At a young age, while attending a progressive church with my grandmother, I was introduced to the idea that our thoughts can create our experiences. This concept was reinforced during years of weekly Sunday school and youth group activities. In my twenties, after graduating from college, I began to study this metaphysical philosophy, Science of Mind, in earnest. For six semesters, along with other spiritual teachings, we learned the principles that can be consistently applied to affect personal change, and then we practiced using them in our daily lives. One of the main tenets that stuck with me was the “law of attraction.” With time, it became clear that any time I said or thought something like, “I am not good at blank, I am afraid of blank, or I have blank condition,” my thoughts were aligning to create or to continue those experiences in my future.
After taking three years of college-accredited classes taught by our minister, the idea that thoughts can affect our lives and how we live them, both positively and negatively, was firmly ingrained in my belief system. These classes led to a life-long interest in healing and the connection between our minds and our bodies. From then on, I continued studying on my own, reading books by authors who had used the mind-body-spirit connection to create some kind of personal healing. In many of the books I read, there were threads of commonality with what I had discovered. I feel extremely blessed to have found the spiritual laws we were taught early on, so I could use them as a tool to create harmony in my life. I wish all children and young adults had a similar opportunity.
Maintaining awareness of my thoughts has been an ongoing practice, one I strongly believe worth sharing with others. Before I give an example of a time when I most needed these skills and put them to use, I want to say that I have also faced challenges when, even though I did my best to stay positive, for whatever reason, the results I hoped for were not the ones I experienced.
Looking back over five decades of practicing this philosophy, I clearly see one of the most profound times it made a difference in my life. In 1990, I went into labor when our son was just thirty-one weeks of gestation. There was no neo-natal intensive care center within a four-hour drive of our home. In my doctor’s office, the moment she started explaining what they would do to give me the best chance of birthing a healthy baby—first transporting me by ambulance to the local airport, then by medical transport UCSF in San Francisco—I began using the skills of positive affirmation and visualization I had been taught.
A lot of scary things happened during that next month, but I remained firm in my belief that my husband, son, and I would be taken care of. The first challenge was not being able to reach my husband to let him know what was happening (there were no cell phones then). He was eventually located and made it to the airport in time to join me before the plane took off. The challenges continued. The IV broke loose while they were loading the gurney into the plane, my blood squirting out on the interior. The medication I was given so our son would not be born so soon, didn’t work. My new baby was whisked away after his emergency birth before I was able to have any contact with him.
Soon after his birth, my son was placed in an incubator in intensive care. I was discharged a day later, but we had no place to stay. We had little money with us, no car, and no clothes for me. Once we found lodging, because my husband did not yet speak English, I had to venture out in a taxi with him to rent a breast pump. I was wearing UCSF sweats hastily purchased just a day after giving birth so traumatically. I had always lived in a small town, and this was downtown San Francisco. It didn’t matter; I was only thinking of our son.
The list of what seemed unsurmountable challenges was long, including our son’s breathing coming to a stop one night in the hospital. Through it all, I visualized a healthy baby; I spent my waking hours holding him, singing and talking to him, when I was allowed, and I refused to believe in another outcome. Now he is a strapping 31-year-old personal strength trainer.
So, when I discovered Joe Dispenza’s teachings some years ago, it felt like I had found a kindred spirit, one who believed much like I do. I have also found, like Gregg Braden writes in the forward to Dispenza’s book Becoming Supernatural, “. . .that when something is true in life, that truth shows up in many ways.” (1) Reading about Dispenza having used skills similar to what I had been taught to heal himself from an accident, I was able to understand how that was possible. In 2004, competing in a triathlon, he was hit by a SUV while riding his bicycle and fractured six vertebrae in his back. After consulting with several orthopedic surgeons, he decided not to have the high-risk surgeries they recommended. Instead, he used a combination of alternative approaches including meditation; envisioning a healthy, functioning body; and believing it was possible to heal himself.
In his book, You Are the Placebo, Dispenza recounts the methods he used to restore his body and his health after the accident. After he was well, he felt inspired to see if he could help others empower themselves to do the same. He travelled around the world interviewing people who had been diagnosed with serious illnesses and had then had rapid recoveries. What he found in most of those cases was a strong element of using the mind for healing. (1)
Dispenza is a researcher, an international lecturer, and the author of seven books. His post graduate training includes work in the fields of neuroscience and neuroplasticity, epigenetics, and mind-body medicine. According to the bio on his website, what most interests him is “. . .demystifying the mystical so that people have all the tools within their reach to make measurable changes in their lives.” (2)
My purpose in writing this piece is not to tell you how to make those changes. Read Dispenza’s books, take one of his online courses, or participate in one of his retreats for this. All of the above include his daily guided meditations that help create physiological changes for healing, both in the brain and at a cellular level. In his books, you will find many reports of people, many gravely ill, who were able to create new health, sometimes quickly using his meditations. My hope is to emphasize the point that learning to heal physical and emotional issues in this manner is worth considering.
