By Lissa Rankin
Desire. How easily it confuses us! To live a deeply fulfilling life, are we meant to follow the teachings of dominant culture, which encourage us to “Just do it,” grasping for our desires, using will and force to “make it happen?” Or are we supposed to visualize, affirm, meditate, and create vision boards about what we desire so we can leverage our spiritual power to “manifest” our wishes? Are we better off surrendering our desires to some Higher Power, leaving only the desire to align with Divine Will? Are we meant to lean into our desire as Rumi and the Sufis do—reveling in the deliciousness of unmet longing as a path to that which we ultimately desire—the Beloved?
In both worldly and spiritual traditions, desire can leave us with our panties in a wad of bewilderment, yet, perhaps if we can handle the discomfort of holding infinite paradoxes, we can feel the unbearably pleasurable experience of leaning all the way into our desires while simultaneously trusting a mysterious force of love that participates in the co-creation of our desires—and also dismantles them.
Whether we like it or not, desire is a force to be reckoned with by us mortal Divine humans. To suggest that it’s even possible to be some desire-less zombie can be misleading and befuddling. But even if it were possible, why would we want to disconnect ourselves from the sweet nectar of our juiciest longings? After all, every creation begins as a desire — every baby born into the world, every story that becomes a book, every kiss that becomes a partnership, every sculpture that emerges from the marble’s desire to become something beautiful and the artist’s desire to participate with this creative impulse. This oh-so-human “daemonic” impulse (not to be confused with the “demonic”) carries within it both the life force and the death force. If we suppress the life force inherent in healthy desire, it comes out sideways, either in its fiery forms of violence, rage, and abuses of power, or in its life force-dimming loss of vitality via depression, anxiety, chronic illness, decreased libido, addiction, and suicidal ideation.
Yet grasping for everything we desire doesn’t seem to create lasting fulfillment either. Expending all of your energy trying to fill some “hungry ghost” hole inside rarely works. No amount of sex, money, fame, achievement, or hedonistic pleasure fulfills us for long. In The How Of Happiness, professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD shares the data about what makes us more happy—and what doesn’t. It turns out that, because of “hedonistic adaptation,” only 10% of our happiness depends on the fulfillment of our desires. In other words, even if you get everything you think you want, your happiness will only improve a small amount. Although you may feel happier temporarily, very quickly, this effect wears off, and you’re likely to start grasping for the next shiny, sparkly thing.
So what is a yearning, longing, deliciously hungry being supposed to do with all this human longing? Distancing yourself from your desires doesn’t seem to work either. Pretending to be non-attached and numbing your deepest desires fools nobody, especially not your precious, wanting human heart. This spiritual bypassing tool may make you feel less vulnerable, but really this pain-avoidance technique of pretending you don’t want what you want only leaves the vulnerable, longing part feeling exiled. You may feel like you hurt less if you pretend you don’t have desires, but deep down, the exiled longing part is a hurting thing, just craving your love, affection, and acknowledgment.
Like it or not, to be human is to want.
The Buddha suggests that all suffering arises from the attachment to the desire to get what we want and avoid what we don’t want, but what if we don’t need to run away from suffering? What if it’s the running away from suffering that saps our life force? What if these natural human cravings and aversions are a vital part of the human experience, and pain is an alchemical crucible inviting us into a deeper, richer life, something we don’t need to avoid, something we could actually lean into—with gratitude, even—if only we dared.
Love warrior Glennon Doyle Melton teaches that we run away from our desires because if we actually stay in the fire of them, we have to feel the “hot loneliness” that accompanies unrealized desires. Because we don’t like feeling the hot loneliness, we have a tendency to look for “Easy buttons” that can help us avoid feeling it. But what if the hot loneliness is not something to run away from either?
Glennon writes, “Everything we need to become the people we were meant to become next is actually inside the hot loneliness of now. So when we Easy button our way out, we are like caterpillars who jump out of the cocoon right before we would have become butterflies. Because pain is actually not a hot potato. It’s the traveling professor, and it knocks on everybody’s door. The wisest ones say, ‘Come in. Sit down, and don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.’ But we’ve got it all wrong. We are afraid of pain, but we were made for pain. We need to be afraid of the Easy buttons. Because the journey of the Love Warrior is to rush toward her pain and let her pain become her power.”
