Personal development begins by letting go of your past. That sounds simple, but old conflicts often defeat the will to change. The trick is to get rid of your past, and Amedeo Maffei has figured out how to do it electronically. With the help of sound waves, this Italian psychologist and philosopher can cleanse you of your past and enable real change. “There is nothing you can’t change in your life,” Maffei says. “Nothing, except death.” Jurriaan Kamp takes us along on an unreal meeting with a man who makes therapy redundant.
When driving north from Milan, you see on all sides a flat landscape inhabited by the industry that keeps Italy alive. The view is boring, as it is around so many manufacturing centers. If you arrived here blindfolded, only the number of Fiat Unos would give away the location. But then, suddenly, the Alps arise, and you are looking at hills dotted with peaceful villages. Timeless charm is everywhere, and the industrious world seems far away. At this crossroad of ancient culture and modern civilization lies Sirtori, a village that is home to about 1,000 inhabitants, a grocery shop, a few taverns where you’d like to eat every day, and houses that are protected by the Alps from cold northern winds and enjoy warmth and sun most of the year. Many years ago, a visionary Milanese prince who understood the art of living built an impressive estate on a hill at the edge of Sitori. Today it belongs to a contemporary visionary, Amedeo Maffei, and at the treatment center he has established here, he has achieved revolutionary results in perhaps the least accessible field: the human mind.
Maffei, 54, grew up in this region, became a well-known local musician in a band called The Shadows and amassed an impressive collection of guitars, which he enjoys playing for visitors and students. While still in his twenties, he left music for a career as an entrepreneur, but found that he missed the contact with an audience. Then, in the early 1970s, he found a promising new market: motivational training for managers.
This mission started when Maffei picked up a copy of Reader’s Digest and read a Harvard professor’s remark, “The greatest discovery in genetics is that humans possess the capacity to change their lives by changing their mental attitude.” Thirty years and 24,000 students later, Maffei adds with conviction, “There’s nothing in your life that you can’t change. Nothing, except death.” Although this sounds like the usual overblown language of gurus, this self-made philosopher and psychologist has developed a method for transformation and growth that actually penetrates the human brain.
To make such a shift, Matthei says, requires more than motivation and positive thought. By way of example, he mentions divorced men and women who start a new relationship. “Rather than being open,” he says, “they often approach a potential significant other with the fear, anger, and disappointment that they carry inside. Events that belong to the past damage the new relationship, even though they have nothing to do with it.”
And so the question is: How do you lose your past? Based on research by the American biochemist Candice Pert and others, which shows that mental experiences produce a physical and chemical response in the body, Amedeo Maffei has found an answer: If you clean away those chemical substances – that is, if you wash the brain – you remove the burden of the unconscious past and give people the opportunity to shape their future freely. Thus, for example, someone who is divorced need not take the baggage of a previous marriage into a new relationship. “Sometimes,” Maffei says, “people ask me, ‘What do you give your students?’ The question should be, ‘What do you take away from them?’”
Star Trek in Sirtori. A monologue.
“At birth everyone starts from scratch, but from then on our experiences condition us and determine our actions. In turn, our feelings, including pain, are products of our thoughts. If I stab you with a needle, your nerves don’t directly transmit pain; instead, they transmit a code that your thoughts translate into pain. But because you can only have one conscious thought at a time, in other circumstances a stab wound might not cause a sense of pain. For example, if you have a thorn in your shoe during a strenuous hike up a beautiful mountain, you might not feel the wound from the thorn because your thoughts are elsewhere.
“Something similar happens when you learn to drive a car. At first it’s hard to combine shifting gears, braking and steering, let alone talking to a passenger. Later on, though, driving moves to your subconscious. You no longer think about what you’re doing because your unconscious guides your actions automatically. In the case of walking, cycling and driving, such mechanical behavior is fine. But exactly the same process applies to all experiences, causing past reactions to emerge in the midst of present circumstances. If you want to change your life, you have to let go of such unconscious, automatic responses.
“If you hate someone, your body produces adrenaline and certain toxic substances and you end up poisoning yourself. Hatred, anger, pain, sorrow and other such emotions pour toxic chemicals into your body, leave physical marks and set off an unconscious cycle of repeated thoughts. Whenever a new situation triggers a memory of a previous dangerous situation, a nerve keeps sending warning impulses, regardless of whether there is any actual cause for alarm.
“Disturbances of the body’s bioelectric balance lead to certain behavior and ultimately to illness. Every action is the result of unwanted conditioning. It’s impossible to correct a mistake unless you remove the conditioning, which makes it important to restore the balance – that is, to depolarize and clean up the past. Modern technology makes this possible by using subliminal sound waves, inaudible to the human ear, that produce so-called alpha waves in the brain. These waves, which young children and happy adults produce naturally, stimulate the production of endorphins, which help eliminate toxic substances and restore bioelectric balance.
