A year ago, my husband and I decided to break up but try living in the same house for the love of our eight year old daughter. It worked for a while—until it didn’t work anymore. Yesterday, we filed for divorce with our mediation lawyer, and as so often happens during the divorce process, I watched two people who care about each other start volleying for position as we talked about who would get what and how we would divide up the business of me. My Small Self had an inner tantrum. The running dialogue in my head during divorce mediation went something like this (with some of the four letter words removed for the love of my ex):
God dammit. We signed a prenuptial agreement nine years ago so we could avoid fighting over who got what, and now here he is, trying to violate the spirit of our agreement so he can take my money. But it’s mine. ALL MINE. My liquidated retirement account that funded this business. My talent that fuels this business. My painstakingly written books. My teleclasses and speaking gigs and hard earned money. And now he wants a piece of my business for the rest of his life? Mine. Mine. MINE. He’s threatening me. I’m scared of losing everything I’ve worked so hard to earn and having to work even harder than I already am. I have to protect myself—NOW.
Then I heard myself saying things I didn’t really mean because my Small Self felt hurt, betrayed, violated, judgmental, righteous, and frightened. I noticed myself slipping into full on self-protection mode without considering what was best for this man I’ve loved for twelve years. I knew I needed help from the Big Guns, so I called my friend and spiritual advisor Tosha Silver, author of Outrageous Openness. I told her I was trying to surrender the entire divorce to Divine Will but I was having a hard time. I know I don’t want to carry the burden of this divorce. I only want whatever is in the highest good to have room to come into being in a way that is equitable, kind, and respectful to us both.
Here’s what Tosha brilliantly advised.
Imagine taking a group of patients Western medicine has failed to cure and putting them together in the hands of a group of shamans in the jungle, like Survivor meets the medicine man. That’s exactly what filmmaker Nick Polizzi did in his award winning film The Sacred Science. This wonderful film follows these patients reality-TV style, as they sleep in hammocks, drink herbal potions concocted by the shamans, eat healthy meals, love and support each other as a community, engage in rituals of healing, tap into their spirituality, and allow themselves to be doctored in the most holistic ways possible.
There’s no hype in this film. It has no agenda. It’s not trying to prove to you that the body has amazing self-repair capacities beyond what we truly understand in the Western medicine paradigm. They’re merely telling you a true story that will leave you in awe. It’s an invitation to consider viewing illness a different way.
If you or anyone you know is battling a “chronic” illness, you’ll definitely want to watch this film, which demonstrates everything I wrote about in Mind Over Medicine and taught in my public television special Heal Yourself: Mind Over Medicine - how the body is innately equipped to play a role in the healing process, how love and community may be more powerful than any drug, how the nurturing care of the healer may be more important than whatever treatment is prescribed, how positive belief in a course of action is essential to the healing process, and how miracles are possible in ways we once knew but seem to have forgotten.
The filmmaker also spent four hours filming my thoughts after I watched this film, so if you sign up FREE to watch the online screening of this film, you’ll also get an opportunity to see the movie he made interviewing me.
Recently, I was blessed to be able to spend an hour on the phone with my shero and mentor Brené Brown, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Daring Greatly. We had so much giddy fun on our teleclass about the intersection of vulnerability and health, how shame is lethal, and how daring greatly and practicing mind over medicine helps you heal. (If you missed the live call, you can get the free download here.)
I had an epiphany during our call that I want to share with you, so pull out your big highlighter. Brené says the most terrifying emotion we experience as humans is joy. We're so frightened of loss that we can't even allow ourselves to lean into those moments when we're standing over our children watching them sleep or when we're falling in love and it feels like our hearts will burst. The second most of us start to feel joy, instead of relishing the blessings, we tend to get swallowed by the fear that the other shoe is about to drop.
Brené said, “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding." Instead of allowing ourselves to feel the vulnerability of how much joy we feel and how much hurt we would experience if we lost what we have, we dress rehearse tragedy so we can beat vulnerability to the punch. We look at our kids with so much love and then imagine them dying. We feel such tenderness for the person we're falling in love with that we fast forward straight to the day when we get our heart broken. If things are going well in our professional life, we imagine the day we get fired or lose all our money, power, and status. It's like, by trying to imagine the worst case scenario, we somehow think we're protecting ourselves from what we fear most.
But guess what? It doesn't work. If your child dies or the love of your life abandons you or you lose your job or you declare bankruptcy - or whatever tragedy you imagine might befall you happens - no dress rehearsal will protect you from loss and pain. And in the interim, you've missed your chance for effervescent joy, radical presence, true bliss - and the health benefits that accompany joy.
The body knows how to heal itself. As I describe in Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, our bodies are beautifully equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms that fight cancer, prevent infection, repair wounds, protect us from infectious agents and foreign bodies, and even affect how our genes express themselves! But here’s what most people don’t know. These natural self-repair mechanisms get deactivated when your body is full of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine in “fight-or-flight” mode.
Makes sense. When your amygdala, the not-so-smart part of your brain that reacts to threats by tripping off the “fight-or-flight” stress response, signals the warning alarm, your body focuses all its attention on fighting and fleeing. Blood flow is shunted to your large muscle groups, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure goes up, and your body is on red alert. When your amygdala thinks you’re about to get eaten by a mountain lion, the body isn’t worried about preventive maintenance and the body’s self-repair operations halt until the threat is over.
But in modern day life, our warning alarms are ringing at least 50 times per day, flooding our bodies with cortisol and putting us at risk of illness. Your amygdala can’t tell the difference between a real threat to life and limb, like getting chased by a mountain lion, and a perceived threat, like fear of losing your job, worry that your loved one will leave you, or even anger that someone spilled red wine on your white carpet. (Are you at risk? Read here for 10 Signs That You Have WAYToo Much Cortisol).
The good news is that it’s easy to shift the body into the opposite of the stress response into the relaxation response, and when this happens, your cortisol levels drop and your body’s self-repair mechanisms get back to work doing what they do best - healing you. All of the following techniques have been scientifically proven to activate relaxation responses and return your self-repair mechanisms back to optimal operation.
In Mind Over Medicine, in my latest TEDx talk and in many blog posts like this one, I talk about how the body is equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms that can be flipped on or off with thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that originate in the mind. This is great news, because it means, in essence, that you can heal yourself.
Mind Over Medicine has a whole section which teaches you the 6 Steps To Healing Yourself (you can read it for yourself by buying the book here.) But one of the many simple ways you can flip on your body’s self-repair mechanisms is via meditation.
What Does It Mean To Meditate?
Dictionary.com defines meditation as “continued or extended thought; reflection; contemplation,” but I prefer Harvard professor Dr. Herbert Benson’s definition. He defines it as “Repetition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer, or muscular activity while passively disregarding everyday thoughts that inevitably come to mind and returning to your repetition.”
With this definition of meditation, anything can be a meditation - not just sitting with your eyes closed in the lotus position, but walking, making art, cooking, shopping, dancing, driving… whatever.
How The Body Heals Itself
In my medical training, we were not taught that the body knows how to heal itself. It is equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms that repair broken proteins, kill cancer cells, fight infections, prevent aging, and maintain the homeostasis of the body. When the body gets sick, whether from the common cold or something more serious, like heart disease or cancer, it’s almost always because the body’s self-repair mechanisms have broken down, usually because of stress.
When the nervous system is stressed, as it is during the “fight-or-flight” stress response that is so commonly triggered in modern day life, these self-repair mechanisms are disabled and the body is at risk for disease. Only when the counterbalancing relaxation response is activated, when the sympathetic nervous system is turned off and the parasympathetic nervous system is turned on, can the body heal itself.