Scientists in the Netherlands have just proved one of quantum theory’s fundamental claims: that objects separated by great distance instantaneously affect each other’s behaviour. Non-local experiments such as this have been going on since the 1970’s as well as experiments to record, photograph and measure the effects of attitude and feeling on water and plants – even at a distance. The Institute of Heart Math in the United States has conducted numerous experiments exploring the electrophysiology of intuition as well as research into heart-brain communication and its relationship to managing stress, increasing coherence and deepening the connection to self and others.
This new experiment, conducted by physicists at the Dutch university’s Kavli Institute of Nanoscience, seems to lend even more credence to the quantum world that is made up from subatomic particles, a world where matter takes form only after being observed and measured.
This creating of matter through observation corroborates the viewpoint embodied in modern psychology: that we affect our reality and that the focus of our attention, our thoughts and behaviour determines what we experience.
Thanks to the culture in which I grew up, I became well-versed in half-formed ‘philosophies’, through old sayings that wafted, without elaboration or scientific qualification into every-day life. One of the earliest I heard as a young child, “mocking is catching”, meant that if any of us was wont to mimic a neighbour’s eccentric trait or impediment – or if we pretended to have a headache to avoid school or chores, the affliction that we copied or the malady that we feigned would manifest for real – if not immediately, then at some point in the not-too-distant future. “What goes round comes around” was linked to some misdemeanour or crime, when, with a hint of glee amongst observers, the perpetrator would get his/her ‘come-uppance’. Akin to ‘mocking is catching’ and the closest to the notion of a self-generated affliction was the warning, “be careful what you wish for because, as sure as God, you’ll get it”. In my early twenties, I met my first disturbing example.
“How are you?” I asked as I sat on the edge of the voluminous brass bed and took her hand. The tiny, gaunt figure of my aunt propped against a mound of pillows and swathed in blankets and eiderdown was like a doll. “I’m here trying to die,” she answered, matter-of-factly. Following the death of her husband a year earlier, she had been taken in by her two sisters and for months had been nursed, despite her protests and her refusal to take her medication, from sickness and malnutrition back to glowing health. But she was having none of it. Realising that she would soon be fit enough to return to a home filled with reminders of a lifetime of poverty and hardship, and to a son lost to the curse of alcoholism, she fell ill again. “That’s like having a death wish,” I blurted to my mother. “How dare you!” was the response. My aunt died peacefully a few days later. I vowed to keep my views to myself from then on – and failed, incurring more wrath in the years to come from the woman who had, on many an occasion, warned me to ‘be careful what I wished for’. However, having had the privilege of attending quite a few as they breathed their last, I have come to acknowledge and accept that in all cases, regardless of age, they, as my father used to say, ‘had their time done’. I have also learned much about my own ability – and lack of ability – to deal with stress in the past and how to prevent it from becoming a chronic feature of my life in the present. It’s not about the amount of years that I live, but the quality of those years – the quality that I choose to create.
At a fundamental level, changing the quality seems straightforward: change the diet, take more exercise and pamper yourself have become the modern-day guidelines for living. Reaching deeper levels of change is a bigger challenge.
“‘I should’, ‘I shouldn’t’, ‘you should’, ‘you shouldn’t’, ‘I want’, ‘I need’– these unquestioned thoughts distort the appearance of the good that is as common as grass. Reality won’t wait for your consent. It will remain just as it is, pure goodness, whether or not you understand.” –Byron Katie.
My sphere of existence throbbed with ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ and, growing up in a tumult of incongruities between the ‘philosophies’ that people quoted and how people behaved, I wondered what to believe or how to conduct my life. Over time, I learned a lot, beginning with the basics: how to make choices that were not based on lack of knowledge and/or lack of guidance, not pandering, against my better judgement, to the wishes of others, or being too available for employment that paid less than the going rate elsewhere. I had a tendency to forget the goodness and had to excavate for memories of positives: Santa Claus very kindly delivering the items specified on my Christmas list, fun and laughter; achieving good grades in school. Grown-up wishes were fulfilled too, for heaven’s sake: places where I wanted to live, cars that I liked that were suddenly and unexpectedly within reach. However, many of these manifestations had strings attached; cars often needed expensive repair jobs, (with the exception of two, all were second, third or fourth-hand). Somehow, I wasn’t getting the formula right. Nevertheless, innate assets that had served me well, despite myself, resurrected themselves: stoicism, endurance, humour, gratefulness and the ability to survive on very little. There were times when I amazed myself.
In 2005, suddenly feeling on the point of collapse and with a fever, a rapidly-swelling throat, unable to swallow, barely able to speak and unable to drive to the local GP, I called the practice. I was advised to call the care-doc, as the practice was about to close at 5 p.m. I called the number and left my name and number on her voicemail. Within five minutes I received a call from the practice, reprimanding me for calling the care-doc before 5 p.m.! Three days later, the practice phoned to apologise for a ‘misunderstanding’ and offered a free consultation. I agreed to speak with a doctor. “Strep-throat,” he informed me. “Come down immediately!” By then, sheer doggedness had brought me to partial recovery but I was still not feeling up to driving. I explained my dilemma and was advised to call – the care-doc. After another two or three days I had recovered fully – without medical intervention. While I am grateful for the opportunity to haul myself through a serious infection on my own, I will, having now registered with a new GP practice, be very happy to avail of medical treatment, if I ever find myself in that situation again.
Stress is normal; we need some stress to function. But the effects of chronic stress on our physiology are well documented and accepted – with emphasis on problems that arise when stress becomes a feature of daily life. Nonstop, low-grade stress contributes directly to physical deterioration, adding to the risk of serious illness. Even recovery from illness becomes harder.
In the weeks prior to the onset of my strep-throat, I forgot all that I had learned about managing stress. Coming to the end of a work contract which had involved a lot of travelling, long working days and constant worry that with rent to pay and a son in college, I would have no income when the contract ended. The worry had increased significantly as my final working weeks flew by. On the last Friday in March, I returned the company car and collected my cessation paperwork from Admin. Over the weekend, I was tired, listless and full of aches. By 4.30 p.m. on Monday, I knew I was in trouble. I had clocked up a lot more than mileage.
With the benefit of hindsight, meeting people that have the inside track on these things and with a much more effective ability to deal with stress, I have begun to mop up the dross from my thinking. Gradually, I am heading off the ‘shoulds’, shouldn’ts, ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ – and worry about the future – at the pass. My sense of connection to myself and others is growing and with the mist off the Irish bogs clearing from my brain, ‘the good that is as common as grass’ is beginning to show up, little by little.