The "Placebo Effect" is a medical term for an effect produced by medication which the patient believes will occur. In other words, if someone gives you a sugar pill, and you truly believe it will cure your cold, the chances are likely it will actually help. In one study people were given placebos and told they were a stimulant. Their heart rate, blood pressure and reaction speeds increased as if they had actually been administered a genuine stimulant. The opposite occurred when they were told they were being given a sleep aid.
We've heard things like this before. We call it "mind over matter" but is that just something we say to brush aside the deep implications of recognizing that belief actually does matter to our general well-being? At what point will we start to integrate into our daily behavior the bumper stickers of wisdom we feed regularly ourselves?
There is plenty of science to back up our notions that thought alone makes an impact on our bodies. But you need not look to science for those answers. We prove it to ourselves every day. What happens when someone describes something that is physically disgusting to us? Well, the fact that we even describe it as "physically disgusting" should give you a clue that our bodies are attached to our minds. Feeling nauseous at the description of something awful is a physical manifestation of a thought about something awful. Nothing physical happened to your body. Nothing foreign was introduced. No one fed you a bad oyster. It was all in your mind. But does that make it less real? What happens to your body when you’re only thinking of something arousing?
In my opinion, this is great news. Because we can reverse engineer this reality to benefit ourselves by choosing to think better. We have the ability to improve our bodily function simply by believing we are capable of it. We don't understand electricity, but we know how to use it. We don't need to understand every wheel, belt, or cog in the engine of our cars, but we know how to drive them. We can make good use of our belief.
Spend some time thinking about the implications of the placebo effect. Look it up and question for yourself: How might a change in thinking change my life? How might a shift in my perception shift the way the world arrives at my door? Is it possible that the answer to most of our everyday stresses comes from believing that stress is supposed to be a normal part of our day? What if we started to believe that we deserve have as few stressful days as possible? What if we started to believe we have a right to be happy?
Wil Darcangelo is the Spiritual Coordinator at First Parish Church of Fitchburg and a MDiv/MAGIL candidate at Andover Newton Theological School. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at www.hopefulthinkingworld.blogspot.com.