Americans began to examine the connection between thoughts and experience on a wider scale beginning in 1952 when Norman Vincent Peale published the book The Power of Positive Thinking. Peale’s book made popular the idea that our thoughts can have real effects on our lives. (3) Then in 1976, Norman Cousins used laughter to heal from a potentially fatal degenerative disease and published the account in the New England Journal of Medicine. Cousins believed “. . .the human body is its own best apothecary, and the most successful prescriptions are filled by the body itself.” (4) Bernie Siegel, a surgeon at Yale University, later wrote that he found cancer survivors to be people who had a fighting spirit. “He concluded there were no incurable diseases, only incurable patients." (5)
The Mayo Clinic published two different studies in the early 2000s after following hundreds of participants for more than thirty years. One study showed that optimists were overall healthier, physically and mentally. (6) The other found that optimists live longer than pessimists. (7) Another study done at Yale University followed more than six hundred people over the age of fifty for roughly two decades. They found that “. . .attitude had more of an influence on longevity than blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking, body weight, or level of exercise.” (8)
Many of the people who have had success using the meditation techniques taught in Dispenza’s courses, books, and retreats were given difficult diagnoses. After they were told, at some point what commonly happened was they yielded to their fate as explained by the doctor and accepted the condition. Believing they were at the mercy of the diagnosis, they felt fearful, worried, and sad. Surrendering to an outcome without consciously analyzing it with a broader mind and a broader definition of healing made them more suggestible to that reality. (9)
My husband and I faced a difficult diagnosis twelve years ago when he was told he had a rare, incurable blood disorder or cancer. That first year, as we saw one specialist after another and considered possible treatments, we were clearly distraught. Over time we learned not to identify that diagnosis with him as a person. What that has meant to us is, whatever treatment we pursue—and over the years that has included traditional, alternative, and complementary treatments—we are determined not to see him as a sick person. Thankfully, his health has been good so far, so much so that we often forget his diagnosis.
It has been an unexpected journey, one on which we have learned to appreciate life and each other so much more, and one that continues to surprise doctors by how well my husband has been all these years. Because of this, two years ago doctors at Stanford began thinking he might originally have been misdiagnosed, although new tests since then have again confirmed the original diagnosis.
Similarly, the accounts in Dispenza’s books tell of people whose conditions improved, physically or emotionally, because they were able to stay optimistic, find joy and positive thoughts in spite of their diagnoses. They refused to fall victim to a worst-case scenario. This allowed them to see and create new possibilities for health.
These are some things I learned while reading You Are the Placebo:
* Where thinking is concerned, we are creatures of habit. We have more than 60,000 thoughts each day, and ninety percent of those thoughts are the same ones we had the day before. So, if we want to change something in our life, it’s important to be aware of what we are thinking. According to Dispenza, a new thought can change us—neurologically, chemically, and genetically.
* The conscious mind is only five percent of who we are. The other ninety-five percent is the subconscious mind—programmed beliefs and emotions tied to experiences from our past. The beliefs we have about healing are planted here, well beyond the conscious mind. So, this is the place where change in our condition can be more easily affected. The most difficult part is choosing different thoughts than we had the day before.
* We also often become rigid in our routines, which makes one day look much like the day before and the day to come. We wake up, shower, have coffee, start working, etcetera, until our schedules become more and more fixed. I can relate to this. Especially during the past two pandemic years, I have found myself getting increasingly used to being at home and tied to my routine. Dispenza says shaking things up a little and trying new activities at different times can be helpful to start transforming your life, because this change creates new neural pathways.
* Dispenza believes what he calls the “placebo effect” works because embracing new thoughts that you can be well replaces past thoughts you might have had about not being able to recover. The best time to replace old thoughts with new ones, according to his books, is when you are in suggestible brain-wave states. Here it is easier to access the subconscious mind, where changes in thinking, and then biology, are made.
* The two times most conducive to meditating are right when you wake up and before you go to sleep at night. That is because you are closer to the theta state, when you are half-awake and half-asleep. At these times, Dispenza writes, you are already primed for an altered state because you have just come from there or are on your way there. These are times when the subconscious mind is more open. In the theta brain wave state, you can more easily change your body’s automatic programs. (10)
This theory about when we’re most receptive to thought pattern changes makes sense to me. As a Reiki practitioner and teacher, I have had many clients who report relaxing into a dream-like state. When I receive Reiki from another practitioner or when I give myself Reiki, I also often get into a state where my body feels like it is asleep, but I am conscious. I believe this to be the theta state and where Reiki more easily heals. When I do one of Dispenza’s guided meditations, my body and mind feel comparable to when I receive Reiki.
