avoid a tidal wave of woe
by Marilyn Elias
Re-printed from USA Today, Life Section, Health and Behavior
Tiny whisperings can be as dead-on as linear though, psychiatrist says
Did you ever have a hunch something wouldn’t work out, with no logical reason to think so? And it turned out you were right?
Or have you dreamed about an unlikely event or unfamiliar scene that later unfolded before your eyes?
You’re not alone, says Los Angeles psychiatrist Judith Orloff.
The daughter of two physicians and a holder of orthodox scientific credentials, Orloff voices a most unorthodox message: Intuition works as a positive force that can help us live smarter, saner lives.
She calls intuition “a form of inner wisdom not mediated by the rational mind.” Anyone can tap into it, she argues in the book Dr. Judith Orloff’s Guide to Intuitive Healing (Times Books, $24), in stores next week. The book covers physical, emotional and sexual wellness, offering ways to deploy the strengths of intuition in each arena.
The idea isn’t all that unconventional anymore, Orloff says. She has been invited to speak on using intuition in therapy at the annual meeting of the conservative American Psychiatric Association in May. Her 1997 book, Second Sight, told of her own struggles to ignore psychic insights until it became clear that she was hurting her patients and limiting her own life.
“Then I was deluged by mail and calls from therapists all over the country,” Orloff says. “Some had been afraid to use intuition. Others were doing it undercover and feared what their peers would think.”
She began to give workshops on the practical use of intuitive techniques. “So many people would come up to me and tell me these kinds of things had happened to them, and they were having trouble making sense of it.”
Orloff sat down over a cup of tea to talk about the new book.
Q: Why did you write this book?
A: So many people from my workshops asked for it. They wanted a practical blueprint, a context for how to use intuition. I hope it shows how to lead a passionate, intuitively based life, not to reject intuition as antithetical to science, but to embrace both as sisters.
Q: What are some examples of how intuition can improve health?
A: Our bodies very often give warnings before illness occurs. The trick is to recognize the patterns that preceded illness and changes things if you can.
I’ve seen it in my practice again and again. There’s the writer whose ulcer acts up periodically and who finds he always loses his sense of humor about a week before it happens. Now he take medication to ward it off in advance.
Another patient would get overwhelmed at work and think, “If only I was sick,” and whenever that happened, in a few days she was.
Some warnings that often come up before any obvious physical illness are a sense of emptiness, numbness, exhaustion, a knot in the stomach or lump in the throat, mysterious aches and pains. There are subtle shifts that precede cellular changes, and people need to listen to their bodies.
Q: You emphasize how powerful beliefs can be in health, saying we need to deploy the power of our beliefs for the good and minimize the influence of bad beliefs. How does this work?
A: Beliefs can trigger biochemical reactions. That’s why we’re getting this recognition now for the power of placebos to make people feel better.
When we’re under stress, we tend to flee into our minds and ignore our bodies’ signals. People who are fearful, who are under stress...that will deplete serotonin (a feel-good brain chemical), and low serotonin leads to clinical depression, which we know promotes illness.
Beliefs can induce stress. It’s particularly important not to be with a health-care provider who induces fear and stress in you, who is unduly pessimistic and doesn’t offer choices.
Q: How would you respond to critics who say your claims for intuition are anti-science?
A: Even Albert Einstein said he valued the power of intuition. He didn’t see it as antithetical to science. Linear thinking and intuition work together. The most savvy people in every profession use both.
Q: How does intuition show itself in our social relations?
A: You meet somebody at a party, and they seem perfectly nice. All of a sudden, you feel like your energy is getting drained, or you’re a little nauseous, starting to get a headache. You really want to get away from them.
Pay attention...I’ve seen from my own experience, my practice, the stories of friends and perfect strangers—there’s often a reason here.
I gave a talk for the Denise Brown Alliance for women who’d suffered abuse. I asked these women: “The first time you met this guy, did you know something like this was going to happen?” I was amazed. They all said something didn’t feel right from the very start, but they didn’t listen.
On the positive side, there are people you just feel good around, even if they say nothing.
Q: You think medicine will change dramatically in the next 50 years. What do you believe will happen?
A: The pendulum is going to swing and then come back to center.
There’s great discontent right now. You have the HMOs and medicine stripped of its humanity. Even doctors are depressed by it. The old family doctor practiced intuition all the time but didn’t have the high-tech medical arsenal.
There’s going to be a backlash—there already is—against today’s impersonal medicine, and a movement toward intuition.
Q: You quote Albert Einstein as saying: “The distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” If time itself may be an illusion, what does that say about our common concept of reality?
A: That it’s too limited. Modern physics is confirming that. Sometimes we see this in our own lives. A patient of mine had a strong intuition just before the Northridge earthquake, and she took her husband and three kids up to Santa Barbara for a long weekend. How did she know? That hadn’t happened to her before.
Q: You say that Americans have a “monstrous’ fear of death, but we can draw on death as a creative force in life. How does this play out?
A: Fear of death permeates all aspects of health care. Physicians are so afraid of their own dying that doctors treat dying patients like they have cooties. They’re abandoned. Doctors see it as a failure, not a natural transition into another state.
If you don’t deny the reality of death, it helps you live in the moment more, appreciate how precious it is. Too often, it’s only when people get a terminal diagnosis that they begin to appreciate the sacredness of the moment. But we don’t have to wait until then.
Revisiting dreams for insight, answers:
Dreams can present a treasure-trove of intuitive gems, says psychiatrist Judith Orloff.
The most reliable insights tend to appear as:
- A statement that simply conveys information.
- A neutral scene that evokes or transmits no emotion. You may feel detached, as though you’re merely watching.
- A voice or person counseling you. This may be someone you’ve never met before.
- Keep a journal and pen by your bed.
- If you’re trying to solve a problem or make a decision, write a suitable question and place the paper nearby.
- In the morning, don’t wake up quickly. Stay under the covers for a few minutes recalling your dreams.
- Immediately write down anything you’ve remembered, or it might evaporate later in the day. Write down anything you recall—a face, an object, colors, emotions. It doesn’t need to make coherent sense.
- Check how what you’ve written applies to your question. It may take several nights, but dreams often offer answers.
- Define emotional patterns that need healing.
- Ease you through difficult transitions—deaths, separations, breakups.
- Aid problem-solving.
- May present a vision of the future in your relationships.
- Acknowledge how you’ve grown.