Don’t Not Die. LIVE! by Bernie Siegel, M.D.
From a discoursive interview for MEDITATION magazine, conducted by Michwel Heril.
Bernie Siegel, M.D., author of Peace, Love And Healing as well as Love, Medicine And Miracles travels throughout the country presenting lectures and workshops. He offers us a bigger picture lit from within that shows the link between being true to one’s path and experiencing a healthful life.
A man with a heart that encompasses much, he speaks to us candidly as if addressing precisely what he has read in our pulse, gently prescribing and applying love.
I grew up in a home where you received love and positive messages. When adversity struck, a redirection was simply taken in life. Things didn’t go “wrong.” You weren’t a “failure.” There was no subtle child abuse. One felt loved.
I assumed the kids in the neighborhood were being treated the same way. But then as I began to work with people and their difficulties and their mortality, it was like taking the lid off an area of life that was totally locked away. I have letters from and have spoken to people whose parents are in court in a custody battle in which neither parent wants the child. There are parents who have wanted their children to commit suicide and are upset because the attempt was not successful, and they tell their children, “Next time do it better.” There are cases in which children are used in satanic rites and cult worship. Children don’t share this with their neighbors because they don’t expect they go through such things. It’s amazing how many do, once it is expressed. Talking to audiences about these things, you see many heads nodding and you know they have lived these stories.
Alice Miller is a psychoanalyst who writes about the innocence of childhood. Towards the end of her book Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, she states “Our childhood is stored up in our bodies and someday the body will present its bill.” She also tells us to listen to our kids’ complaints rather than telling them they are fantasizing or have a complex.
I meet adults who say “I was born unlovable.” I try to get across that it’s hard to conceive anyone voted them unlovable when they were held up at five minutes old. And yet they felt that way because they were not loved. They walk through life saying silently to themselves, “Okay, then I am unlovable.”
With this kind of outlook you can spend your whole life trying to get love, not really living your life, your true self dying in order to fit a mold that will be accepted and loved by someone else – which never ever happens. When you learn you could literally physically die, then you begin to say “I’ll be reborn, find my new life, my path, let the child in me out, love myself.”
This is the part that I see. When I’ve helped people live during the time before they were due to die, many of them didn’t die. They lived significantly longer than one would expect or even got over incurable diseases. They all say the same thing: “When I learned I was going to die, I decided to start living.” That may have meant making out a will and giving away treasures, but it also meant “I did what I wanted to do.” It’s whatever was inside of them: “I want to be a violinist; build a backyard wildlife habitat; have a dog; not build nuclear weapons anymore and instead live in Colorado in the mountains.” They didn’t go home to not die, saying “Okay, I’ll do all these things that Bernie Siegel wrote about so I won’t die.” They went home saying “I expect to die, but until I do I will be alive and vital. How do I live from my heart, make my last days precious?” Those are their words. Survival is the by-product. It isn’t an effort at not dying. So I say to them “Don’t not die. Don’t eat vegetables just to not die, because you’re going to die anyway and you’ll be upset that you ate all those vegetables.”
Some say that if your psychosocial factors are all in order, you have a great marriage, a good job, are an innocent and upright person – which is mentioned in the Bible to Job – then nothing terrible should happen and you shouldn’t die. That is an absurdity. You can magnify guilt with this. But this guilt itself is an echo of our childhood. Somebody tells me “Your book makes me feel guilty,” I say “Where did that start in your life?” Immediately they go “boom,” “Oh! Religion, parents, school.”
If a person has grown up loved, they may say things like “Cancer’s a gift. God gave it to me so I’d write a book and help others.” “It’s a wakeup call, a new beginning.” If you’ve been loved, it’s easy to start that way, rather than saying “Uh-oh, what did I do wrong?” or “What did I do to cause my disease?” or “If I don’t get over AIDS, then they’ll say I didn’t visualize right or meditate or change enough.” To the person with self-esteem the winning is the playing, the participating, the courage to take part in it. It isn’t whether you get over your disease and so forth, it’s whether you’ve lived life to its fullest. That’s winning.
It’s a self-esteem and self-love issue. If these are there, then everything becomes something you use.
For some people it is more threatening to say to them “You’re going to live now.” They don’t know what to do because through their addictions they’ve been searching for substitutes for the loving feelings that never came from the parents. I say let’s identify what we’re looking for and learn how to bring into our lives all of the things that we’ve been getting from our addictions and diseases. Let’s get well rather than feel threatened by health.
This is where joining group therapy and sharing with others who have the same experience is incredibly powerful. A safe environment where you can admit everything that you’re feeling – change is supported in such an environment. Whether its quadriplegia, cancer, AIDS, psychological disorders or addictions, you’re with people that know what you’ve been through and can guide you with support and love.
When I work with individuals I ask them to describe what they’re experiencing. They may say “The pain in my neck is like a knife or a pressure” or “I can’t move.” Then I ask “What else in your life fits that description?” Then they might reply “Oh, I know who the pain in the neck in my family is!” Well, then, straighten out that relationship.
I like to see people discover themselves this way, whether through their illness or through a dream or through a drawing. I’ll say, “Draw a picture of yourself. Let’s see what it look like.” You may see that the neck is stuck way out, expressing that they’re feeling very vulnerable, and so on. Are you a small speck on a page or does it take you two pages to finish the picture? The Bible says God speaks in dreams and symbols.
