Even Saints Get Sick

It is a gross error to assume you truly know the total extent of another person's suffering and their efforts for recovery. Again to quote Bernie Siegel, "Everybody dies, including joggers and vegetarians." Now that's a pretty obvious statement but if one takes the issue of personal responsibility too far, it really implies that each and every one of us creates our own death. Larry Dossey, M.D. is fond of saying, "Jesus Christ. Age 32. Cause of death: trauma." Nobody gets out of life alive!

If you review the lives of saints, you discover that they were not always that healthy physically. The great Indian Saint of the 1800's, Vivekananda, had cancer. St. Francis of Assisi had severe eye problems and Mother Theresa suffered from severe heart disease. Were these beings as advanced spiritually as we have been led to believe...or is their illness a sign that they "chose" not to evolve to a higher level? My belief is that these people truly are examples of great human beings who were quite advanced spiritually. Every religious tradition holds that illness can be a test - a test of the strength of one's character, a test of one's true devotion to God. To put it another way, physical health and spiritual health do not always go together. You can be extremely healthy on a physical plane and be unethical and immoral . . . and you can be quite advanced spiritually - full of love and tranquility, and have a frail body.

Another major error of the "Why are you choosing to create your illness" philosophy is that we don't really know all the variables that go into illness. Each of us has a concept of what creates illness . . . and each major health care system has a concept of what creates illness. Traditional illness has focused for some time on external causes of illness - the germ theory. We've gotten very good at killing off most bacteria and of course we're having a harder time with viruses.

Eastern health care systems, such as Oriental Medicine and Ayurveda focus more on the internal balance of the individual. For these systems, treatment involves restoring one to balance. The father of modern bacteriology, Louis Pasteur, died of an infection... and at the end of his life he conceded that the "field in which the infection existed was more important than the infecting agent itself." And that is the philosophy of most forward-thinking people treating AIDS. The aim has been to make the individual stronger than the infection.

Each religious tradition has its own concept of "light and darkness" of "heaven or hell." And what about the impact of the Hindu idea of Karma and re-incarnation. Under this concept every action of ours, good or bad, has repercussions that are felt "the next time around" in the next incarnation... or even in this lifetime. And in this belief system it is conceivable that if one's actions are too dreadful, one might spend an entire lifetime working off the Karma of those actions. That Karma can manifest as physical or mental illness. So if you're asking someone why they're choosing to continue their illness, it may be due to Karma that is beyond the vision of either you, your patient, or your doctor.

As a healer sometimes the greatest service one can provide is support. If for whatever reason the illness is more powerful than all of the patient's resources and efforts, we can still offer a tremendous service by caring, touching, loving, being there . . . and not judging. Many doctors treating terminal cancer patients have the attitude that "There is nothing more that can be done." And yet supporting, listening and not running away is exactly the "treatment" that these people ask for and require.

About David Gersten MD              Please Read Medical Disclaimer

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