What if our desires—whether realized or not—can become a tool for transformation? What if what we most want actually lives inside the ecstasy and the agony of our most vulnerable longings? Mystics express that our deepest desire is to experience our own wholeness, to feel our Oneness with all things, to dive into the rapture of simply being alive, and to fall in love with and unite with the Divine Beloved inside our own hearts. Yet, as humans, we all bear the Original Wound of separation. We were once part of the collective ocean, and then by splitting off our consciousness as a drop of the ocean and incarnating in a body, we feel an almost unbearable longing to be part of the ocean again.
We may be blessed to experience the fulfillment of this desire for Oneness in moments of ecstasy—during rapturous sex or deep meditation or expanded consciousness out in nature or while using plant medicines. Yet such experiences of mystical union are usually temporary, wearing off as the story of separation takes hold again, leaving us with the agonizing memory of how fulfilling it feels to be the ocean and how sad, lonely, and despairing it can feel when we are a separate drop!
So what is a healthy human daemon to do? Dare we chase after all the fickle desires that capture our attention? Or are we better off ignoring all those shiny, sparkly distractions? How can we handle the many songs of desire that sing in our hearts, longing for expression and fulfillment? Dare we allow ourselves the vulnerability of actually feeling our deepest unmet longings all the way?
Most of us experience trauma at some level, not just war veterans who witness and experience horrific terror but simply by growing up as vulnerable children in a world where many parents are themselves traumatized and can’t always hold that vulnerability safe for a child. You might mistakenly think that you must experience incest, child abuse, parental abandonment, or living in a war zone in order to be traumatized, but trauma can be much more subtle. Psychologist Dawson Church, Ph.D. defines a traumatizing event as something that is:
- Perceived as a threat to the person’s physical survival,
- Overwhelms their coping capacity, producing a sense of powerlessness,
- Produces a feeling of isolation and aloneness,
- Violates their expectations.
In his book Psychological Trauma: Healing Its Roots in Brain, Body and Memory, Dawson gives the example of Martie’s traumatizing event, which could have lasting consequences but might be easily overlooked if you were not attuned to the kinds of events that can traumatize a child.
When I was growing up, I idolized my older brother Gary. But he was pretty rough with me. He was six years older than I was. One day when I was three and he was nine, he wanted to have a “wrestling match.” He “won” by lying on top of me. I couldn’t breathe and I began to panic. Gary just laughed when he saw me struggling. I almost passed out. When he rolled off me, I began to cry uncontrollably. My mother came in, and I tried to explain what happened. He told her it was nothing. I was just being a crybaby. Mom told me, “Big girls don’t cry.”
While it might be easily dismissed as just children tussling, this example meets all four criteria for a traumatizing event. Martie thought she was going to die when Gary lay on top of her, so she perceived a threat to her survival. She tried to cope by pushing him off, but he was too big so her coping attempt failed and she felt powerless. Being smothered by her brother violated her expectation that her family would keep her safe. When her mother failed to support and comfort her by dismissing her emotions with “Big girls don’t cry,” she was left feeling isolated and alone.
By this definition of trauma, almost all of us have experienced multiple traumatizing events in our lifetimes. In my case, I had a fairly benevolent childhood, but 12 years of medical training caused me to experience multiple events that meet this criteria for trauma. I also was held up at gunpoint by two masked gunmen in my twenties and had full on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder afterward. Most recently, I was attacked by a pit bull and started having PTSD-like flashbacks right afterward. Knowing what I know about the link between unresolved trauma and physical illness, I wanted to be proactive about healing the trauma right away. I am lucky to have at my fingertips a variety of gifted and ethical healers who treat trauma. I reached out right away and asked for help. The flashbacks stopped and haven’t come back.
Unhealed Trauma Predisposes to Disease
As I wrote about in Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, there is a substantial amount of data linking mental health issues with physical disease. This is not to suggest “it’s all in your head.” It’s absolutely in your body! It’s simply that the physiological changes that occur in the body as the result of unhealed trauma and its associated stress, anxiety, and depression translates into conditions in the body that make you susceptible to physical ailments. In a landmark 1990 study of 17,421 patients, Kaiser Permanente and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) collaborated on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, which has resulted in over 50 peer-reviewed scientific articles. Patients were interviewed to determine whether they had experienced any of ten traumatizing events in childhood:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Physical neglect
- Emotional neglect
- Mother treated violently
- Household substance abuse
- Household mental illness
- Parental separation or divorce
- Incarcerated household member
The study revealed that traumatizing childhood events are commonplace. Two-thirds of individuals reported at least one traumatizing childhood event. 40% of the patients reported two or more traumatizing childhood events, and 12.5% reported four or more. These results were then correlated with the physical health of the interviewed patients, and researchers discovered a dose-response. Traumatizing events in childhood were linked to adult disease in all categories — cancer, heart disease, chronic pain, autoimmune diseases, bone fractures, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, depression, smoking, and suicide. The average age of patients in this study was 57 years old, which means that childhood trauma can have a delayed effect on the body, making it entirely possible that something that happened 50 years ago may be predisposing someone to illness in the here and now. The more Adverse Childhood Events an individual reported, the sicker and more resistant to treatment they were.
