Printed in the Summer 2016 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: van Gelder, Kirsten and Chesley, Frank, "Compassion in Action" Quest 104.3 (Summer 2016): pg. 112-115
Dora Kunz’s Approach to Healing
by Kirsten van Gelder and Frank Chesley
Dora van Gelder Kunz (1904–99), born on a Javanese sugar plantation, was one of the most memorable and influential Theosophists of the twentieth century. She possessed clairvoyant abilities from her childhood and was educated in their use by C.W. Leadbeater, the great pioneer of clairvoyance. Along with Dolores Krieger, she developed the healing modality known as Therapeutic Touch. From 1975 to 1987 she was president of the Theosophical Society in America. Longtime Theosophists still have many rich and fond memories of her.
This excerpt from a recent biography describes Dora’s work in the early years of developing Therapeutic Touch at workshops at the Theosophical centers Pumpkin Hollow Farm, in Craryville, New York, and Camp Indralaya, off the coast of Washington state. It also contains excerpts from an interview with her from 1984. —Ed.
It was not until the early 1970s, when Dora was over sixty years old, that she really came into her own. Initially she wanted to know if healing could be taught. Could those who had little or no religious education learn to heal? Could students with strong religious beliefs change their language and enlarge their views in order to practice in secular institutions without imposing their own religions on others? For example, could healing be practiced in nonreligious settings without reference to the Holy Spirit or other religious terminology?
Leading a group of intelligent, capable professionals in meditation and then supervising as they treated patients at Pumpkin Hollow Farm and at Indralaya, she was really in her element. At Pumpkin Hollow Farm, most of the treatments and discussions took place outdoors in the orchard near the brook. A patient sat on a bench as Dora demonstrated. Because the patient’s localized energy field extends beyond the physical body, Dora encouraged students and practitioners to gently move their hands and keep them four to six inches away from the patient’s body. She started at the top of the head and moved her hands over the patient’s head, neck, shoulders, all the way to the feet. That was repeated while she stood in front of the patient, again starting at the top of the head and moving down to the feet. Dora wanted people to become aware of subtle energies. She often kneaded a patient’s shoulders and upper back with her strong hands or put the palms of her hands on the patient as she worked. However, she encouraged others to keep their hands away from the patient’s body in order to become more sensitive to subtle variations in the energy field. Dora observed students and modified her approach accordingly.
Dora introduced city people to nature at Pumpkin Hollow Farm or Indralaya workshops while seated on a large canvas tarp, plastic chairs, or the grass in an old orchard. She did not present outlines or flow charts, glossaries, or other handouts. She told stories about healers. She was a master of understatement, so only those who could get in sync with her could make sense of the stories and follow their logic. For those who expected a logical progression that required little more than rote learning, she was frustrating. For those who did not attune to her through listening to the brook or participating in her meditation or respecting her for her fearlessness, her presentations came across poorly.
Dora was invaluable to those interested in clairvoyant validation of their experiences of subtle consciousness and the appropriateness of their meditation practice. Dolores Krieger, Dora’s partner in devising Therapeutic Touch, shared an example of the way Dora validated her awareness of a devic consciousness. The experience occurred while the two of them were walking through birch woods after picking wild blueberries. Dolores had a sudden perception of beauty and unity. Though Dolores was awestruck by it, Dora merely agreed, matter-of-factly, that the woods were beautiful. However, several weeks later, Dora spoke to a group in California about the beautiful birch woods near Pumpkin Hollow Farm and the deva associated with it. Only then did she validate Dolores’s exhilarating experience. Listening to a tape recording of Dora’s presentation, Dolores understood that she had experienced more than the physical beauty in nature: she had perceived a deva’s consciousness. Dolores commented:
She’s done that time and time again and — even though people would think she’s abrupt — she won’t give it away. She won’t throw it away, her world, by talking about what she’s seeing. Very guarded; it’s as though she has a treasure and she realizes how silly most of us are with that kind of information. If you get the right question and if you, yourself, have the insight or the wisdom or the understanding about something, it’s a whole other story. And then you find her to be completely different, a whole other person than you think she is . . . not because she wants to withhold it but she realizes that it’s more important for you to find out; it’s more important for you to perceive it.
Dora was not a philosopher. She gave simple teachings, and she acknowledged students’ insights and validated their realizations. Her attentiveness to individuals’ development reinforced one of her fundamental teachings: “We can change.” Human beings have the potential to change profoundly; they are not closed systems like machines. The transformation process encompasses vastly more than a single lifetime. There is a continuity of consciousness far more subtle than that associated with sensory awareness of three-dimensional space and linear time. Dora encouraged those she called “potential healers” to gain familiarity with the inner self and with expanded, subtle states of consciousness.
