Healing into the Moment
I hadn't seen Linda for a year. When I glanced at her in the waiting room, she looked more frail than when I had last seen her.
I called her back into my office and we noted that it had been exactly one year since our last visit. She updated me on what she had been doing for her health, how she was feeling, and just how bad the illness had gotten. Linda has a very severe case of CFS/ME (chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalopathy).
At this point in time, she is in bed most of the time, only coming downstairs to eat. Most people don't know about research that shows that people with severe CFS/ME live a life similar to an AIDS patient two months from death.
Her symptoms are worse, with more neurological symptoms creeping in. She now experiences burning and excruciating pain with light touch or even when the wind is too strong as it moves across her skin. I asked her if she has been told what that's called. She didn't know. I told her, “It's causalgia pain, mediated by problems in the autonomic nervous system. Yours is a classic case.” But being worse off physically really wasn't the point she wanted to make.
”Even though I'm not as good physically, I am so much better mentally. My whole attitude has changed. I have accepted the illness. I was constantly doing battle with it, living in the future. The moment had disappeared for me. All that existed for me was pain and suffering and the desperate desire to escape.” Her current physical state was certainly not due to lack of motivation for recovery. She had diligently followed a number of protocols, including mine. Many treatments made her worse. I recall sending her to a doctor for chelation therapy because I felt that removing the high levels of mercury in her system might be a key turning point in her treatment. After the second intravenous chelation treatment, she became violently ill, nauseated, vomiting, and dizzy. She could only crawl on the floor, and couldn't make it to the phone. Her husband called her doctor who told him to give his wife sugar immediately. It helped, but that was the end of chelation therapy for her. I never forgot the incident. I keep it in mind because I know that no matter what I recommend for her, it has to be done very slowly, very gently, and in tiny doses . . . whether medications or nutritional supplements.
But she had a contented smile on her face at this recent visit. She had given up the fight, the struggle, and was finally accepting her current state. She was not giving up hope of improving. She was finally beginning to live in the moment.
Surrender Versus Giving Up
Linda has surrendered to “what is.” Whatever this current moment brings she is able to handle much better. “Giving up” is a passive act. “Surrendering” is a conscious, active process, one of letting go into the moment, experiencing the joy and the pain as it comes up moment to moment.
Every doctor's goal is to cure his or her patient, whether those credentials are M.D., D.C., D.O., N.D. D.O.M., or Ph.D., to name most of the “doctors.” While that is a noble goal, healing is often lost in the quest for the cure. Healing is about becoming whole, about accepting what is, about integrating body, mind, and spirit, and about finding meaning in whatever is “Now.”
"Curing" best occurs while “healing” is taking place. Many people are cured of the symptoms and illnesses but are not made any more whole by the process. I won't ask a patient, at the time of their first visit, "What is the lesson this illness is teaching you?” At that point in time, many people would feel quite misunderstood, angry, and disconnected. But, when illness goes on and on, many people ask themselves that question. I will ask that question, but not until a lot of groundwork has been laid, not until I have established trust and rapport, and not until we have worked very hard at healing. Linda was now asking that kind of question. She did not have a clear answer, as if a bright light from the beyond suddenly "woke her up.” Rather, she had the peace of mind she had wanted so badly for so many years. She had finally surrendered.
No two people have the same healing journey, but, for many, the healing journey really starts when one fully accepts the current situation and experiences what is going on in the moment.
What is the opposite of surrender? It is living with an attitude of fighting, kicking, screaming (internally), demanding that the illness be exorcised, one way or the other. It is the mind set in which one is totally opposed to what is.
What Is Suffering?
Linda is now suffering less. Pain and suffering are quite different. We can look at animals to understand this difference. Animals feel pain, just like we do, but they don't suffer like we do. Many of you may bolt at that comment. Your pet dog or cat may have been hit by a car. You've taken her to the vet, who saved her life, but she won't be fully recovered for months. While she is healing, she may be in terrible pain. But she is not saying to herself, "Damn this pain. When is it going to go away? Maybe it will last forever. Maybe it will leave me so disabled I won't be able to pay my bills. I'll be out on the street. My husband might leave me because I can't do all the things I used to. I'm just a burden.” Now “that” is suffering. When you add all of these questions on top of the pain, and project your mind into the future, you suffer. Your injured dog or cat is not thinking about all of these things. She is just in pain. She may be cranky, but that's the pain talking. As a pet owner, mainly of cats, I have gone through a cat's pain over and over again. I have to conclude that my cats have handled their pain much better than I have. They have experienced their pain. I have suffered over their pain.