The Good News: Trauma Can Be Healed
If you’re someone who checks “yes” to these and many other traumatizing events, you might be feeling anxious right about now. Does this mean that if you’ve experienced trauma in your life, you’re now a ticking time bomb just waiting to get sick? Does it mean that you won’t be healed from your chronic illness? Does it mean the damage is done and it’s too late to undo it?
No no no. That’s not what I’m suggesting at all. The good news is that we now understand that unresolved trauma, whether from childhood or adulthood, can be treated and cured. Such treatment may also have direct effects on physical health.
Psychologists didn’t always know this. They used to believe that children who experienced severe trauma were sort of damaged goods, at risk for many other challenges in adulthood — such as physical and mental illness, addiction, criminal behavior, domestic violence, obesity, and suicide. Such trauma was believed to be largely untreatable. Now, thanks to evolving methodologies for treating trauma successfully, such as Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR), Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Advanced Integrative Therapy (AIT).
These cutting edge treatments for trauma recognize that talk therapy is inadequate to treat trauma. In fact, it can actually be harmful and retraumatizing, not to mention ineffective. When traumatized people are asked to replay the trauma through talk therapy, they often dissociate from their bodies, escaping into a safe witness consciousness, where they discuss the trauma from this disembodied, numbed out witness position, since that’s what they had to do to cope with the initial trauma. The newer trauma treatments make use of the understanding that trauma can only be truly healed when you stay in your body while addressing the often overwhelming emotions that accompany trauma, titrating your exposure to the trauma in small doses so as not to disembody and dissociate. Newer techniques for treating trauma often require very little talking, are careful to avoid retraumatizing, and can be very effective, quick, and permanent—with surprising and exciting effects not just on mental health, but on physical health, especially for those recalcitrant conditions that fail to respond to even the best Western or alternative medical treatment.
To Treat Disease, We Must Normalize and Treat Trauma
We know from copious data studying war veterans with PTSD in VA hospitals that, without any doubt, trauma and illness are linked. Yet in spite of all the solid scientific data linking trauma and disease, conventional Western medicine still tends to turn a blind eye to this strong correlation, and many patients are also resistant to considering treatment of trauma as part of a prescription for a healthy body. When was the last time your doctor told you to get treatment for your trauma as part of your cancer therapy, autoimmune disease, or heart disease? If you were asked to get trauma treatment as part of comprehensive, integrative medical therapy, how would you react? In my experience, even very progressive integrative medicine doctors rarely bring this up. Instead of focusing on drugs or surgery, they point you to a healthier diet, an herbal supplement, or a whole bunch of expensive functional medicine laboratory tests that aren’t usually covered by insurance.
But what if no drug, surgery, diet, supplement, or fancy lab test can cover up the ongoing, toxic effects of unhealed trauma on the body?
What if everything else is merely a Band-Aid, perhaps providing temporary relief but never fully healing the root cause that makes you vulnerable to illness over and over?
What if emotional trauma is at the root of many illnesses in many patients, and until we treat it, even the most cutting edge medical technologies may fail to fully work?
Perhaps the block around treating trauma as part of a comprehensive medical treatment plan lies in the stigma many attach to trauma, as if it’s some sort of weakness to have survived a traumatizing event. I suspect that much of the resistance stems from shame about the traumatizing events, which is why the work sociologist Brené Brown, PhD is doing around shame and vulnerability is so important. If shame causes us to bury our trauma in a trauma capsule that we never touch, that trauma can turn into cancer. But if we cultivate shame resilience and we’re brave enough to be vulnerable and get help entering the trauma capsule, miraculous effects are possible. After all, there is absolutely no rational reason to be ashamed if you were sexually abused or abandoned or beaten or neglected. There need not be any shame around getting attacked or bullied or shamed or surrounded by war. Yet shame spirals are common, especially among children who are traumatized. Young psyches somehow translate the trauma into a story that we’re not good enough, or we are weak or unlovable.
