My initial thought was that there were mainly two types of conversation. One where the person just wants to be heard and the other where there is a further purpose, like problem solving or asking for help. I think most of these ones listed below fall into the second category where there is a purpose beyond needing to express yourself and be heard.


In The Patterns of Effective ConversationDave Pollard lists ten generic purposes of conversation.

The list below is an adaptation of his list, in which I have modified or expanded some of the descriptions and added additional items:

Real conversation serves one or more of the following purposes:

  1. Information: to obtain, surface, or convey information or understanding of facts (know-what), processes (know-how), or contacts (know-who). To learn from each other.
  2. Sense-making: to make sense of something (beyond just obtaining facts), especially a complex issue.
  3. Perspectives or viewpoints: to obtain different points of view or gain consensus
  4. Change: to challenge and shift someone’s viewpoint or intentions (mine or others’)
  5. Ideas: to generate ideas, surface and imagine possibilities
  6. Collaboration: to enable the effective production of some shared work-product
  7. Deepening or creation of relationships: to connect with other people, to build relationships
  8. Entertainment or fun: to have fun, banter, gossip, flirt
  9. Recognition, attention, or reputation: to obtain it or offer it
  10. Appreciation, empathy, or reassurance: to get it or offer it
  11. Decision making: to make decisions
  12. Problem-solving: to solve problems or figure out how best to respond to them
  13. Reveal problems: to reveal hidden issues or unintended consequences of our actions
  14. Search for opportunities: to search for opportunities.
The purposes of conversation | Conversational Leadership (

Link tracking

Rather than saving open tabs, bookmarks, to do items, collection items, etc. I’m just going to start throwing links here:

To check out:

Brain Scans: Autism, ADHD & OCD… or just HSP?

This is what really helped me feel confident in my hypothesis (bold is mine):

What Brain Scans Tell Us About Autism Spectrum Disorder

Anagnostou and her colleagues had set out to use neuroimaging to identify brain differences unique to ASD, as compared to other neurodevelopmental differences like ADHDOCD, and intellectual disability. And they did find that brain differences clustered into different groups—but not by diagnosis. In fact, brain scans could not distinguish children who had been diagnosed with ASD from those who had been diagnosed with ADHD or OCD.

“Dr. Anagnostou reported data from multiple papers that looked at over 3,500 children,” Dr. Alycia Halladay, Chief Science Officer at the Autism Science Foundation, explained to me. “These studies looked at multiple structural and functional features of the brain—including cortical gyrification (the way the brain folds in the cortex), connectivity of different brain regions, and the thickness of the cortical area—and found no differences based on diagnosis.”

New Research May Change How We Think About the Autism Spectrum | Psychology Today

My umbrella hypothesis about sensitivity, Autism and neurological differences

Just found this October 23, 2022: How Childhood Trauma Leads to Addiction – Gabor Maté – YouTube


Lacking those needs, we lack health.


This is my rough draft, I’m throwing things out before they are polished to get the ideas out in the world sooner.

HSP 20%-30%

So if Neurodivergent (ND) = HSP

Then ND = 20-30% and Neurotypical (NT) = 70-80%

OCD, ASD & ADHD are not neurotypes, they are collections of challenges that ND/HSP have or they are symptoms of an underlying problem (impared sleep for example) or lack of certain skills.

For example:

  • Emotion regulation is a skill. NT tend to learn it innately, ND often need direct instruction, which they may or may not get as children. (ND tend to learn scholastic skills innately instead, but NT need to be taught that)
  • Executive dysfunction is often impaired by sleep issues which can stem from many sources. NT with sleep problems also have executive function challenges. Sleep problems are just much more common and harmful (larger impact per degree of problem) for ND. Part of that goes back to the self regulation skills and whether they were taught or not, such as good sleep hygiene and routines.
  • Anxiety is common among ND, that’s actually their role – to be the cautious future thinkers. Again it comes back to learning emotion regulation skills to manage the anxiety (Think Cassandra of Greek myth – if you’ve identified with her, you’re probably ND)
  • In OCD the ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) have tuned their brain to be even more sensitive to danger and the compulsions are a coping tool. Either they are hyperfocusing on something to avoid the pain of the anxiety or they are using a strategy to calm themselves or it was a self preservation habit or something along those lines
  • ADHD and Autism: Aspergers or ADHD? The answer will surprise you. – Penelope Trunk Careers
  • ASD difficulties in social interactions and communication – again just a skill not taught that NTs pick up automatically and NDs don’t, and also there has been research showing that ND communicate fine with ND, it’s just the ND-NT communication that is challenging. Yes, talk to us like you would a 5 year old. Direct, detailed, clear, concise language, with compassion and kindness. And if that’s not how you communicate with a 5 year old, I don’t really want to be communicating with you anyway.
  • ASD repetitive behaviors are again compulsions like OCD, they are a coping tool – so adverse events paired with a lack of (socially acceptable) coping skills/tools can result in presenting as ASD
  • ASD intense interests – again, this is the role of ND/HSP – I would guess that every advancement ever was made by someone ND, either because they didn’t realize not to do something just because no one else did it or because they were curious. NDs with good social & emotional skills have intense interests/are deep thinkers (see HSP descriptions) – they just mask or control them successfully when interacting with NT folks or a mixed crowd.
  • unusual responses to sensory stimuli – Again this is just the role of the ND – high sensitivity for danger detection paired with a lack of coping tools or skills – NDs are the canaries in the coal mine of the human race (link rise of Autism with chemical farming, smoking, sitting, sugar, processed foods, diabetes, Alzheimers, microbiome)
  • The reason people have been able to “cure” autism is because they have been able to teach the missing skills or to correct an underlying health problem caused by the high sensitivity, such as intolerances to gluten, food coloring, etc. The person is still ND, but the problem behaviors (maladaptive coping tools, missing self-regulation skills, dysregulation caused by a health problem) have been resolved.
  • Ehlers-Danlos has a high co-morbidity rate with ASD
    • It’s a collagen disorder, the hypermobile type is the only one they don’t know the genes for the last time I checked – which would make sense if they are trying to compare people who have EDS and are diagnosed because they are suffering from it, and people who don’t have it + people who have it but are undiagnosed because they are not suffering from it or it has been labeled something else like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, etc.
  • One of the symptoms of defective collagen is increased tissue permeability
    • That could be a major factor for the sensory sensitivity of ND (HSP)
    • Again, there are things that can be taught to reduce the risk of challenges, there are those who innately figure them out or are taught in childhood and they often go undiagnosed unless it causes problems later in life (arthritis, joint pain, etc.) or they are misdiagnosed because EDS is “rare” – even though they know it’s a dominant gene????

