The Power of Eight
For many years, I refused to write this book because I didn’t believe for one moment the strange healings that were happening in my workshops, which is to say, I had a hard time handling miracles.
By “miracles” and “healings” I’m not being metaphoric; I’m referring to genuine loaves-and-fishes-type miraculous events—a series of extraordinary and untoward situations in which people were instantly healed of all sorts of physical conditions after being assembled into a small group and sent a collective healing thought. I’m talking about the kinds of miracles that defy every last belief we hold about the way we’re told the world is supposed to work.
The idea of placing people into small groups of about eight started out as a crazy whim of mine during a workshop I ran in 2008, just to see what would happen if group members tried to heal one of their group through their collective thoughts. I’d billed them “Power of Eight” groups, but I may as well have called them Power of Eight Million, so potent did they turn out to be and so much did they rattle everything I thought I knew about the nature of human beings.
As a writer, I am drawn to life’s great mysteries and biggest questions—the meaning of consciousness, the extrasensory
experience, life after death—particularly those anomalies that upset conventional wisdom. I like to ferret out, as the psychologist William James put it, the single white crow necessary to prove that not all crows are black.
But for all my forays into the unconventional, I remain, at heart, a hard-nosed reporter, the result of my early background as an investigative journalist, and I constantly look to build an edifice of solid evidence. I am not given to arcane references to mysticism, auras, or any sloppy or inchoate uses of the terms “quantum” or “energy.” In fact, there’s nothing I hate more than unsubstantiated woo-woo, because it gives what I do such a bad name.
I’m not an atheist—or even an agnostic. A deeply spiritual side to me remains convinced that human beings are more than a pile of chemicals and electrical signaling. But the reason I remain drawn to the Maginot Line separating the material from the immaterial is that I rely upon bell curves and double-blind trials to underpin my faith.
My own, relatively conventional, view about the nature of reality had first taken a knocking after researching my book The Field. I had begun the book as an attempt to understand scientifically why homeopathy and spiritual healing work, but my research soon led me into strange new territory, a revolution in science that challenges many of the most cherished beliefs we hold about our universe and how it operates. The frontier scientists I met during the course of my research—all with impeccable credentials attached to prestigious institutions—had made astonishing discoveries about the subatomic world that seemed to overthrow the current laws of biochemistry and physics. They’d found evidence that all of reality may be connected through the Zero Point Field, an underlying quantum energy field and vast network of energy exchange. A few frontier biologists had conducted research suggesting that the primary system of communication in the body is not chemical reaction, but quantum frequency and subatomic energetic charge. They’d carried out studies showing
that human consciousness is able to access information beyond the conventional bounds of time and space. In countless experiments, they’d shown that our thoughts may not be locked inside our heads but may be trespassers, capable of both traversing other people and things and even actually influencing them. Each of them had stumbled on a tiny piece of what compounded to a new science, a completely new view of the world.
Writing The Field hijacked me into further pursuit of the nature of this strange new view of reality. I had grown especially curious about the implication of these discoveries: that thoughts are an actual something with the capacity to change physical matter.
This idea continued to nag at me. A number of bestselling books had been published about the law of attraction and the power of intention—the idea that you could manifest what you most desired just by thinking about it in a focused way—but to all of this I maintained a certain incredulity, overwhelmed by a number of awkward questions. Is this a true power and exactly how all-purpose is it, I wondered. What can you do with it? Are we talking here about curing cancer or shifting a quantum particle? And to my mind, the most important question of all: What happens when lots of people are thinking the same thought at the same time? Does this magnify the effect?
From the studies I’d researched for The Field, it was clear that mind in some way appeared to be inextricably connected to matter and, indeed, seemed capable of altering it. But that fact, which begged many profound questions about the nature of consciousness, had been trivialized by these popular treatments into the idea that you could think yourself into great wealth.
I wanted to offer something besides manifesting a car or a diamond ring, something besides just getting more stuff. I had in mind a bolder enterprise. This new science seemed to change everything we thought we knew about our innate human capacities, and I wanted
to test it to the limit. If we had this kind of extraordinary extended potential, it suggested that we needed to act and live differently, according to a radical new view of ourselves, as a piece of a larger whole. I wanted to examine whether this capacity was powerful enough to heal individuals, even the world. Like a twenty-first-century doubting Thomas, I was essentially looking for a way to dissect magic.
My next book, The Intention Experiment, intended to do this, by compiling all the credible scientific research into the power of mind over matter, but its purpose was also an invitation. Very little research had been carried out about group intention, and my plan was to fill that gap by enlisting my readers as the experimental body of group intenders in an ongoing scientific experiment. After the book’s publication in 2007, I gathered together a consortium of physicists, biologists, psychologists, statisticians, and neuroscientists highly experienced in consciousness research. Periodically I would invite my internet audience, or an actual audience when I was delivering a talk or workshop somewhere, to send one designated, specific thought to affect some target in a laboratory, set up by one of the scientists I was working with, who would then calculate the results to see if our thoughts had changed anything.