Yet children are innocent, as are most adults who are traumatized. At the most basic level, it is our innocence that suffers the brunt of the wound, which means that our innocence needs our compassion and our nurturing, not our inner bullying, shaming, or self-violation. Human life is hard. We have to feel our pain and own up to it in order to heal it and alchemize it into soul growth. But even the most awakened people cannot typically bear to enter into the trauma capsule without loving, supportive, masterful help.
What If Science Can’t Keep up with the Cutting Edge of Sacred Medicine
When I keynoted at the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP) conference last month, I met a handful of cutting edge Energy Psychology practitioners, and after a series of synchronicities made it clear we were supposed to get to know each other better, I spent eight hours talking to one of these Energy Psychology practitioners in depth as part of my research for Sacred Medicine. Like many of the individuals I’ve interviewed for my upcoming Sacred Medicine book, Asha Clinton, PhD is a Jungian psychologist, mystic healer, and longtime spiritual practitioner of first Buddhism and then the Sufi tradition. Asha created Advanced Integrative Therapy (AIT) and has trained over 2000 practitioners in this Energy Psychology technique. What drew me to Asha and AIT was not only the vastness of her presence, but the fact that she is using AIT to treat cancer. Although the methodologies used in AIT appear to be quite cognitive, left brain, and rational, it was clear to me right away that something mystical was underlying this treatment. While most of the other Energy Psychology techniques are being used to treat trauma as it applies to mental health conditions, Asha created protocols that she and other health practitioners are using as part of the prescription for people with cancer—and the great news is that, for those who are ready for this kind of deep psycho-spiritual work, results are promising.
Part of what drew me to Asha was that she wasn’t trying to sell me with pseudo-science or earn my validation with muddy data. Although many people at this conference used a lot of scientific language to try to explain what happens when patients are treated with energy healing and energy psychology techniques, I often start to glaze over when people talk about quantum physics and use language that sounds like “pseudo-science” to try to gain acceptance in the world of science. Frankly, I am concluding that science is simply not advanced enough to keep up with the cutting edge of medicine, and no amount of trying to fit spiritual healing into a science box is going to satisfy the scientist in me. Perhaps science will catch up, and it’s important that we continue to try to study that which can be studied in order to protect us from the charlatans of the world. But to dismiss a particular phenomenology something simply because science can’t fully explain it seems irresponsibly ignorant. Holding this paradox of my desire for scientific proof and my openness to that which cannot yet be proven is a challenging edge for me, but one I am holding with greater fluidity as I continue this Sacred Medicine journey. From what I can garner, there is not yet scientific verification that AIT works to treat cancer, but there are a number of very compelling anecdotes, enough to hopefully attract the attention of scientists who might be able to track outcomes, much as Dawson Church and his colleagues are doing to validate the more mainstream Energy Psychology technique EFT.
The Healing Comes from the Divine
Part of my resistance around “energy healers” who try to use the language of energy to explain how their treatments work is that it feels almost disrespectful to that which is doing the healing. Is it really just yet another rational, scientific treatment? Or is it God? (Not that science-based, technologic treatments aren’t also God, but that’s a whole other blog post.) The reason I’m calling my book Sacred Medicine is because I don’t think it’s possible to separate energy healing modalities or traditional healing practices like shamanism from spirituality. I would even go so far as to say that Love Itself lies at the root of the healing.
Asha’s work felt like a good fit for this book because right from the get-go, Asha was blatant about saying that AIT is Divine work, that the protocols she has been mystically given in order to create AIT are a gift from God. She is fittingly humble in the way she gives credit where credit is due. The technique she has midwived into the world strikes me as very similar to the way some of the mystical healers who I’ve interviewed operate, but what attracts me to AIT is that Asha has learned how to teach this.
One of the challenges I’ve faced in researching my Sacred Medicine book is that many of these Sacred Medicine practitioners cultivate dependency. They don’t teach the patient how to heal themselves. Instead, they often leave the patient feeling like they need yet another hands on healing or yet another trip to John of God or yet another boost of Divine love as it flows through the healer. And often, the effects of the healing treatment don’t seem to last. What interests me is whether we can learn something from these healers that we can practice on ourselves when we are sick, such as the techniques I described here and used on myself when I was bitten by the pit bull.
After all, if the message is always, “You need to find something outside of yourself in order to heal,” I have to pause and wonder. Other than having fewer side effects, how is dependency on a mystical healer any different than depending on drugs and surgeries, or supplements and magic potions? I am more interested in learning from the healers who have reverse engineered what they do enough to teach others how to reproduce their results and ideally even teach the patient how to employ these methods at home. Is this possible? I don’t know. So far, I think it’s a paradox. The body is physiologically equipped to heal itself, but perhaps it can’t do it alone. Maybe this deep inner work is just too scary and painful to navigate alone. Maybe we are dependent, at least for a short while, on the loving presence of someone who can channel Divine Love, while facilitating and holding space so that the body can heal itself.
