The Power of Story

The following is a transcribed excerpt from Healing Laughter, and Miracles with Dr. Bernie Siegel

Steve Stein: To kind of finish up with self-induced healing, it has something to do with mind over matter.

Dr. Bernie Siegel: Yes. Yes.

Steve Stein: What does that mean?Bernie: In other words when you talk to patients, say, “How come you didn’t die when you are supposed to?” They always had a story to tell you. They, “I closed my law office and started playing my violin, which my parents didn’t want me to do when I was a kid because they wanted a lawyer.” And then he isn’t dead, and he’s playing in an orchestra. You know, “I got a dog. I put it in a backyard wildlife habitat. I laughed more. I took some vitamins,” her letter goes on and on and ends with, “I didn’t die and I’m so busy I’m killing myself. Help, where do I go from here?” I told her to take a nap. But a multi-millionaire, I met him because his son, he had developed cancer and his son wanted me to help him to survive, because everybody is telling him he will be dead in a few months. So we met. And one of the things he was doing also one day was introducing me at a lecture. This was down in Miami.

So while I was lecturing there I went to meet him because he lived there. And I said, “How come you’re dressed like that, so casually?” He said, “Oh, when I learned I was going to die, I cancelled the dress code at work and I told everybody you can wear whatever you want.” Then his wife said, “You know, why don’t we buy that house on the ocean you’ve always wanted and you can listen to Bernie’s tapes and meditate?” So he bought the house on the ocean and basically changed his life and he lived for over five and a half years.

The nice part was that he impressed the hell out of the hospital, because they realized everybody there was convinced he is going to be dead in a few months, and look at him. So again, I tell people it’s their potential and that there is hope. You are not a statistic. I mean, one other example, a woman from North Carolina was told by her doctor, “Don’t even bother to go to Duke for chemotherapy. You’re going to be dead in a few months. Just go home and enjoy your few months.” My father-in-law, who was spinal cord injury, had a nurse coming to the house to take care of him and she was a relative of this person in North Carolina.

So she, without my even knowing, tells her, “Come on up here. Dr. Siegel makes people well all the time.” When I heard that, yes, it upset me. I mean, what are you promising? But up she comes, I admit her to the hospital, found out she had leukemia. I said, “Look, I’m not able to treat leukemia, so I will get my doctor friends to come over.” The ones who realize you may be nuts but your patients do well, and I called them. And I sat on the bed with her for a while, gave her big hugs and then went home that day. And my doctor friend, the oncologist, came over and called me, he said, “Hey, Bernie, I agree with her doctor. There isn’t much I can do for her. But I know you and your crazy patients, so I will give her hope.” A week later I get a note from him. She’s doing well. A week later, doing quite well. Doing very well. In complete remission, no sign of cancer. It blew his mind but that’s why he learned it’s worth it. And she said, “When Dr. Siegel sat on my bed and hugged me, I knew I’d get better.” Now she never told me that but she told her cousin that. And that’s why I said I never gave up on people.

And as I say, just as Solzhenitsyn said, “Find the beauty, find the harmony.” People who move, change their life, as I say, there was always an aspect of their response to me that made them love their life and love their body.

That’s the way I summarize it to people. I say look, I want you to love your life and love your body. And one woman, this story popped into my head, she had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Her body was fading away, and she had had polio as a child, so she had been angry at her body since she was a kid. But she said to me, “I don’t want to die hating my body.” She started sitting naked in front of the mirror, loving her body, and I mean inch by inch. It was insane. She would say, “I love each toe and then my foot and my ankle,” and work her way up and down her body. And the disease went into remission.

Steve Stein: Amazing.

Bernie: And so many people do many books and articles about what happened when they did that, and so the key is love your life, love your body. And how do you know you’re loving your life? I always say if you lose track of time, you can’t get older. And so when you’re doing creative things, meaningful things and 3 hours felt like 30 minutes, you are only 30 minutes older.

Steve Stein: I think what keeps resonating is what your mother told you, “Do what makes you happy.”

Bernie: Yes.

Steve Stein: Or what you think will make you happy

Bernie: The psychiatrists always realize this. One of them, George Solomon out in California, when he was studying AIDS patients, suddenly he said, “I realize it’s their personality that helps them survive. But some of them do very well and they have a certain personality.” And so he made up a list called immune confident personality. Now, a doctor doesn’t hand you the list when you go to the office, but it had simple things like meaning in your life, like Monday morning, asking for help if you need it, saying no to things you don’t want to do, making decisions about your treatment.

It’s just all kinds of things that led you to enjoy your life. And they’re all simple things, and one of the biggest was saying no, if you don’t want to do something. And nurses have a disaster with that question. If I say somebody in your family or friend calls you and says they would like you to do something and you do not want to do it, what do you tell them? And 98% of nurses say, “I would do it.” See they are busy helping and saving everybody and hurting themselves.

You learn to say no when you don’t want to do something. And teach people that again, it relates back to how you feel.

Check out the full program Healing, Laughter, and Miracles here. 

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