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January 12, 2007
Gaining Release: Healing Hands and Labyrinths

December 8, 2006
Tending to Spirituality's Physical Side: 2 Approaches

December 1, 2006
Rx for Heart Health

November 24, 2006
How Many Ways Can You Open Your Heart? -- Part 4

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Posted: December 03, 2004

Spiritual Caregiving

Two Approaches to the Soul-Body Connection

(Editor?s Note: Anesthesiologist Dr. Laima Pauliukonis knew that moving to Brattleboro, Vermont, wouldn't maximize her paycheck. But that's not what she was looking for. Instead, she joined a group of healthcare professionals, cancer survivors, clergy, and psychotherapists in the Vermont Healing Tools Project, which provides care and support at little or no cost to people with chronic or critical illnesses, their caregivers, and their loved ones. Both the project and her story below are powerful testaments to the healing power of human connections.)


Healing a Cyst-ance:

A True Story to Read Before Surgery

The patient seated before me for her pre-operative anesthesia interview was a middle-aged woman. She was honest with me about feeling apprehensive, and her anxiety was understandable. The surgery was for a large, ominous-looking cyst revealed on her ovary by ultrasound imaging. It could be cancer. Furthermore, she had recently moved from a large metropolitan area known for being at the cutting edge of medicine. By comparison, Brattleboro must have seemed like nowhere.

At the close of the interview, she pushed a sheet of notebook paper across my desk. ?Would you read these to me as I go under anesthesia?? she asked. The page contained affirmations for a safe and comfortable recovery. I was delighted! Having been trained in mind-body medicine and clinical hypnosis, I was well aware of the benefits these techniques can produce when people take the time to practice.

I asked what other preparations she had made, and she explained that she had sought out Reiki treatments and had spent time in meditative guided imagery to heal the cyst. I suggested that she spend the weekend reading the book Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster by Peggy Huddleston and Christine Northrop (Angel River Press), and assured her that I would be glad to read affirming statements to her in the operating room. She then asked me if she could bring a tape of music to be played in the operating room. I suggested that she bring headphones. We established that magic bond of a healing partnership.

On the day of the operation, she arrived at the prep area calm and serene. After giving her the medications for her anesthesia, I repeated her affirmations as she drifted off into unconsciousness, calm and confident. All the while, the headphones of her portable tape player delivered soothing music.

Throughout the operation, her blood pressure and heart rate remained steady, and she required strikingly little anesthetic medication to maintain her relaxed unconscious state. As impressed as I was with her remarkable anesthetic course, the real drama turned out to be in the surgical field. Instead of a cyst, the surgeon found only a small strand of scar tissue -- nothing even worthy of sending to the pathologist. My eyes welled up.

Learn more about the Vermont Healing Tools Project by phoning 802-254-1250.

-- Laima Pauliukonis, M.D.


A Book Review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

Heart: A Natural History of the Heart-Filled Life By Gail Godwin (HarperPerennial 03/02 Paperback $13.95)

Imagine you are sitting down with novelist Gail Godwin for an intimate and wide-ranging conversation about the heart and the immense and varied role it has played in literature, myth, religion, philosophy, medicine, and the fine arts. Like us, you will soon be totally caught up in the thoughts she presents in this deeply spiritual book. We consider it an essential text for our remedial course on heart skills.

Godwin quotes Marie Louise von Franz, who wrote in 1988: "In our modern world we have achieved sexual freedom. Now comes the much bigger problem, the liberation of the heart. That is the program of the next 50 years."

We couldn't agree more. The contemporary culture exalts reason as ruled by the head above the discernment of the heart. People seem ill at ease with the idea and reality of looking within. We are all "children of the Great Heart Split," as Godwin puts it. And that fissure causes many problems, including widespread depression, fear, and anger. The newspapers and the media are filled with stories illustrating heartlessness or the heart of darkness. More than ever, we need tutoring in "heart skills" that include kindness, reverence, openness, compassion, and hospitality.

With grace and flair, Godwin takes us on a royal tour of ideas, stories, and anecdotes about heart beginning with the oldest artistic representation of the heart on a Spanish cave wall in 10,000 B.C. to the most recent books on heart by the Dalai Lama, Thomas Keating, and Paul Pearsall. She is especially cogent in her musings on this seat of wisdom for the Jews, "the great fulcrum of the universe" for Hindus, the throne of God for Sufis, the source of ethics for Confucians, and the true home for the Kingdom of God according to Jesus.

The author celebrates the Kama Sutra as "a guide for keeping the principle of desire alive and balanced in the human heart and therefore in the cosmos at large." The Sufis, known as devotees of the heart, devised manuals for paying close attention to others. Godwin also salutes the human hearted behavior of Socrates, Jesus, Muhammad, Rainer Maria Rilke, George Herbert, Paul Klee, Pierre de Chardin, and others. She shares some of the heartbreak experienced in her brother's suicide and ponders the many "sinkholes of heart absence" in our society of go-getters who tend to view any mystical connections to others as hokum.

In a time when the rift between head and heart still reigns, this is a pioneering work that deserves a wide reading. The same sensitivity, imagination, and adventuresome-ness that have been the hallmarks of Godwin's novels shine through these pages. Take this book to heart and let it inspire your inner work.

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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