We can be thankful to modern medicine for high-tech and surgical interventions that save lives. But there are many simpler and less invasive ways to heal from illnesses. Over the years, Dr. Larry Dossey has explored the interface between medicine, consciousness, and spirituality. He has expanded our horizons in regard to the healing arts through his 10 books and is currently executive editor of EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing. Many of the essays in this engrossing volume were presented in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine,which he edited for nearly a decade.

The author's own most profound healing event came before he entered medical school. He was in the hospital coming out from anesthesia after an appendectomy. He recalls awakening with large doses of pain and anxiety. The surgeon who performed the operation was not around but "the nurse's lingering touch conveyed to me — silently, powerfully, unequivocally — that everything was going to be all right. It was, and the occasion is seared into my memory." Since then he has been entranced by simple, ordinary health interventions that we take for granted or consider to be not worthy of serious consideration.

One of these is optimism. Research has shown that optimists get sick less often and live longer than pessimists, and they seem to be much happier as well. Still, the medical profession is filled with far too many gloomy Guses who, because of their regular encounters with death, tend to look on the dark side of things.

Another ordinary step toward health is crying. Dossey pays tribute to tears, agreeing with Dr. Barry M. Bernfeld that "crying is natural, healthy, and curative." Many ancient cultures so valued tears as an expression of love and caring that individuals collected and stored them in bottlelike containers called lachrymatories. Perhaps hospitals would be more compassionate places if this practice were carried on in them.

New products are being created all the time to intensify our war on dirt. Why do so many of us have such an aversion to this universal aspect of the human condition? Dossey suggests that we call a truce in this battle and see that we often have transferred our feelings against dirt to "the lowly, the humble and the unclean." One essay that made us squirm a bit charts the return of maggot and leech therapy to help the medical establishment deal with the increasing resistance of microbes to antibiotics and a rising tide of chronic infections.

Other essays in this thought-provoking volume deal with music as a healing art, the value of plant-based medicine, unhappiness as an ally deserving of our gratitude, doing nothing as a spur to creativity and optimum health, the significance of mystery in our lives, and miracles as a source of wonder. Dr. Dossey is a meaning-maker par excellence.