Alternative Medicine
Miracles from Ashes

In the aftermath of the unpleasant, incandescent glow of fires that devastated Southern California , including all of San Diego County , it's time to reflect. The Christmas/holiday season is approaching, and there are some interesting contrasts and comparisons between the holiday spirit, and the fires.

I am not sure that hindsight is 20/20. I think hindsight is quite personal and individualistic. Much should have been learned in New York City after 911 that was not learned. Much happened here during the fires that I'd like to make more conscious. Many of us “know” what should have been done better. I'm addressing the level beyond “doing.”

One thing that motivated me to write this article was a story done by CNN's newscaster Rick Sanchez. Rick approached a number of people who had lost their homes. He interviewed them right outside the blackened remains of their homes and asked them, “Doesn't it make you so angry to know that these fires could have been due to arson?” You did not hear one single local newscaster asking that question, because our newscasters are “us.” It's interesting how things look and feel different when you're outside.

The uniform response to Rick's rather bating question was, “No, Rick. We are just happy to be alive. We have each other. We have received so much love, so much help, and everyone has just been incredible. We feel blessed.”

Rick pushed on. “Yeah, but what about arson? Doesn't that make you mad?” You didn't have to be terribly bright to see what was happening. National news survives by promoting fear, anger, and greed. Reporters are quite uncomfortable when they can't get a story to turn negative.

An Invitation

This article is my personal invitation for Rick Sanchez to fly out here and live through our next fire, and there most likely will be another. One individual or couple after another gave Rick a similar answer.

“No, I'm not angry. I am grateful. I see the miracle in this.” There were too many miracle stories to report, but one sticks in my mind. A couple (I'll call them Robert and Susan) stayed in their home a bit too long. As the fire engulfed their house, they retreated to the shallow end of their swimming pool, but the heat of the house was too great, so they stayed in the deep end, trying to stay completely under water as much as they possibly could. They were afraid that if their heads were out of the water, the heat would dry their hair, and their hair might ignite.

When it was all over, they walked among the ashes and found a burnt Bible, with a readable passage that had great significance for them. They also found an intact letter from Robert's deceased mother. The TV interview was quite emotional. The anchor's first name was Genevieve. At the end of the interview Robert told Genevieve that his mother had told him she would always watch over him. He continued, “Oh, by the way, her name was Genevieve. Thanks for calling today . . . Mom!” How clear, innocent, and vulnerable we can become during a crisis.

With any disaster, there are always a number of things that could have been done better. After the 2003 fires, new procedures were implemented, one of which was the reverse 911 phone calls to notify people of impending need for evacuation, and then the call to evacuate. I don't know enough about the tactical aspects of fire fighting to have an opinion about what should be changed. It is important to identify what can be improved. However, I believe it is a mistake to fall into the mentality of looking at all the things that went wrong, and then starting to get angry and moving into blame.

Maybe I am just Pollyanna-ish, but I was profoundly moved by how San Diegans handled the fires. About 600,000 people voluntarily left their homes when asked to, and only a tiny number of people argued with firemen, and refused to go, causing extra delay and extra fire damage. Like everyone, I was tuned to my radio or TV close to 7/24. Like everyone, I found the air painful to breathe, and I only left home to drive to a store for truly urgent matters. Due to ongoing eye problems, the air left me with devastating eye pain throughout the entire ordeal. My lungs and right eye could not escape the ghastly air. The first time I drove to CVS pharmacy and saw a sign on the front door that read, “Out of Surgical Masks,” I felt the reality of it all at a deeper level. Seeing a blood red sun through the smoke made it look like we were on another planet.

I was one of the luckier ones, just one exit up the road from having to evacuate, so I can't complain that my house burned down or that I was evacuated. But I was scared and stunned watching the Witch Fire blow its way closer and closer to the coast and to my home. Seven miles away it finally stopped.

It was not only fire and smoke that filled the air. The spirit of peaceful cooperation was amazing, and the sense of love and unity was everywhere. We were united. Even if you did not lose your house, you experienced what it was like to be connecting with everyone—on a much deeper level than normal. We connected with our neighbors, checkout clerks, and total strangers. People we may not be close to, or even talk to became people who we let into our hearts.

Concern for our pets was clearly part of the big picture. 10,000 people lived at Qualcomm Stadium, as well as their cats, dogs, and goats. Great time and energy went into protecting and moving horses.

The Real Christmas Spirit

I said to myself, “The feeling everywhere is oddly like Christmas is supposed to be.” We are supposed to be happy during Chanukah and Christmas, and we do put out a lot of extra time, energy, and money to be happy and help those around us feel happier. In part, it is a season of joy. In part, and I say this as a psychiatrist, it is probably the most depressing time of the year. People feel pressured to “be happy.” We “try” to be happy, and it is a strategy doomed to failure. No one tried to be unified, compassionate, or loving during the fires. Everything else in our lives was stripped away. Nothing else mattered. Our individual egos dissolved to a large extent, and a sense of a larger, unified consciousness arose to take the place of 3 million individual ego/minds.

