I spent the first year after my diagnosis completely freaking out, growing more isolated and angry as each day passed. Author Steven Levine says that most people die an “Oh, shit!” death—one of total shock and terror just before the car crashes or the heart attack turns deadly or the kidneys begin to fail. I was afraid that would be me. I went through the traditional stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, and depression, but couldn’t move past them to the acceptance phase.
Part of the problem was that I had a dark past, marred by a series of traumatic events and tragic mistakes, and my death sentence felt like an apt ending to an unfulfilled life. Desperately ill, I struggled to make the best of my remaining time, but my overwhelming fear and misery overrode my attempts to be happy and robbed me of hope.
Then I had the opportunity to meet with a Tibetan lama for advice. I poured out my tale of woe, expecting the lama to shower sympathy and compassion on my deserving shoulders. Instead, he told me with loving ferocity to stop feeling sorry for myself and start focusing on the happiness of others. I argued that I was too sick to help myself, let alone other people, but the lama insisted. Although I had been a victims’ advocate for years, I had been so focused on my own suffering, that I had become oblivious to the needs of others. So I began as I could, with small acts of kindness, such as saying a prayer when an ambulance passed by and letting people go ahead of me in the checkout line at the grocery store. I bought a tank of gas for a woman whose husband had lost his job so she could get to work the next day. I spent long hours on the phone with a friend who was going through a difficult time. I did everything I could within my limited abilities to think about and act for the happiness of others. I also began to practice an ancient prayer technique called Tonglen (that I teach my clients) that helped me to transform my fears and anger into gratitude and peace, and even decreased the pain I experienced.
Gradually, I noticed that every time I did something nice for someone else, I felt a small rush of happiness. At the physiological level, the “happy endorphins” my body created in response to each act lowered my blood pressure, regulated my breathing, and reduced the stress chemicals that were so deadly to me. I began to notice that I had less pain and more energy.
I graduated to larger acts of generosity—co-signing on a car loan for a young woman so she could secure a job and volunteering at the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina. I became even happier, and the happier I became, the better I felt, until I reached a state of such emotional healing that it no longer mattered whether I lived or died—I was happy regardless of the obstacles I encountered or how much time I had left. In fact, if someone had offered me one more day to live feeling as I did at this point or ten more years feeling as I did before my diagnosis, I would choose that one precious day. Finally, I had reached the stage of acceptance and I was loving my life, every precious moment of it.
Then the most amazing thing happened; my condition began to reverse itself and today I feel better than I have in 20 years! I still have periods when I am laid low by my illness and I experience some cognitive impairment, but my happiness point is set so high now that I am unfazed by them. I will still die one day, as we all will, but the “when” is less important to me than the “how.” I am determined to die with the words, “I love you” on my lips and with the glow of joy and gratitude on my face.
Reaching such a stage of joyful acceptance is not only possible for you, but even more likely than for a person who is not facing a life-challenging illness. The fact is, your illness can be the gift that sets you free to live a life—and die a death—overflowing with happiness and gratitude.
For More Information
See What It’s All About - http://www.thekindnesscure.org/video
We Invite You To Join the Kindness Cure Social Network And Share The Progress of the Kindness Cure - http://www.thekindnesscure.org
For full details about the Kindness Cure Virtual Tour - http://virtualblogtour.blogspot.com/2008/10/cj-scarlet-is-starting-kiss-revolution.html