So that leaves us with two things:

First – how can we test this hypothesis?

Second (wish I could recall what I meant, maybe the “what should we do about it?” part?)

Research studies that screen for EDS (somatic traits), HSP (mostly cognitive traits), OCD, ADHD & ASD, ACE & PCE scores and brain scans.

Participants should include large cohorts that are already diagnosed with one of the above issues and screen for the rest in addition to NT controls.

ADHD symptoms arise from executive dysfunction,[6][7][8] and emotional dysregulation is often considered a core symptom.

Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental and behavioral disorder in which an individual has intrusive thoughts and/or feels the need to perform certain routines repeatedly to the extent where it induces distress or impairs general function

Risk factors include a history of child abuse or other stress-inducing events; some cases have occurred after streptococcal infections.

Obsessive–compulsive disorder – Wikipedia

The autism spectrum is a range of neurodevelopmental conditions generally characterized by difficulties in social interactions and communication, repetitive behaviors, intense interests, and unusual responses to sensory stimuli. It is commonly referred to as autism or, in the context of a professional diagnosis, as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but the latter term remains controversial among neurodiversity advocates, neurodiversity researchers, and many autistic people due to the use of the word disorder and due to questions about its utility outside of diagnostic contexts.

Autism spectrum – Wikipedia

Having a partner is overrated if you aren’t happy.

I replied:

Only someone with autism would say that. Having a partner is absolutely NOT overrated. Steering one’s own ship IS overrated. Wanting to do everything how we want to do it at the cost of making compromise to share life with someone else is the definition of autism…The human race would not have survived if it were normal to want these things.

She replied:

[I had] a narcissistic/borderline mother who made emotional chaos normal in my childhood…So I picked two husbands where emotional chaos was normal. Then I got sick of feeling emotionally drained and got out. Since then I’ve navigated carefully to protect my serenity. In therapy again now to expand my thinking around this and more. I don’t think I’m autistic. 

I replied: You’re autistic. Here’s why:

Self-analysis is autism

Just because you can spew DSM stuff doesn’t mean you’re not autistic. In fact, analyzing ourselves as a hobby is a marker of autism — we are constantly trying to understand how to world works, and how we feel comfortable. Because actually we can’t do either of those things. And the real reason we are out of step is that our brain makes us blind to ourselves. We see other people clearly but we don’t see ourselves.

But wait, all that analysis has payoff. People with autism are better writers than everyone else, because we spend our life memorizing dialogue and replaying it in our heads trying to figure out what just happened. ]….

Autism – Penelope Trunk

[Borderline personality is autism

So many autistic women think they are not autistic but “just recovering from a mother who has borderline personality disorder”. But autism and BPD frequently go together and scientists think BPD is so similar to autism that it’s another autism spectrum disorder. BPD is caused primarily by a mother who has BPD and autism; her erratic parenting causes her autistic daughter develop BPD.

Narcissism is autism

Narcissism and autism are so similar that scientists are thinking narcissism might be a subset of autism so we could just delete the narcissism category from the DSM.

There are many published papers explaining why narcissism is part of autism. You don’t need to know every piece of research but you do need to know that if your therapist diagnosed your parents or your spouse with narcissism it’s because the therapist doesn’t understand autism, and you have it, and that therapist can’t help you.

Divorce is autism

When the commenter writes that she’s been divorced twice. That’s probably because she decided the men have a problem (narcissism) and she has a problem (raised by a mom with BPD) and she felt depressed. But depression is part of autism, regardless of who we pick to marry, and staying married protects against the worst depression.

Autistic marriages are likely to end because we have the most emotionally compromised dating pool. If you’re not autistic you sort out people who violate all the social rules for dating. So autistic people are left with a dating pool of each other, and we don’t even notice there’s anything wrong.

Loneliness is autism

That is, until the honeymoon glow turns to marital glower and loneliness seems hard to separate from choice of spouse. I’ve done that. But once you get divorced, you’re forced to diversify your ideas about loneliness.

I used to think loneliness was something I had from not being around enough people, and that’s why I feel less lonely when I write on my blog. But I discovered that loneliness is a neurological disorder. Loneliness isn’t caused by a lack of social support. Loneliness comes from chronic illness or social anxiety. And the only way start feeling less lonely is to first acknowledge it’s an autism thing.

Interestingness is autism

So, yeah, I do think the commenter has autism. She must be really interesting to have appealed to her ex spouses because she — like me — is totally interested in her own stuff. So we are magnets for people who like interestingness. And wanting life to be interesting is not normal. There are higher values than that. But not for us.

So it’s no wonder that adults with autism know more about autism than mental health professionals. And if you want to know if you have autism, don’t ask a professional. Ask someone with autism. And if you want your life to get better after you find out you have autism, talk to people who also know they have autism. You get really smart about yourself really fast once you have that label.

Autism – Penelope Trunk

amygdala vs prefrontal cortex

my hypothesis is that there is a common neurodivergent brain type identified as HSP, also seen in non-human populations and that OCD ADHD and autism are conditions that affect that neurotype based on: chemical exposures, childhood ACE or PCE and epigenetics. Especially with chemical exposures, ehlers-danlos seems to be also tied in, as that may make tissues more permeable and more susceptible to chemicals creating epigenetic changes, also might support the sensitivity trait

Disabled by the environment or the social model of disability

survival and success through diversity

Societal roles and functions of neurotypical and neurodivergent

Two sides of any trait, for example: anxiety stems from future thinking, future thinking allows planning for the future – for example this climate crisis

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs versus the Blackfoot Native American system

United States medical system is broken. The education system is broken. The legal system is broken. The economy and government are broken.

