An interview with John Horton, M.D.
Some of you may recall Dr. John Horton, veteran of medical tents at festivals as far back as India, of Shri Hans Humanitarian Services and "A Doctor's View of Knowledge" leaflets. Now John is a well-established physician in Washington D.C. Recently he spent his vacation in Denver, where we recorded this interview:
So, what have you been doing?
For about two years I've been running a conventional medical practice and getting involved with the regular medical community. I'm working with Bob Hallowitz and we took over an older physician's practice. This physician is a kind of genius who is both a doctor and a lawyer and has written numerous books on law for doctors and books on medicine for lawyers. He had this practice but developed deep, emotional relationships with his patients which he was unaware of. However, when he discovered this, he stopped practicing and told people he was on a vacation.
At this point, Bob Hallowitz came wandering along innocently. For two years, Bob had been working at the National Institute of Health in the laboratory of brain evolution and behavior. He was working with Paul Maclean, who has written some beautiful stuff about brain structure and consciousness. Initially Paul was wondering about the nature of consciousness, what's the observer of consciousness, but like a lot of people who go into research science, he's into dissecting lizard brains at this point.
How did you get from that to your current practice?
Bob was beginning to make a name for himself in neurophysiological research on brain behavior, but he felt one day that he wanted to practice medicine and two phone calls later, he was talking to this physician. The guy said, "Come on over." Bob walked into this beautiful wood-paneled office and in twenty minutes the physician said, "Well, it's yours."
It blew Bob's mind completely. It was so surprising. Everyone was suspicious and his friends said, "Wait a minute, get a lawyer and sit down with this thing. People don't sell practices that are bringing in $150,000 a year." Yet all the doctor wanted was money for his equipment, to set up a payment schedule and have it financed. So Bob said, "Okay" and he gave me a call. I was in New York trying to set up some kind of new age health care which was not going very well. I got a phone call from Bob saying, "Hey, listen, how would you like to start a very lucrative practice in medicine?"
Bob picked me up and we rode to the ashram where Guru Maharaj Ji was staying. Maharaj Ji walked out of the garage, met us halfway, and said, "Well, what do you think of it?" And I said, "I don't know. I haven't seen it yet." So he said, "Go take a look." So we went and looked at the place and we came back and Maharaj Ji spent a long time talking to us, giving us a lot of direction, some of it very specific about how to start up, some of it very general in terms of the whole aspect of health care as a means of propagation.
When we started out, we were trying to do adequate medical care in order to get people involved enough so that we could give them satsang. It was like a front for proselytizing. That lasted for about six months and then we got so much feedback, it was really a bad scene for a while. "We want medical care, we don't want to hear about your trip. It may be very nice, it may be very real, but give us the option of not being a captive audience." Most of our patients, even now, are not premies. They're just people from Bethesda, Maryland. We have one of the broadest based practices there because we're not turning away people. That's one of the specific things Maharaj Ji said, "Don't turn people away."
After the first six months trying too hard to give satsang. we went to the other extreme of just doing medicine and not saying anything about Knowledge. Gradually we've come into some balance where we can get a feel of where a person is and try to fulfill his needs. A lot of
16 Divine Times, October 1976
"The amount of love we experience with patients and the
love they experience when they're there, is very powerful."
Divine Times, October 1976 17
people have a need to hear about alternative ways of relaxing and unwinding. People are encouraged by the possibility that they don't have to suffer with a psychosomatic disease or destructive habits, so when we talk about yoga or simple types of meditation, or straightening up their diet, there's a certain receptivity there. A lot of those people may come along to our two sessions a week in which we talk about Knowledge as one way of coming to an experience of one's self.
It's very different each night and gradually it's come to help people experience the power of satsang. The people that are coming and getting more involved, in terms of satsang, have been more affected by the love and understanding that they experience in their relationship to Bob and me as doctors, and to the rest of the staff, most of whom are premies. They may have had no intellectual, philosophical or psychological interest in Knowledge but it's the quality of the experience that they have had with us that has made them feel very close and at home. They just want to know more about what makes us the way we are, which is really gratifying because it's so less cerebral, so less proselytizing. They're more like friendships.
Have you given any further thought to "new age" medicine, to helping integrate associated fields such as chiropractic, massage, and so on?
There's a chiropractor who works next door to us and we share patients back and forth. There's also an acupuncturist and a homeopath. We do a good bit of nutritional counselling ourselves. I also refer a lot of people to yoga teachers, with really good results. We sometimes instruct people in simple techniques of meditation. There's a book called The Relaxation Response which I feel is going to be a classic of medicine. We ask people to read that and then talk about it with us. We refer people somewhat to massage, but that's still very difficult for people to relate to, because it involves touching and has sexual connotations. But something like polarity massage, which is probably the most scientific, we will be working with that more. I could see that in the future we could probably start a center for health awareness, for stress reduction. As we develop these ideas, it must be so that other physicians don't see it as a counterculture thing or critical of established practices, but as an expansion.
