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Bernie Siegel

twenty years ago you feel younger. In other words, if I took and secluded you, and only gave you newspapers, movies and media from twenty years ago, you’d come out feeling younger, and healthier if I examined you.

So those are things people need to do. To keep the child alive, and not say I’m a certain age, I’m getting older. No, do what you feel like doing. Keep yourself active and moving, and again, have meaning, connections, and relationships. You’ll stay alive a lot longer. Studies have shown this. I can give you a plant to take care of, and you’ll live longer than somebody across the hall from you in a nursing home to whom I say, I’m putting a plant in your room to decorate it, and then I’ll take care of it. But if I go in and say, here’s a plant, you’re to see it gets sunshine and water it regularly, you end up living longer and being healthier than the person across the hall.
A study in Australia that was written up a few months ago in the paper showed that if you went home to a dog after your heart attack you had a six percent mortality rate that year . If you went home without a dog it would be closer to thirty percent. You say, what has a dog got to do with it? Again, it’s the relationship. The connection may be taking the dog for a walk, or whatever, but it means something to you. So those are the things I would say. Find meaning. Keep the child in you alive. Keep moving. Keep thinking. Be creative. Experiment. Do different things. It just goes on and on, and I could give you pages and pages, but I think it’s just those basic things that get you started.

David: How do you envision the future of medicine?

Bernie: I think that it needs to be a combination of things. The technology is important, I would never deny that. There are people alive today because of science and what we are able to do, like transplanting organs. But at the same time, you have the awe and the wonder of somebody awakening with a transplanted organ, and then having memories of the other person’s life. So it’s combining the practical and the technological with the mysterious and the meaningful. Quantum physicists and astronomers, I think, understand this better than doctors, because they are living with uncertainty, and the wonder and the awe of creation. So they’re in a very different place, and I always enjoy speaking to them. Doctors also need to find that place, so that they are contributing to each person’s life that they see in some practical way, as well as in some spiritual way.

I also think that doctors need to allow their patients to heal them, and give them something back. One woman used the term “mutual investment society,” and maybe this is the best description of the future of medicine. She said, “It ought to be a mutual investment society, so you are invested in the doctor and the doctor’s invested in you.”

When people ask me how to find a good doctor I often say to them, find one who is criticized by family, patients, and nurses–because they’re listening and learning from the criticism. See, because what I’ve learned is, when somebody doesn’t listen and apologize to you, you stop criticizing them. You just get somebody else or stop talking to them because it’s pointless. They’re always making speeches. So when we become a mutual investment society, and each of us is teaching the other, then the natives and the tourists help each other. Patients are the natives, doctors are the tourists. We have to understand each other’s land, as well as what we’re living and going through.

David: In your book Peace, Love, & Healing you talk about using mind-altering techniques such as progressive relaxation, prayer, meditation, visualization and hypnosis to help heal the body when it becomes ill. What are your thoughts about using medical marijuana in this way? In the controversy over the medicinal value of marijuana, the potential benefit created by the shift in consciousness that marijuana causes is rarely discussed. Have you ever encountered any patients who benefited–not so much from the anti-nausea or other symptom-relieving properties in cannabis–but rather by the changes in consciousness that marijuana caused, so that they viewed their illness from a new perspective?

Bernie: I’m not against medical marijuana, but I think that the medicinal properties are probably exaggerated, in the sense that, if people are cared for, we already have enough medications and drugs to help them feel better. What I see is that it’s so much related to the person’s belief. I have watched people’s nausea disappear when they took the wrong pill. But the pill had a “C” on it, so the person thought it was compazine, which is for nausea. So they stopped being nauseated even though it was another drug.

You might say, why did the nausea disappear? It’s because of what the person believes. I have watched a woman stop vomiting after her husband handed her a bag with a dozen roses in it. He had been handing her a bag every day before he drove her home, and she would throw up in it the whole way. She said, “I opened the bag and there were a dozen roses from my husband in it, so I never vomited again.” You see, so much of it has to do with the person’s belief and mind and everything else.

So, obviously, I’m not against medications that can help, and if the marijuana helps, fine. But you were just saying how it changes consciousness, and we can change consciousness without taking the drug. You can meditate. You can use hypnosis. I can use words that create a trance state that help you not have side effects. Again, you get back the communication, and with come a whole host of other things. It’s the power of the mind.

If someone is undergoing a form of chemotherapy that causes people to have their hair fall out, and you give them injections of saline or a placebo pill, and say it’ll make your hair grow, for a third of people their hair grows. The opposite also works. People have their hair fall out when receiving a placebo. I could rub someone’s skin with a swab, and if I say it’ll make it numb, and a third of the people have anesthesia, and there’s nothing in the swab. So again, the power of our beliefs and minds–where this started–is an enormous. Doctors don’t know how to use it because they’re not taught how to communicate with people and enhance those beliefs.

David: You’ve already spoken about this a little, but could you specifically address what sort of role you think spirituality plays in the healing process?

Bernie: I think it does several things. It gives people’s lives meaning. I grew up with a mother who, when we had trouble, used to say, “God is redirecting you; something good will come of this.” And I bring that up because, if you grow up in religion, then you could be punished for evil or misbehaving. In that way religion could become a burden and a handicap for you. So the way I deal with this is to say to people, “If you lose your car keys, does God want you walk home?” And people laugh. Then I say, “Okay, if you lose your health, go look for that too.” For me, the word spirituality means there’s a great resource, that the loving energy and intelligence that created the universe is there for us, to help us. So prayer can bring you peace when you don’t know what to do. Remember how I spoke about the importance of connection? Well, if you’re connected to a god or a creator, you feel like you’re never alone. You always have support.

So these are things that help people. Our Father, referring to God, is always loving us. To quote a friend of mine, she said, “When I let love into my prison it changed every negative item in it and… turned them into something meaningful.” And this love is coming from our Father. So when you have that kind of love, and that kind of connection, you get through things. And the prayer, the meditation–to me they all become almost like one, when you’re willing to look within yourself. A ritual I go through every day is gratitude, which helps me focus on the nice things about the world, not just my troubles. I look at confession–what are the things about myself that I need to change? Then I say prayers for others and myself. I find that as I do that, I evolve, and my prayers become much less about material needs than they do about greater needs for myself and the world.

In all the years thinking about this, I may add, I have been asking this question: What can I pray for for you? What would you answer to this? What would you ask me to pray for, if I said I want to say a prayer for you?
David: Oh, to make the world a better place.

Bernie: You’re now the sixth person. I’ve been asking that question for roughly twenty years, and only five people have ever said, “world peace.” It blew my mind that everybody else is focused on themselves. So you said it, and again, you transcended yourself. I’d say that’s what the spirituality allows you to do–to transcend yourself. Then yes, you have benefits from that transcendence. Try this meditation for a few days. Repeat the word God whenever you have a quiet or troubled moment and then “Thank you for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever.”

David: What is your personal concept of God?

Bernie: My definition of God is “loving, intelligent, conscious energy. Satchidananda, being, consciousness, bliss.” Astronomers will tell you that the universe can’t be an accident. It just took too many things happening at the right moment to make it an accident. So I think there’s intelligence and consciousness, and why do I say love and energy? Because it’s a world that has existed. I always say, if I cut

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