Experiments have shown that a great deal of the sense we have of ourselves, of the feeling of the kind of person we are, is gained from our interpretation of our surroundings. If we continually find ourselves in a negative environment we tend to become the kind of person you find in such a place – which is why it’s so important to pick the right friends. I always find it fascinating when there are clues that things we do appear to just be the result of evolution copying something that’s been shown to work at more simple levels of life. The fact that single-cell organisms move towards reward and away from danger, and so do we, is one example, and this use of the world around us to determine our identity may be another.
It’s well-known that stem cells can become any kind of cell in the body, but the mechanism for how it achieves this amazing trick isn’t understood. Now researchers have found that stem cells may use its environment to give it clues about its purpose. For example, if you place stem cells in a current of liquid they turn into blood vessels.
I found this a very exciting discovery, because it validates the expectations of a theory of Bruce Lipton, the author of The Biology of Belief. In this book Lipton claims that what is called the Central Dogma of Biology – that our DNA is responsible for what happens to us – is wrong. Instead he puts forward an idea that suggests the primacy of the environment – that our DNA does nothing unless it receives a message from an environmental signal to do so. In another blog article I’ve described how this gives us – Cognitive Hypnotherapists – a model to work with that provides a scientific rationale for the principle that the mind can have a physical effect on the body, i.e. that our suggestions can cause a positive response on the health of our clients. But what this latest discovery gives us is an idea about how specifically to achieve that.
To see how far stem cells used their surroundings to inform their purpose, researchers developed gell pads of varying degrees of stiffness, and grew mesenchymal stem cells (the ones responsible for becoming many types of human tissue, including muscle, bone and nerves). The cells growing on the flabbiest gels became nerve cells. Gel pads 10 times stiffer produced muscle cells, and even stiffer ones led to bone. Clearly stem cells can feel their environment.
This is very exciting because it holds out the prospect of biologists being able to ‘grow’ new organs, body parts and nerve endings for people by manipulating the environment of a patient’s stem cells in a laboratory. In the future we may be able to simply grow spare parts.
But how does this affect us as therapists? Well, many tumours are stiffer then the surrounding tissue – it’s how doctors often first notice many forms of cancer during a physical exam. Where in the past this stiffness was assumed to be an effect of the cancer, now it’s being proposed that the cancer may be an effect of the stiffness. A team of biophysists at the University of Pennsylvania found that cancer cells stopped multiplying when they are grown on a soft gel. Anything that signals stiffness – even touching it with something rigid – can be enough to start it dividing again.
Still, the question remains, how can we use this knowledge?
One of the key ways that Cognitive Hypnotherapists work with healing issues, like cancer and multiple sclerosis, is to develop with the client a visualisation. The intention of it is to guide the natural healing processes we all possess toward a specific purpose. For example, cancer clients have imagined their tumours being washed in a washing machine where the detergent was the colour they represent as their healing energy, or as blood cells being on a conveyor belt and being kept healthy all the way through their production, in the case of leukaemia. This form of visualisation has been used for many years – and probably forms the root of many ancient healing systems too. What I think is particularly important is that the idea for the visualisation comes from the imagination of the client, not the therapist, because I think their imagination is our most potent weapon, not mine.
Does it work? Obviously I wouldn’t be taking the time to write this if I didn’t think so, and I have many anecdotal case studies of people going into remission, or slowing the progress of their disease, but it’s not proof that would satisfy science because I don’t see clients as part of a controlled study. Like anything else, nothing works for everybody, and I’m not suggesting this as a new wonder treatment, just an option. All I’m doing is offering this as a possible route for those people who are seeking something to complement their treatment outside the realms of the medical, in the knowledge that the worst it can do is nothing. It comes with no guarantees, but taking a personal part in your treatment does give a stronger sense of control, which research shows is a powerful factor in experiencing a more positive quality of life – itself a factor in healing.
I strongly believe that we should be looking towards science for ideas and clues to guide our work, and this is one instance where it has. What the discovery of the fact that our stem cells feel what they should become has led me to incorporate into my client-work is the idea of them visualising their cancer cells being surrounded by whatever, for them, would be the softest thing they can imagine. In the Wordweaving style of suggestion I developed it could go something like this:
“so as you imagine your cancer cells…in whatever way you do…holding them in your imagination for a moment so that your unconscious can clearly know where to focus your natural healing power…and as you do imagine them surrounded…by whatever would be the softest thing you can imagine…enveloped and gently supported by it…the surface of the softness in contact with the cancer…and just focus on all the qualities of the softness that make it what it is…its colour…any shape it has…how it feels…anything it reminds you of…all the qualities that focus your unconscious in the most powerful and positive way…on healing…so that as the cancer learns from its soft contact…how you might begin to imagine it changing…absorbing the lessons of the softness…becoming the softness…so that in and out of your awareness…in every moment of the day…your unconscious mind can continue to surround…them in this way…with a new way of becoming…
I’ve recorded a free download for people with cancer to listen to to guide them through a visualisation using this principle, and the others I’ve picked up along the way. You’ll can download it here here. And I would love to hear from anybody who uses it and finds it of benefit, because if we can take a scientific discovery and integrate it into a Cognitive Hypnotherapy approach that works for people it raises our credibility within that community and who knows, we may be able to gather enough benefit to convince those who are open to being convinced.