Saints and Doctors: What’s the Connection?

by Rajeev Kurapati

To approve sainthood to a pope, the Vatican only needs one miracle. And there we have it, a new saint.

Pope John Paul was named a saint by Francis after a Costa Rican woman is said to have been cured from a brain aneurysm after praying to John Paul in 2011. His first miracle, curing a French nun of Parkinson’s disease, was also confirmed.

What makes a religious or sacred act holy is evidence of a miracle. We all need evidence – and there is, indeed, evidence.

To institutionalize a belief, a procedure must be followed, just as in any other organized entity. When declaring someone a saint, the Vatican is required to certify that a “miracle” was performed through the intercession of the candidate – a medically inexplicable cure that is lasting, immediate and directly linked to prayers offered by the faithful. The process is comparable to a peer-review procedure – one pope endorses another to promote him to sainthood.

The anointing of sainthood appears to be merely another step in the hierarchy of the church – similar to the rankings of priest, deacon, and pope. The rather mechanical process evokes a much deeper inquiry not about the basics of sainthood, but the purpose behind it. We can’t help but wonder: Do miracles happen?

Here’s a tale from my every-day life:

Part of my job as an attending physician at a hospital is to run codes. At this particular time as the doctor on duty, we had a 73-year-old male patient who was deteriorating quickly – his breath labored and his pulse gone. He coded several times and was revived with shocks. About 45 minutes into the whole exercise, we deemed the attempt futile. Although the patient had a faint pulse, his blood pressure was not detectable. Most other vital parameters were rock bottom; oxygen saturation levels were too bad. Everything about his situation rendered a sustainable recovery impossible,.. or so we thought.

The next morning, a member of the nursing staff was shocked to hear the patient, who had nearly been declared deceased just hours earlier, utter the words “I’m hungry, as if he woke from his deep slumber.

I’d call that a miracle.  

I don’t know if there was any “guiding hand” involved in the process, or it was just a mere coincidence that modern medicine fails to explain.

A miracle is something that seems logically impossible.

Our human intellect can’t fathom such an occurrence as possible. In these cases, we tend to attribute bad events to fate and “miracles” to divine intervention.

Should we dismiss both the good and the bad “unexplainables” as merely random? More over: What makes a few cells of a 5-year-old turn against themselves to become cancerous – ultimately robbing a child of the chance to experience what life on Earth has to offer? And, if these cells can turn against themselves to become cancerous, can they become buddies again, morphing back into healthy cells? It’s possible, but also worth asking: Is it possible that faith plays a role in these kinds of “miracles”?

Miracles defy the natural order – brain aneurysms aren’t supposed to “go away” and Parkinson’s isn’t supposed to be cured. But, what do we call it when the natural order takes a turn for the worse – when a healthy father’s heart stops beating with a sudden phone call that is daughter has been kidnapped and killed. We don’t call this a miracle. We call it a disaster.

Intense anguish, like grief felt after the death of a loved one, can cause a seemingly healthy heart to come to a complete standstill. Grief can evoke the same symptoms as a heart attack – chest pains, trouble breathing. It’s estimated that about 2% of heart attacks in the US are actually caused by “broken heart syndrome.” A body in seemingly health physical condition suffers this heart ache not by way of a blocked blood vessel, but proved by a surge in stress hormone like adrenaline that overwhelms the heart making it temporarily weak.

If such intense stress can break you, why can’t intense hope heal you?

To some, this hope comes in the form of faith. What cures the faithful is not merely a strong conviction in an ideal, but the intense hope triggered by belief.

It’s almost true. Sometimes it’s your faith that activates “miracles.” Miracles break the laws of nature as we know them – hiding behind the curtains of our perceptions. We’re oblivious to our role in miracles, so when they occur, we call it chance.

For a lot of us, our convictions in a higher being or lack thereof, serve as the vantage point to which we view the world around us. Anything that occurs outside of the bounds of our perception is looked at with suspicion or cynicism. We make the observational error of assuming that only what we understand is legitimate and that anything beyond our comprehension is merely a sham.

You don’t need glorious labels such as that of a saint or guru to not only wish, but evoke goodness onto the world. A life without mystery is not worth living – it is that which occurs outside of our comfort zone that makes life exciting.

People with faith in an underlying force have more room for the mysteries of life than those who refuse to believe in anything transcendent. Belief and hope has the power to liberate us from the cynicism of our minds and to open up our hearts to the possibility of miracles.

The Doctor exhibited 1891. Sir Luke Fildes 1843-1927. Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1894

The Doctor exhibited 1891. Sir Luke Fildes 1843-1927. Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1894

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Meditation – What It Is And What It’s Not

by Rajeev Kurapati
Art by Nicholas Roerich

Art by Nicholas Roerich

A student went to his Zen master and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, my legs ache, I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s just horrible!”