There's a growing receptivity. We've had the chance to do some teaching to doctors and to conduct some seminars on stress and stress reduction. If a center were developed, patients could be referred there. Instead of a doctor saying, "Take valium" or "Why don't you relax?", he could say, "Well, go over to the center for stress reduction, you can learn something practical there." People could learn yoga, learn a simple meditation, get some nutritional help, get some advice on how to cook foods that won't be so stressful. Food is a real stress: the whole sugar consumption thing. The overconsumption of meat. It's very difficult to digest meat, it takes a lot out of a person, but people really don't know the alternatives. The ideal would be a center
"The ideal would be a center where practices such as acupuncture, chiropractic, and herbal medicine could be utilized side by side."
where all different practices such as acupuncture, chiropractic, and herbal medicine could be utilized side by side and people could understand what would be most appropriate for each patient. But that's a long ways in coming.
What has been your experience coming from full-time service in Divine Light Mission to an established, professional practice? Did you have any trouble bridging the gap?
It was really difficult. I'd come out of the ashram in the morning stoned on meditation, looking at the world and saying, "Oh, what a sorry place. Gosh, don't people need Knowledge!" I walk in there and some woman would start telling me about this discharge she's having. I'd think, "What the hell, I have Knowledge of God, what do 1 want to talk to this woman about her discharge for?" So I'd try to deal with that very quickly and then maybe engage her in satsang. The last thing in the world she was interested in was satsang, she wanted her discharge taken care of. It was very painful. It was like reentry and for a long time it was very difficult for me to relate to other physicians, people in the hospitals, because it seemed so gross to me. I used to give satsang in nurses' stations at the slightest opportunity. I think people would experience me as being a pretty strange guy, and my medical skills were not so good because I'd been away from the practice of orthodox medicine for two or three years.
Now our reputation is really very good, way out of proportion to one guy coming out of laboratory research for two years, and one guy coming out of Mission activities for three years. It's been amazing. It's an exemplary alternative. It's not perfectly that, but the ways in which we treat people, the amount of love we experience with patients and the love they experience when they're there, is very powerful.
As a doctor, you must deal with people on a pretty basic, life and death level. Would you describe some of your experiences in that area?
Dealing with death has been such a grace. It's such a difficult thing for people. When they're dying or someone close to them is dying, it's very stressful. Most health professionals consider death to be the enemy and their whole energy is into providing anything that will stop death.
It comes to the point of absurdity. People have "living wills" now, do you know about those? A person says in writing to his doctor that if I become incapable of making decisions about my life, 1 do not want my life prolonged if I'm not going to be intellectually aware and functioning at anything like a reasonable human level. What happens is that people get a heart attack or a stroke or a serious car accident and because of the development of technology, you can keep the heart, lungs, circulation, the metabolism, going even though the human brain doesn't show any activity. You're dealing basically with the reptile brain part that has to do with vital functions. So people make this will because they don't want to be a month in intensive care.
It's really beautiful because Bob and I know that there is an energy which is continuous. We know that death is an illusion in the sense of it being the ultimate end to life. When we relate to dying people, many times it becomes a beautiful experience for them. When people can let go of their dying relative without going through guilt and stuff like that, it's really good. There's a very definite dying
18 Divine Times, October 1976
"It's really beautiful because Bob and I know that …
death is an illusion in the sense of it being the ultimate end to life."
process. It's very similar to the process of ego death that occurs in meditation. Firstly, people deny it, "Death is not happening to me," then they realize that that's not true. This is experienced with people who have a terminal illness like cancer. Then there's a depression where they withdraw and don't care about anything. Then people come into a lot of anger, "Why the hell is this happening to me?" There's guilt, "If only I had taken good care of myself, if I hadn't been such a bad person, I know this wouldn't be happening to me." Then people come out of that and reach the same or a better level of functioning than they've had usually throughout their lives. They accept it. Then the awareness of approaching death becomes more; there's a reaction called preparatory depression. Again it's a withdrawal, there's feeling of sadness and loss, but it's a poignant, existential time. It's like the time in a premie's life when he realizes, "Gee. I'm not going to get it from other people."
The person realizes, "Gee, I'm not going to be in this world much longer." When people come out of that, there's peaceful acceptance. They become aware of transcendence. They're not afraid of death, they're a blessing to the people around them. I've seen people in this state and it's beautiful. Without your own recognition of those states, it's very hard to help another person recognize them. I'm going to be involved in a series of seminars for nurses at nursing homes in the state of Maryland. There is one nursing home I go to, I have two or three patients there, where we held a seminar on death and dying for the nurses. They were really aware of these things but they never had a chance to talk about them. A lot of them thought it was a peculiarity of the relationship they had with a particular patient, where they were able to see the beauty in the dying process. So they didn't talk about it with other people. We spent an hour and a half together. It was so nice they asked me to come back for a full-day seminar for the other nurses in the state.
From your perspective, as a physician dealing with a broad range of people, what do you see as major obstacles to more people being able to share what Maharaj Ji is offering?
We have to watch out for the cult, our narrow ideas of community, our narrow ideas about service. And the hanging-of-the-carrot type of satsang. You know, "Here's this fantastic thing that you're going to get. If you just hang in there, come to satsang and do some service, you'll get this thing. And let me tell you how fantastic this thing is." What we've been experiencing in satsang at the practice now is focusing on people's immediate, ongoing experience of satsang and their growing awareness of what we're talking about. For many of these people, satsang has become more fun, more beneficial, of greater value than going to the movies, drinking with their friends and long weekends. These are everyday people that are getting involved.
- Michael McDonald
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