An Interview with Judith Orloff, M.D.
Speaking with Judith Orloff was both a privilege and a treat. A psychiatrist, intuitive, and author of the new book "Dr. Judith Orloff's Guide to Intuitive Healing" (Times Books, 2000), Judith hails from a long line of doctors -- there are twenty-five physicians in her family including both her parents. As a child Judith was not allowed to talk much about her premonitions and in medical school she struggled to reconcile her intuitive abilities with her scientific studies. This struggle became the subject of her first book, Second Sight (Warner Books, 1997). It wasn't until her mother lay dying that Judith learned of her special legacy -- many of the women on her mother's side of the family were intuitive healers.
In both her private practice in Los Angeles and her assistant professorship at the University of California in Los Angeles, Judith passionately integrates intuition with conventional health care and healing. With the help of a UCLA resident, she works to create "a prototype for a new program in medicine". While the integration of intuition with medicine may be controversial today, Judith believes that in the future it will be "a moot point". In fact, change is already in the air. The prestigious and highly conservative American Psychiatric Association chose Judith to speak at their May convention in Chicago on "How Intuition Can Enhance Patient Care."
In her new book, Judith uses five basic steps to guide us as we travel the path towards discovering our inner voice, or intuition, which is really the voice of our spirit and our connection to all life. The book contains three parts: The Body, Emotions and Relationships, and Sexual Wellness. It is wonderfully well-written with a voice both compassionate and intelligent. I've read a fair number of books on similar subjects and this is the best.
In my own life, I've been frustrated with my inability to tap into my dreams. Using Judith's advice, I started keeping a dream journal and voila - the dreams are coming. But I think it's more than the simple act of journal keeping, which I've done before. Judith's abilities as a healer come through loud and clear in the pages of her book which I believe triggered something in me. This book can help you begin an exciting journey towards self-discovery.
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SML: You outline five steps throughout the book: 1) Notice your beliefs; 2) Be in your body; 3) Sense your body's subtle energy; 4) Ask for inner guidance; and 5) Listen to your dreams. They seem like an excellent framework to help us really get at ways to hear what's going on inside.
Dr. Orloff: When people want to develop their intuition, a strategy really helps. Most people feel intuition hits them spontaneously. It seems like an unknowable realm that they have no relationship with. I use the five steps to help my patients find something very real inside -- their intuition -- which I feel is the authentic language of spirit. I frame everything in terms of the five steps which I use in my own life as well. They penetrate the mystery and help people find the answer inside themselves that is most true, rather than just using their minds to make a list of positive and negatives. When we look at our beliefs we have to determine which are loving and which aren't since these beliefs shape the context of our healing. Notice which ones make sense and which are fear-based or outmoded, particularly about the body. In Western culture we have so much loathing for the physical body and its secretions. It's important to compassionately process those beliefs so they don't weigh us down in case illness comes. We don't want to be hating our body while at the same time trying to heal it. When we're clear about what we believe we create a very solid relationship with ourselves.
SML: Still, it must be difficult to get rid of beliefs that don't serve you even if you recognize them as such.
Dr. Orloff: It's very hard, but I believe people on a spiritual path need to make the decision to live a life based on love and to frame everything in that context. When we come upon a negative belief like, "I think I'm ugly," or, "I'm never going to succeed", we need to realize it's not the truth and try to bring a loving, compassionate view in order to reframe it. This is a philosophy that permeates everything. The universe is compassionate. It wants us to heal. I truly have an optimistic view.
SML: What about step two, be in your body?
Dr. Orloff: Most people live from the neck up and have no conception of the rest of their bodies. Part of healing is realizing that not only do we have a body but it's an incredible intuitive receptor. It give us clues we need to listen to. For instance, certain situations might make you feel nauseous or give you a headache or a knot in the stomach. It's about honoring the signals the body sends in every situation. It's also important to learn the workings of our bodies and where our organs are. I suggest that people get Gray's Anatomy Coloring Book or something similar. We have an absolutely gorgeous three dimensional universe inside us and nothing about it is yucky or weird. The way our culture is, especially womens' magazines that show just the surface - hair, skin, eyes, lips - we believe that's all we are.
SML: They make the rest unspeakable.
Dr. Orloff: Yes. It's taboo or disgusting.