This is how humans learn – through failure. We break things to figure out how they work. And with that understanding we can repair or rebuild better.

Mental health is physical health – the brain is part of the body and what you eat goes into your body and is what your body uses to run itself, so food is medicine.

If the soil is lacking nutrients, then the plants will also, and so will we or the animals we eat who eat the plants. Without the nutrients we need, our immune systems end up in overdrive or we end up with “neurological” disorders because we don’t have the components needed to work properly. Our immune systems get overwhelmed or confused and we end up with inflammation, which ends up being the root of so many diseases.

Notes from Stanford Neurodiversity Summit:

Please love yourself

“but then you can’t expect somebody who loves you to treat you less cruelly than he would treat himself.”

Mary McCarthy on Love and Hannah Arendt’s Advice to Her on the Dangerous Delusion That We Can Change the People We Love – The Marginalian

This was a revelation for me – I had such a hard time understanding how someone could be so kind, generous & compassionate with everyone but me. Until I realized that I had become part of their self and thus was mistreated the same way they mistreated themselves. And because of my codependency I had allowed & tolerated it by not setting firm boundaries.

No one can read minds.

Your “obvious” hints/signs/clues – aren’t. Just state your needs if you want a chance of getting them met.

You are the only one who knows the inside scoop.

You are the one who knows what your internal experience is – everyone else can only guess based on behavior.

Put on your air mask first.

You must have love and compassion for yourself before you can have it for others.

If you are what you practice habitually, the best place to start is with your internal voice – be kind to yourself.

Feed the good wolf – if you feel yourself going into what I call “the bad place” – I distract myself with things that remind me of hope, kindness, goodness (right now it’s the idea of permaculture).

Tumbler Dec 26 2014






if you dont have me on facebook you are probably not missing out on any posts but the comment section is important too lmao

I went to the Renaissance faire dressed as a warrior.  I had a real sword with me, too.  I was standing (in character) next to a sword-fighting ring, where kids of all ages got the chance to pick up a sword and challenge the champion.  Some woman walks by, with her little girl.  The girl starts walking towards the ring, saying she wants to fight.  But the mom pulled her away hella sharply, and was like, “That’s for boys.”  You don’t want to be a BOY, do you?”    And the girl looked around and saw me.  I think she thought I was a boy; I had my hair in a ponytail, and was wearing a hood.  So she comes up to me and asks me, “Do you think girls can be fighters, too?”  And her mom looks like she’s silently gloating.  Like she thinks I’m going to say no.  So I take off my hood, untie my hair so that it flows freely, and kneel before her.  And I’m like, “Milady, anyone can be a fighter.”  I swear, the look on that mother’s face made my day.

This post was good but then it got better

Man I normally cringe and guffaw at any usage of ‘milady’ but that girl’s response made me fistpump.
I’m normally very “pfft” at Tumblr’s ‘no gender norms for kids!!!11’ posts because 90% of the people making them aren’t caretakers of children and thus really can only speculate as outsiders — not that they’re wrong but they usually just don’t have the day-to-day experience that a parent/caretaker sibling or relative/nanny/babysitter might have. But I can confirm, having just wandered into that day-to-day experience, that gender stratifications like this are super pervasive even today in typically liberal/progressive parts of the United States. And they start early, too, often before the kid’s even squirted out into the world. Baby registries were not as gender-neutral friendly as I expected. I get weird looks for shopping around the boy’s clothing section in Target — one lady even gave me the flat-brow scowl when I came to browse the same boy’s onesie rack as her while pushing my purple-and-polkadot-clad daughter along in her stroller. Like, ‘how dare u approach dis rack of garments!!1 This is for BOYS!!’ Honey, those grey hoodies are warm as shit and it’s fixing to get COLD here around the Bay. I don’t give a fuck if they say ‘Daddy’s Little Champ’ on them, either. PLUS THEY ARE ON SALE, MOVE OVER WOMAN. 
It’s not really worth getting worked up about, but it’s definitely something you want to consider before you decide to churn out your own wee bairns into the world. 






if you dont have me on facebook you are probably not missing out on any posts but the comment section is important too lmao

I went to the Renaissance faire dressed as a warrior.  I had a real sword with me, too.  I was standing (in character) next to a sword-fighting ring, where kids of all ages got the chance to pick up a sword and challenge the champion.  Some woman walks by, with her little girl.  The girl starts walking towards the ring, saying she wants to fight.  But the mom pulled her away hella sharply, and was like, “That’s for boys.”  You don’t want to be a BOY, do you?”    And the girl looked around and saw me.  I think she thought I was a boy; I had my hair in a ponytail, and was wearing a hood.  So she comes up to me and asks me, “Do you think girls can be fighters, too?”  And her mom looks like she’s silently gloating.  Like she thinks I’m going to say no.  So I take off my hood, untie my hair so that it flows freely, and kneel before her.  And I’m like, “Milady, anyone can be a fighter.”  I swear, the look on that mother’s face made my day.

This post was good but then it got better

Man I normally cringe and guffaw at any usage of ‘milady’ but that girl’s response made me fistpump.

I’m normally very “pfft” at Tumblr’s ‘no gender norms for kids!!!11’ posts because 90% of the people making them aren’t caretakers of children and thus really can only speculate as outsiders — not that they’re wrong but they usually just don’t have the day-to-day experience that a parent/caretaker sibling or relative/nanny/babysitter might have. But I can confirm, having just wandered into that day-to-day experience, that gender stratifications like this are super pervasive even today in typically liberal/progressive parts of the United States. And they start early, too, often before the kid’s even squirted out into the world. Baby registries were not as gender-neutral friendly as I expected. I get weird looks for shopping around the boy’s clothing section in Target — one lady even gave me the flat-brow scowl when I came to browse the same boy’s onesie rack as her while pushing my purple-and-polkadot-clad daughter along in her stroller. Like, ‘how dare u approach dis rack of garments!!1 This is for BOYS!!’ Honey, those grey hoodies are warm as shit and it’s fixing to get COLD here around the Bay. I don’t give a fuck if they say ‘Daddy’s Little Champ’ on them, either. PLUS THEY ARE ON SALE, MOVE OVER WOMAN.

