To Begin: A Personal Story on Spontaneous Remission
“When I was 10 years old, I experienced spontaneous remission from a psychotic episode and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) through a spiritual experience,” Joan said as she revealed both an intimate snapshot of a vulnerable time in her life and insight into her scientific and clinical fascination with and exploration of spirituality, sexuality, psychology, nutrition, and more the past 40 years.
“I had seen this frightening movie with my mom. There were jungle scenes, head hunters with poison darts, scorpions, things that would scare a young child. I dreamt scary images; the movie traumatized me. One week later I started to hallucinate. I saw head hunters, feared they were going to break into the house. I developed OCD to manage, control, and make sense of the hallucinations. I believed that if I did the right rituals I would keep the head hunters from manifesting and killing my family.”
“I started with handwashing then developed other rituals. Before I spoke, I had to organize all my words into a mental list, which slowed my speech. When I read a book, I had to read it upside down, which meant I read upside down and backwards. And, I had to read everything three times. If I was disturbed while reading I would be in terror—absolutely, unbelievably, I can’t tell you how terrified I was. I couldn’t sleep or I would dream.”
One day, several months later, I thought, maybe if I prayed (now prayer was not in my family background). It was an inexplicable experience. The fear dissipated, and I felt a sense of peace. Fear and peace are different body experiences. You can taste terror, smell it, feel its waves of energy, its panic flushing, tensing. And when it suddenly stops and is replaced with a deep sense of peace and safety, a sense of something larger than yourself, it’s an opening of the mind/body state of being. I felt inspiration beyond anything my mind could dream up.”
“I knew I could heal from this mental illness. I knew how to do it. During this state of peace, this poem came to me about divine light and being watched over in the universe. I realized that if I thought of the poem I could bring the peaceful state back. When I was scared by images of the head hunters, I said the poem and went back to the peaceful state. I knew I could call back that deep sense of peace. If I did the rituals, I would stay stuck there. The prayer state needed to come to the ritual and I needed to say the poem. In three to four days the nightmares disappeared. The head hunters went away.”
“As a scientist and a psychologist, I believe in spontaneous remission.”
Spontaneous remission is not as rare as people may think (Jessy, 2011). It has been associated with the placebo effect—if you believe it will work, it will. According to Christina Sarich (2014) the Institute of Noetic Sciences has documented over 3,500 verifiable cases of diseases, often life threatening, that went away on their own accord. Joan explained that research has defined three commonalities that exist in cases of spontaneous remission regardless of the precipitating event, be it a psychological or physical illness (cancer, heart disease, diabetes), three things were in place:
The person believed spontaneous remission/regression was possible
The person believed it was possible for him/her to personally experience spontaneous remission
The spontaneous remission was grounded in some sort of spiritual experience
“Somehow, they entered an ultimate reality,” Joan said. “Maybe it’s like a physicist who studies string theory, who believes in parallel universes—there’s a shift in parallel realties where the illness never existed. Whatever the explanation, the person went into a somatic state. They had a felt sense of peace, and were able to reproduce it, like the place of peace I experienced when I was 10 years old. This personal experience guided me as a scientist, as someone interested in the spirituality of healing.”
As a spiritual mentor, Joan works with students to impart the wisdom of feeling states: they are “all sensations in the body and if you stay with the sensation you will discover it is impermanent—underneath the experience of fear, you go through a doorway that leads to wisdom, insight, healing,” she said.
You can read the entire interview here.