HC lectures offer life lessons
By biconews On 1 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Jamie Carr
Guest Columnist

Last semester and once again this semester Dr. Howard Posner is teaching a seminar at Haverford as a guest of the Global Dialogue Institute entitled “Wisdom and the Healing Arts.” Thus seminar met each week for three hours and covered the following topics: homeopathy, aryuveda, acupuncture, fasting, herbal therapies, prayer and mediation, as well as traditional allopathic Western medicine.

I sent a card to my friend yesterday that had a picture of a monk walking down a dirt road and an epigram that said, “if you can make one peaceful step, then peace is possible.” As I was out walking in the woods early this morning I said this to myself and for a moment all thoughts, all feelings, all sensation passed, and I decided I had come to a place where I was ready to write about Dr. Howard Posner’s class.

Now as I begin to write I feel as vulnerable as the leafless trees I see outside the window. I have no protection from your glaring eyes. My account must be as simple and straightforward as my understanding.

My thoughts now are on an interview I had with Dr. Posner. I went to his house near campus prepared with a short list of questions. I hoped to keep the interview short so as not to take up too much of his time. I asked him about his teaching experience at Swarthmore College and his experience with his radio show which aired on NPR in the early ’80s, and he told me some stories about each of those experiences. I also asked him about wisdom and how wisdom relates to healing. I keep pondering his response to this question. He said that wisdom will give you exactly what you need. He explained that wise people will not give you whatever their personal shtick is, whatever they have learned or have inside; instead they will give you exactly what you need. Referring to wisdom in the healing arts he said, “The cure may be only one sentence, as Professor Duggan said in his lecture on acupuncture, that one sentence could be the right acupuncture needle hitting the right point in the person spiritually and then there is no need for needles.”

With these statements, I thought I had captured the essence of the class in the way I needed to write the article, and I hinted that I had no more questions. Dr. Posner sat up straight in his chair and asked incredulously, “No more questions? I have set aside time for you, and there is no need for you to run off so soon.”

So, I sat back in the chair and crossed and re-crossed my legs as I felt my heart beating faster and faster. I asked if since I was here and he had the time I could ask one question unrelated to the article. He tilted his head slightly and said yes, that would he fine.

So, I told him about privilege. I explained that I was haunted by my privilege, that I felt like I was somehow involved in a great injustice because sometimes I feel like I take so much and give so little. I explained that his generosity seemed to exacerbate my anxiety rather than placate it. How can I rationalize my life of plenty when there are people in the world who have so little?

He was silent for a moment then said that my dilemma was understandable. He then pointed to a framed prayer he had hanging on the wall behind him and said it was all right there. It was St. Francis’ prayer and as I was reading it aloud. I smiled at the first line: “Where there is hatred let me bring love.” By the fifth line I could barely make my lips form the words “Grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console.” The last line I said to myself: “In giving of ourselves that we receive and in dying that we are born to eternal life.” Silence followed. As I left I hugged him and realized I was completely unprepared to write about his class.

The notes from our conversation sat untouched for the first two weeks of winter break. The last two weeks of break I lived in a Yoga ashram in Massachusetts, and it was there that I wrote the introduction to this article and some of the material that will follow in this article. I felt in writing at that time there were breakthroughs, but I also felt plagued by some of the other writing I did for this article. My explanation of the Global Dialogue Institute seemed out of place, my overview of the curriculum read like some sort of formal paper that needed an argument, counter-argument, supporting evidence and conclusion. But in that writing, as awkward and frustrated as it seemed, some stories about the class that I liked and felt comfortable with started to emerge. I want to share three such stories with you now and encourage you to talk to me or anyone else in the class if you would like to learn more about what material was covered in the class.

The first story I want to tell is a story about questions. Dr. Posner began one lecture with the question “Why does the United States, with all of its wealth and technology, have the 25th highest infant mortality rate in the world?” In response to this question, Dr. Posner said that when he was in the Peace Corps in Africa he saw an amazing number of very low birth weight babies survive, and at first he couldn’t understand how they did it without any of the technology that Western doctors think is essential. Then he noticed that the mothers cared for their underweight newborns by keeping them at their breast and against their body twenty-four hours a day. The power of touch kept the babies alive.

Another lecture began with this question: “Why are two of the top three causes of death in the United States (heart disease and cancer) twentieth-century phenomena?” In response, Dr. Posner told a story about a patient who goes to the doctor complaining of stomach ulcers. The doctor prescribes a drug that relieves the pain caused by the stomach ulcers. Four months later the patient suffers a heart attack. “Were the stomach ulcers a gift that was ignored?” Dr. Posner queried. Were the stomach ulcers a sign that the patient had too much stress or had a poor diet, and this was his or her body’s way of telling him or her that it is time to change?

The last story I want to tell about the class was told during one session when Professor Gangadean, founder of the Global Dialogue Institute, was a guest lecturer for the full three hours. In his lecture he talked about his research and how it is possible to mediate between alternate worldviews. I was very excited about the transcendent energy surrounding his talk, but what sticks with me is a simple story that he told about his first meeting with Dr. Posner when he took his family to see him in his office. In the course of conversation, Posner discovered that one member of the family particularly loved music, so he got up, walked through the waiting room full of patients with the Gangadeans and took them to his van. There he played a tape for them of music he wanted them to hear. Gangadean was sufficiently moved by this and subsequent experiences to bring Dr. Posner to campus. I ask the question: is it possible that the music of Bach is as powerful a drug as Prozac or Allegra?

As I sit now looking out my window watching the snowfall lightly. I see that someone has made, a giant smiling face in the snow with her footprints. My heart delights with what it finds at Haverford College.

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