It’s not really worth getting worked up about, but it’s definitely something you want to consider before you decide to churn out your own wee bairns into the world.

(via shad0ww0rdpain)

Getting Caught Up Again – 200+ email backlog

I finally have some time to clear out my mailbox and get somewhat up to date here. I think some of this I may have made time to blog about, but not all of it.

For wedding stuff scroll down to 11-16-2007.
Continue reading

Why I want to telecommute

Or work half time for twice the pay (same net take home). From all the readily available work on this topic, I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to break free from being a wage slave. I want to be paid for my work, not for the time my butt is stuck in an office.

His 21st-century counterparts are an army of product researchers, academics and personal improvement gurus, who all agree we are frittering valuable minutes, hours and even entire days, though they can’t agree on how many.

American workers, on average, spend 45 hours a week at work, but describe 16 of those hours as “unproductive,” according to a study by Microsoft. America Online and, in turn, determined that workers actually work a total of three days a week, wasting the other two. And Steve Pavlina, whose Web site ( describes him as a “personal development expert” and who keeps incremental logs of how he spends each working day, urging others to do the same, finds that we actually work only about 1.5 hours a day.

From: Time Wasted? Perhaps It’s Well Spent
NY Times, 5/31/07, By LISA BELKIN


We are wasting time because we are working harder.

“The longer you work, the less efficient you are,” said Bob Kustka, the founder of Fusion Factor, a productivity and time-management consulting firm in Norwell, Mass. He says workers are like athletes in that they are most efficient in concentrated bursts.


“The old thinking says ‘the longer it takes, the harder you’re working,” says Lynne Lancaster, a founder of BridgeWorks, a business consulting firm. “The new thinking is ‘if I know the job inside and out and I’m done faster than everyone else then why can’t I go home early?’ ”


At the headquarters of Best Buy in Minneapolis, for instance, the hot policy of the moment is called ROWE, short for Results Only Work Environment.

There workers can come in at four or leave at noon, or head for the movies in the middle of the day, or not even show up at all. It’s the work that matters, not the method. And, not incidentally, both output and job satisfaction have jumped wherever ROWE is tried.

Love and Respect

From one of the columns I read regularly:

“Small moments of courtesy, gentleness and all that good stuff that rounds out your life together is the carefulness I have in mind. “Company manners” is one way to describe my idea of carefulness in love. To be used every single day, so it becomes normalcy. When love and respect are everyday parts of the relationship, careful relating is a seamless result.”

Handle With Care
on Single File by Susan Deitz

That really captures my thoughts about why my friends and family are the ones I should treat with the most courtesy, be the most polite to. It’s a way of showing my respect and appreciation for them. But also, its the kind of person I want to be. I want to be able to show respect to any and all that I meet, and if I don’t practice it daily, with those who surround me, then it won’t come naturally.

Quote of the day

Zen master who, asked if his practice of self-insight had enabled him to work miracles, replied, “My miracle is, I eat when I’m hungry, I sleep when I’m tired.”

From the article:
A Psychology of the Miraculous
By:Marc Barasch


A Psychology of the Miraculous
Is there enough evidence in the various case reports of patients who showed spontaneous remission from life-threatening illnesses to prove that the human psyche has the power to heal itself?
By:Marc Barasch

Can a crisis of the flesh—say, the diagnosis of a disease such as cancer—summon barely suspected healing powers into existence?

A few years ago, something changed my life. It was a violent change—a diagnosis of cancer. Yet when my doctor sat me down on the edge of his padded table, I had felt not fear but a kind of weird exhilaration—like the moment the rollercoaster crests its first hump and you slowly begin the gravity-abducted swoosh to earth.

Something would now require me to draw on every resource I possessed, on whatever I thought I knew about myself and life in general. As my doctor strove for the right balance between dolor and reassurance, up within me sprang a fugitive hope; a hope familiar to all who find themselves in such circumstances, and which made the drone of his recitative fade momentarily like an FM station in a car leaving town: Who knows? I thought to myself: Maybe there’ll be a miracle.

At the time, I was the editor of New Age Journal. I had often heard stories around the office of patients who got well after the doctor did everything but pronounce them dead. But such tales have the ring of wistful folklore when your own life seemingly hangs in the balance. I eventually had the doctor’s surgery, and was pronounced cured.

Still, I was amazed at how sickness had affected me; how it had seemed to plunge me into a separate reality that, despite years of self-analysis, was as unfamiliar as the dark side of the moon. I had sensed the stirring of great forces I could scarcely begin to fathom. I had felt at once mortally imperiled and embarked on a great adventure; cheated of my life yet restored to some deeper selfhood. My dreams had been infused with a crystalline, terrible immediacy; emotions had swept through me in torrents. The voice of the psyche had never been so stentorian, nor so incomprehensible.

I wondered afterward: Had the luminosity I had seen in the throes of illness just been the delirium of the shipwrecked? Or was there some way that disease may summon barely suspected healing powers into existence?

Under a compulsion to sort out my own strange experiences, I spent years interviewing dozens of people who claimed to have had unusual healings. This was no academic pursuit, but a survival exercise; a way to ride out the aftershocks of a catastrophe still rumbling through my life. I was oddly gratified to discover that many of those I spoke to had also undergone inward shiftings of tectonic magnitude. Their crisis of the flesh had become, as had mine, a dilemma of the spirit.

A few people I met seemed to have had a spontaneous remission of an incurable condition, such a rara avis of an event that its every sighting is doubted. They ply the circuit, these grateful, sometimes baffled beneficiaries of healing: the man trimmed out in polyester making televised couch-chat out of his vanished polyps; a woman telling Joan Rivers how the tumor-the-size-of-an-orange that once straddled her left ovary just… disappeared. “Incredible,” Rivers brays. “You hear these stories, you just go… unbelievable!”

