immense. But when you cone down right on the
moment, you can't see the change happening.
Daniel Redwood is a chiropractor, writer and musician who lives in Virginia
Beach, Virginia. He is the author of A Time
to Heal: How to Reap the Benefits of Holistic Health (A.R.E. Press),
and is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Alternative
and Complementary Medicine. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©1995 Daniel Redwood, D.C.
|Related Articles||About The Author|
Daniel Redwood, DC, is a Professor at Cleveland Chiropractic College - Kansas City. He is editor-in-chief of Health Insights Today (www.healthinsightstoday.com) and serves on the......more