What is the role of the environment in the healing process?
The environment does have a role, both physical and psychological. It is easier to understand the role of environment if we understand that everything in this world has a consciousness, however small, and therefore has a role to play in the totality of things. Further this consciousness can be charged, negatively or positively, by knowing the law of subtle vibrations. That is the secret truth underlying the use of talismans. This world and its contents are much more interconnected than we believe it to be. This is a truth being increasingly recognized in every field, including the physical sciences.
Broadly we can say that there is in the universe a spirit of harmony and order as well as a spirit of disharmony and disorder. The former is active in creating or building bridges of consciousness to support and sustain the superstructure of life. The latter is active in pulling it down towards chaos and disintegration. Normally a balance of these forces keeps things in a state of dynamic equilibrium. But this balance can be disturbed if new elements are introduced which attract harmony, or on the other hand, disorder. This applies to everything from the food we eat to the people we meet. Just as putrid or stale food attracts disorder, there are human beings and places that are repositories of disintegrating forces. The opposite is also true. Thus, for example, a disorderly and chaotically managed room, a disorganised atmosphere, dull and gloomy colours, easily attract the forces of disintegration. On the contrary, a room with a harmonious atmosphere, balanced and soothing colours, attracts harmonious vibrations.
Again, the psychological states of those who attend upon the patient—the physician, nurses, paramedical staff, relatives and assistants—all have an influence upon the patient. It is not only through spoken words, but unspoken hopes and fears that anxiety and agitation can pass into the patient and influence the outcome. What is worse is that even after that person has gone, he may leave an adverse influence in the atmosphere that hangs around like a negative formation. These subtle truths are being rediscovered, so much so, that there is some evidence that positive thinking and the feelings of others can influence the recovery of a patient even from a distance. How much more then would be the power of collective prayer!
However, considering that the influence of any human being is always a mixed affair, barring a few rare individuals, that is to say it can be both positive and negative, it is perhaps best to let the patient remain quiet with only a few trusted people around him as support. The people who assist should be emotionally strong, with a generous vital and with a basically cheerful and optimistic disposition. Wherever possible, the physical space should be simple, harmoniously arranged, clean and aesthetic. A few flowers around and, if one has faith, the picture of someone who represents an embodiment of the higher consciousness—the Guru or God—to the patient will create a perfect atmosphere. The additional touch of some soft soulful music might make it complete.
If the patient is inwardly developed, it is best if he remains at his own home and in his own atmosphere. Alternatively, a change to a quiet healing place will do him good. Unfortunately most hospitals are far from ideal, partly (like the government ones) for want of funds, but largely due to an attitude that does not give due importance to the aesthetic side of life and things and its great role in helping us. The logic of it is very simple – like attracts like. When we dwell in inner and outer beauty then quite naturally forces of harmony are attracted towards us and vice versa
How should one spend one’s time during illness?
It is best not to think too much or be pre-occupied by an illness. Too much attention usually implies an underlying anxiety and lack of trust. That makes matters worse. There are several ways of keeping our mind away from illness. One way is to practice detachment from the body and its miseries, by adopting a witness attitude towards everything. This can start with an intellectual separation of that part of the mind that sees, in a philosophical vein, the futility of leaping at appearances and our attachment to passing transient things that have very little value compared to the eternity of becoming. One can add to this a more positive contemplation of the boundlessness of space and the endlessness of time against which our present misery is not even a small fraction of a moment. The least it does is to keep us smiling and happy even in the face of danger and that is no mean advantage.
In fact there are patients who get frightened with the smallest scratch and begin to give it too much attention. On the other side are those who take the most painful occurrences in their stride and stay smiling. In between is a whole range of reactions. In any case, whether we live or die, it is pitiable to be all the time worried about the body, to live in a constant state of fear and anxiety. Even if one were to live a little longer one wonders what would be the quality and utility of such a life. If fall we must, better to fall as a fearless hero on the roads of time than to die in a state of fear. If for nothing else, then the journey to the yonder regions is greatly facilitated if our inner state remains calm and clear despite the fate of the body.
The author has personally encountered cases where the patient could stay smiling and peaceful even until a few moments before death. Particularly, I am reminded of the case of a colleague, an atheist to begin with, who later turned towards a spiritual seeking after being diagnosed as fourth stage of disseminated ovarian malignancy. There was very little left to do by way of medical intervention and she was told she had six months to live. Not only did she continue to live for over two and a half years but also remained active till the last few days. But the biggest surprise of all was that till the very last few breaths of her life, even with an unrecordable pulse and blood pressure she continued to smile and eventually died with a smile upon her lips and possibly in her heart as well. The secret? She had learnt during the last couple of years that there is more to life than this body and its single life.
There are other ways of diverting the mind, perhaps less powerful and of a more temporary nature, but a little easier. One way is to simply read an interesting book or as in the famous case of the author Norman Cousins (Anatomy of an Illness), you can watch your favourite show, if it is light and humorous so much the better. Or even a light mechanical work itself can be a diversion with an added advantage that if it is done with the right inner attitude, the body can draw the higher forces and energies directly. The sleeping position is too tamasic and if indulged for long, it sets in motion a slow process of disintegration and wastes the body tissues. But in certain instances, this situation cannot be helped when one is unable to move about and cannot either read or work. In such a situation, it is best to keep an inner quietude, call peace into the system and to take it as an opportunity to work inwardly i.e. within oneself.
Of course diverting the mind should not be at the cost of the rest that the body may need in certain conditions. Also one has to keep in mind the law of subtle vibrations to ensure that while diverting, one is not opening oneself to wrong forces. As in all things a balanced view is the best.
 Norman Cousins: Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, New York: WW Norton 1979