Eventually this project evolved into, in effect, the world’s largest global laboratory, involving several hundred thousand of my international readers from more than a hundred countries in some of the first controlled experiments on the power of mass intention to affect the physical world. Although a number of the experiments were quite rudimentary, even the simplest was carried out under rigorous scientific conditions, with painstaking protocol followed. And all but one of the experiments were conducted with one or more controls, and were also “blinded,” so the scientists involved were ignorant of the target of our intentions until after the experiment was over and the results calculated.
I was far from convinced that we’d get positive results, but I was willing to give it a go. I wrote many qualifiers into The Intention Experiment about
how the actual outcome of the experiments didn’t matter so much as simply having the willingness to explore the idea, then launched the book, kicked off the first experiment two months later, and took a deep breath.
As it turned out, the experiments did work. In fact, they really worked. In the thirty experiments I’ve run to date, twenty-six have evidenced measurable, mostly significant change, and three of the four without a positive result simply had technical issues. To put these results in perspective, almost no drug produced by the pharmaceutical industry can lay claim to that level of positive effect.
It was a year after I began the global experiments with groups of thousands that I decided to try to scale down the entire process in my workshops by creating Power of Eight groups and having them send healing intention. For me it was just another, more informal experiment, and just as foolhardy a one—until it too began to work in ways that eclipsed everything I’d imagined would happen, and people with long-standing conditions reported instant, near-miraculous healings.
The Intention Experiment caught the public imagination. Bestselling author Dan Brown even featured me and my work in one of his books, The Lost Symbol. But the results of the experiments themselves are only part of the story. In fact, they aren’t the important part of the story.
For most of the time I was running these experiments and Power of Eight groups, I now realize, I was asking the wrong questions.
The most important questions had more to do with the process itself, and what it suggested about the nature of consciousness, our extraordinary human capacity, and the power of the collective.
The outcome of both the groups and the experiments, amazing though they were, paled in comparison to what was happening to the participants. The most powerful effect of group intention—an effect overlooked by virtually every popular book on the subject—was on the intenders themselves.
At some point I began to acknowledge that the group-intention experience itself was causing big changes in people: changing individual consciousness, removing a sense of separation and individuality, and placing members of the group in what can only be described as a state of ecstatic unity. With each experiment, no matter how large or small, whether the global experiments or the Power of Eight groups, I observed this same group dynamic, a dynamic so powerful and life-transforming that it enabled individual miracles to take place. I recorded hundreds, if not thousands, of these instantaneous miracles in participants’ lives: They healed long-standing serious health conditions. They mended estranged relationships. They discovered a renewed life purpose or cast off workaday jobs in favor of a career that was more adventurous or fulfilling. A few of them even transformed right in front of me. And there was no shaman or guru present, no complex healing process involved—in fact, no previous experience necessary. The inciting instrument for all of this was simply the gathering of these people into a group.
What on earth had I done to them? At first, I didn’t believe it. For years I attributed what appeared to be rebound effects to my imagination working overtime. As I kept telling my husband, I needed to gather more stories, carry out more experiments, amass more hard proof. Then I became frightened by them and sought some historical or scientific precedent.
Eventually it dawned on me that these experiments were providing me, in the most visceral way, with an immediate experience of what I previously had understood only intellectually: that the stories we tell ourselves about how our minds work are manifestly wrong. Although I’d written in The Field about consciousness and its effects on the big visible world, what I was witnessing surpassed even the most extravagant of these ideas. Every experiment I ran, every Power of Eight group that assembled demonstrated that thoughts are not locked inside our skulls, but find their way into other people, even
into things thousands of miles away, and have the ability to change them. Thoughts weren’t just things or even things that affect other things; thoughts might even have the capacity to fix whatever was broken in a human life.
This book is an attempt to make sense of all the miracles that happened in these experiments—to figure out what indeed I’d done to our participants—within the larger context of science and also esoteric and religious historical practice. It is a biography of an accident, a human endeavor that I stumbled across that appears to have ancient antecedents, even in the early Christian church. The Power of Eight is also about me, and what happens to someone like me, when the rules of the game—the rules by which you’ve lived your life—suddenly no longer apply.
The outcome of the group Intention Experiments are remarkable, but they aren’t the point of this story. This story is about the miraculous power you hold inside of you to heal your own life, which gets unleashed, ironically, the moment you stop thinking about yourself.