As well you might, if you retain a phosphor of native skepticism. But if you also possess a scintilla of innate curiosity, you cannot help but wonder, Could it be? Do miracles really happen? It is only lately that you might hear science reply, with quiet, uncomprehending vehemence, Believe it.

The evidence, as it turns out, has been there all along, literally hidden between the lines. An eye-opening encyclopedic compilation by California’s Institute of Noetic Sciences lists hundreds of case reports unearthed from worldwide medical journals, where they had lain moldering like so many Dead Sea Scrolls.

A typical account, culled from the journal Cancer, describes a 51-year-old patient with a “fist-sized” abdominal tumor with metastases to the liver—a fast-progressing, invariably fatal condition. The man’s stomach was operated on, but when his surgeons saw the spread of cancer’s malign domain, they could only close him up and send him home to die. Inconveniently, 12 years later the left-for-dead man appeared in the emergency room of a Boston-area veterans hospital and presented himself to Dr. Steven Rosenberg.

Rosenberg was a bona fide Doogie Houser: college at 16, an M.D. and Ph.D by his early twenties. This case, one of his very first as a junior surgical resident, looked routine enough if a little depressing. The man, named Mr. DeAngelo, whose symptoms led Rosenberg to correctly surmise he was now suffering an infected gall bladder, was a grizzled old vet down on his luck.

Yet Mr. DeAngelo, with what Rosenberg would later remember as “an aura of secret triumph,” regaled him with an outlandish story the young doctor was sure came from the befuddlements of age and alcohol. Mr. DeAngelo insisted he had had terminal cancer and it had just… gone away. Digging out the man’s original pathology report, a skeptical Rosenberg was nonplussed to discover it was true—the man before him with the graying stubble and self-congratulatory mien was a species of medical freak, consigned to the grave and yet risen.

Rosenberg performed the gall-bladder operation, taking time to probe the man’s liver for the cancer he was sure was still there, if perhaps inexplicably slowed in its usual growth. There was nothing.

“I rushed out of the operating room,” Rosenberg was later to write in his book, The Transformed Cell, “still dressed in green, still encrusted in drying blood. This didn’t seem possible. There had been only four documented cases—not four a year in the United States, but four ever, in the world—of spontaneous and complete remission of stomach cancer.” Mr. DeAngelo, he immediately realized, “presented a mystery of ultimately enormous dimensions. Something began to burn in me, something that has never gone out.”

From that moment on, Rosenberg dedicated himself to a quest to uncover the body’s secret cancer-fighting mechanisms. By the relatively tender age of 34, he was made chief of surgery at the National Cancer Institute. Three years ago, he devised a highly experimental cancer treatment for advanced cancer using cells engineered to produce tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a potent enzyme capable of rapidly dissolving bulging tumors in test animals, and which might have been a factor in Mr. DeAngelo’s astounding medical hat trick.

A Glimmering Pearl

But the question of what had made Mr. DeAngelo different from other patients—of who he really was—is never answered, or even asked. Rosenberg’s 1972 case report is maddeningly incurious. “No evidence of tumor or other masses could be found in the abdomen,” he states simply. “No adenopathy could be palpated.” Sieving through the medical annals of miracle, one is confronted with articles dry to the point of desiccation. If their subjects had psyches, relationships, or meaningful lives, the authors seem to be saying, these were of no more consequence than an oyster shell that accidentally produces within its dull gray housing an impossibly rare, glimmering pearl.

This has been an enduring frustration to investigators intrigued by the notion that there might be psychosocial factors conducive to spontaneous remission. However, as I and others have discovered, sometimes the simplest line of inquiry—Would you mind telling me your story?—leads beyond the mechanics of the human immune system toward the mysteries of the human soul; toward what one is tempted to call, for want of a better term, a psychology of the miraculous.

One such case is that of Mitchell May. When he was 21, May’s destiny took a horrifying wrong turn. On his way to a bluegrass festival on a rain-slicked Alabama road, a car struck him head-on, reducing his van to a twisted wreck, collapsing his lung, and shattering his leg in 40 places. He was flown to UCLA in a full body cast, where a team of several dozen orthopedic, vascular, and plastic surgeons declared his leg unsalvageable.

“From just below the knee down to the ankle:” remembers orthopedist Edgar Dawson, M.D., “there was just bare bone hanging out with no muscle or skin over it. The leg was grossly infected. It had to come off.” But May stubbornly refused amputation, even when his brother, who said his leg “looked like a pride of lions had chewed on it until they had enough;” was about to sign a court order allowing doctors to remove the dying appendage.

Desperate at the impasse, May’s mother sought out a healer whose unorthodox methods included laying-on of hands, hypnosis, and prayer. Jack Gray was not the classic image of a healer, unless one’s imagination ran to old-timers with impasto-thick New York accents in cheesy leisure suits. But Mitchell says this apparition, who drove a wheezing Pinto in from the Valley to stay by his side 12 hours a day, was seemingly able to bypass medical science completely.

“His hands would dance around me,” recalls May. “He somehow managed to take me into very deep trance states, just using his voice.” Within three days Mitchell’s constant pain—the excruciating sensation of raw nerves exposed to air that had resisted the most powerful and addictive painkillers—was gone.

Over a period of months, with Jack “lending his energy,” the two-inch gap in May’s bone began to regenerate, the missing nerve and muscle tissue filled in, and his never-set fractures began to fuse. After years, against all medical expectation, he regained full use of his leg. Dr. Dawson, when asked to explain it all, says, “That’s easy. It was a miracle.”

But May, now a cheerful 42-year-old, claims his miracle was one of the human psyche. “Being literally dismembered somehow opened up a new world. It was as if by being taken apart, other energies could enter through the broken places. I was forced to discover the life of the soul, and I think that was most responsible for my healing.”