Of my many cats that have owned me since about 1968, I can think of only one situation in which my pet was truly suffering. On the 4th of July, 1969 , I made sure to keep Ishtar, my first cat, a blue-point Siamese, inside, away from people who think cats are “fun to torture” on Halloween and the 4th of July. I was living a few blocks from the University of Colorado football stadium in Boulder , where the annual fireworks display was held. I went to watch the fireworks and when I returned, Ishtar was in a terrified state. The barrage of loud explosions, ongoing for about an hour, had overwhelmed him. His eyes were dilated. His muscles were jumping all over or fasciculating. His eyes would zoom in and out, apparently hallucinating. And at night, he would occasionally jump on me, seriously trying to attack me. Then he would run away, terrified at what he had just done to me. This went on for two months. The vet put him on tiny doses of Valium, which helped a bit. I had a psychotic cat on my hands, a cat that was truly mentally ill. But, he pulled through and was my friend through the end of college, throughout medical school right up until the end of my psychiatry residency. I have to think that Ishtar was really suffering in the usual human sense of the word. But this is the only example I can think of in which an animal has moved from pain into suffering.
Intuitively, an injured animal will know to stop all activity, to rest until she is well. A bat with a broken wing will not try to fly. It will hang upside down for as long as it takes for the fracture to mend, and then she will fly again. Animals experience the pain in the Now. Most humans don't. After my recent corneal transplant of January 2004, I took a month off work and did everything that fostered healing. Because I had had so many operations, three transplants in four years, my system had been weakened by all of the anesthesia. I wasn't ready to return to work when I did. It took a good friend to set me straight. He said, “The healing of your cornea is the single most important thing in your life right now. Everything else must wait. Everything will still be there next week, and the week after. What you need more than anything is Rest.” I thought I had rested enough but was fighting what my body was desperately trying to tell me, namely, “Stop! You have not healed yet. You must rest.” This was the best medical advice, and I took it. My friend was right. When I returned to work a week later, the world still existed, all of my patients were still alive, and nothing horrible had happened.
For so many of us, our bodies are crying out for rest. Linda finally got the message. She listens to her body, pays careful attention to her energy levels and rests a lot. And that feels right for her. Nothing else felt right, even though all of us docs were working so hard to cure her.
Mind you, it is in the very nature of all doctors to want to cure, and it is humbling to have to admit that one's treatment has not worked, and that what your patient needs most may be compassion and understanding, and being told, ÒI know how sick you are. I know how hard you have tried and how hard you are still trying. My treatment isn't working, but what I know is that you need to rest, take care of yourself, and stop beating up on yourself for still being sick.”
The New Thought over the past twenty years has radically shifted healthcare. Now complementary and alternative medicine ( CAM ) is widely accepted by the masses, even if the medical industrial complex (AMA, FDA, state medical boards, and the pharmaceutical industry) violently opposes CAM . Along with CAM and holistic thinking came the incorrect notion that if you exercise, eat right, and think right, you will be cured. Those superheroes, like Lance Armstrong, rightfully make news. Those who don't recover have often been made to feel wrong and guilty for still being sick. Many have felt that if they just went deep enough inside, just had the right thoughts, they would have cured themselves. Since they are still sick, obviously they "deserve to be sick.” That is the way New Age thought in its infancy negatively impacted many people.
We are hopefully a bit wiser now, and understand that everyone can be healed, but not everyone will be cured. I don't think that we, as individuals and as a society, have come to grips with the fact that each of us will die. We all seem to think it happens to everyone else, but our own mortality seems very far away, and for many, an impossible thing to consider. The point in stating this is that every one of us is going to face a final illness from which we cannot be cured, but from which we can be healed.