What is Advanced Integrative Therapy?
You can read the details about AIT here, but to summarize in my understanding, the technique Asha developed uses the scientifically controversial “muscle testing” (kinesiology) to run through very detailed protocols that help the practitioner assess which damaging beliefs and unhealed traumas the client has experienced, and which beliefs and traumas need to be treated in which order in order to optimize outcomes. The technique screens not only for Adverse Childhood Events or traumatizing events in adulthood, but also for generational trauma, such as the trauma descendants of Nazi Germans or Holocaust Jews might experience, which can alter DNA in offspring. Based on the premise that all upsetting events are types of trauma, and that if left untreated, they become stored within the body, mind and spirit/soul, the intention of AIT is to quickly remove the after effects of such traumatic events and clear the residue of the trauma, as it shows up as disturbing emotions, limiting beliefs, self-sabotaging behaviors, compulsions, obsessions, dissociation, spiritual blockage, and yes . . . (She had me at hello) . . . physical illnesses like cancer.
To make the claim that a psychological and spiritual treatment could be used to treat cancer treads on dangerous legal territory, and Asha is careful with her words when she talks about it. The governing medical boards are very fussy about protecting patient safety—and their turf—by going after anyone they might deem to be “practicing medicine without a license.” If a nutritionist claims that her green juice cleanse can help treat cancer, or if a psychologist or spiritual healer claims that his can, they’re at risk of getting shut down by the Powers That Be. While I’m grateful we have governing boards to protect patient safety and to hold medical practitioners to high levels of ethics, integrity, and mastery of skills, I also find it shocking that we’ve forgotten what healers have known for millennia — that psycho-spiritual healing is probably the most effective, lasting, and restorative treatment of the majority of physical diseases. To suggest that a trained and licensed psychotherapist might be practicing medicine without a license if they suggest that psycho-spiritual treatment might help treat disease seems like blasphemy to me! After all, the CDC estimates that 75% of all doctor’s visits are induced by emotional stress, and Occupational Health and Safety bumps that number up to 90%. Sure, there are some illnesses that need highly effective physical treatments, such as antibiotics or surgery. But it is often psychological issues that weaken the immune system and predispose to infection or surgical issues in the first place! (Read Mind Over Medicine if you want to nerd out on the science behind all this.)
The Link Between Psycho-Spiritual Wounds and Physical Illness
As part of my research for Sacred Medicine, I’m traveling the globe to work with shamans in Peru, Qigong masters from China, Hawaiian kahunas, Yogi Swamis, and other kinds of traditional healers, and they all know that psycho-spiritual trauma rides shotgun with physical illness. It’s only Westerners, in our Cartesian arrogance, who have split body, mind, and spirit/soul. Yet we are waking up again and remembering what traditional healers have known all along, that body, mind, and spirit/soul cannot be separated. If we treat the body without also treating the root cause of what predisposed the body to illness, the patient will likely get another illness, or the cancer will recur, or the disease will fail to respond to even the most aggressive treatment.
If You’ve Experienced Trauma, What Can You Do to Heal It?
If you’re looking to optimize your physical health by getting help for any unresolved traumas, there are a number of ways to get help. Start by checking in with yourself. What modality resonates with your intuition? Is it AIT? EFT? EMDR? Somatic Experiencing? Shamanic healing? Faith healing? A Native American Medicine Man?
I recommend doing your homework and tuning into your intuition before you choose a practitioner. If your practitioner is a licensed health care provider, like a medical doctor or psychotherapist, they are beholden to their respective medical board with regard to ethics, education, mastery, and continuing medical education. But the minute you go outside the system into the realm of traditional healers and energy medicine practitioners who don’t also have licensed degrees, you open yourself to two kinds of risks. Some practitioners have mastery but no ethic, while others have ethic but no mastery. In other words, you may bump into some highly gifted healers, but they may not follow even the most basic medical ethics, such as confidentiality, informed consent, and restraint from having sexual relations with clients. Even more common are the people who are kind, well-intentioned people trying to be of service, people who are basically ethical and mean well, but they’re simply not good at what they do and cannot reproduce trustworthy results. In my research into Sacred Medicine, I have concluded that just because someone has spiritual power doesn’t mean they have spiritual ethic. And just because someone has spiritual ethic doesn’t mean they have spiritual power. (I talked about this for 3 ½ hours in The Shadow Of Spirituality Uncensored class I taught. You can listen to the class hereto dive deeper into the topic of spiritual discernment).
