In Philip K. Dick’s story “We Remember It For You Wholesale”, the protagonist, fantasising on and on about a trip to Mars, visits a corporation specialising in memory implants and tries to live through that fantasy. Unfortunately, as the technicians at that corporation (tellingly called Rekall) realise for themselves, the man has already paid a visit to that planet: he’s a secret agent and what’s worse, a secret agent on the run who’s unaware of his true identity. First written in 1966, just before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, the story was a landmark in science fiction, and 24 years later it was turned into a film: Total Recall. It seems to have outlasted its popularity, but the science and technology behind implanting good memories hasn’t.
Although Dr Sampath Gunawardena doesn’t specialise, much less practice or dabble, in memory implants, he claims to have perfected a form of physio-psychotherapy that leaves convalescent patients free of negative energy and full of good memories. Unlike the stuff of science fiction potboilers, this method is based on a fusion of Western and Eastern, particularly local, psychology; there are no machines, no technicians, and no pills. Since Dr Sampath believes this will have an impact on our tourism sector and, on that count, investment environment, OSL – The Investment Magazine decided to have a small chat with the man who claims he’s found a solution not to the problems of life but to the problems of everyday living – the two being clean different.
Dr Sampath, a medical practitioner at Karapitiya Hospital in Galle, gained much of his knowledge of this form of therapy through observation of his patients, especially from grief-counselling the survivors of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami – a cataclysm which, he admits, proved a turning point in his life. The effects of grief on a person’s abilities gave him an insight into how the body works, as a holistic entity. Studying the subject closely, relating it to empirical evidence from his counselling sessions, he arrived at the present form of his remedy through trial and error. He removes the mental barriers that people have erected for themselves in response to outside stimuli.
The “method” as such, as he details it for us, is both comprehensive and simple. According to Dr Sampath, “what we call life, or pana, is dependent on energy.” Academics, physicians, health experts, and mental health professionals have, as he puts it, focused on how the levels of energy within a person can change his mood and personality. This, however, isn’t the be-all and end-all of the matter: as important as the energy levels within a body is the energy varga, or type. “Put it this way. When we are in love, we inculcate one kind of energy within ourselves. Same goes for other emotions: they correspond to specific forms of energy. Once we learn to reduce the effects of negative emotions, we are one step towards a healthy, happy, fulfilled life. In other words, the objective should be to purge out negative energy.”
For his part Dr Sampath has travelled wide and far, and picked up bits and pieces of what he’s pieced together so far. Having visited Thailand, Singapore, and the United States (five times to the latter country, where he met experts in the field from over 75 countries at a mental health symposium), he came to understand that any technique that aims at purging someone of mental ailments must be simple, practical, and firmly results oriented. Obviously, much of what passes for mental health care in the country leaves much room for improvement. “We need to keep up with the latest strides in knowledge in this field. Not just for the sake of being up to date, but because this being a fast moving world, we need quick and drastic solutions.”
The remedy he’s found out and perfected, as he tells us, goes through three broad stages: lectures, coaching, and practical treatment. “We begin with a series of lectures that cleanse the individual of naraka sithuvili [bad thoughts]. We do follow up sessions where we check up on patients to see how they are progressing. Next, we take this remedy to the individual level by coaching them on how to keep at bay negative emotions. Believe me, this is important.
“Once these two are done we move to practical treatment, which falls under three categories: physical therapy through dieting, sleep control, and exercise; bodily therapy by seawater; and mental therapy, the aim of which is to control and restraint seven negative factors in a person’s mental build-up. What are these factors? Well, five main ones in the form of the stress of leaving work unfinished, unhappy memories, jealousy, envy, and fear; and two subsidiary ones in the form of cunning and the stress of retaining unnecessary information.”
A person who has successfully “passed” through these stages has, accordingly, been cured: “When he or she is through, he or she is considered to be ‘clear’.” The use of Scientological jargon (in the dictionary of the Church of Scientology a person said to have reached a higher state of consciousness is also termed as “clear”) there startles me, though it is a relief, to say the least, that what Dr Sampath does cannot be considered a cult (religious or secular).
In any case the term is convenient shorthand for the transition a patient makes from negative, unclear energy to positive, clear energy: “We basically equip him with the tools he needs to eliminate naraka sithuvili. That is how he gets close to, and ultimately realises, a happy, fulfilled life.”
Given that he claimed the treatment has potential for the tourism sector, I ask him next as to how tourists, expecting the unexpected away from their shores, can seek solace in his method when in Sri Lanka.
The first point Dr Sampath makes is that other things aside, “tourists spend a considerable amount of money here.” As he points out, “they look for something new, which they can’t get in their country, just as when we go there we seek new experiences in Disney World and other leisure resorts.” In other words, he notes, they want good memories.
While memory implants, strictly speaking, are not on the doctor’s plate, he does admit he offers something quite close: “My treatment, if correctly followed, can and will ensure that when you leave this country, you will leave it with good, clear as crystal memories. Once we purge you of negative, bad energy, the energy left in you enables you to enjoy and recall more distinctly the sights, the sounds, and the smells of our paradise island.
That is why I say we have a big potential in the tourism sector.” As a last question, then, I ask him whether he and his team has gone to authorities with their miracle cure. While as of yet they haven’t, he does feel (as, in a way, we do) that “there’s hope for the future, despite the situation tourism in Sri Lanka is in currently.”