My Body and the Universe are One:
How to Reap the Healing Benefits of Prayer

by Dr. Bob Hieronimus

Learn more about goal-directed prayer and non goal-directed prayer from the Spindrift Research of prayer. See question one on the FAQ page at

"Prayer is good medicine," said Dr. Larry Dossey, M.D., when he joined The Zoh Show on September 5, 1996, and in the title of his latest HarperCollins book subtitled How to Reap the Healing Benefits of Prayer. Larry Dossey has devoted his life to the conscious evolution of returning medicine to the holy art that it once was. Through his work and writings, he strives to create a place where love, technology, reverence for the divine and physical skills combine to facilitate a soul's declaration that my body and the universe are one.

The Sacred Art of Healing

The sacred art of healing has been a frequent topic on The Zoh Show, including many earlier conversations with Dr. Dossey when he discussed his other illustrative books: Healing Words; Recovering the Soul; Space, Time and Medicine; Meaning and Medicine; and Beyond Illness.

Zoh asked Dr. Dossey what the purpose was behind this latest book, Prayer is Good Medicine: How to Reap the Healing Benefits of Prayer. "Simply to be a good scientist and a good doctor," said Dr. Dossey, "and to follow our wisdom and our knowledge as far as it can take us." Fortunately Dr. Dossey is not afraid of the "little four letter word" he calls d-a-t-a. Unlike many medical doctors, he is not afraid of the host of scientific and statistical studies showing that "if you pray for me, the chances are, statistically, that I am going to do better... There is no getting away from it."

He showed how a compassionate and prayerful approach to life can radically alter its course, and thereby influence not only yourself, but the people around you to whom you extend love, either through prayer or compassionate acts of kindness. Dr. Dossey launches into a story of Abraham Lincoln growing up on the frontier. "He knew that he had a great work lying ahead of him, but it wasn't really clear to him what this great work might be. He was interested in the law, however, but there were no law schools on the frontier, so he was sort of stuck. And then one day, a poor beggar came by Lincoln's log cabin and offered to sell him a barrel of junk for one dollar. Lincoln had no use for a barrel of junk, but with his characteristic kindness gave this man a dollar and the man gave him the barrel of junk.

"Well, Lincoln set it aside and it wasn't until several weeks later that he decided to go through it. Close to the bottom he found a complete, two volume set of Blackstone's Commentaries on the Law. This was the major law book of the day and really gave Lincoln a major thrust forward in his life. And it wasn't just Lincoln's life that was transformed by this little act of compassion and kindness and love. As we all know, the lives of generations of people who came after him, and even the course of the nation, was changed by a small act of love, one of the most focal factors in prayer. Love really can change the world."

How To Pray

According to the clinical studies, added Dossey, there are statistical differences between the various ways of praying. The two major divisions of how to pray are the directed and the non-directed approaches. The directed form of prayer is where you try to direct the outcome of your request: you pray for something specific, you pray for the heart disease to get better or the blood pressure to come down, etc. The non-directed form of prayer, however, is more surrendering to "Thy Will be Done:" you're really not asking for anything specific, you're not trying to tell the universe what to do.

Dr. Dossey described two studies that put the two different prayers methodologies to the test and concluded: "the bottom line is that both of these methods work. This is what I choose to emphasize here. There isn't a formula, there isn't one way to pray, that knocks the socks off of all the other methods." He therefore recommends that people look inside themselves to find out what is best for them. "A lot of people will feel more comfortable using an extroverted, directed form of prayer where you spell it out and try to make it happen. Other introverted people will feel more comfortable using a thy-will-be-done approach."

The Placebo Effect?

Zoh pointed out that many practitioners in the medical field believe that the positive effects from prayer on a person's health can be explained by "the placebo effect," an argument Dr. Dossey easily refutes. Many of the 150 studies that have been done to date, he points out, were double blind studies, meaning the individuals who were being prayed for didn't know they were getting the prayer. "If they don't know they are being prayed for, it is hard to say that this is a placebo effect -- because for placebos to be effective, you've got to know you are taking one because this triggers the effects of suggestion and expectation and positive thinking." But even more convincing than humans who don't know they are being prayed for, are the studies using prayer on animals and lower forms of life such as bacteria. "Since rats and mice and bacteria (presumably) don't 'think positively,' you know they're not susceptible to the placebo response. So if they grow faster or heal quicker when they get prayed for, you are not going to be able to explain this away by saying it was just a placebo."

One study followed 393 patients in the coronary care unit of the San Francisco General Hospital, and Dr. Dossey said it will go down in history as one of the most significant studies of prayer in the 20th Century. It established a principle to test prayer in the hospital just like you would a new medication. These 393 patients had all been admitted into the coronary care unit with a heart attack or severe chest pain, and all were treated with state of the art coronary care.

"Unknown to them, however," said Dr. Dossey, "about half of these people had their first names farmed out to various prayer groups around the United States. Since this was a double blind study the doctors and the nurses and the patients did not know who was and who was not getting the prayer." In the end? "There were fewer deaths in the prayed-for group, and in the group who did not receive the prayer twelve people had to have the tube put down their throat and they wound up on the mechanical ventilator. In the prayed-for group, no one had to have this done. They also required fewer potent drugs and medications."

Dr. Dossey concludes assuredly that if the results of this study had been from a new medication for heart attacks, it would have been called a modern medical breakthrough! However, since pharmaceutical companies haven't figured out how to bottle prayer and market it, that didn't happen. But this study finally disputed the claims that prayer is a matter of belief and fantasy and could not be proven effective.