I don’t say this to scare you or cause you to hesitate to get help if you’ve been traumatized. I’m just advising that you activate your discernment, ask for referrals, and be ready to sniff out those who are trying to hook you with big claims they can’t follow through on or those who might be full on black magicians dressed up in white angel robes.
If you feel drawn to modalities like AIT, EFT, EMDR, or Somatic Experiencing, there are resources online to guide you to psychotherapists who have been trained to practice these techniques.
Imagine If Doctors Were Trained to Treat Trauma Alongside Disease
Doctors and other health care providers have been exploring exactly these kinds of issues in the Whole Health Medicine Institute that I founded. Those who have been certified to facilitate the 6 Steps to Healing Yourself as outlined in Mind Over Medicine have gone through the 6 Steps themselves and have been trained to help facilitate patients who are exploring these kind of psycho-spiritual root causes of illness. (You can find a list of graduates here). But we’ve never overtly included into the training how to treat trauma directly. Asha and I are putting our noodles together to feel into whether there’s a potential for collaboration so that the doctors in my network might be trained to not only have awareness of these new treatments for trauma so that they can refer out to licensed practitioners. Perhaps they might also get certified to treat trauma directly. This bypasses the issue of “practicing medicine without a license” and opens up the potential for a whole new approach to disease treatment and prevention within our medical systems. Of course, there are other obstacles to this potential merging of worlds, including how little time doctors have to spend with patients. But as Tosha Silver would say, “It’s impossible that doctors could be trained to help treat unhealed trauma in sick people . . . without God.”
If You’ve Been Traumatized, Please Get Help
Let me just close by saying that if you’ve experienced trauma in your life and you sense that it might be predisposing you to illness or interfering with medical treatment, please know that you are not alone and that there is no shame in having experienced trauma. Most of us have trauma in our bodies, minds, and spirit/souls. We are not alone in our traumas, and we need not hide our pain or resist treating it. Trauma can be cured, and you can have your radiant, vital life back, if only you have the courage to enter the trauma capsule — along with expert guidance — and begin to let the trauma dissolve its grip on your life and your body.
Everyone is entitled to their own journey, so it’s also OK if you’re not ready yet. As my mentor Rachel Naomi Remen, MD says, “You can’t force a rosebud to blossom by beating it with a hammer.” Maybe all you can handle today is admitting, “I have trauma.” That is enough for now. Be kind to yourself. As Karen Drucker sings in her song Gentle With Myself, “I will only go as fast as the slowest part of me is free to go.” But perhaps by gently loving the slowest part, some day you will be ready to heal. Maybe that day begins right now.
With love and wishes for your optimal health,
About the author:
Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician on a grass roots mission to heal healthcare, while empowering you to heal yourself. She is the founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and healthcare providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of the books Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself (2013), The Fear Cure (2014), and The Anatomy of a Calling(2015).
Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and created the online community HealHealthCareNow.com. She is also the author of several other books, a speaker, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area.
I write a lot about authenticity, being unapologetically YOU, and letting your freak flag fly. In my TEDx talk (see below), I spoke about the importance of tapping into your Inner Pilot Light and living in alignment with what’s true for you as a means of both preventative medicine and medical treatment. And in my book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself, I make the assertion that caring for your body is the least important part of your health and that expressing your true self in all aspects of your life is the most important part.
But you might not believe me. How can authenticity and disease be linked?
As research for my next book, I’m reading the book Consciousness & Healing. In a chapter co-written by the phenomenal Candace Pert, a study was referenced that blew me away.
Authenticity & Disease Progression
Steve Cole and his colleagues at UCLA investigated HIV-positive gay men to determine whether how “out” vs. “closeted” they were with their homosexuality affected disease progression. Study participants were asked to rate themselves as “definitely in the closet,” “in the closet most the time,” “half in and half out,” “out most of the time,” or “completely out of the closet.” Researchers then followed the course of their disease.
What did they find?
Hiding Who You Are – Whether From Yourself or Others – Makes You Sick
Bingo. On all counts, HIV infection advanced more quickly in direct proportion to how out “of the closet” the patients were. The more they lived in alignment with their truth, the healthier they were. And the results weren’t subtle. Those that were mostly or all the way in the closet hit critically low CD4 counts 40% faster than those who were mostly or all the way out, with a 21% reduction in time to death.