Getting There from Here
Most of our identity is tied up with “what we do” and not “who we are.” As a result of being “doers,” when illness strikes, our primary identity is threatened. We can't do the things we used to, at least not right now. And so we fight. We reject the illness. We decide that if we fight hard enough, we will win.
In order to move into the Now, it is necessary to begin to see ourselves as something more than doers. Linda, who has to lie in bed most of the day, can't do much anymore. But who she “is” has changed. She has given up the reaction to the illness, and the guilt about not beating it. She has arrived “here,” where experiencing life, with its joy and pain, moment to moment, is becoming more of her identity. More than that, she has accepted “being-ness” as valid, just as “doing-ness” used to be her old sense of validation.
It is not the point of this article to provide a host of techniques to help you get “there” (into the moment) from “here” (which is also a moment). I am trying to clarify the attitudes that heal rather than the techniques. Eckhart Tolle's “The Power of Now” is a superb book that provides more practical ways of being here now.
Learning to Trust
Why do animals feel pain but don't generally suffer? Partly because they don't embellish the pain with layers of meaning. They just feel what they feel. I think animals also know how to trust. Trust and surrender (loving self-acceptance) go hand-in-hand. Animals seem to trust that everything will be okay, and they have far more patience than most of us humans. I don't think they have the conscious thought, ÒI know I am going to recover. If I don't recover, then I will die. Either way, things are handled for me.” Perhaps at a very primal level animals have that experience. Trust does involve our greatest fear. Will we survive this illness? Will it kill us? Will death be slow and painful? These are the deepest questions that lie in waiting causing us to never fully trust. If we trust a doctor, or a certain treatment, to cure us, but end up slowly dying, do we withhold trust as a result? I think so.
Those with strong faith have a much easier time with questions of trust and mortality. They trust that whatever happens is what is meant to happen. If they die, then it is their time to go, and God is calling them.
Please understand that I am not judging anyone about how they live their lives and handle their crises. I assisted a woman with ovarian cancer about fifteen years ago, using mental imagery to assist in her recovery. The doctors gave her four months to live. Judy, quite a spiritual person, did everything in her power to overcome the cancer. Four years later, as things were getting worse, she discussed with me her final plans, should she reach the point where her final days would be in a hospital and her body would be hooked up to tubes. She would head for Mexico , rent a small apartment in Cabo San Lucas, and spend her final days on the warm, healing sand of a Mexican beach. But it did not happen that way. There was no clear point where she could say to herself, “This is too much. I quit. I'm heading for Mexico .” She died in the hospital (four years beyond her doctor's original prediction), fighting every step of the way, and was quite literally jumping out of bed, trying to escape the terminal grasp of the cancer, just hours before she died. Judy had not surrendered. She went out kicking and screaming. I am not here to judge. Judy's fight was heroic. She went out with lots of pain, but also with lots of joy.
As we collectively move in a more spiritual direction, so many of us remain poisoned by our western religions in which we grew up. We were taught that God was in heaven and would pass judgment on us. We learned to fear God. I find it quite distasteful that so many politicians talk about Americans being a “God-fearing people.” Why aren't we “God-loving people?” That makes much more sense to me, but then I don't believe God sits on a throne at a great distance, counting our mistakes. I was raised a devout atheist and so I was not even bothered by these questions while growing up.
I find that many of my patients struggle with the word “God.” They can talk about an “energy,” a “higher power,” a “universal intelligence.” Why does the G-word make such a big difference to people? If I offer the notion of a “great spirit” to my patients, many feel comfortable with that. It makes no difference to me, and I am confident that it makes no difference to God what you call him, her, or it.
Most of my patients agree when I suggest that God or Great Spirit is not separate from us, and not sitting far away, but rather is part of all of us and in all of us- even in every blade of grass. To me, the form of God is the entire visible universe and the entire invisible universe. That pretty well covers all the bases.
Regardless of the word one uses, spiritual issues are at the heart of healing into the moment. A relationship with a loving, universal intelligence fosters trust in the process of life, and the flow of life. It fosters trust that everything is going to be okay, and that means even if this illness ends in death. Even then, everything is going to be all right. A deepening spiritual connection is not just about a deeper connection with God. It is also about diving deeper and deeper into our own hearts and discovering the enormity of our own spiritual depth and breadth. It is about realizing that the human soul is not different or separate from God. We are the waves and God is the ocean. The ocean does not punish the rivers as they flow to the sea. Likewise, it is my job to help people shift their spiritual understanding until they find a belief system that does not include a punitive God.
