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For many years insights about the
connection between mind and body in medicine have been regarded as unscientific
mysticism or outright fraud. It is both difficult and highly laudable that
Herbert Benson, M.D., the famous Harvard medical professor and cardiologist,
has dedicated his research to the discovery of scientific explanations for
mind/body connections that mean so much to wellness and healing. The
Breakout Principle follows the line of his earlier successful books (like The
Relaxation Response) and is an important contribution to everyone's health,
vitality, and human possibility. Anybody who wants more out of life should
listen to these tapes and find ways to apply what's revealed in them. It
applies to personal wellness, creativity, business, athletics—every area where
performance or enhanced functions are needed and wanted.
Some comments on the audio itself
are in bounds. There appears to be one voicing, not two, that Jeff DeMunn is
reading for, so it's hard to figure where William Proctor's contribution lies
in this work. Listening, one gets the impression of hearing mostly about Dr.
Benson's research, his anecdotes, etc. Regrettably, this entire program is not so
rewarding as entertainment: it's all a bit dry and academic in the way it's
written and delivered. You will find yourself drifting away into your own
thoughts unless you listen with a pen and paper in your hand and treat the
program as you would an SAT test. Either that, or be prepared to do what this
reviewer did, continually rewinding the tape and muttering, "What did he
But it's worth it. Truth wins the
race with falsity.
There is no shortage of self-help
programs or books telling us we can "breakthrough" or
"brain-storm" or "see the light" or "heal
ourselves" or "transform" or otherwise find the key to all
things needed and wonderful. But there is a desperate dearth of any factual and
empirical, much less confirmed, scientific information supporting such claims.
It is the latter that Dr. Benson has published (in various peer-reviewed
journals) and which he draws upon to set down his prescriptions for breakout
principles here. (Google Benson's vast CV and you'll be quite impressed.) This
is a program that can appeal to and interest people who want more foundation
than motivational talk; it's work for serious skeptics who nonetheless are open
to possibilities to improve their own lives, heal themselves, or do better
Benson himself says that he was
surprised that he'd gradually come upon a principle of breaking out of old,
stale habits of thought that amounts to an "ultimate" success
principle. He sees it as the ultimate because of its many benefits and its many
ways of being activated in limitless situations and contexts.
The principle itself is "an
impulse that severs past mental patterns" and even (especially) in times
of great emotional stress can open us to many, even unlimited benefits. That's
the key, the cutting of the Gordian Knot of our usual mental patterns, our
relentless commitment to the mundane nonsense of living, often without a clue.
The authors call this severing, "pulling the trigger" on the breakout
response. But the mixed metaphor doesn't really help understand this key
moment. They should do better.
Breakout has four stages. First stage, struggle. In
fact, that's where most people live all the time, never getting past stage one.
Struggle generates all sorts of bio-chemical hazards in our bodies that Benson
describes in detail. Struggle helps up to a point, but finally becomes
self-limiting, and then destructive. Second stage, "pull the breakout
trigger" letting go. Third stage, experience life in the new breakout
thought patterns, reduce stress in unprecedented ways. Fourth, the return to a
transformed normalcy, that is, long-term enhanced living or performance.
What makes this seemingly prosaic
formula exciting and different is that it can be approached in many contexts,
along many avenues, and that it applies to a diverse field from spiritual
growth, to athletics, to management, to healing disease, and other areas
without limit. It's the body/mind ability to sever past thought patterns, stage
two, that relates to the use of meditative or relaxation kinds of activities.
Someone is under stress to achieve some aim; she or he turns to conscious
meditative or relaxation responses according to training or acquired
experience, and "pulls the breakout trigger" response. Suddenly, in
many cases, the answer or the ability or the capability is given along with
reduced stress and health-affirming biochemistry inside the body. Healing
occurs seemingly like magic. The mind/body connection is magic, not slight of
hand, as Benson shows.
Is the breakout principle a
fundamental transformative principle as the authors claim? Is it the self-help
insight to end all self-help? Benson spends a few moments arguing that it is
this. It wouldn't be appropriate for us to judge without trying out the work
ourselves. We should be open to the possibility. To Benson's credit, he has
done the work, studied and researched and applied his vast medical and
scientific resources to bring forward these important discoveries.
Wolf is the author of Philosophy That Works, a book about the practice
of philosophy. His book page for orders (hardback & paperback) is www.xlibris.com/philosophythatworks
; readers can also see the first chapter there.