Other data suggests that this isn’t just true for AIDS. Concealing your identity – whether you’re hiding your unhappiness in your marriage, your dissatisfaction at work, your frustration with how creatively thwarted you feel while raising three kids, or your sexual frustration in a partnership where you’re not getting any – can compromise your ability to heal.
Repression of your true feelings is bad for your health. Unfettered expression of who you are ramps up your inherent physiological self-healing mechanisms.
Being unapologetically YOU is also the ticket to emotional freedom, more open-hearted relationships, better business success, a deeper connection to Source, and more restful sleep!
It’s your choice.
Are you in the closet in your life?
Are you living in alignment with your truth? Do you even know what your truth is?
If you’re not sure or you need help coming out in all aspects of your life, accept the invitation to align with your truth and take a daily dose of preventative medicine by signing up for free daily messages from your Inner Pilot Light.
What can you do to more closely align with your truth? Let us be your witnesses.
Holding the door wide open,
Author: Lissa Rankin
In my decades of experience working with patients as a physician, taking a passive approach to our health is not uncommon. Many patients take an auto mechanic approach to health, handing over their bodies to doctors they may not even screen as carefully as they choose their auto mechanics, never questioning what the doctor says, seeking clarity when they’re confused, asking for second opinions when they doubt the diagnosis or treatment plan of the doctor, or taking their bodies elsewhere when something doesn’t feel right.
Essentially these patients, especially the ones who have been labeled with a “chronic,” “incurable,” or “terminal” illness, have been programmed to believe that Western medicine has done all it can do and they are therefore at the mercy of doctors who can’t cure them. They often come to experience what physician and researcher Martin Seligman coins “learned helplessness.”
When we Learn Helplessness
In one landmark study, Madelon Visintainer, a colleague of Seligman’s, performed a study on three groups of rats. The first group was given a mild escapable shock, which the rats could avoid once they learned how. The second group was given a mild inescapable shock, which rendered them helpless. The third group was given no shock at all.
Before setting about shocking these poor rats, Visintainer implanted a few cancer cells on each rat’s flank. The cancer was the kind that would invariably kill the rat if the rat’s immune system failed to fend off the cancer. Visintainer carefully controlled the number of cancer cells she implanted, such that she could expect that, under normal conditions, about half the rats would reject the tumor and live. The other half would succumb and die.
Everything external was perfectly controlled – their diet, how they were housed, the tumor burden. The only difference between the three groups of rats was their psychological experience. The rats experiencing escapable shocks quickly learned how to game the system, ultimately escaping the shocks after going through a learning curve. The rats getting inescapable shocks were learning helplessness. And the unshocked rats were just minding their own business, with neither the empowering challenge of figuring out how to escape from the shocks or the trauma of getting shocked.
As expected, within a month, 50% of the unshocked rats had died, while the other 50% of unshocked rats fought off the tumor. But curiously, the rats given escapable shocks, who learned how to master the system, rejected the tumor 70% of the time, giving them a survival advantage over the unshocked rats. The rats who couldn’t escape the shocks, however, wound up listless and helpless, and only 27% rejected the tumor.
The Health Dangers of Learned Helplessness
Based on this data, researchers concluded that learned helplessness in rats who couldn’t escape the shocks must have suppressed the immune response known to fight off cancer cells in tumors of this sort. Further study of these helpless rats found that, indeed, inescapable shocks weaken the immune system. We know that the bodies of both humans and rats have natural self-repair mechanisms that not only fight cancer cells, but other disease.
But one of the important natural self-repair mechanisms of the helpless rats was deactivated. The T-cells of the helpless rats no longer multiplied and got down to the business of fighting off cancer cells when they came across invading outsiders. Natural killer cells, also important in fighting off cancers and other foreign invaders, lost their natural killer abilities. These studies confirmed what researchers had suspected.
Optimists Are Healthier Than Pessimists
Psychological states can directly affect the outcome of remission from some diseases, at least those that are immune-mediated, as many cancers are.
This may explain why optimists are healthier than pessimists. In addition to the data suggesting that those who learn helplessness may be at higher risk of cancer, studies show that optimists have a 77% lower risk of heart disease than pessimists and are 45% less likely to die from other causes.
When bad things happen, pessimists have a tendency to view the negative events as permanent (“It will always be bad”), pervasive (“It affects not just this bad event, but everything,”), and personal (“This bad event is all my fault.”) Optimists, on the other hand, view negative events as temporary, specific, and not personal.