As we trust, as we let go of the fight, as we surrender, as we allow ourselves to be human “beings” and not just human “doings,” we can find Now. And it is in this moment, the moment when all struggle ceases, when we can begin to genuinely heal. We can heal ourselves, letting go of self-negation and lack of self-love. We can heal our relationships at a deep level. What I am describing is a deep sense of peace, which is mental, physical, and spiritual. When the totality of your being begins to live with this awareness, it is as if every cell in your body says, “Yes! Thank you. I can finally get some rest, some peace, and not have to live with all of this mental battering.” It is in this state of serenity that profound healing does occur. Real miracles do occur. Some with terminal cancer, who have finally surrendered to the illness, miraculously recover.
And so, it was wonderful to see Linda again, weak as she was, for there was a peace and a joy about her, a sense that everything was all right. I did not help cure her, although I am not done trying, but I am happy to have been some part in her becoming more whole.
Dennis Gersten, M.D. practices nutritional medicine and psychiatry out of his Encinitas office and can be reached at 760-633-3063. Sign up for Dr. G's newsletter www.aminoacidpower.com and access 1,000 on-line pages about holistic health, amino acids and nutritional therapy.
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I struggle with uncontrolled spending. I feel as if I let all my money flow out - although I have plenty flowing in. The shopping binges seem to be as addictive for me as alcoholic binges are for alcoholics. Often I give away or throw away the things I buy. Other than compulsive, addictive shopping, I ' m a health-conscious, happy person. I eat semi-vegetarian, organic foods; study Ernest Holmes ' s writings, a Course in Miracles, and other metaphysical literature; and also do yoga. I exercise by running and walking. Is there an affirmation that can help me?
K.K., Los Angeles
My feeling is that you ' re emulating a family spending pattern. Did either of your parents have a problem handling money? With all the good things you do for yourself, I still sense a feeling of not-deserving or a need to punish a parent through this behavior. Why do you have to make yourself feel bad? This is an old pattern to let go of now. Work with the following affirmation for a month. Just love yourself, no matter what you may or may not do. We all deserve to be at peace.
Affirm: I DESERVE TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT MYSELF AT ALL TIMES AND IN ALL WAYS.
Do you have any secrets for healing bunions? I ' ve suffered from them for years and don 't know what to do.
Physically, bunions are toxins that settle in the feet. A good nutritional cleansing program can help your feet feel more comfortable. Metaphysically, bunions represent a fear of the future. Remember, feet represent understanding and trust in Life. So with bunions, there ' s fear of moving forward, and insecurity about being where you are. Also, there ' s the feeling that too many demands are being made on you.
It ' s time to stand on your own two feet mentally. What is it you want to do or be? Learn to become more selfish and to think of yourself more. You ' ve done more than enough for others. Your feet are telling you that it ' s your time now. So love your feet! Massage them daily with love. Move forward in life, loving who you are, enjoying yourself, and thinking thoughts that make you feel good.
Affirm: I LOVE MY LIFE. I DO WHAT MAKES ME HAPPY, AND I MOVE FORWARD IN JOY.
You ' ve never mentioned anything about your views on the subject of a married woman having a sexual relationship (four years now) with a divorced man. What is your view on extramarital affairs?
S.K., Asheville , NC
Other people ' s extramarital affairs are none of my business. We ' re all under the law of our own consciousness, When we settle for less, we get less. The majority of the time in these cases, the relationship doesn ' t progress very far,. Promises may be made but are seldom fulfilled. The questions to ask yourself are: “ Is this what I really deserve? ” “ Is th is what I really want, and why?” “ Do I enjoy living a secret life?”
No one can tell you what to do or make a decision for you, because they ' re not you. They don ' t think in your mind. Only you can give yourself pain or happiness.
I would affirm: I AM LIVING A BEAUTIFUL AND FULFILLING LIFE. I AM HAPPY AND AT PEACE. Then see how the Universe fulfills these affirmations for you.
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