Larry Dossey’s life and work has spanned a fascinating journey of spirituality, medicine, and consciousness studies. Beginning as a battalion surgeon during the Vietnam War, to an accomplished Texas physician, and ultimately to a proponent and scholar exploring the role spirituality has in medicine and healthcare, Dr. Dossey is a pioneer of mind-body medicine and non-local consciousness. Before his book, Healing Words in 1993, only three U.S. medical schools paid any attention to the role that religious practice had in health and wellbeing. His thirteen books, such as Recovering the Soul: A Scientific and Spiritual Search, Reinventing Medicine, The Power of Premonitions, and, more recently, One Mind: How Our Individual Mind is A Part of a Greater Consciousness and Why It Matters have explored the paradigm-shifting forays into the nature of mind, non-locality, and the nature of consciousness. “I used to believe that we must choose between science and reason on one hand, and spiritual on the other,” Dr. Dossey writes, “Now I consider this a false choice. We can recover the sense of sacredness, not just in science, but perhaps in all areas of life.”
In recent months, my correspondence with Dr. Dossey has shifted on how we can address the increasingly heated political climate in the United States and abroad. The rise of the alt-right. Climate crisis. Political meltdown and dissolution with Brexit and ethno-national chants to “Build a Wall.” Now, more than ever, the realization of One Mind is needed. That is: the astonishing insight that we are connected in ways that are surprisingly intimate. No matter where we’re from. No matter what geological distances or languages separate us. Consciousness is non-local, and how we act as a species, and how we are in our immediate inner being is inextricable from the whole.
I spoke with Dr. Dossey about the importance of One Mind as an integral response to the current spiritual, political, and consciousness crisis we’re currently facing.
Let’s talk One Mind. How did you come to this idea and what implications does it have for how we live our everyday lives?
The concept that consciousness is a fundamental, unitary, collective entity is ancient. It is traceable to wisdom traditions that are at least 3,000 years old. My interest in this idea, however, arose from empirical evidence that has been accumulating for more than a century. In brief, this evidence suggests that a linkage exists between individual minds that transcends separation in both space and time. This evidence profoundly suggests that individual minds can communicate and exchange information at arbitrary distances, into the future or the past. Individuals can also insert information into the environment, and extract information from the environment, remotely in space and time.
In 1987 I introduced a term to describe these phenomena: nonlocal mind. (I’ve been unable to find a prior use of this term in the written English language.) Nonlocal mind is not localized or confined to specific points in space, such as brains or bodies, nor is it confined or localized to specific points it time, such as the present. Nonlocal mind equates to infinite mind. Infinite or nonlocal mind is boundless and boundary-less. Mind that is infinite in space is omnipresent; mind that is infinite in time is eternal or immortal. And if minds are boundless and boundary-less, in some dimension they come together to form a unitary, One Mind. This picture of consciousness is not fantasy; it is necessary to account for actual evidence.
What does this have to do with how we live our lives? Everything!
As a physician, I believe that the fear of total annihilation with physical death — the current, dominant, materialist view — has caused more suffering in human history than all the physical diseases combined. The concept of One Mind is an antidote to this problem because of its implication of the eternality and immortality of consciousness.
The One Mind can aid our survival on planet Earth, because it suggests a profound connection with not just one another but with all of life, no matter what the degree of sentience might be. This suggests that all of life is sacred, precious, and worth saving. This attitude is based in love, which is a profoundly nonlocal experience, once you think about it.
Albert Schweitzer: “If a man loses his reverence for any part of life, he will lose his reverence for all of life…. What we call love is in its essence Reverence for Life…. It includes all living beings.” And as W. H. Auden presciently said in the 1930s, “We must love one another or die.” Or as the contemporary novelist Alice Walker puts it, “Anything we love can be saved.”
The current dilemma we face as humans stems from a pathological emphasis on individuality, which feeds the cycle of greed, selfishness, consumption, racism, and tribalism. The One Mind puts paid to these destructive behaviors. It’s not that individualism is inherently bad, but that it is only one side of the human coin. Taken alone, without the recognition of our intrinsic unity, individualism is literally suicidal.
The realization of non-local consciousness is, I think, still a very astonishing one. What would happen if we really began to let that reality sink in? How do you think it would help the heated political climate right now? We’ve seen a huge about-face in recent years. People want to build walls and close off from the world. This is so dangerous. How can non-locality become an answer, and a medicine?
Astonishing, yes, but I would add that the realization of nonlocal consciousness is pleasantly astonishing. People who “get” this realization generally say that it is joyfully transformative; it helps reorient their behaviors and their sense of ethical responsibilities. It feels freeing, like a sense of coming home to who we really are. So this astonishment can be a gateway to living a more joyful, liberated, exuberant existence. As Pulitzer-winning poet Mary Oliver wrote in her poem “Sometimes”:
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
The realization that boundaries between people are not fundamental would help heal the animosity and ideological strife that divides our society at present. Our country is drifting into a medieval structure of haves and have-nots, of serfs and masters, of the moneyed and the poverty-stricken. Those at the top tend to view the less fortunate as having some inner defect, of having failed morally, and therefore deserving of their fate. These distinctions are heart-wrenching, largely because children are involved. Profound evidence shows that children born into poverty are more likely to die early deaths, commit more crime, achieve poor education, and suffer more illness that those born into the upper echelons of society. Statistically, a baby currently born in Botswana has a greater chance of reaching their first birthday than a baby born in the U.S. International rankings regarding poverty place the U.S. around 18th overall among nations. A One-Mind consciousness would awaken us to basic dignity and fairness toward all, an awakening that already exists among many nations and cultures.
Pathological individuality is rampant in our culture, not just in our attitudes toward minorities but also in our attitude toward climate change. Pathological individuality arrogantly insists that it is possible to secede from nature. It exempts us from scientific fact, promotes voluntary blindness toward inescapable environmental patterns, and results in hostility toward the concept of the One Mind. Those opposing a One-Mind orientation often criticize it as “unbridled socialism” promoted by “coastal elites,” or worse. But in fact, our very survival likely depends a One-Mind approach.
One of the main obstacles to this realization is trying too hard. We don’t have to manufacture or produce the One Mind in our life; it already exists. We mainly need to get out of the way so this realization can surface naturally.
There are many doors to an experience of the One Mind. One way is through science and empirical findings. This has been important for me. I find it impressive that some of the most eminent scientists of the 20th century have endorsed a fundamental, unitary view of human consciousness, such as Max Planck, the founder of quantum mechanics; Erwin Schrödinger, a Nobel laureate in physics; and physicist David Bohm, to name only a handful among scores of others.
Epiphanies occur, the sudden realization of the unity of all things. Contemplation — meditation or simply “paying attention,” as Mary Oliver put it — can also lead to a One-Mind realization. Exposure to great beauty, whether music, art, or the natural environment, can also be important. The latter has been vastly important to my wife and me. For decades Barbara and I have taken August off to pack into mountainous high country, often experiencing what’s been called “wilderness rapture.” But the most common pathway to a One-Mind experience is simply the natural unfolding of psychological and spiritual maturation as we get older. Simply learning to “pay attention” leads to a gradual process of increasing awareness of the way things are.
Are we going through a revolution in the science of consciousness? Is there a paradigm shift happening? Going, as it were, beyond mechanistic science and reductionist materialism. If so, I think our readers would love to hear what’s happening and how the future of science – and medicine – is all about consciousness.
Yes, the revolution within science is unmistakable. Consider medicine, my field. In the early 1990s there were only three medical schools of around 120 in the U.S. that featured course work dealing with the correlations between spiritual practice and health and longevity. Now around 90 percent of medical schools feature such course work in their curricula. Four decades ago, yoga was considered weird; even jogging was viewed as eccentric and aberrant. Moreover, conversations about death and survival were practically taboo. How things change! Currently around 15 million Americans say they have had near-death experiences, and there is a robust literature and research initiative in this field. And importantly, scores of healing studies reveal that the empathic intentions of one human can affect the biological processes of a distant individual or other living creature in positive ways. This tide of evidence is increasing, and there is no way to put this genie back into the bottle.
Despite how dark things seem to be these days, do you believe there is, at the same time, something occurring in the human species and beyond at the level of consciousness? Is there an emergence of a planetary consciousness—no matter how struggling, how nascent?
I am encouraged by recent findings about how changes in beliefs occur in modern societies. Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found a tipping point for the spread of ideas. They have found that when the minority opinion reaches 10 percent of the population, the belief structure quickly changes as the minority opinion takes over the original majority opinion. ( https://phys.org/news/2011-07-minority-scientists-ideas.html )
It is easy to become discouraged about current trends and events. What can I, as a single individual, do to make a difference? We need to realize that, from a One-Mind perspective, there are no single individuals. This understanding can radically shift our sense of adequacy. Not only do we need one another, we are one another, and we nourish one another. Schweitzer again: “Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being.” Or as Ramana Maharshi, the great Indian saint, when asked, “How should we regard others?” replied, “There are no others.”
Another advantage of the One Mind involves creativity. If minds are unitary, you can imagine a collective pool of information one can draw on, which exceeds the information each individual possesses. America’s great inventor, Thomas Edison, seemed to realize this. He said, “I have never created anything.” His ideas, he claimed, came from “the universe,” from “the outside.” Emerson championed the idea of a collective intelligence. This idea is common among artists and musicians, who often say the download information and inspiration from a higher source: typical One-Mind expressions. I find this concept immensely encouraging: I don’t have to be ultra-smart;
I don’t have to come up with the answers because they already exist. It’s a matter of access.
Your background is in medicine, and your journal Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing continues to explore the connections between science, health, and spirituality. I’d highly recommend readers to stay up to date with the latest issues! What kind of developments are we finding with respect to the power of religious and spiritual experiences and human health? Secondly: how can our readers develop good practices to improve their well-being, at the same time, help the spiritual crisis of the planet right now?
Readers of Explore journal (www.explorejournal.com) can keep up with the advances in the integrative healthcare world. Columnist Stephan Schwartz and I report on these developments in each issue. Stephan’s columns (Schwartzreport) and my editorials can be downloaded for free by going to the journal’s website and clicking on “Collections.”
Briefly, the correlations between spirituality and health and longevity are strong statistically. Empirical studies show that compassionate, empathic human intentions can positively affect not just one’s personal health, but also the health of others. These effects are not limited to humans, but extend to nonhumans as well. Bottom line: our thoughts change the world.
Other categories of evidence are hugely important, such as investigations of near-death experiences, as mentioned, and the evidence from children who ostensibly remember previous lives. These findings are compatible with, and even predicable from, minds that are nonlocal with respect to space and time. The implication is immortality for some aspect of human consciousness, which is perhaps the greatest contribution ever made toward human welfare.
If we are to survive and thrive as a species on Earth, spiritual transformations of consciousness toward a unitary, consciousness-linked community of all life forms will be necessary, as I’ve indicated. We already have abundant data affirming this fact, obvious to anyone who approaches this issue with an open mind.
Will we find the courage to do so? I’m optimistic. I recall a hallway conversation I once had with the eminent, late physicist David Bohm, a strong proponent of a One-Mind perspective. At the time I was very concerned about environmental issues and our fate as a species. I asked, “Professor Bohm, do you think we’ll make it?” After a long, thoughtful pause, he said, “Yes, Larry. We’ll make it. Barely.”
“Barely” is better than “not at all.” But we can do better than “barely” — by orienting how we live in a fact-oriented, empathic, compassionate, and loving way, but also by heeding Mary Oliver’s final recommendation of how to live our life: tell about it.
That’s what Jeremy and I are doing: we’re telling about it.
You can too.