May’s description is reminiscent of the healing path described by shamans the world over: the plummet into helplessness and mortality, the awakening of a dormant treasure-source of power, and a phoenix-like ascent to wholeness. Writes anthropologist Joan Halifax about the “initiatory crisis” of the wounded healer: “The neophyte turns away from the secular life, either voluntarily, ritually, or spontaneously through sickness, and turns inward toward the unknown, the mysterium. This change of direction can be accomplished only through what Carl Jung has referred to as ‘an obedience to awareness.’ ”

Nearly all the people I interviewed discovered their own version of this path—a journey that seemed most often to involve a sudden intensification of the inner life, replete with vivid dreams, psychological epiphanies, sometimes near-hallucinatory episodes and perceptual alterations.

One, a woman named Debby Ogg struggled to explain, “There’s a science from the inside as well as the outside.” Debby, whose spontaneous remission from lymphoma (“It wasn’t spontaneous,” she emends, “I worked my ass off for it.”) was the subject of a made-for-TV movie, says that she experienced episodes of a “floating, timeless” state of mind that had reminded her of childhood, like when “the sign for the town of Worcester was only ten minutes from our house, but getting there seemed like a whole day’s trip.”

A Submerged Memory

Many people described revisiting forgotten moments of childhood wholeness with unprecedented intensity. Peter Hettel, a Florida software engineer, was diagnosed with a deadly sarcoma in his sinus cavity. He had been offered a treatment so gruesome sounding that he refused. Instead, he drove to North Carolina to see an unorthodox therapist whose practice included “neurolinguistic programming.” During his first session, Peter was suddenly plunged into a long-submerged memory.

“I was around six years old, living in the countryside. I’d woken up really early one morning, and there spread before me was a magical-looking field with dewdrops like diamonds, and a grazing deer with its breath smoking from the cold. What I remembered was this sense of newness, of infinite possibility. Suddenly I was in it again, just exactly. I felt like I was a different person, or a person I’d once been but had completely forgotten. I just burst out laughing.”

Many ancient healing rituals seem to imply that the first turning point in the process of renewal is “becoming as a child again.” Writes mythologist Joseph Campbell: The first step of regeneration is a retreat from the desperations of the wasteland to the magic of childhood. All the life-potentialities that we never managed to bring to adult realization, those other portions of ourself, are there; such golden seeds do not die.”

In the Greek Asklepian temple, the patient would be clothed in white linen and wrapped like a child in swaddling clothes. Interestingly, the late Australian psychiatrist Ainslee Meares apparently obtained several documented and dramatic spontaneous remissions teaching patients with advanced cancers a meditation technique aimed at producing psychological “regression… a return to that state of affairs prior to the onset of the cancer… before things went wrong’ ” He postulated this return allowed the “self-righting” mechanisms of the body to again “come into play.”

Vivid recall of childhood memories is a characteristic of people rated highly hypnotizable. Psychologists S. C. Wilson and T. X. Barber found that such people were as children more likely to indulge in make-believe and retain into adulthood an ability to immerse themselves in fantasy, to “live in” the images they create. One woman in Wilson and Barber’s study described having to wrap herself in blankets in her well-heated living room while watching the Siberian winter scene in Dr. Zhivago.

Such so-called mind-body plasticity is also a hallmark of the placebo response, and may be a key component in self-healing. Good placebo responders, says researcher Ian Wickramesekera, resemble good hypnotic subjects in their ability to shift out of “the critical, analytic mode of information processing. They will tend to be individuals who are prone to see conceptual or other relationships between events that seem randomly distributed to others. They will inhibit the interfering signals of doubt and skepticism.”

It is intriguing to note how closely these descriptions tally with observations of the healers of the Africa’s Kung Bushman tribe, who, Harvard anthropologist Richard Katz notes, have “easier access to a rich fantasy life and a primarily intuitive and emotional response, rather than a logical or rational one.”

A Rising Heart

But Katz noticed another trait. The healers in the tribe, he says, seem to be more “emotionally labile. They are said to be more sga ku tsiu; that is, their ‘heart rises’ more, they are more ‘expressive’ or ‘passionate.'” During the healing dance ceremonies in which participants attempt to raise within their bodies the “boiling energy” called num, the healers’ emotions seemed to be “readily available and capable of quickly changing their intensity and content.”

I and other researchers have been struck by a similar emotional lability among self-healers. In contrast to some notions that the healing path winds through verdant swards of peace and love, many patients described the unexpected welling-up of hidden reservoirs of anger—”like a volcano,” said a former rheumatoid arthritis patient—which they associated with their unexpected recoveries. Several studies of exceptional cancer patients have confirmed such people are not infrequently “hostile, compulsive, and demanding.”

Dr. Hans Schilder, a researcher at the Helen Dowling Institute of Psychosocial Medicine in Rotterdam, Holland, has noted similar characteristics in the seven spontaneous remission cases he has studied. Schilder, who sports a mop of blond hair, looks scarcely older than 17, and is lanky almost to the point of elongation, is attempting to identify specific psychological changes that might precede healing—searching, in effect, for a Tumor Necrosis Factor of the Mind.

One of his cases, a woman with terminal breast cancer, her weight down to 90 pounds and near-comatose, had been moved to a hospice because her husband did not feel capable of caring for her in her final agonies. But realizing she had been relocated to a place to die, the woman suddenly became pugnaciously assertive. “From a neat and well-educated woman,” says Schilder, “she changed into a woman who was cursing, singing dirty songs. She carried on like this for three weeks—although she still waited until people left the room to do it!” An internist was shocked to observe that her tumor was starting to regress. Ten years later, she remained in a good state of health—”still very tidy,” says Schilder, “but now very earthy as well.”

Japanese researcher Yujiro Ikemi, one of the pioneers in the study of spontaneous remission, also observed an increase in emotional expressivity and autonomous behavior. He describes the case of a 58-year-old farmer’s wife who, after years of knuckling under to a harpy of a mother-in-law and a “bossy and self-centered husband,” abruptly rebelled upon being diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. As one token of her new assertiveness, Ikemi notes, she insisted on joining a group that specialized in “the loud recitation of Chinese poems.”

Although only one of Schilder’s cases had a formal religious experience during their healings, Ikemi noted a particular quality of faith—the farmer’s wife along with all four other cases in his initial study had, as he puts it, “completely committed themselves to the fate or the will of God.”