SML: Then it's scary when something's happening inside and we don't have any idea what it is.
Dr. Orloff: Exactly. So if you do the kind of work I'm suggesting before you get sick you have a big head start.
SML: What is the subtle energy referred to in step three?
Dr. Orloff: In addition to flesh and blood, our bodies are made up of energy fields that penetrate through the body and beyond it. When you're sensitive you can feel them projecting many feet outside the body. Hindu mystics call it shakti, Chinese medical practitioners call it chi. It is the same energy we understand as chakras. Some people have the ability to see it, others may feel it instead. When a lot of people get together, their energy fields combine which can be quite overwhelming if you don't know how to work with it. Children are especially sensitive to this energy. When I was a little girl, for instance, I couldn't go into shopping malls without coming out feeling exhausted. At that time I didn't understand what was going on. Now I know I'm what is called an intuitive empath. A lot of people are but they don't know it. As part of my workshops I teach people how to deal with subtle energy because so many are burdened by it. People in health care get burned out by their patients; agoraphobics can't go outside because they don't know how to process this subtle energy.
SML: Can you explain how to ask for inner guidance, step four?
Dr. Orloff: Most people don't know how to go inside and ask because they don't believe there's anything in there. So when a patient comes to me, my first task is to help them find something inside. I do this by gradually desensitizing them to the silence through meditation. People are very frightened of silence; they have misconceptions about it, and are unable to stay with it, but they must. If you want to find your intuitive voice you have to be quiet. You can ask for inner guidance for any kind of problem: a relationship, if you're thinking about going into business, if you're faced with difficult choices about healing such as chemotherapy or radiation treatment. All of these practical issues can benefit from asking for inner guidance. It's a way of correlating the external world of business forecasts or doctors' opinions with what's inside.
SML: How do we tell that voice from all the other voices in there?
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Dr. Orloff: There are a couple of ways. In my experience the intuitive voice comes through either as a neutral voice with information or as compassion. I question anything that comes through as fearful or that's too emotionally charged. I encourage people to keep journals about their intuitions and about their dreams. I've had premonitory intuitions or dreams that have come true in the next week or next year or even ten years later. With intuitive work it's critical to get feedback to see where you're accurate and where you're not.
SML: In my life I pay attention to signs or messages from nature when I'm unsure of what I'm doing or if I'm getting advice that doesn't sound right. A kind of communication happens. I see or hear the sign, like a sudden bird song or a cloud formation that is full of meaning and I just know what I see is the answer. And then I have to trust it of course.
Dr. Orloff: The hero's path is trusting it. So many people get signals like you describe and think it's weird or don't believe it. Great violence is done to the human soul when these signs or communications aren't acknowledged. It takes a strong belief to follow them independent of what others are saying and I know it's hard. I went through so many years of not trusting in my own life. I learned that nothing good ever comes from it. You have to learn to trust.
SML: I think once you know what it feels like to trust your inner knowing you never forget it and you can come back to it, compare this knowing to that one.
Dr. Orloff: That's the point. Once you have it, you can recognize it. It becomes real and you get stronger in your belief. For instance, with health problems the doctors could be saying one thing but you feel what they're telling you isn't right. You need the courage to believe in yourself. It's important to get into the habit of asking, "What should I do here?" and then listening -- not thinking or analyzing --just listening for what comes. Bringing intuition into a crisis situation gives you an organic link with what to do. It's important to get used to asking for inner guidance so that in times of crisis you'll have something to turn to.
SML: The last step, listening to your dreams, sounds so easy but sometimes they just don't come.
Dr. Orloff: And you can't force them. That's why I suggest people keep a dream journal next to the bed. It's also important not to wake up too quickly in the morning. You need to lay there for maybe five minutes just luxuriating between sleep and waking.
SML: How does an alarm clock fit into that?
Dr. Orloff: It destroys it.
SML: But most of us need to get up to an alarm clock on work days, at least.
Dr. Orloff: Allow enough time to put the alarm on snooze control for five minutes. Whatever you retrieve is vital. A lot of people dream metaphorically so those can be hard to interpret. If there's an emergency situation you can specify before you go to sleep, "Please give this to me in simple language so I know what to do". You can develop a dialog with the dream world.
SML: Does this take time?
Dr. Orloff: Yes.