“In a four-day course, people undergo ten treatments, during which they dispose of waste substances. Some people produce a perspiration that leaves black stains on a white napkin; others feel stinging sensations like electric shocks and sometimes their eyes become noticeably shiny. This is how people physically express old problems, including suppressed memories of unpleasant past experiences. .
“After people complete my course, they say that they feel more relaxed. Although this is nice, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something has really changed. Relaxation can be superficial – an attempt to put problems aside. When I couldn’t find an instrument to measure the effects of my treatment, I built a machine that calculates the subtle muscle tensions caused by disturbances in the bioelectric balance. Every problem translates itself into a particular muscle tension, and I measure those in the forehead because the brain is the last organ to relax. Your whole body unwinds when you lie down, but you still keep producing thoughts that are burdened by past experiences. My treatment produces significant reduction in the muscle tension in the forehead, signalling that the vicious circle of unconscious, repetitive thoughts is broken.”
Maffei offers this treatment at his Sirtori center, where a uniformed staff guides participants through a modern interior with brightly colored walls and glossy pillars. During the course, everybody stays at the center, and the heavy iron gates at the entrance drive remain locked. The meals are magnificent, but the only drinks are mineral water and herbal tea. The principle activity takes place in an old cellar chapel equipped with 20 beds attached to monitors and headphones. After patients lie down, a staff member attaches electrodes to their foreheads and from behind a mirrored wall Maffei tinkers with computers, recorders and a dazzling amount of wires. Yet something more is going on here than just a performance of high-tech electronics.
Perhaps the best way to understand the nature of Maffei’s work is to hear from him directly.
“Cleaning the past with the help of headphones and subliminal sound waves isn’t enough. To silence the nerve that keeps sending impulses indicating danger when there is none requires imagination. You need new behavior to prevent falling back into an old pattern. What is the sense of smoothing out the dent of a car if the driver doesn’t change his reckless style? People must learn who they are, how they work and how they create their own reality, which is why philosophy is more important than therapy. Therapists dedicate their time to the past, explaining why things went the way they went, but meanwhile their patients are heading towards the future, which can be understood only by addressing the principles of life – that is, through philosophical inquiry.
“In the end, happiness is not the result of fortunate events but of an opinion, a way of thinking and of life. In turn, experiencing happiness is a biochemical process. When you are in love, it is not your significant other but you who are producing endorphins. Even something positive, like a party, can seem negative if the timing is wrong. What counts is creating the right circumstances. Possibilities do not come to people; instead, every person has possibilities. The difference between people is not a matter of their possibilities per se, but of their ability to create the right conditions.
“Imagination, which Einstein called ‘the most important element in the universe,’ is the only thing that can shape the future. Humans have the capacity to see something that doesn’t exist but could if they’d do something to create it. Dreams are the fitness club of the imagination. It’s a disgrace that schools force children to give up their own dreams in exchange for those of teachers, bureaucrats and politicians. Everything you have is the product of your imagination, and everything you do, you first imagine. When I stand before an audience and say that I will now invite someone to the stage, everyone in the room experiences walking to the front. And when you think of a lemon, your mouth starts watering. Because you become what you say, you should never say that there is something you’re not capable of doing. The pessimist says, ‘I knew it would fail,’ whereas the optimist says, ‘I knew it would succeed.’
“You have to see things as beautiful before they become so. You can find only what you want to find. The Navajo Indians don’t have stutterers because they don’t have a word for stuttering. They haven’t imagined it, so it doesn’t exist. According to the laws of aerodynamics, bees cannot fly because their wings are too small. But they don’t know this, so they fly anyway. Such ignorance provides the power to expand personal borders and realize a miracle. Protect your naivete, which is your courage to start something the whole world considers impossible. People tend to say that I’m crazy, which simply means that I’m doing something new.
“Most people talk too much about the past. When you speak about what you have done, you weaken your future chances. To the question ‘What is your best achievement?,’ you should always answer, ‘The next one.’ The imagination has only one enemy: doubt. It poisons your decision-making because it makes you afraid you’re not capable of making your dreams come true. Everyone carries this fear of change and of the unknown. That is the trauma of birth, the shock of coming from a warm, fluid environment and suddenly finding yourself in a cold place where you have to breathe in order to survive. And yet, change is normal. Only the fear of change is abnormal.