Talking to Yourself

Many people have a preconceived notion of what prayer is, and Dr. Dossey has realized that most Americans say prayer is: "talking out loud or to yourself to some sort of white, male parent figure who prefers to be addressed in English." Although it sounds cynical, he continued, if you took a poll, this is the image that would pop up most frequently, which is absurd because most people around the world aren't white, they don't speak English, and a lot of them don't worship a male god. So unless you rule out huge portions of the world's population, we have to broaden our definition of prayer. Prayer is simply communicating with the absolute and Dr. Dossey invites everyone to define what communication is for them: it could be using words, it could be using silence or entering the void, simply meditating and doing nothing, or simply a way of being. We also need to allow people to define what the absolute is: it could be a male god, it could be the universe, it could be a sense of majesty and beauty and order and process and unity and pattern. The absolute actually is beyond all definitions. Dr. Dossey wants to spread the concept of prayer very broadly to be big enough to take in almost everybody, because it appears the body doesn't know the difference.

The body doesn't differentiate between prayer and meditation either since in essence the goal is to elicit experiences of love and the feelings of hope. It is unfortunate, noted Dr. Dossey, that many in organized religions in our country consider "meditation" a dirty word. They sense it as something oriental, eastern and pagan, but a study at Harvard Medical School by Dr. Herbert Vincent showed the body can't tell the difference between meditating and praying. In both cases the blood pressure comes down, the heart rate comes down, you become restful. The body loves both states, so it doesn't matter if you call it "meditation" or "prayer" -- either way it's good for the body.

Hope or Hopelessness Push the Tissue Around

In addition, the feelings of hope and hopelessness also directly affect our bodily functions. As Dr. Dossey says, "these are not just flimsy emotions that stay in your head somewhere above your clavicle. Most people think hope, compassion, love, hopelessness and so on are just feelings, just emotions. There is a biochemistry to hope, a biochemistry to compassion and love." Biochemical changes do occur in the neurotransmitters and receptor cites in the brain, but the key point, stresses Dr. Dossey, "is that there are actual nervous connections, endocrinological connections, hormone connections, and biochemical connections between those parts of the brain and probably every other cell in your body, so that when you sense hope or hopelessness, or you sense love and compassion or even other emotions such as humor or good nature, these changes in these sensations and emotions trigger events that probably influence every other piece of tissue in your body. It's no exaggeration to say that hope or hopelessness enters the body and pushes the tissues around. Sometimes this makes the difference in life and death. We are talking big time changes here, we are not just talking emotions and feelings."

Do Doctors Pray?

Most hospital patients wish their doctors would pray for them, as discovered by Dr. David Larson at the NIH's Health Care Research in Rockville, Maryland. Dr. Larson and his colleagues at NIH have been doing surveys looking at the prayer habits of American physicians. Surveys show that anywhere from 15-50% of American doctors actually do pray for their patients. As Dr. Dossey noted, "there is probably more prayer going on behind the scenes in American hospitals than we know anything about." But it wouldn't be the patients who minded if this were made more public. Dr. Larson's survey of hospital patients showed 75% said, "I would love my doctor to pray for me and he should be concerned about my spiritual welfare." In fact, 50% of these people said that they thought their doctor ought to pray not just for them, but actually with them. Apparently there is a tremendous urge on the part of the American people to have doctors involved in prayer.

Praying for Plants

In Prayer is Good Medicine: How to Reap the Healing Benefits of Prayer, Dr. Dossey also relates the results of praying for corn in Iowa. Reverend Carl E. Goodfellow, considered a kind of modern saint by Dr. Dossey, is a Methodist minister in Gutenberg, Iowa, who prayed for the farmers of his state. He became interested in some of the experiments showing that prayer seems to increase the germination rate and growth characteristics of seeds and decided to ask the people in his rural congregation to pray for an increased bountiful harvest in their area of Iowa. They divided up some of the farm plots, prayed for some and not for the others, and the prayed-for side yielded more than the un-prayed-for side. They then expanded their experiment to include all of the farms in that part of the state, and now they are praying for all of the farms in Iowa. They've also decided to expand the program to pray for a decrease in the rate of farm accidents in the entire state. Farming is a very hazardous occupation and accidents take a tremendous toll every year. Rev. Goodfellow's group has enlisted statisticians and the help of scientists at the University of Iowa to keep track of the data to demonstrate their effectiveness. "This is a wonderful example of how someone is putting this to work in actual life," notes Dr. Dossey. "Prayer can actually make changes in the state of the physical world, including corn fields in Iowa."

Pets Love Unconditionally: Is that Prayer?

An interesting relationship exists between pets and prayer which Dr. Dossey realized when he considered the role of love and compassion and acceptance in prayer. "Love is a very powerful factor, and if you had to single out one factor that accounts for why prayer works, it probably is the role of love. Do you really care? Do you really have compassion for who it is you are praying for? Anybody who has ever had a pet knows that pets have love. They accept you unconditionally, on no terms whatever. So, I just began to wonder whether or not pets are actually engaging in some form of prayer? And I think the answer is yes -- they certainly are good healers! Studies have shown that people who have heart attacks who have a pet survive in greater numbers than people who don't. There's all sorts of studies with pets exercising healing influences over us and I think that because love is very important in prayer, it suggests that pets engage in some sort of prayer."

Prayer is Good Medicine

Dr. Larry Dossey, M.D., has done so much to advance humanity's appreciation for the act of love and the art of prayer and healing. We recommend everyone read his latest book, Prayer is Good Medicine: How to Reap the Healing Benefits of Prayer, HarperCollins. Call 1-800-331-3761 to order it by phone if your local bookstore does not have it (click here to order the book from Not only are Dr. Dossey's comments wonderfully enlightening and helpful for many people, but there is also a terrific resource list and bibliography at the end of the book. His interview on The Zoh Show, 9/5/96, is available for $10.00 (click here for ordering information).

From Hieronimus & Co. Newsletter, Volume 2, Number 11.


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