ARE HEART ATTACKS HATE ATTACKS?
A Dynamic Cure for the Epidemic of Our Age
Stress is one of those words that is badly maligned. What is wrong with stress? Why is everybody so against it? After all, if it hadn't been for stress Gautama the Buddha would probably never have become enlightened.
The confusion seems to lie in what we mean by "stress." Imagine being a rabbit who had just been spotted by a fox whose eyes say "breakfast." Yes, stress will be present, and it is the only hope the rabbit has. With a surge of flight-or-fight hormones suddenly coursing through his or her veins, the rabbit takes off – the fox, in a similar physiological state, in hot pursuit. Acute stress.
In that rush of energy the rabbit's fate is decided. The rabbit is total, the fox is total, and then it is all over. If the rabbit escapes, he probably has a good rest and then the episode is closed. He won't dream about foxes for a week, go see his psychiatrist for tranquilizers or join "fox-haters anonymous" groups. He just goes on being a rabbit. And, anyway, if he dwells on yesterday's fox, he is going to miss today's fox, and then he may not be nearly so lucky again.
Now imagine some artificial laboratory, where the rabbit is on a treadmill, just a whisker away from the fox on another treadmill, all arranged so that the fox can't actually reach the rabbit and the rabbit can never get away either. The result: chronic tension, the state that everybody is confusingly calls "stress."
This is very similar to desires: the gap between what we desire and the attainment of our desire always remains the same. Like the horizon, it remains as far away as ever.
It doesn't take a Nobel Prize in physiology to guess the effect on those two animals. Obviously, they are going to get freaked out very fast, and if the rabbit dropped dead of a heart attack, who would be surprised?
Mankind has spent most of its long history living with episodes of acute stress, but modern life seems much closer to the second situation of chronic tension. There is no totality of output, and no totality of relaxation. It's just one long traffic-jam. The traffic-jam syndrome can apply to our careers, our marriages, our education, our mortgage payments, our pursuit of status or recognition, and so on. Everything in modern life has this "just must" but "can't quite" quality.
Modern industrialized societies are experiencing an epidemic of heart disease, and it is widely believed that emotional factors are important in this condition. Today's buzzword for the factors is stress. It is stress that is now being seen as the major cause of heart attacks.
The figures for heart disease in the USA are impressive and give an indication of the extent of the problem worldwide. The US has a total population of just over 250 million – about five percent of the world's total. Over four million Americans suffer from coronary heart disease, and nearly 35 million, about 25 percent of the adult population, suffer from hypertension – that is, high blood pressure. So multiply these figures by 20 for a guesstimate of the global proportions of this problem.
One million Americans die every year from cardiovascular disease – two-and-a-half times the number who die from cancer and about ten times the number killed through trauma. Some 1.5 million suffer actual heart attacks every year, killing half of them. The cost of all this in human pain and suffering is immeasurable; the cost in dollars, astronomical. The country spends about 11 billion dollars annually on coronary surgery alone.
Remember Dr. Zhivago vainly chasing after the trolley bus in Moscow, after catching a glimpse of his long-lost love, Lara? He stumbles, clutching his heart, with agony on his face as he falls to the ground. We all know he has had a heart attack.
Strangely though, when doctors look at the heart after such a death, they find no clear cause in most cases. In the old days it was called a "coronary thrombosis," meaning a blood clot in a blood vessel leading to the heart muscle. According to information published in the summary proceedings of the "Clinical Significance of Stress in Hypertension" cardiologists have discovered that this is true of only about 12 percent of the total. Actual heart-muscle death can be found in only another 13 percent, which leaves the vast majority of people who suddenly kneel over and die of a "heart attack" without any specific diagnosis. In other words, the astonishing fact is that medical science still doesn't know the cause of most heart attacks – the western world's biggest killer.
Now many doctors are asking the same question: Might these undiagnosed cases of sudden heart attacks be related to stress? Some of the earliest clues linking stress to heart disease were discovered through observing space technicians and engineers at the Cape Kennedy space launch center. In an eight-year study it was shown that these people had a very high rate of sudden death, but little coronary disease, although some had microscopic bands of dead cells in their heart muscles at post-mortem.
The researchers noted a high rate of anxiety, depression, and divorce in these same people. It turned out that each rocket successfully fired meant a drop in funding, with the subsequent layoff of 15 percent of the workforce. Space technicians are such specialized workers that there is little alternative work for them once they lose their jobs. Many had to work, for example, as TV repairmen, which they regarded as "menial." It appeared that their deaths were not the result of the long hours of work necessary to fire rockets but were related to the fear of being fired themselves.
Animal studies later revealed that within minutes of stress hormones being injected into the body the same microscopic bands of dead cells – called "contraction band lesions" – were produced. These were identical to the changes found in the heart muscles of the Cape Kennedy engineers.
Later it was shown that in 86 percent of sudden deaths the same lesions were present. They were also seen in mugging victims who were not physically harmed but who died a short time after the mugging. The same lesions were found in patients with tumors that produce an abnormally high level of stress hormones; and in people who suffered sudden deaths associated with cocaine use, which blocks the removal of stress hormones from the blood.
Trying to understand the role of stress in heart disease, modern research has discovered that nearly 20 percent of the population are "hot reactors," whose hearts are dramatically affected by stress, producing tremendous surges in blood pressure.
