- in Self-Care
The following is an excerpt from Brian Boxer Wachler book Perceptual Intelligence: The Brain’s Secret to Seeing Past Illusion, Misperception, and Self-Deception.
You may have heard the story of Kris Carr, an actress and photographer who discovered on Valentine’s Day, 2003, that her liver was riddled with cancerous lesions.
She was told there was no cure for this rare type of cancer (I’ll shorten the never-ending technical name to EHE) and that at best the treatments would only stave off the inevitable.
Though she can’t be cured and the disease is inoperable, Kris has lived a joyous, healthful life well over a decade since that fateful day. How has she done it?
By being crazy sexy in her approach to life, which she details in several books, including the popular Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips, and depicts in her self-made documentary by the same name.
Kris is a proponent of a special kind of mindfulness, in which she doesn’t allow cancer to get the better of her and refers to it as a catalyst for change.
The sexy of “crazy sexy cancer” refers to being empowered, getting the most out of every second of life, and refusing to allow the disease to define her. Not only did she reboot her life — switching gears from acting to writing and lecturing on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle — but she has created a “crazy sexy cancer” support group (which she calls a “posse”) and formulated her own philosophy of well-being that blends Western medicine and alternative care.
As Scientific American described,
“Carr is among a growing number of people living and thriving with cancer, thanks to medical advances as well as a progressive philosophy in oncology that recognizes past mistakes of overtreatment and welcomes alternative medicine as a partner in the healing process.”
According to a recent Johns Hopkins study by Professor Lisa R. Yanek, a positive outlook can help decrease the chances of heart attack among those with a family history of cardiovascular disease.
Harvard Medical School has pointed to studies showing that optimism not only helps reduce stress and risk of heart disease but also improves recovery from heart surgery, reduces blood pressure, and prevents further attacks.
Substantial evidence reveals that even smiling and laughing more each day can make you healthier and prevent disease. Those who smile, laugh, enjoy life, and shrug off problems have high PI, often without even knowing it.
Perhaps even more substantiated are the myriad benefits of mindful meditation and how it can alleviate the symptoms of a number of ailments, including back pain, psoriasis, insomnia, and even mental illness.
In one famous study by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR, psoriasis patients who meditated while receiving UV light therapy healed four times faster than those treated only with the light therapy.
What you do with your brain can have a massive impact on disease.
Our perceptions of disease become wired in our brains early in life. If we experienced firsthand the prolonged pain and suffering of a grandparent, parent, sibling, or close friend who passed away due to cancer or another life-threatening disease, those memories can haunt us and lead to intense fear and stress, should we find ourselves similarly afflicted.
Strong emotions don’t necessarily cause illness, but they are most certainly detrimental once a disease manifests in the body. The worst scenario is when fear and stress foster negativity (low PI), which exacerbates and accelerates the illness and/or its symptoms and lowers immunity, leading to a host of other medical complications.
Dr. Daniel Siegel, author of the groundbreaking book Mindsight, describes the harm of negative thoughts:
“Bringing these negative thoughts, such as fear, hostility, betrayal, or sadness, to awareness is part of basic health, because those thoughts — what in my field are called unintegrated neural processes — are basically like black holes. They have so much gravity to them that they suck the energy out of life.
They influence the health of the mind, its flexibility and fluidity, its sense of joy and gratitude. They impact relationships, leading to rigid ways of behaving or explosive ways of interacting. They also influence the body itself, including the nervous system and the immune system.”
Forgiving past wrongs done to you is a great way to start becoming free of negativity and improving your PI.
Can meditation and other mindfulness practices cure all disease?
No, not quite — but as Grandma used to say about chicken soup, “It couldn’t hurt.” There is substantial science behind the healing power of relaxation and positivity. At the very least, being positive through an illness makes you more pleasant to be around and will therefore inspire others to be of greater assistance to you in your time of need.
Having a strong social network (real people, not Facebook friends) and getting therapy can provide ongoing reinforcement for your positivity to remain intact.
Having a positive outlook can also lead people to effective treatment that mainstream medicine has not embraced. In my own medical practice I see firsthand the role optimism can play in experiencing a successful outcome.
Dry eye disease affects millions of women in the United States and is often a chronic condition. More than ten years ago I developed a special eye cream that is 95 percent effective at resolving dry eye symptoms, especially in hard-to-treat cases.
Over the course of many years I have lectured to thousands of ophthalmologists and written in ophthalmology publications about my research and treatment of dry eye disease.
Because no corporate pharmaceutical company provides this cream (it needs to come from a compounding pharmacy) — coupled with the fact that many eye doctors just aren’t comfortable prescribing from a compounding pharmacy for dry eye treatment — many women with dry eyes have suffered for years, even decades, without being effectively treated.
The optimistic women who refuse to accept the “dry eye prison sentence” take their future in their own hands, research alternative remedies, and discover my treatment.
My patient actress-turned-entrepreneur Victoria Principal is a good example.
She experienced dry eyes for years, and no prior treatments resolved the condition. Victoria, who has high PI, remained hopeful that there was an effective treatment beyond what her previous eye doctors knew. That positive mind-set drove her to do her own research that eventually led to me and a successful treatment after years of failed conventional treatments. Having this mind-set can also lead you to find treatments for conditions that conventional medicine thinks do not exist.
An example comes from another patient of mine with high PI, Jamal Crawford, an NBA basketball player, who had brown pigmentation or “freckles” on the whites of his eyes for years. It was frustrating for him, since he saw it in photos and recordings when he would replay the games.
Doctors typically tell patients with this ailment, “Sorry, there is no treatment. You just have to live with it.” Jamal researched and found out about what I do for these brown “eye freckles,” and I removed them.
Maintaining a positive, optimistic attitude reflects high PI and can lead you to find breakthrough medical treatments for what otherwise might seem like hopeless scenarios.
You can influence your own PI when it comes to health issues.
Positivity breeds positivity, as it did with Montel Williams and Kris Carr. If you think about it, negativity and woe-is-me behavior about aches and pains might have a lingering impact on those you leave behind — a spouse, a child, a grandchild — which can cause them unnecessary fear and suffering.
While it is important to get yourself checked out by medical professionals for symptoms that may or may not turn out to be of concern, continually complaining about them is generally not productive.
It’s far more healthy and effective to once in a while vent to a tolerant confidant or therapist to get it out of your system and release any frustration about your maladies all at once. On the other hand, too much complaining to friends, family, and coworkers, and you could easily be perceived as an all-around kvetch.
Before you go down the long and winding road, ask yourself: Is this how I would like to be remembered?
Excerpted from the book Perceptual Intelligence: The Brain’s Secret to Seeing Past Illusion, Misperception, and Self-Deception. Copyright ©2017 by Brian Boxer Wachler. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.
About the author
An expert on human perception and the author of Perceptual Intelligence, Brian Boxer Wachler, MD, has pioneered treatments in vision correction and Keratoconus, published eighty-four medical articles, and delivered 276 scientific presentations. He is the first choice of many doctors for their own eye treatments. He is the medical director of the Boxer Wachler Vision Institute in Beverly Hills and a staff physician at Los Angeles’s famed Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.