[Apologies for the lack of graphics. I am on dial up and so can’t access them. It looks like I’ll be on dial up for another two weeks. Sigh. Evan]
A few years ago John Harrison wrote a book called, “Love Your Disease: It’s Keeping You Healthy”.
The author tells the story of a young man who had acne. He realising that the acne was keeping him safe – not having to negotiate the difficult terrain of adolescent sexuality: afer all the acne meant he was unattractive. Upon realising this the acne began to clear up.
I think many of us have experiences like this. A simple example is the elation we feel after solving a problem or finding out how to do something we wanted to do. We have put out just as much energy and it is even a little later, so after solving the problem why don’t we feel more tired? Why are we feeling better after we know how to do what we want to do? The amount of physical energy we have expended is the same. But we feel different. We have more energy – if it was important enough we might even be dancing around.
This is a small example of our thoughts affecting our physiology. A bigger example is falling in love. This is most striking when it happens between people who have previously known each other. The two people are the same as the day before and yet their experience has changed: it is more intense, alive and sexual.
The most remarkable example I know of our thoughts affecting our physiology happened to a friend of mine. He was in a psychotherapy group. Another group member had a baby face – he was the foreman of a building site and people would walk past him because they thought he was an apprentice. This man’s mother had died during his adolescence. As he said goodbye to her in the therapy group his face aged. He went from having a baby face to a mature man’s face.
It is obvious that our thoughts influence our experience.
This leads to the idea that if we think in a particular way we can experience whatever we want to. I doubt this. The most unsavoury consequence of this way of thinking is that we wanted (in some way) any misfortune that befalls us. This is usually referred to (disapprovingly) as ‘blaming the victim’. It certainly means that we have no need to help others (after all they brought it on themselves by their bad thinking.)
I don’t think our thoughts can influence our experience that much. I think there is a real world which ‘resists’ our thoughts. And I think that often our thoughts need to be enacted to influence this real world.
Having said this I think we are usually more influential in our experience than we realise. Finding out how much we can change can be a lifelong experiment. We don’t know in advance. (There is a lot of room for experiment between everything and nothing.)
What does this have to do with loving our disease? That it is worth finding out how much we influence ‘the disease’. Even with something that we believe is completely beyond our control we have some choice about our response. A good friend of mine got cancer. Being confronted with the ‘you are responsible for getting cancer’ line, they decided this was incorrect. They did discover though that the diagnosis was a relief – it meant that they didn’t have to do some things that they didn’t want to do. They were quite shocked when they discovered this. This is the kind of thing I mean by finding out.
Then there are ‘diseases’ are descriptions of behaviour. This is especially the case with relationship and emotional problems. I’m not saying that these things don’t have a physiological base. What I’m asking is for an investigation. Here’s an example of what I mean. A man I knew was diagnosed with manic-depression (called bi-polar these days). His wife was extremely supportive and he had good support from friends to. They found that if they caught it early enough the time he spent manic (and subsequently depressed) could be reduced from weeks to hours. (It started with stuff happening in his shoulders. If he got a massage at this point it reduced the duration of the episode.) This is only one person and may have nothing to do with anyone else. I tell the story to make the point that it is worth finding out.
For me, the perspective of ‘love your disease’ is an invitation to investigate and experiment. Not a guilt trip.
Have you found that a problem you had contained benefits for you? Have you had the experience of a troublesome ‘disease’ or condition leaving when you understood it? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments.