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Health and the Mental Signature

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What do women want?

Some might say it's a question that has perplexed men for millennia!

But in the box office hit of the same name, Mel Gibson's screen character comes face to face with eye-opening answers when he unexpectedly finds himself reading the minds of women around him.

The film has grossed $182m since its release in 2000 and it is a lot of fun. But fortunately for both sexes it remains a figment of fantasy.

Or does it?

The genuine ability to read your mind might be a little closer than you think.

Scientists are developing a technique to translate into pictures the electronic brain signals produced by words.

A BBC report recently pinpointed several research projects along these lines. Last year a group at the University of California, Berkeley, proved that patterns of blood flow can be used to guess images in thought.

A team at the same University have more recently taken this one step further. With the help of a computer model researchers were able to guess what words patients were thinking about.

In fiction, mind-reading is often portrayed as a dark art open to abuse. But the aim of such research is to develop this perceived ability for its potential usefulness. For example, it could provide a way "to help comatose and locked-in patients communicate".

And there are plenty of other situations in which mind reading could be a useful resource.

In the Gibson movie a poignant illustration of this concludes a humorous clip of his initiation into the world of involuntarily reading women's minds. Shortly after being overwhelmed by a cacophony of thoughts from those around him he suddenly hears a mental cry of despair from an unexpected source.

Imagine how valuable it would be if we could discern such a desperate desire silently locked behind the mask of a cheery smile. How many lonely hearts might we be able to touch? How many suicides might be prevented?

In fact whenever we have anything wrong with us, it is helpful if someone can "read" our needs correctly.

When we go to a physician they generally try to "read" our bodies, measuring physical conditions and symptoms by using everything from thermometers and stethoscopes to million dollar MRI machines.

But is the storyline told by the body the best way to gauge the cause of our physical distress?

Or is the real plot the narrative hidden in the thoughts of the patient, as many studies by researchers are beginning to suggest?

Several examples of this were highlighted by Russ Gerber, a colleague of mine, in a recent article:

● Approximately 70 percent of medical students experience the symptoms of the diseases they are studying (known as "medical student's disease").

● Study after study has shown the physiological effect caused by a patient's belief -- the expectation of improvement (placebo) or harm (nocebo) -- in an inert substance.
● Similar symptoms appear in an individual when he or she sees or learns of the sickness of another, also known as psychogenic illness, or mass hysteria.
● Ruminating over the heavily-promoted expectation of danger (fear) can be hazardous to your health.

What these studies suggest is our thoughts impact heavily on our wellbeing. And while we might not hear another's thinking in sentences - à la Gibson - in hoping to help others we can certainly nurture the ability to sense their thoughts in less dramatic ways.

For instance, most of us have had the experience of becoming keenly aware of a darker mood that someone close to us is camouflaging behind a bright exterior.

Perhaps that is because they are individuals we know well, and we are familiar with their underlying mental signatures. So when we detect a counterfeit scrawl we don't feel we have to accept it as genuine. Instead we can help by encouraging them to remember who they really are.

With everyone - whether close companions or not - there is an underlying spiritual signature we can become familiar with. To my understanding it is the nature pointed to by the good and loving individuality seen in Jesus and described in the Bible as the "image and likeness" of God.

When we recognise this as fact we can detect thoughts which don't belong - such as bitterness, lethargy or fear - and help remove them. This is getting to the root of the problem as a primarily mental, rather than physical, condition.

Doctor and author Rachel Naomi Remen - Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine - puts it this way: "Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn't you - all of the expectations, all of the beliefs - and becoming who you are".

While science nobly explores the possibilities of mind-reading one pictured word at a time, a spiritual approach to discerning the thoughts of others is about far more than just reading the human mind.

It's about hearing and responding to the heart's cry for what so many women (and men!) want - a more durable health and happiness.

And according to Christian Science - the spiritual practice I use for my health care - that's something a better reading of the divine Mind as totally good can help to deliver.