“It will pass,” the teacher said matter-of-factly.

A week later, the student came back to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It’s just wonderful!’

“It will pass,” the teacher replied matter-of-factly.

The point here – the state of mind is in constant flux. Keeping it in a steady state comes with discipline and dedication. Meditation is one such technique to bringing your agitated mind into a balanced state. But it requires practice to sustain the beneficial effects of this mental exercise. For many of us, even if attained the “zen” state, it is more or less temporary because mind craves newness. The moment you think you got very comfortable with this exercise, you find yourselves distracted by a passing by event or a desire. That is what the Zen master was alluding to. Therefore, the key to practicing meditation is not to follow a formula but to understand the mechanics of our mind – how our mind controls our body and vice-versa.

Meditation pertains to the state of mind that is achieved by certain deliberate practices. What we are actually doing in this active process of “calming” our mind is bringing it from an excited state to a balanced state of equanimity. The key to achieving balance is to regulate our breathing pattern.

Imagine when you are stressed and anxious. The first thing you’d notice is your breathing is rapid and shallow. This stress response is actually helpful in the short term. It’s our body’s mechanism to counter physical threat or emotional disturbance. But if this stress response becomes our constant companion, our breathing gets into an inefficient shallow pattern, which brings in less oxygenation to the tissues. Adding to this, a perpetual state of stress keeps the body in a high adrenergic and cortisol flooded state, which is detrimental to the health of blood vessels in the long run. This results in chronic ailments such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and muscle tension just to name a few. Beyond a doubt, the effects of long-term stress were detrimental.

The key to cutting this viscous cycle of inefficient breathing and chronic stress is to modify one or both of these variables. You can deliberately regulate your breathing, bringing it to a more efficient pattern by gently coercing yourself to take deep and steady breathing. By mindfully reminding yourself to focus on your breath, regular breathing eventually becomes habitual.

Meditation in the form of breathing exercises pertains to the mind-and-body aspect of our being.

For most of us, stress is an integral part of daily life. Sometimes, stress levels are at a breaking point. A good night sleep can rescue us and keeps us sane to take on the challenges of the next day. You can watch anyone in deep sleep – their breathing pattern is steady and more or less consistent. One of the main reasons behind such a rejuvenated physical and mental state after a good night sleep is because of the breath’s steadier pattern. Sometimes, a quick nap during the day can make all the difference.

In this calm state of mind, you can think sharper – reducing your mind-wandering tendencies. While this has tremendous health benefits, it is not to be confused with any spiritual liberation or salvation. Meditation in the form of breathing exercises pertains to the mind and body aspect of our being. To understand what is “spiritual” about your being, you have to go beyond the mind and body. But how?… 

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Improving Your Health Through Community: The Benefits of Song

by Rajeev Kurapati

As social media becomes of the norm for more and more nations, it is tough to consider the world anything less than connected. At the push of a button, we can “connect” with millions of individuals from all across the globe. We can “maintain” friendships without ever uttering a single word, build relationships in isolation by stroking our keyboard. But, what are we sacrificing at the hand of convenience? Perhaps much more than we ever imagined.

Societies that prioritize “gatherings” tend to, on average, be happier than even those groups that have far more resources. Festivals especially reinforce the importance of connectedness in the truest sense of the word. These festivities, unique to each culture, foster unity – creating new ties and strengthening existing relationships.

Festivals cultivate a sense of belonging, and today, that is exactly what many of us are lacking.

For religious festivals, in particular, song is a key element serving to nurture togetherness. Singing in a group can be a transcendent experience – not only spiritually, but physiologically. And, what researchers have found is that the elation triggered by a chorus is very real.

Researchers in Sweden studied the heart rates of high school choir members as they sang as one. Published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, their findings prove that choir music, especially when singing in unison, has a calming effect on the heart.

The act of singing serves as a method of controlled breathing, which allows the heart to decelerate. The study found that when the groups sung in unison, their heart beats synchronized, reflecting the rhythm of the music. Not only does music allows us to sync our actions (singing and dancing), it also syncs our internal rhythms.

The implication of these findings is that the communal musical experience is not only a quixotic ideal. It is genuine – and very much transcendent. Singing at these communal gatherings cultivates a true experience of belonging – a unity of both our external beings and our internal counterparts.

Not only does music allows us to sync our actions (singing and dancing), it also syncs our internal rhythms

While your Facebook friends may number in the thousands, the isolation of the internet simply can’t compete with the calming effects of a beautiful hymn sung together at a community festival or a choir.

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