SML: So it's not like I'm going to be able to go to bed tonight and say something to myself and miraculously wake up tomorrow morning and have something to write down.
Dr. Orloff: You might. Sometimes it comes instantaneously. Sometimes it's a process that takes many weeks. It depends on how much a person wants it. Often if you're going through something challenging and your ego's too involved or the situation is so emotionally charged that you can't get to your intuition, you can turn to your dreams because the ego is by-passed in the dream realm, making it easier for information to come through.
SML: How can we let go of the hook fear has that prevents us from seeing clearly to help someone we love? For example, I know the universe is literally shouting at one of my sons to notice something because of what keeps happening to him. But my fear for his safety prevents me from seeing anything at all.
Dr. Orloff: You can always ask a dream because fear isn't translated in the dream realm. You can ask a question before you go to sleep tonight and then just let it go. In the morning don't wake up too quickly and see what you get. Another technique I use is to practice neutrality. Go into meditation and breathe, breathe, breathe. Ask Spirit to take away the fear so you can see clearly. Sometimes you have to put in a prayer to have the fear lifted because you may be afraid to see certain things. You have to be ready to accept what you see. Acceptance is a big part of spiritual practice. Of course we want children to be happy and healthy and not have to go through anything painful, but that's unrealistic. Each person has their own soul's growth path, whatever it may be. The way to find more neutrality is through the breath and by asking the fear to be lifted so you can see clearly.
SML: I found the sections on death and dying in your book especially interesting. It seemed like you were saying that fear of death inhibits our capacity to live full lives.
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Dr. Orloff: It does, especially in health care. Doctors are so afraid of death that it permeates everything. Intuition gives you the ability to really know there's something beyond this life. I feel very strongly that each of us needs to have a first hand experience that death is not the end. It should be part of our collective or cultural education. The work that can be done around death is to help people intuitively experience the transition first hand to know that it is absolutely safe to make this transition. We are in human form but our spirit isn't limited to it. This isn't a theory or philosophy; it's real. People need to know this and when they do, so much anxiety lifts. I work with all my patients on this level and I'm always working with at least one or two people who are making the passage.
SML: I was especially moved by your experience of being with your father when he died.
Dr. Orloff: Sometimes we are asked to be with those we love while they die. When we have a deep belief that death is not the end we can help a loved one pass over in such a beautiful way that we shine light on them as opposed to shining fear. It's part of loving someone. The time will come when we all have to leave here. I think about death every day. I have since I've been a little girl. Not in a morbid sense, rather as a touchstone to the cycles of spirit.
SML: My mother died of cancer eighteen years ago when I was pregnant with my youngest son. I wanted to be with her but it wasn't possible. She had a strong faith and wasn't afraid of death. I'm not either but what I've always been afraid of is the pain of losing someone I love. When I was little, I'd pretend that my cat and my mother had died so I could feel the grief and not be so overwhelmed when it happened.
Dr. Orloff: Grief is very different from the process of leaving the body. People need to understand this. Grief is tormenting and devastating. It's also purifying and healing. It calls for us to go deep into our hearts and gain courage and connection to the universe. Grief is an incredibly spiritual experience if you open up to it. I had the very clear realization that when my father died I was going to open my arms and let the winds of grief just blow through me whatever they were. It's wild and raw and purifying and it takes you to another place if you can open up to it.
SML: My mother came to me after she died. The last time I saw her I said, "I wish you could know this baby. But who knows, maybe in your own way you will." She replied, "Yes, who knows?" She died in August and Colin was born in December. The night after he was born we both fell asleep on the couch. Just before dawn I awoke and there was my mother standing at the foot of the steps. Immediately I knew this was her way of letting me know that she knew Colin. I have such peace because of that. I miss her of course, her physicality, our conversations, and hugs, but in a very real way she's just as much a part of my life now as she was when she was alive. She sends me dreams occasionally.
Dr. Orloff: Yes. And when people know that the spirit lives on it brings a lot of comfort and solace. It's common that loved ones come in dreams or visions to let you know they're okay. They sometimes come back in dreams as guides to offer us love or guidance when we're in hard periods. Another point to remember is that an intuitive disconnection does come after someone dies and it's important to honor this. It's a subtle energetic disassociation that is quite painful. It's like there's a hole that needs to be rewoven in a different way. You see, a real bond, the earthly bond, is cut and we experience it as pain. On an energetic level it's felt as an absence. It's wrenching but it does reweave itself.