But how integral is spiritual experience to the seeming occurrence of miracles? In his independent study of the reported healings at the shrine of Lourdes, psychologist Donald West observed that many cases were diseases known to normally undergo remission—tuberculosis, for example. Researcher Alexis Carrell concluded that most of the Lourdes cures that have been officially certified as miracles (a total of 65 out of 6,000 claimants and tens of millions of supplicants since 1884) seemed to occur through an enormous acceleration of the body’s natural healing processes.

The Lourdes Medical Commission, however, insists that it bars cases of spontaneous remission when it deems these could have resulted from biological mechanisms that would require no spiritual intervention to explain them.

Until very recently, there seems to have been an odd collusion between conventional medicine and religion to make God a kind of catch basin of anomaly. “I can’t explain why you got well;” the doctor says to the patient who defies his prognosis. “The only word I can think of is ‘miracle.'” James Gordon, M.D., a professor at Georgetown Medical School and director of the Center for Mind-Body Studies, notes that “science often ignores these cases because it is busy looking for statistical averages. This is not good science, just convenient science. Even if they hardly ever happen, these ‘miracles’ are the kinds of exceptions to the ruling paradigm that inevitably create new areas of study.”

As Dr. Rosenberg wrote about the mystifying Mr. DeAngelo, “The single most important element of good science is to ask an important question.” The Institute of Noetic Sciences’ Caryle Hirshberg, Ph.D., a former Stanford biochemist, has become one of the leading inquirers into the subject of spontaneous remission. For the last eight years, beginning with a data base search on a donated computer and time spent “poring over big, dusty old volumes of the British Medical Journal,” Hirshberg eventually gathered hundreds of cases into a massive book, Spontaneous Remissions: An Annotated Bibliography.

Simply Remission

Her undertaking cannot help but spawn a few revolutionary questions. What percentage of medical cures, for example, may be instances of spontaneous healing mistakenly attributed to treatment? As Hirshberg writes, “Since remission happens with unknown frequency, it can convincingly be argued that some of both conventional and unconventional therapies’ ‘successes’ are simply cases of remission and have nothing to do with the [therapies’] efficacy.”

Could remissions be a more common phenomenon than we suspect? Says Patricia Norris of the Menninger Clinic, who’s best known for her work with a nine-year-old boy who healed of a terminal brain tumor, after all treatment had failed, using only biofeedback and mental imagery, “It’s completely natural to heal. Spontaneous remission is too mystical-sounding; it’s like the medieval term “spontaneous generation,” when they didn’t have enough science to see germs. Doctors think mind-body factors are a very minor part of curing cancer. But patients who heal say it’s major. If our culture supported it, I think more people could get over cancer by bolstering their own immune systems.”

In this, she edges further out on a theoretical limb than Hirshberg, who stressed at a recent conference, “We can’t withhold treatment if statistics—at least, the ones available to us—tell us spontaneous remission is still only one chance in eighty thousand.” She proposes “offering conscientious hope. We should ethically be able to say, ‘Here are the survival statistics on your disease, here is the mortality rate, and five out of every three hundred or whatever have a spontaneous regression. You’re just presenting the information.”

But what is the information? Discussing the story of Dr. Rosenberg’s Mr. DeAngelo, an alcoholic who polished off four quarts of bourbon a week, a doctor interrupted: “Did the guy quit drinking after they told him he had cancer?” Told no, he asked amid swelling laughter, “Well, what kind of whiskey did he drink?”

The lighthearted exchange belies its cut-to-the-chase significance. The mechanisms of spontaneous remission remain obscure. Mitchell May’s orthopedist avers, “I have a lot of respect for the body’s ability to heal itself—I literally take people half apart and put them back together again, and the human body comes through time after time.” But in the case of his most famous patient, he says without hesitation, “We tried the ordinary and the extraordinary as far as medicine goes, from mind-altering medication right up to hypnosis and acupuncture. Nothing worked. Whatever turned the switch and made him heal, it did it much more rapidly than conventional explanations allow.”

Perhaps, suggests Dr. Gordon of the Center for Mind-Body Studies, explanation isn’t the only agenda. “Trying to systematize these phenomena may be the wrong way to go. Maybe for now we should concentrate more on how to create the conditions to help mobilize the amazing plasticity of the mind-body.”

It is a strategy well known to shamans, whose elaborate, emotionally charged ritual ceremonies seem to create optimal conditions to arouse the inner capacity for healing. journalist Rob Schultheiss, writing about his survival of a devastating climbing accident, suggested that “perhaps the powerful hidden self only appeared when the normal limited self was shocked or scarified or otherwise blown out of the way for an instant, clearing the boards.” Perhaps it is the same hidden self the late Norman Cousins referred to when he surmised the existence of “a healing system… a grand orchestration of all the body’s systems in enabling human beings to meet a serious challenge.”

But can the orchestra be conducted at will? Mitchell May, who eventually became an apprentice to healer Jack Gray, suggests that “dissecting a person’s experience might not enable you to recreate it. It’s like lightning.” He pauses for a minute, looking for a better analogy. “Or like an amazingly delicious pot of soup, where there are all these ingredients plus something else, some art, that makes it taste so good.”

Dr. Schilder, who believes it possible to create a psychology of healing, nonetheless reports the case of a woman who, returning to a stressful family situation, had a recurrence of a tumor after a year of apparent remission. “She tried to repeat a profound spiritual change that had occurred on a trip into the mountains, which she felt had started her spectacular recovery. But she found that she couldn’t force that change to happen again.”

“If you took these cases as literal instructions, you would have to somehow create a dramatic replay of a pivotal event—or an entire set of circumstances in the person’s life. It would certainly be a different sort of therapy than we’re used to.” In the meanwhile, it may be as one patient who had experienced a remission enigmatically put it: “You can’t prescribe it, it can’t be taught, and you can learn it.”

What then can we draw from the archives of the miraculous? I find inspiration in the frequent evidence that, as the Arabic physician Ali Pul once wrote, “The medicine of the soul is the medicine of the body:” that what we do to live more wholeheartedly has innate healing power.