That's an over-generalization, but I believe that is what happened. The small “ego” burned up in the fires. When the small ego shrinks or burns up, what is left is our higher selves, our souls or spirits. Souls are really One. At the level of soul, San Diego unified.

I hope that we never face another fire or have a serious earthquake. We all hope for that. But let's admit that during this time of fear and devastation we bonded on a deep level, as a community. Stop for a moment and think about it. While few of us are saints, most of us did let our personal ego depart. Many of us watched our homes burn to the ground, losing our most treasured physical objects. And for so many people, after the grief of that loss, the void was filled with gratitude for life and health.

Part of what allowed the small ego to die during the fires was the spontaneous desire to reach out and help. The act of serving others unifies us, brings peace, healing, and love . . . and allows our small ego to continue to shrink . . . and our souls (and consciousness) to expand.

I was briefly shaken out of my own loving state by hearing CNN's Rick Sanchez continue to try to get somebody angry. He finally succeeded. One man replied, “I'd like 15 minutes with whoever started these fires.” Now, I do like Rick Sanchez. I think he's a good reporter, but it was clear to me that some of the outsiders were not capable of experiencing the openness, unity, love and expanded consciousness that permeated San Diego. It seemed that you really needed to be and live here to “get it.” The best example of “insider reporter” was Larry Himmel, microphone in hand, reporting as he watched his own house burn down.

Certainly, countless questions will be asked about various aspects of how we handled the fires. Changes “will” be made. I could list some things right now, but then, I'd be pulling you off track into anger and blame, and I'd like the unified feeling to last. Sometimes it takes a terrible disaster to bring out the best.

I am not suggesting that “any” emotion is wrong during and after a crisis. It is natural to feel fear, anger, sadness, confusion, and grief. It's common to feel numb and immobilized. Feel it all. Accept it. Just don't get stuck in any particular emotion. Whatever you felt then or now is okay. There is no right way to feel, and there is no “normal” response. There is only your response.


I pondered the fires on a lot of levels, including the “Why” question. “Why did people who lost their homes in the 2003 fires lose their rebuilt homes in 2007?” I can't answer that. Howling winds, drought, and the proclivity of fires to move through certain geographical areas causes fires. We have fires and earthquakes. The East Coast has hurricanes, floods and dreadful winters. And things will get worse as global warming continues to worsen.

These are explanations at a physical level that need to be dealt with at a physical level.

The fires reminded me of a true story about drought many years ago in the Southwest. One Native American community invited a well-known shaman to come to their village and bring rain. The shaman came, set up his tent, went inside and stayed there. Perhaps he came out to go to the bathroom. I don't recall that part. Nothing happened at first, and after a few days people wondered why they didn't hear drumming or chanting by the shaman. Perhaps it took 2 weeks before the rain came, and when it came, it was everything the villagers had prayed for. They thanked the shaman and asked him why he never came out of the tent and how he brought the rain.

He replied, “Due to disharmony in your community, there was no rain. I waited in the tent until all of you became peaceful and harmonious, which you did while you waited for me to “do” something. I did not bring the rain. You brought the rain by dropping all of the disharmony.”

I tell this story because I was wondering about “higher order” reasons for the fires, and not because I think we are out of harmony with each other. Just as we will remember the fear, confusion, displacement, and destruction of the fires, I think it is important to try to remember the spirit of cooperation and unity. I do not know of another community in the United States that has handled a natural disaster as well as San Diego coped with the fires. I believe we served as a great example that should be examined by others around the country and emulated. Could we have done better? Did people screw up? Probably so, and in every disaster there will continue to be areas in which we could have done better. It is the nature of the human condition to ask, “How could I have done that better?”

I felt proud to live here, to watch and experience the unity and fellowship that arose in a community that has incredible diversity of people, race, color, gender, occupation, and cultures. During the fires we were all just “people.”

Lessons Lost After 911

New York City and the nation lost a huge opportunity after 911. New Yorkers experienced the same kind of love and unity that we just experienced. The whole nation felt New Yorkers felt it more.

What came out of the fire and ashes of 911? A long period of profound love and healing, followed by the most catastrophic foreign policy decision in the history of our country. What was the opportunity in 911? There was the opportunity for our leaders, in particular our president, to turn the country around.

He could have asked for sacrifice, for fuel-efficient cars, for more research on oil alternatives. He could have asked us to return to public service, with the spirit that founded the Peace Corps. He could have declared every Sunday evening as a time to pray for peace. He could have capitalized on the nation's spirit of unity to deepen that unity, to strengthen the collective soul, and weaken the 300 million individual egos and petty differences.

But we went to war, which initially was quite helpful in Afghanistan, but then we really went to war as a way of stealing the spirit of unity, peace, and love and replacing it with “unity in anger and war.” Americans would have done just about anything reasonable to improve our country had we just been asked. Instead we were asked to send our young men and women into the fire of battle.