SML: I was really struck by a statement you made when you were writing about someone losing a four year old child to cancer and how could there ever be a good reason for that? You said, "Faith in the face of the greatest possible loss may be more significant in the cosmic scheme of things than any one life itself, no matter how dear." To me it was one of the most profound sentences in the whole book.
Dr. Orloff: I agree with you. I'm impressed that you found it.
SML: I believe in the evolution of consciousness as one of the reasons for life so I saw that statement as saying that having faith and loving in and of themselves have a purpose in the grander scheme of things and they may be even more powerful in times of great pain when it might be reasonable, and certainly easier, to rail against the injustice of God. I don't know if other people would resonate with it the same way but it gives a deeper purpose to something than just my own personal experience.
Dr. Orloff: It's something for people to contemplate.
SML: Another thing I thought about is that in other cultures in the past and even the present, maintain rituals where the family prepares the body for burial in a loving way. In our culture we consign these rituals to the undertaker.
Dr. Orloff: Exactly. In other culture the body is washed, dressed in robes that beautify, and loved. When my mother died my instinct was to hug her body. But no one was touching her so I thought there was something wrong with it. Then when my father died I just knew I had to stay with his body. I spent about an hour just touching him and letting go of him, preparing him in some way. Grief work can be facilitated by spending time with the body. Some people don't want to touch the body but if they do it's a beautiful way to say good-bye to the physical form.
SML: We're rather repulsed by it in this culture.
Dr. Orloff: Yes, but for me the grieving was so helped by being able to put my head on my father's chest and not hear his heart beat. That was a closure for me. It was important. Hopefully this article will give people permission to do these kinds of things so they can ease their own grief and gain closure.
SML: While I was reading your book I took lots of notes -- until I got to the section on sexual awareness. In fact, I was almost dreading getting to that part of the book.
Dr. Orloff: Really?
SML: Yes. Some of the relationships I've had were just so painful, especially the last one, that I felt like, as you mention in the book, my "veil was torn". There's a part of me that feels I'm never going to have a relationship with a man again. Is there a way to repair that veil?
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Dr. Orloff: Yes, of course. It regenerates itself through self-love. It absolutely does. I'm a big believer in keeping the heart open. I know what that's asking and I am fully aware that many people decide they don't want to love again because of how hurt they are. That's a path that might cause one to shut down. But it's your decision. There certainly are times for not being in a relationship for a while or perhaps never again. If your intuition is saying never again you have to trust that and try to love in different ways. There's no right or wrong. You have to do what your soul wants. If you ever feel a longing again to get involved, or that the shutting off is inhibiting you then healing work needs to be done. If you're feeling fine then you stay that way.
SML: I guess the chapter on sexual wellness was such a hook for me because I associate sexual wellness with sex so I though, well, this doesn't apply to me when, in fact, it does.
Dr. Orloff: I want to make the strong point that you don't have to be in a relationship to be erotic and sexual. It's part of our birthright as intuitive beings connected to the Earth. We can be madly erotic and sexual and never have intercourse. I know many women in particular who haven't been in relationships for a long time who feel their sexuality is on hold and it's just not necessary.
SML: One of the things that concerns me is the health of the Earth. How can we heal ourselves when the Earth is so polluted and degraded? There is a relationship between the health of the Earth and the health of our bodies and our spirits.
Dr. Orloff: Yes, there's an intimate relationship. Intuitively we are connected with all living things and so we can't help but feel the ravages of the Earth. You can't help but see the parallel in the prevalence of auto-immune diseases, for example. But human beings have an infinite capacity to regenerate and love is the key. If we work on loving ourselves and healing our bodies this will reflect to the Earth, too. There's an invisible, intuitive interconnection, an interspecies connection. You have to really know it and live it in the minutia of every day life. The more we live it, the more healing occurs.
Susan Meeker-Lowry is a writer who lives the White Mountains in Fryeburg, Maine with her family. Dr. Orloff's website can be found at www.drjudithorloff.com.
Staff, H. (2008, December 30). An Interview with Judith Orloff, M.D., HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, November 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/alternative-mental-health/sageplace/an-interview-with-judith-orloff-md