Dolores’s championing of Dora and Therapeutic Touch was crucial, though she conceded, “Dora really was the leader — because she had these capabilities.” Dora assessed patients much as nurses and other clinicians use observation of gait, balance, skin tones, respiratory rate, and other indications. But for Dora, these elements were combined with clairvoyance and an assessment across the past, present, and future. She could see pathologies in the vital (etheric) field as well as habit patterns in the emotional field. To some degree, she determined the likelihood for change — for better or worse — by being attentive to each patient’s unique temperament. She provided counseling, but her approach involved much more, since she also worked on energetic levels. She attempted to resonate with the patient’s inner self, that is, with the more subtle levels of consciousness associated with wholeness. By using her hands to focus healing energy, she helped patients experience calmness and meditative quietude. From that level of awareness, it was possible to catalyze the healing process and restore their integration into the matrix of wholeness.
Dr. Renée Weber, a student of J. Krishnamurti and a longtime friend of Dora’s, conducted an interview that appears in Dora’s third book, a compilation of articles entitled Spiritual Healing (initially published in 1985 as Spiritual Aspects of the Healing Arts). Weber entitled the article “Compassion, Rootedness, and Detachment,” and in it she introduced those concepts relevant to healing. Weber was direct: “The healing force and its energies somehow speed up the innate tendencies toward order in the body. Now what is the specific role of the healer in this?” Dora replied, “The role of the healer is just to be an instrument; by his compassion and by his focusing to allow this healing force to flow through him to the patient. [The healer] is not necessary if the person himself has the strength to open himself up to the healing power, and is willing, at the same time, to become aware of his emotional and thought patterns which help to keep him in the state of illness, and to change them.”
Weber described self-healing as “the direct harmonization of the ill person with the healing power.” She postulated that self-healing, without the intervention of a healer, is possible. The Chakras and the Human Energy Fields, a book published in 1989 by Dora and her colleague Dr. Shafica Karagulla, cites a case in which a woman with a poor prognosis avoided surgery and meditated for several years in order to consciously change her habit patterns. Although the woman was successful, Dora said that self-healing is rare, often occurring when a patient is very close to death. As a result, she very rarely suggested that a patient dispense with orthodox health care. Regarding self-healing, Dora said:
It requires one’s awareness of his disordered patterns and a willingness and ability to let go of them . . . It is very difficult. I have worked with a great many people who are ill and they often feel that they are their patterns so that it’s more comfortable not to make an effort to change them . . . A person’s self-image — what he (often unconsciously) thinks of himself — is a very important factor in healing. (Emphasis here and in other quotes is in the original)
Dora offered a specific example of a person who “thinks of himself as constantly failing and rarely able to achieve his goals fully, this makes for a negative self-image which is very difficult to change. Most of us are completely unaware of how we picture ourselves. We may feel patterns of depression recur without connecting them to the lack of self-confidence in ourselves that we repeatedly are building up within us.” Once the person is aware of the negative patterns, changing them, she said, “is a very tedious process”:
One has to become aware of how one develops the beginning of this self-doubt every day and say to oneself: “I have enough desire to be willing to stop it the moment it starts and at that first moment of awareness to open myself to the positive energy which I can draw upon, which is also me because I am part of the universe and thus part of this healing power.” By becoming aware of the pattern the moment it begins, we nip it in the bud and change it by drawing up the will. That de-energizes the disturbed pattern and allows a new energy to enter in that may attenuate it. Self-image and health are connected because the different levels of consciousness are interconnected at all times.
Part of Dora’s approach as a healer was to help the individual become aware of negative habit patterns. She skillfully conveyed what she perceived in language that the patient would not reject. Unlike psychotherapists, she did not have weekly visits with patients for a period of years. She may have developed her habit of bluntness from her attempts to help patients gain insights and motivation to change even though she often had only a single session with them.
Weber asked about the role of the healer when a person is unable to change a negative habit pattern. Dora responded:
Dora: The role of the healer is to focus on the person’s potential for wholeness, which I feel is present in every individual . . . From my point of view, there is a point of consciousness within everyone which has the seed of wholeness. By wholeness I mean the potential to realize integration within oneself, and to actively direct the forces of one’s life, not to react only to the problems or the negative parts of one’s self. In each person’s makeup there may be many negative patterns but there is also strength, creativity and insight; a person need only be willing to draw on them, and these forces I consider the potential for wholeness.