The Psychological Pivot

Dr. Schilder notes that spontaneous remitters “often gain access to something that is essential to them. Often the psychological pivot associated with healing is seemingly very small: For a patient who has been a strict, loyal housewife for 30 years, just taking a few minutes to sit in chair, stretch your legs, and let the kids run around and the hell with housekeeping can be a hell of a transformation.” Schilder’s story reminded me of the story of the Zen master who, asked if his practice of self-insight had enabled him to work miracles, replied, “My miracle is, I eat when I’m hungry, I sleep when I’m tired.” Or of Rosa Parks, whose small act of authenticity on an Alabama bus mobilized the healing resources of the social body to defeat a seemingly invincible pathology.

“Spontaneous remitters,” another physician told me, “almost invariably say they weren’t shooting so much for a cure, but rather to live congruently at long last with their inner values.” Rosa Parks just didn’t feel like giving up her seat. Perhaps the most spectacular miracles begin with a single instance of self-listening, a few small acts of affirmation—with the tiniest mustard seed of faith in the deeper self. For some of those who walked the path of healing, disease seemed to have forced a moment that arrives for most of us all too infrequently, when life itself depended on becoming authoritatively, powerfully, even crazily, the person they were meant to be.

What most of the patients I interviewed wound up doing was the opposite of what sick people are usually expected to do: Rather than simply trying to “get back to normal,” many had embarked, at the most harrowing of times, on a voyage of self-discovery. They had clung instinctively to the circumnavigator’s faith that the only way home was forward, into the round, unknown world of the self. People who have been through illness’s dark passage can occasionally give us a glimpse not only of what it is like to become whole, but what it is to be fully human.

Type M: Do You Have A Miracle Personality?

At present, there is no way of knowing to what extent psychosocial factors play a key role in spontaneous remission. Any number of unique factors might prove crucial—genetic inheritance, nutrition “alternative” medicines with immune-enhancing properties, perhaps some still-undetectable quirk in a person’s neuroimmunological “wiring.”

Inner Change

Self-healers often report what the researcher Ikemi called an “existential shift” in the way they view themselves and their lives (another physician calls it “a psycho-social-emotional-spiritual about-face”). Psychologist Lawrence LeShan, quoting the poet W. H. Auden, talks about a rekindling of “foiled creative fire.” One study cites a man with an inoperable brain tumor who made a remarkable recovery after resuming a long-abandoned singing career. Other researchers refer to “a shift from dependence to autonomy”, sometimes beginning at the very moment of diagnosis. Says former cancer patient Peter Hettel: “As soon as I was diagnosed, I was scared, sure, but I also felt like I’d been given a hall pass: All right. No one’s gonna tell me what to do now. No one can argue with fatality. I had an honorable way of dumping these imposed responsibilities and putting myself first.”


Psychiatrist Ainslee Meares postulated self-healing might stem from a “return to an earlier mode of function,” a state that he called “mental ataraxis” and compared to states like hypnosis and absorption. Mitchell May remembers Jack Gray telling him that healing “was the art of doing absolutely nothing. When you learn to do nothing, everything is possible.” This “return to an earlier mode” often seems to include long-buried memories of childhood. Self-healers often describe pleasure in giving way to almost irresistible urges to behave “childishly.”

Active Surrender

Says Mitchell May: “When I woke up from my accident, I did not feel, why did this happen to me? I’ve always felt life just is. It’s not either fair or not fair. The universe doesn’t arrange itself around my ego.” Patients told me they had felt that the moment they could clearly imagine their own deaths was a powerful turning point in their healing process. (“I lay in hospital bed saying I have cancer, I have ovarian cancer,” said one, “till I could say it without cringing.”) At the same time, other researchers have observed a kind of selective denial, as one put it, “They didn’t deny the seriousness of their terminal diagnoses, but they denied that they themselves would succumb.”

Altered States

Qualities like high hypnotizability, fantasy-proneness, and even dissociation seem to be correlated with self-healing abilities. Many people reported having exceptionally vivid dreams and perceptual alterations during their healing process. As a somewhat prim-looking, middle-aged survivor of advanced ovarian cancer recalls, “Life became, well, psychedelic. I remember one gloomy, cold, dark, Northeastern winter day. I saw a fire hydrant reflected in a puddle on the pavement and it was like Disney World multiplied by 150 million. It made me realize I want to live more than I ever knew.” Altered states are also associated with a mind-body plasticity, which often seems to go back to childhood. Niro Assistent, a rare case of apparent AIDS remission, told me she was able to paralyze her legs in order to get out of school—a paralysis so convincing that physicians could elicit no reflex.

Emotional Expression

Self-healers seem to exhibit strong mood fluctuations. One personality-attitudinal study of longterm cancer survivors concluded they tend to have “more expressive and sometimes bizarre personalities.” In another study, exceptional cancer patients scored high on indices like “nonconformity” and “rebellious spirit.” Many researchers have also noticed a sort of emotional inconstancy one called “ambivalence.” Former patient Peter Hettel told me, “I began to see it’s not that one state of mind is good and one is bad, but which state is appropriate to what you are trying to do. When you can shift easily back and forth between them, you don’t get stuck.”

Social Change

Almost all researchers note a change in interpersonal relationships. Sir David Smithers concluded that a contributing cause of cancer was the “traumatic interaction between the patient and his human environment,” and a key healing catalyst was the social milieu’s “intentional or accidental” change for the better.

Charles Weinstock, M.D., a former professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine lists the examples of “a sudden fortunate marriage by a woman of 40; a nun’s experience of having the entire order engage in intercessory prayer for her; the fortunate death of a decompensated addicted spouse who had blocked the patient’s musical career by his dependency; unexpected, enthusiastic praise and encouragement from an expert in one’s field.”

This content is Copyright Sussex Publishers, LLC. 2006. This content is intended for personal use and may not be distributed or reproduced without the consent of Sussex Publishers, LLC. Please contact for more information.

Publication: Psychology Today Magazine
Publication Date: Mar/Apr 1994
Last Reviewed: 22 May 2007
(Document ID: 1526)