Looking at the emotional make-up of people in this hot reactor category, experts in this field observe that it is characterized by denial – they don't accept that they are suffering from stress; stress is something that happens to others, not to them. Secondly, they perceive their life as filled with struggle, defeat, fear, uncertainty and doubt. They are anxious and they are angry, but their anger remains unexpressed.
It is acknowledged that people who suffer from chronic anger or anxiety, such as these hot reactors, are more likely to have high blood pressure than people who are happy. This means that heart attacks may actually be "hate attacks" – the product of high blood pressure caused by the accumulation of unexpressed anger.
In addition, some interesting findings emerge when these results are differentiated on the basis of gender. Thomas Pickering, in "The Clinical Significance of Stress in Hypertension," notes: "Men seem to be more susceptible to anger as a cause of their increased blood pressure, while in women anxiety appears to be more important. In the workplace, women who perceive their job as stressful tend to have higher blood pressures compared to women who don't feel stressed at work. In the case of married women who work and have children, blood pressure can actually increase when they go home in the evening, if the domestic duties are not shared equally between husband and wife. Indeed, some women view the workplace as a haven from the stresses of domestic life."
Other studies have confirmed this very important relationship between emotions and blood pressure. It has been shown that blood pressures are much higher when subjects are unhappy, angry, rushed or tense compared to when not angry, when relaxed or unrushed.
Still more studies have shown that people who keep their anger in, suppress their hostility and have higher anxiety in response to stresses, have a greater increase in blood pressure than patients who let their anger out and have lower level of anxiety.
In July 1989 there was report in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, which reviewed 48 studies that looked at the relationship between blood pressure and psychological factors.
They described three primary psychological characteristics of hypertensives: anger and hostility, difficulty with interpersonal contact and communication, and the frequent use of denial and self-repression.
As the authors put it, "Given the consistency of the results one must wonder why large scale psychosocial intervention programs for hypertension treatment haven't been initiated." They concluded, "It is time to stop ignoring the empirical findings. There are psychosocial variables associated with hypertension that logically demand psychosocial interventions."
Put more simply, the experts who see the direct relationship between anger, stress and heart disease, are themselves getting angry over the fact that nobody is trying to solve the psychological and social factors that produce this equation.
But society is reluctant to look beyond the symptoms of heart disease to a possible cure because that cure may involve too close a scrutiny of how society itself functions. We have social taboos against the expression of anger; we have psychological taboos against admitting that we are anxious and unable to cope with the pace of our competitive lifestyle. To prevent the disease we may have to change too many basic social rules, and that feels more threatening than the disease itself.
But the wealth of evidence is becoming harder and harder to ignore. In December 1990, at the American Heart Association, researchers produced a wealth of data suggesting that chronic anger is so damaging to the body that it ranks with, or even exceeds, cigarette smoking, obesity, and a high fat diet as powerful risk factors for early death.
Dr. Redford Williams of Duke University Medical Center reported: "Our studies indicate that hostile, suspicious anger is right up there with any other health hazard we know about." He also reported that hostile teenagers had higher adult cholesterol levels than their easygoing peers, suggesting a link between unremitting anger and heart disease.
Another study, by Dr. Mara Julius at the University of Michigan, showed that women with longer term suppressed anger were three times more likely to have died during the study than women who did not harbor such hostile feelings. She said, "For many women, constant suppressed anger seems to be a stronger risk factor than smoking."
Moreover, a recent US study has suggested that it is the effect of racism that creates the increased rate of hypertension and heart disease in black-skinned U.S. citizens over their white-skinned compatriots.
Clearly, the evidence is mounting that "hostility" – let's be straight and call it hate – is a critical factor in people with heart disease. Similarly, repression of these emotions rather than their expression worsens the situation.
Reading through all this data, two words are so obviously missing: Dynamic Meditation.
Osho has created Dynamic Meditation to help modern man meditate, based on his insight that we are normally so tense that we must first throw out physical and mental tension before we can be silent. But since hypertension is merely an extreme form of our ordinary day-to-day tensions, this revolutionary meditation technique seems custom-made for cutting through the "psychosocial variables" that produce heart disease.
The rhythm of Dynamic Meditation is strikingly similar to the natural pattern of stress as illustrated by the rabbit being chased by a fox. It is sudden and dramatic, with a total release of energy and emotion followed by stillness – no leftover anxious thoughts, no residue of undischarged emotion – and then the celebration of another day of not being someone else's breakfast! Dynamic provides the opportunity to cathart all that repressed hostility, and then a chance to watch it dissolve into silence.
The totality of output and the totality of relaxation that characterizes Osho's Dynamic Meditation are almost the complete opposite of the stuck quality of the modern traffic-jam syndrome. No wonder meditators have a grace, a fluidity of body movement that is completely different from that tight, fixed expression of the man behind the wheel of his jammed up, stress-filled life. No wonder those arteries can't contract and relax normally, but remain stuck somewhere in between, causing chronic high blood pressure, and all the rest.
The killer here is "mental" – the mind, and the way we allow ourselves to be controlled by it.
There is something inevitable about the fact that a world dominated by the mind, a world where the heart is crushed under the weight of logic, should suffer an epidemic of heart disease. A world epidemic of hate is the real problem, and a corresponding absence of love. No wonder it is the heart that is attacked.
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