Weber: Most human beings therefore scarcely tap the great reservoir of strength and potential creativity which you are calling wholeness. Do you actually perceive these to be part of our makeup, as you observe the fields in your diagnostic work with patients?
Dora: It is part of our human constitution. People who are born with great handicaps in life surmount them through something within themselves and reach that other level. Practically every person, if he can move through a crisis in his life and surmount it, feels at that moment a sense of inner calmness, a sense of direction.
Weber: Why don’t most of us draw more on that calmness and strength in daily life? Why does it seem to be latent and passive instead of active in most people?
Dora: Our whole attention in daily life is given to the minute details of living, particularly in our present society where we seem to depend on entertainment and stimulation from outside. We really are not aware of our own potential. Most people are involved with what catches their immediate interest or with the search for pleasure, not with the search for creativity and self-renewal . . .
Weber: Do people who become aware of these potentialities in themselves — people who are very interested in healing — do they at the same time strengthen that side of themselves?
Dora: I think they strengthen that side of themselves, but of course that does not mean that they turn into perfect human beings. They may still feel distraught and distracted by periods of lack of self-confidence or by other problems. It is hard for us to realize that everything is in flux, and most people have moments of feeling down, moments of lowered energy; but if they accept this period of fallowness as temporary they will regain the sense of being active. I have worked with many different healers and what is remarkable is that during the healing process, the healers can continue without a loss of energy because all their attention is focused on an outward movement — helping others, and during this process they forget completely about themselves.
Weber: To function in that outgoing way renews one’s energy, whereas to be self-absorbed and always revolving around the self [i.e., personality] drains one. Have the great healers that you’ve known been centered?
Dora: Centered and altruistic . . . In teaching Therapeutic Touch . . . we stress how essential it is for the potential healer to know something about centering. Centering is a practice which must be done daily. If one is a nurse, for instance, this form of meditation is not only practiced in solitude at home but right in the emergencies which come up during a busy hospital day . . .
Centering is a focusing within. It is helpful to focus one’s energies in the heart region. The first step is to be aware of any anxiety we might feel at the time and to try to dissociate from it for the moment. Shifting the focus to this center of quiet within is important in the healing process. Most healers experience it in one form or another, though often it is second nature to them and they can shift into it without much effort, without prodding from the conscious mind. When we train nurses, however, we teach them to do centering consciously . . .
There are many modalities of healing but Therapeutic Touch is one that seems eminently suitable for nurses. Therapeutic Touch entails that the nurse or healer, after centering, visualizes himself as an instrument for healing. The use of the hands makes it more effective, but it is not essential. The energy fields of the healer are focused through his hands and reach the energy fields of the patient and this helps speed up the innate healing power within the patient himself.
Dora mentioned qualities a healer must have:
From my observation, there are several common denominators which seem essential. First, the healer has to have a conviction or faith that there is a power which is greater than himself, on which he can draw. Secondly, he of course must have a genuine compassion and the desire to help others. Thirdly, to be truly effective, he has to leave his own ego or sense of self-importance out of the healing process.
She also spoke about the importance of nonattachment.
Dora: Between the healer and the sick person there often develops a close, empathic relationship. If the healer feels that he is personally involved in the patient’s pain, he will feel anxiety, and anxiety, at whatever subtle level, is an energy that will be conveyed to the patient along with the healing energy . . . This will interfere, and in some cases I have even observed that people who identify with other people’s disease process may feel the pain in their own body. This is really not good for the healer, because it weakens his own energy.
Weber: You said that the healer has to have faith in a healing power, can that power be described in any way?
Dora: To me, this healing power exists and is real. I feel it has three characteristics: order, wholeness, and compassion . . . It’s part of nature and it’s universal. Therefore, it does not matter who calls upon it nor by what name. It is not for any race nor any particular religion.
Compassion was to become the touchstone in Dora’s efforts to help students develop the quality of humaneness. Compassion, in her view, is the fuel that drives the transformation from “concern for others” into “altruistic action to avoid suffering and its causes.” According to Dora, compassion, altruism, and nonattachment can transform the actions of nurses and doctors into actual healing.
Kirsten van Gelder is a reflexologist in private practice. Her husband, Nicolas, is Dora van Gelder Kunz’s nephew. Frank Chesley (1929–2010) was a newspaper reporter and interviewer for over fifty years. This article is adapted from their biography A Most Unusual Life: Dora van Gelder Kunz, Clairvoyant, Theosophist, Healer (Quest Books, 2015, reviewed in Quest magazine, fall 2015). Excerpts from Renée Weber’s interview are taken from Spiritual Healing: Doctors Examine Therapeutic Touch and Other Holistic Treatments (Quest Books, 1995 ).