The Noble Tradition of Self-Experimentation - Part 2
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will be held this Thursday, Mar. 29th at 5 pm Pacific/8 pm Eastern
Thursday, April 5th at 9 am Pacific/12 noon Eastern
This small series of postings is dedicated to the the idea that we need to develop trust in the things that happen to us and in our insights. You may have already found that if you become involved with energy healing, you are not going to find a lot of validation in the outside world for the kinds of experiences you have. We just don't have a cultural consensus on energywork, do we? This is one of those times when you have to dig your knowledge out of the rich ground of your own experience.
In this post, I'm going to tell about another famous self-experimenter whose insights gave us a modality of energy-based medicine which is now in widespread use throughout the world.
Another notable self-experimenter was Samuel Hahnemann, the father of homeopathy, one of the truly remarkable forms of energy medicine, which makes use of highly diluted forms of plant, animal and mineral substances. Hahnemann was a doctor in Germany in the eighteenth century in an era when blood-letting and the pervasive use of mercury were part of standard medical practice. If you examine the derivation of the word “quack,” when not being used to refer to the language spoken by ducks, a tiny window will open on the history of Western medicine. Our word “quack,” in this context, referring to a disreputable medical practitioner who makes claims that he or she cannot fulfill, comes to us from German, in which the word is Quacksalber which itself is related to the word Quecksilber, German for “quicksilver,” also known as mercury.
The connection is this: Mercury was widely used by physicians in eighteenth century Europe, along with blood-letting and opiates, and while mercury actually cured some ailments, it also left immense toxic side-effects in its wake. Seen from this perspective, the essence of the quack mentality is the unquestioned practice of following one undifferentiated regimen or approach for everyone. As the saying goes: “If you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”
The development of homeopathy was driven, in part, by Samuel Hahnemann’s outrage at these practices and this mentality. According to homeopath Jessica Jackson, “Hahnemann was a vitriolic opponent of the practice of medicine in his time, would never use mercury or venesection in his practice. His ‘radical’ ideas included recommendations for exercise, fresh air and the application of water in the form of bathing,” and extended to his methods of research.
The proven cure for malaria at that time was Peruvian bark (the plant source of quinine). Hahnemann made an extract of the bark, diluted it using a formula he could replicate, took it at regular intervals and awaited the onset of symptoms, which he then carefully noted. As he continued to take his diluted extract of Peruvian bark, he developed malaria-like symptoms of alternating fevers, chills and shaking. When he stopped taking the extract, his symptoms subsided. This and other similar experiments led him to base an entire science of medicine on the Law of Similars, an ancient idea in medicine, written of by Hippocrates and Paracelceus. It states that “like cures like,” along with its corollary that said, “that which causes certain symptoms in a well person will have a curative influence on similar symptoms in an ill person.” These became the guiding principles of homeopathy.
Hahnemann went on to subject a wild array of animal, mineral and vegetable substances to the same type of testing. And not only on himself; he gave new meaning to self-experimentation by including his students and his children in the experiments. His children all lived well into their nineties, by the way, and when he himself was in his eighties, Hahnemann, moved to Paris, married a second time and started a new career.
The tradition of self-experimentation continues in modern homeopathic research in the form of provings, systematic trials in which the researcher takes a dose of a remedy and notes what happens. In many schools, these provings form one of the cornerstones of how homeopathy is taught. I once attended a seminar at the Homöopathiewoche in Bad Boll, Germany. First-hand reports about provings were a feature of the week’s studies. In this course, there were two small groups of participants who took part in controlled provings. At the beginning of the week, one group of a half dozen participants took a known remedy, the properties of which were already established in the homeopathic literature. The other group took a dose of a remedy without knowing its identity. The idea in both cases was that the participants would monitor the symptoms that arose over the days of the seminar. In the case of the group with the unknown remedy, their task was to deduce the remedy from the symptoms it caused to arise. One of the seminar participants made a crack about how conventional physicians also ought to take the drugs they prescribe before giving them to their patients, in order to learn first-hand about their effects.
Homeopathic provings can sound utterly hair-raising to the uninitiated, but provings of this kind are done all the time with a number of safe-guards. No one is allowed to take part in provings if they are ill, for instance, and symptoms evoked in provings clear up quickly when the remedy is no longer being taken. And as it turns out, not every “symptom” is even unpleasant.
Predictably, the group that took the known remedy came up with a mild but discernable constellation of symptoms, both physical and intrapsychic. Some of the participants reported dreams and even serendipitous events over the course of the week-long seminar that struck them as significant. Under the guidance of the instructor, they constructed a composite of their reportings, which, in essence, confirmed the widely known portrait of the remedy they had taken.
More interesting, of course, was the group who did not know what remedy they had taken. These were doctors, for the most part, and they knew how to catalog symptoms in an orderly way. But now they had to turn into detectives as well and deduce, from the composite of their experiences, the substance that had evoked their particular constellation of symptoms. Each in turn reported from the notes they had taken on themselves, and little by little, like a Polaroid photo developing before our eyes, a picture evolved. The kicker was the mysterious happenstance that four out of five of the participants in the proving developed a marked, untypical craving for beer during the time they took the remedy. This unusual “symptom” was part of the established portrait of a particular homeopathic remedy and it ended up tipping the scales in favor of Bryonia, the remedy they had taken. They got it right!
~excerpted from A Pilgrim in Your Body: Energy Healing and Spiritual Process
Next in this small series on self-experimentation and the need to trust your experiences will be a yarn about an encounter I had with the late Dr. Sibley Whim, an osteopath in Kansas City who had more than a touch of self-experimentation in him.
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