Pessimists Learn Helplessness
Because of their healthier explanatory styles in the face of negative life events, optimists are more likely to learn healthy adaptations in response to life’s shocks, making them immune to states of learned helplessness. Pessimists, on the other hand, feel like life’s shocks are inescapable, and like the listless, helpless rats, they get depressed and their immune systems weaken. Over the course of a lifetime, fewer episodes of learned helplessness may keep the immune system stronger, reduce stress responses and the negative health outcomes that accompany them, and make disease less likely.
But as the patient, you don’t have to be the helpless rat getting repetitively shocked. You can learn to be a proactive patient, and doing so has been scientifically proven to improve your health outcomes. (Get tips on how to be a proactive patient by downloading my free Self-Healing Kit).
Are You Ready To Be A Proactive Patient?
When my literary agent Michele read the first draft of my book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, she said, “Lissa, before I read your book, I honestly thought my body was none of my business. It was my doctor’s business. I thought my body was like my car. When my car breaks, I hand it over to my auto mechanic and expect my mechanic to fix it and hand it back to me. I expected the same from my doctor. But after reading Mind Over Medicine, I now know that my body is my business, that nobody knows my body better than me and that my health is my responsibility.”
Tell us how you avoid helplessness and act as an empowered patient in the comments.
With faith in your ability to make your body your business,
Author: Lissa Rankin
When I interviewed women who had survived breast cancer for my art project The Woman Inside, I noticed that they all shared one remarkable thing in common.
They had all faced down death and decided to live every day like it might be their last. And then they all beat cancer.
The more interviews I did, the more I noticed that these women were living differently than most of the people I knew who had not been diagnosed with cancer. Here’s what I learned from those survivor women. Learning these lessons changed my life, and I hope they’ll change yours.
10 Things I Learned From People Who Survive Cancer
1. Be unapologetically YOU.
People who survive cancer get feisty. They walk around bald in shopping malls and roll their eyes if people look at them funny. They say what they think. They laugh often. They don’t make excuses. They wear purple muumuus when they want to.
2. Don’t take shit from people.
People who survive cancer stop trying to please everybody. They give up caring what everybody else thinks. If you might die in a year anyway (and every single one of us could), who gives a flip if your Great Aunt Gertrude is going to cut you out of her will unless you kiss her ass?
3. Learn to say no.
People with cancer say no when they don’t feel like going to the gala. They avoid gatherings when they’d prefer to be alone. They don’t let themselves get pressured into doing things they really don’t want to do.
4. Get angry. Then get over it.
People who survive cancer get in your face. They question you. They feel their anger. They refuse to be doormats. They demand respect. They feel it. Then they forgive. They let go. They surrender. They don’t stay pissed. They release resentment.
5. Don’t obsess about beauty.
People who survive cancer no longer worry about whether they have perfect hair, whether their makeup looks spotless, or whether their boobs are perky enough. They’re happy just to have boobs (if they still do). They’re happy to be alive in their skin, even if it’s wrinkled.
6. Do it now.
Stop deferring happiness. People who survive cancer realize that you can’t wait until you kick the bucket to do what you’re dying to do. Quit that soul-sucking job now. Prioritize joy. They live like they mean it.
7. Say “I love you” often.
People who survive cancer leave no words left unspoken. You never know when your time is up. Don’t risk having someone you love not know it.
8. Take care of your body.
People who survive cancer have a whole new appreciation for health. Those who haven’t been there may take it for granted. So stop smoking. Eat healthy. Drink in moderation. Maintain a healthy weight. Avoid putting toxic poisons in your God Pod. Get enough sleep.
9. Prioritize freedom.
People who survive cancer know that being a workaholic isn’t the answer. Money can’t buy health. Security doesn’t matter if you’re six feet under. Sixteen hours a day of being a stress monster is only going to make you sick. As Tim Ferriss writes in The 4-Hour Workweek, “Gold is getting old. The New Rich are those who abandon the deferred-life plan and create luxury lifestyles in the present using the currency of the New Rich: time and mobility.”
10. Take risks.
People who survive cancer have faced their fear and told it to go to hell. They know life is for living. Fear is powerless. And joy lies in taking risks. So go sky diving if you want. Bungee jump. Hang glide. Spend your savings. Live like you might die tomorrow.
Are you doing these things? Or are you waiting for cancer to test out how much you want to live?
Don’t wait for cancer, my love. Don’t tempt the Universe that way.
Be brave enough to live NOW.
Unapologetically and fearlessly living for today,
Guest Writer for Wake Up World