The spirit of unity created by 911 could have been used to unify Democrats and Republicans (Libertarians, etc.), red states/blue states, black, white, brown, yellow, and red people. Instead, our president replaced unity with fear and disharmony and created the greatest national isolation from the rest of the world in recent history.

Crisis, in Chinese, is symbolized by two letters that mean “danger” and “opportunity.” We have been through a terrible crisis, and we can choose to move out of unity, peace, and love — into anger and blame. It's a choice, and I'd prefer that people tap into the feeling of unity that filled the air, and remember it from time to time.

During the holiday season, remember the love, unity, and countless helping hands. Bring that spirit to the holidays. In that way, we will not have wasted the lessons of the fires, and we can bring a more genuine Christmas spirit to Christmas.

Crisis can bring unity in a natural way, because our deepest human nature craves love and unity. Our deepest nature “is” love, but we have to work harder to feel and find love during a holiday than during a crisis. This is quite a paradox. The holidays are marketed at us to the point where we may lose track of real meaning, the simplicity of love, the power of a smile or a gesture to help.

During the holidays, all too often materialism takes over. We try not to buy into it, but we look to material things to bring holiday happiness. The fire “taught” true spirituality by forcing us to detach from material objects.

Founders and leaders of the world's great religions, like Moses and Jesus, arrived on the scene during times of crisis and upheaval. They subjugated and sacrificed their “small ego/mind” for the higher good. The power of their souls became radiant and transforming. They walked through the fire. Times of crisis have often given birth to incredible goodness and kindness.

David Gersten, M.D. practices nutritional medicine and integrative psychiatry out of his Encinitas office and can be reached at 760-633-3063. Access 1,000 on-lines pages about amino acid therapy at www.aminoacidpower .com, mental imagery techniques at, and information on Earthing at


Dear Louise

Dear Louise,

I looked up in your book Heal Your Body what you say about brain tumors. While I accept and sense what most of the affirmations and causes suggest, I don't understand how the word computer works. I assume you meant “thought input” when you say to “reprogram the computer” of the mind—is that correct?

The affirmation I do is: All of life is change, and my mind is ever new. Do you suggest anything else? Thanks.

I.N., Los Angeles, CA

Dear I.N.,

I think of our minds as computers. The thoughts in our minds are the files. It's always a good idea to go through these files on a regular basis, deleting any negative thoughts or beliefs. I have the feeling that the “rules of the house” were very rigid during your childhood. This often results in a person who grows up to be quite untrusting of Life.

The affirmations I recommend are: I am deeply loved by Life. Every part of my body is healthy and whole. I think only thoughts of love. Love heals me. Life loves me. I am safe. All is well.


Dear Louise,

I'm writing today seeking your help, as I have a semi-rare disorder. Since my childhood, I've been mildly allergic to the sun. In recent years, it's gotten much worse. I can't go outside in the summer even to mow my lawn. A 15-minute ride to work leaves any exposed skin covered in a horrible, itchy rash. I don't want to be confined to a prison the rest of the summers of my life.

What thought pattern causes this? Any affirmations you have would be most helpful. Thank you so much.

P.C., Detroit, MI

Dear P.C.,

On a physical level, I would like to suggest that you explore a few things. First, nutrition. Food can have a marked effect on allergic responses. Next, acupuncture often rebalances a body that has gone out of balance. Next, homeopathy is another natural form of rebalancing bodies. Even hypnosis could help your condition.

The thought patterns that contribute to all dis-eases are anger or fear. And the answers are forgiveness and self-love. Forgive those whom you feel have harmed you. Forgive yourself. Remove every thought that keeps you from loving yourself. Love your skin. Caress it and tell it how much you love it. Look in the mirror often and say, “I love you. I really love you.” This can work miracles in your life.


Dear Louise,

I've been trying to work on my finances for six months ever since I lost a job. I've been getting by with the help of jobs that don't pay nearly as much as I used to make and through assistance from my family. I also crave romance in my life. I'm just looking for a woman to hold in my arms and kiss at this point. I haven't had that happen to me in more than five years. What do you suggest?

C.R., Atlanta, GA

Dear C.R.,

As you move through your days, keep repeating to yourself: I am lovable, and everybody loves me. Look in the mirror and repeat this often. Love yourself so much that you even put a smile in your liver. The love you're seeking is also seeking you. These affirmations, if repeated often and with joy, will bring good experiences of all kinds into your life. And please take the expression “Yes, but . . .” out of your vocabulary. Just stick with the positive affirmations and see what happens! All truly is well.

Louise L. Hay is a metaphysical teacher and the bestselling author of numerous books, including You Can Heal Your Life , Empowering Women, and I Can Do It! . Subscribe to the Louise Hay Newsletter! Call for a Free Issue: (800) 654-5126. Questions for Louise? Write to: Dear Louise Column, c/o Hay House, Inc., P.O. Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100 (letters may be edited for length and clarity). Visit Louise and Hay House at: or