It may be that if you’ve been sexually abused as a child, then as you grow up you may have bladder, pelvic or venereal problems. The physical symptoms that we manifest are often in the organs that have been either physically abused or have become psychologically symbolic.
These are things we need to think about: How have I manipulated my life as revealed by my symptoms and what’s happening to me? What are the patterns of limitation I’ve followed?
In dealing with ingrained self-judgement, I’ve written about some things to do. Number one is to truly deal with your own feelings and express them. This is one of the most important things of all, that we don’t walk around saying nothing is wrong, when things aren’t right. That’s what I call reaching out for help, and it is a “to live” message. If you deny your needs, it’s like saying, “I don’t want to thrive.” Your body gets confused and might agree to let you die.
How do you get in touch with those feelings? I say keep a journal. Yes, if you write your feelings down you’ll live longer and stay healthier.
If you join a group of people with similar afflictions, there is incredible healing as we listen to each other. This I would like to repeat, emphasis and underline, that we heal each other and help each other, not by trying to solve each other’s problems, but by listening to each other. I always bring up Helen Keller, who said, “Deafness is darker by far than blindness.” In listening and being listened to, healing happens.
We can also work with things like meditative healing intervals every few hours, working on ourselves, working out feelings, working on our self-love, relaxing. Also helpful are massages, nutritional help, therapy, looking at how the disease in the body is being a metaphor for a disease in the life so that the disease, again, becomes a redirector and can help you.
I started using the term “healing interval,” because I find Fundamentalist groups saying, “Oh, he talks about meditation. The devil will come!” So I say, alright then, that group can pray every two hours – and get the same effect. Someone else says, “I can’t visualize.” I say, alright then, listen to music- and you see a positive effect. There was one study done with Transcendental Meditation in Holland in which a psychologist saw that in a specific health plan he was tied in to, the meditators were not showing illnesses or entering hospitals as often (30 to 80 percent fewer hospital admissions) for every category of major illness. Vipassana meditation is also potentially helpful.
Studies haven’t been done very often because the medical profession thinks a lot of this is really unscientific. It’s not presented in medical school so they tend to shut themselves off from these things, and unless the physician gets sick and tries them, it isn’t within his or her experience. This is why I try to get some of this information out there and have people become familiar with different approaches so that when they meet it later, they’ll remember it and a least listen a little bit.
If you go to a hospital and say, “Can we pray for half of your patients and see if there’s a statistical difference in the day they are discharged?” they’ll look at you as if you’re nuts. Unless we shake up the belief systems a little we’re not going to get anywhere.
If you take people with certain personalities that we can define as being prone to cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and so on, and put them in groups before they get sick, you will reduce the incidence of illness. If you take them after they have become sick, they still live longer than those in a control group that doesn’t take any measures such as I recommend above.
The survivor group, or “best statistics,” is what I call the Serenity Prayer Approach People, made up of those who fight to change the things they can, who have the serenity to accept the things they can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I try to get across that when you have God as an ally, the weights and problems can be let go of and someone else can give you a hand with them. What you can’t change you leave to God – but that doesn’t mean ignore it. Survivors talk about using themselves as well as their families, their doctors and their spiritual faith. When people see God and everything as a resource, they tend to be survivors. When they see God as a punisher, then it’s quite a job I have. I’ve studied a lot of religious in order to help people get out of that the punishment concept and into the idea that they work with God, in connection with spirituality.
I help atheists by talking about loving the intelligent energy behind the universe so they can work with it, this being a spiritual concept without having to talk about God. It’s important that we focus on the spiritual concepts rather than the dogma of religion, especially when we consider we’re killing each other in wars in the name of religion.
You don’t have to go to the other extreme and be a Christian Scientist, either, saying “Okay, then I ought to be able to heal myself if I can be a perfect, loving human being.” This could be seen as a punishing religion, also.
“We’re capable of being perfect.” Well, wonderful. But, do you want to die because you’re imperfect? I mean, give yourself a break. We’re all human. Why do you have to die today? Work on perfection tomorrow.
However, if your doctor says you’re hopeless, then you’re better off being a Christian Scientist, because then you still have a resource. I can say that I agree with the Christian Scientist in terms of the potential power of prayer and peace of mind.
I would rather have the medical profession let people bring in all of these resources. The words people use are “The doctor took my power away.” Keep your power and your spiritual faith and work with all of it.
A lady gave me something I thought was cute. She said “Be what you is and not what you ain’t. If you is what you ain’t, you ain’t what you is.” We’re back to that child. What we have to focus on is you becoming alive. Let the untrue you die, to find the true you.
A gentleman wrote to me saying that in his hospital the Pathology Report is called the Path Report. I think a disease can be a path report, but what we need are true path reports. Are we on our path in life?
As we let go of our patterns that are based on lack of self-love, we need to wake up to what we here for. That’s what my next book Letters To Bernie will be about. “Why are we living? How can we contribute love?” Then we don’t have to have a mid-life crisis.
Sometimes, though, it is an incredible struggle. A struggle that I say is worth it because it makes the individual the hero or heroine of their own life. It’s wonderful to be thrilled with yourself and what you take on. It has nothing to do with being a winner or successful. It’s just having confronted life – overcoming the conditionings of unlove, punishment and failure – and having done something real. Indeed, being thrilled about yourself is a very large step in itself.
In closing, love is immortal and makes all things immortal. If we are interested in living forever, it will be through our love for ourselves, for others and through our relationships.
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