“The challenge is to exploit setbacks, to conquer difficulties and to learn how to use the negative – the least-used force in the world – to create good. We should be thankful for problems, for if there were none there would be no reason to produce new ideas. Every negative event offers an opportunity for growth. When people are ill, they often become angry, even though this makes the illness worse because being negative exposes your body to damage. The wise of this world are not altruists. Instead, they understand life and know that rage poisons their own lives. Being healthy means having a purpose to live for, because this is how you grow new cells.”
Maffei is a born orator who enjoys surprising listeners with his verbal wit. This is an investigative philosopher speaking, not simply a clever electrotechnician. Without imagination, without the art of life, the electronic ingenuity at Sirtori serves no purpose. Maffei’s lectures are at least as important as the mechanical cleaning sessions in the center’s catacombs. Guided meditation – teaching participants to view life differently – is how Maffei feeds the imagination, which is the power to shape the future. “I can teach you to perform miracles in your own life,” he says, “but I can’t offer you guarantees. If you jump in front of a car, you will die. I can’t protect you against the future, but I can hand you the philosophy that will enable you to design your life.”
Hours have passed. As our interpreter becomes tired, I notice that I’m following the Italian words more easily. Understanding is faster than speech. After a moment of silence, I finally ask, “What do you live for?” Amedeo Maffei gives a short and self-assured answer: “I want to be part of something that has contributed to human growth.” Then he modestly adds, “But I haven’t invented anything. Nothing. Everything already exists within us. The secret is not to make something new, but to apply something that is already there.”
Studies have documented the ability of yogis, who meditate all their lives, to reduce drastically the bioelectric tension in their bodies. By bringing the thought process to a halt, they greatly diminish the muscle tension in their bodies, particularly in their foreheads.
Even yogis must wait until death to experience the complete elimination of muscle tension. But the treatment offered at Amedeo Maffei’s center does provide a sharp reduction in forehead tension, and in days instead of years. In 2003 Ode editor Jurrian Kamp underwent three sessions at Sirtori. At the beginning of his first visit, in May, his forehead registered a tension level of 0.31 microvolts. Four days later, the level was only 0.04 microvolts. When Kamp returned in October for a one-day treatment, the tension level was 0.12 microvolts, which was higher than when he left in May but considerably lower than the initial score during that visit. In December Kamp visited Maffei one more time and found that the tension in his forehead had fallen still further, to 0.08 microvolts.
These figures indicate that the benefits of Maffei’s treatment continue over time. He reports that participants who return after five years find that they’ve retained 90% of the results achieved during their sessions. Lowering the bioelectric tension level means that less energy is lost to imbalances created by past events and more energy is available for use in the present. This may explain why, according to Maffei, those who attend his sessions are more energetic and better able to handle stress.
Nor is that the only measurable benefit. Blood and urine tests on patients over a period of more than ten years indicate an increase in the production of certain hormones and a decrease in others, including adrenaline, which means that in a certain sense, the body becomes more youthful. Other dividends from Maffei’s de-stressing techniques include lowered consumption of coffee, alcohol and cigarettes. But perhaps the most noticeable change is that participants drive more slowly, which is particularly beneficial in Italy.
Prisoners and cyclists
Amedeo Maffei’s success has reached Italy’s highest political echelons. Roberto Castelli, who underwent treatment and is now justice minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, has called on Maffei to help with a large-scale overhaul of Italy’s prison system. The basis for this request is a follow-up study of prisoners given a four-day course by Maffei several years ago. Statistics show that an average of two-thirds of convicts released in Italy become repeat offenders, but there have been no rearrests among those who underwent Maffei’s de-stressing techniques. The justice ministry has proposed teaching Maffei’s method in all prisons.
“Only ten percent of prisoners are truly dangerous to society,” Maffei says. “The rest suffer from bad conditioning, which can be cured.” The biggest challenge, he says, is to separate out the real criminals, and the next task is to build up the self-image of those who can change. Prisoners think they are bad people, an impression confirmed by prison, but most often incarceration is followed by recidivism because released convicts still lack the ability to be different. In other words, Maffei concludes, to protect society from the danger posed by prisoners requires actually curing them.
If this innovative approach is successful in Italy, it will influence prison policy throughout Europe. Currently Maffei is looking at penal systems in European Union countries and holding talks in Brussels with the European Commission. “We have to transform prisons from institutions that take revenge to institutions that help remedy mistakes,” he says.
The sports world has also discovered Maffei. Top Italian athletes have made their way to Sirtori, and early training for Romans Vainsteins, the Latvian cyclist who became world champion in 2000, included Maffei’s treatments. Last summer Maffei intended to follow the Tour de France in a bus specially outfitted with his equipment, but his work for the justice ministry forced a last-minute cancellation.