In his workshops, Dispenza asks participants to set a firm intention in their minds (a change they want to see, big or small) and to combine it with an elevated emotion in their bodies. Expectation with emotion. To change a belief, he writes, you must start by accepting that it’s possible, and then try to replace negative emotions like fear and anger with positive heightened emotions like hope, gratitude, joy, enthusiasm, inspiration, compassion, and trust. Changing your level of energy paves the way for your biological systems to reorganize themselves and gives you every advantage for augmenting your health. (11)
Another topic Dispenza writes about is the relatively new and exciting science of epigenetics that is replacing the previously accepted idea that your genes are your destiny. Research in epigentics shows us that the mind can teach genes to behave in new ways. “Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. Epigenetic changes do not change your DNA sequence, but they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence.” (12) This new science postulates that the control of genes comes not from within the DNA itself but from signals outside the cell.
“Most people believe the common misconception that our genetic destiny is predetermined and that if we have inherited the genes for certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes, or any number of other conditions, we have no more control over that than we do our eye color or the shapes of our noses.” (13) Scientists inform us that many of the genes we carry have not yet been expressed. Our environment, including our thinking and habits, can signal those genes to either turn on or off. We only express about 1.5 percent of our DNA while the rest lies dormant. (14)
What excites me is the idea presented in the study of epigenetics that individuals can alter their genes during a single generation. Epigenetic changes can be inherited by our children and then passed down to further generations. “The reality is that you do indeed have some degree of control over your own gene engineering—by way of your thoughts, choices, behaviors, experiences, and emotions.” (15)
What I have learned so far about Dispenza’s work has piqued my interest to learn more. I’m now reading his book Becoming Supernatural. After reading Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, my son has been doing Dispenza’s meditations from that book for a few weeks, starting with the Week One Guided Meditation, available from Dispenza’s website. (16) He tells me he is already seeing his life and the world in a more positive light. We plan to take one of his online courses next.
According to Dispenza, the thoughts you think over and over form an attitude; attitudes become beliefs; and beliefs add up to become perceptions. All of this is stored in your subconscious. As soon as you set an intention to let go of these thoughts and embrace new beliefs, you’ll have all you need to create a new future for yourself. “It’s like hearing static on your radio and then tuning in to a clear signal where, all of a sudden, the static disappears, and you can hear the music.” (17)
Once we understand what is possible, we may consider another way forward besides docilely accepting our fate while hoping for change. Instead, we can commit to believing in a potential new future. We could even start to imagine that we have the power needed to make those changes. Once that happens, there are no limits to the possibilities for healing and living more positively!
(1) Joe Dispenza. You Are the Placebo. Hay House, Inc. 2014.
(3) Norman Vincent Peale. The Power of Positive Thinking. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1952.
(4) Norman Cousins. “Anatomy of an Illness,” New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 295, no. 26: pp. 1458-1463. 1976.
(5) Bernie S. Siegel. Love, Medicine, and Miracles. New York: Harper and Row. 1986.
(6) T. Maruta, R. C. Colligan, M. Malinchoc, et al., “Optimism-Pessimism Assessed in the 1960s and Self-Reported Health Status 30 Years Later,” Mayo Clinic Proceedings, vol. 77, no. 8: pp. 748-753. 2002.
(7) T. Maruta, R. C. Colligan, M. Malinchoc, et al., “Optimists vs. Pessimists: Survival Rate Among Medical Patients over a 30-Year Period,” Mayo Clinic Proceedings, vol. 75, no. 2: pp. 261-270. 2002.
(8) B.R. Levy, M. D. Slade, S. R. Kunkel, et al., “Longevity Increased by Positive Self-Perceptions of Aging,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol 83, no. 2: pp. 261-270. 2002.
(9) Joe Dispenza. You Are the Placebo. Hay House, Inc. 2014.
(13) Joe Dispenza. You Are the Placebo. Hay House, Inc. 2014.
(17) Joe Dispenza. You Are the Placebo. Hay House, Inc. 2014.
About Carolyn: Carolyn Chilton Casas is a Reiki Master and teacher. Her articles and poems have appeared in Energy, A Network for Grateful Living, Odyssey, Reiki News Magazine, The Art of Healing, Touch, and in other publications. You can read more of Carolyn’s work on Instagram at mindfulpoet_ or in her first collection of poems titled Our Shared Breath.