In Love and Survival, Dean Ornish, the famed cardiologist, beautifully explains how his natural approach for reversing cardiovascular disease relies primarily on emotional, psychological and spiritual healing. Reading this is part of my lifelong exploration into "what is healing?", a quest I've been on since I was seventeen and spontaneously popped out of a months-long depression in the midst of Christmas vacation. What motivates healing, fuels it, nurtures and completes it, in the perceptions of both healer/professional and healee/patient? Really. What does it look like, feel like, taste like, smell like? I search for neither hardcore clinical "data" that no one understands or can reasonably fit into the Larger Picture of the soul, nor for airy-fairy, "woo-woo" meanderings that no one can reason with here on Earth. I look, rather, for the sensual heart of the matter, and it seemed the writings of a spiritually-aware cardiologist might be provocative.
Dr. Ornish explains the centrality he now gives to love and intimacy within his healing program, and the emotional and spiritual transformations that can often and only be nurtured from their depths. "I am not aware of any other factor in medicine," he writes, in italics for emphasis, " - not diet, not smoking, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery - that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness, and premature death from all causes." This mirrors what feminist therapists (and I'm one of them) have been saying for years - that it's primarily from connection and communality, touching and being with each other, not individuation and separation, autonomous action and doing, that we receive and build our sense of self-esteem and well-being. Not that there's anything wrong with autonomy, solitude and being proactive, but that these states spring in positive form from the depths of our communally-nurtured selves. Yea, I thought - another "hard" scientist takes the risk and goes unapologetically "soft"!
There's a difference between "healing" and "being cured", that our medical profession, and even the healing community, those who do it and those who partake of it, don't acknowledge with ease and comfort. When you're "cured" of disease, the doctor, the healer, and everyone else knows it because there's objective proof - your temperature goes down, your blood levels are stable, your spirits go up. When you're "healed" from your dis-ease, the personal outcome of becoming whole and holy occurs whether you're cured of your disease or not, and whether anyone else sees it and believes it or not. "Healing" implies movement from one state of being into another, one you've not visited before - a transcendence. Now you're in the realm of the spiritual, the emotional and the perceptual - if you perceive yourself to be whole and transformed and experience this emotionally, then you probably are.
Even if you die (for death itself is a transformation). Major transformation often occurs before the spirit leaves the body, while consciously undergoing the process. When contemplating various abrupt means of making his transition, a patient, as reported by Ornish, thoughtfully states that he is thankful he has cancer. "Without this extra time, I never would have known what love and tenderness are possible between people on this earth."
I read these words with a new and startlingly clear insight into a subject upon which I had meditated many times in the past eight years: my mother's death. I thought of the "extra month", four weeks to the day, we had had between her diagnosis of incurable cancer and her final unconscious breath. We had said all we chose to say, expressed all the love and caring we had for each other over almost forty years, asked and answered all the questions, because we knew that Now was sacred, eternal, all the time we had to hold hands and laugh and cry together.
I realized on an altogether deeper level how good the time had been, and still is in my mind and heart, even with all our pain. I worked a lot less and spent hours of every day with her, much of that time dreaming and meditating together and looking deeply into each other's eyes, an intimacy we had not allowed ourselves before. She was uncharacteristically calm and spontaneous. I was uncharacteristically quiet and yielding. We rested, we played. We saw how much and what we meant to each other - really saw this through the other. I felt deeply loved, and loved someone else openly, totally, without inhibition, for the first time.
I have always been glad for and in awe of this time, and now I see consciously that it would not have been if she had died suddenly of a heart attack or of a stroke, or very probably if she had lived for some time longer. If she had lived, we would have continued in our affectionate yet hardly transcendent way. With the cancer, we knew there was no cure, no more time, and we chose to heal. We knew we had the time, and we invested it in each other. We healed in our relationship, and we had several wonderful, magical experiences together that may not have happened, except that she lay in a hospital bed, dying.
I see more clearly what this time was - two people openly and courageously communing at the precipice and allowing themselves to be changed into forever. My mother was the more courageous, having more to lose and having undergone extreme pain and distress in the later stages. She had a sweet disposition and great insight anyway, and she polished these qualities even more brightly in her last days, sharing them with me as her final gift. She never said so, yet I take from the quality of her reflections and the smile on her face after she had gone, that she met her death with transforming calm.
These days I have my own aches and pains, for which I adamantly choose to find the cure. And I rest in the knowledge of my healing, which lasts until this day, and which came through the love I shared that last month with my mother. It was, and continues to be, a good death.
Dianne Lobes is a facilitator, writer, psychologist, traveler and spiritual learner of all mystical material she can understand and integrate, according to her own mystical and somewhat skeptical criteria. She is the new Opinions Editor of Moondance, and teaches Conscious Language, a means of creating your heart's desires, in workshops and in her private practice, A Soul's Companion. Dianne resides in Ohio with her partner, Keith, and her beloved elderly cats, Anais, 20, and Arthur, 15.
E-mail Dianne at
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