I often asked my patients three important questions before surgery: Why do you wish to live longer? Do you wish to be happier? and What does being happy mean to you? These queries gave me an opportunity to discuss spiritual matters as well as physical and emotional ones. To the best of my knowledge, I never offended anyone by raising such questions; to the contrary, my patients welcomed the brief yet pleasant discussions about generic spirituality generated by these questions and the answers that followed.
The quiet periods of reflection that my patients spent after our short talks – which I usually conducted in the evenings, following my usual rounds – helped them acquire the confidence they needed to move resolutely ahead with their operative heart care. As far as I’m aware, the majority of my patients discovered that pondering such basic yet fundamental questions helped them in the combined body/ mind/ soul process of becoming all they could be from that day forward. They came to accept that love, the cornerstone of human emotions, is difficult to define yet powerful enough, in action, to change the world.
Definition of Love
Many years ago a patient of mine – Father Ronald Funke, SJ – gave me his definition of love, one which I believe captures the transcendental nature of this deeply spiritual and uniquely human action. As he said, “Love is the freely giving of self for the benefit of another.”
The simple truth behind our lives is that we all – whether rich or poor, regardless of gender, creed or pigmentation – need one another. Mother Teresa went to the heart of the matter when she wrote, “There is no other meaning to our lives than this – loving and being loved.”
Love and Happiness Are Inseparably Intertwined
Like the cells of our bodies, alive as individuals yet interdependent upon one another for life, we share a single united body. The health of one ultimately becomes the health of all. In our human lives, love and happiness are inseparably intertwined within a mystical combination of compassion, nurturing, sharing and forgiveness.
This deeply spiritual union of God and humanity provides the basis for nearly everything good in our lives. Indeed, the soul’s need to attain and sustain a flowering state of loving consciousness – to experience happiness and joy – is as essential as the body’s need to acquire oxygen, water and food in order to maintain physical life.
Remembering To Live While You Can
Sometimes for better, often for worse, our technological society values physical health… or at the very least, values the illusion of such health. Cosmetics, fitness, sports, even the false vitality of photographic retouching, youthful fashions and deceptive advertising all constitute a vast portion of our business and personal economies.
We want to look young, feel young, and convince others that we are young. Why? Because the impression of youth fosters an impression of health. Regardless of the truth behind that idea, many people equate physical vitality with the apparent immortality of a child-like (and sometimes childish) state of being.
Yet despite the amazing medical advances of the present era, we will all die within the foreseeable future. The question is not whether we’ll perish, but when. Ultimately, science will not and cannot prevail here. If we don’t die of disease, we’ll die of old age. This reality terrifies many people… so much so that some become obsessed with death to the extent that they forget to live while they can.
Living As Well As I Possibly Can
For me personally, the certainty of my mortal existence provides a source of comfort and motivation. I make a point of living as well as I possibly can while I still have the power to do so. My hope is to live a full, vibrant, happy life and then succumb (after a brief period of incapacity) to my mortality and go on to heaven where I’ll enjoy complete fulfillment and happiness with my God.
As I might ask one of my patients, I ask you this:
What are you living for?
What do you hope to experience?
And what will you do to make the most of your life while you can?
When you have the answers, think about how you can best promote your health in order to live your life in a way that matters to you.
Be the Beacon: Living A Life That Matters
Some people might take this as a license to overindulge. Think about this, though: Overindulgence damages your physical health, undermines your mental stability, harms your spiritual being, and hurts the people unfortunate enough to be around you. Does this sound to you like “living a life that matters”? Is this the way you want to go through life, the way you want to see yourself, the way you want to be remembered? Or do you want to feel like, and present yourself to be, a beacon of what life can be like when it’s lived well?
In short, then: Do you want to be happy with yourself when you look in the mirror, and make others happy to have known you? If so, make sure your body, mind and soul are as healthy as can be.
© 2013 Lester R. Sauvage, MD. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Better Life Press.
Open Your Heart to the Magic of Love: A Healer's Testament to Health, Happiness and Compassion
by Lester R. Sauvage.
About the Author
Dr. Lester R. Sauvage, MD, is a world-famous heart surgeon, author and humanitarian. Dr. Sauvage's career has spanned Boston Children's Hospital, a private surgical practice, a research facility for Providence Medical Center, Seattle Children's Hospital, and other medical institutions. A founding member of Seattle's Hope Heart Institute, he innovated or collaborated upon dozens of surgical techniques and technologies. He was renowned for his amazing work ethic, compassionate manner, and dedication to the healing arts. Retiring from surgery in 1991, he has since authored four books: The Open Heart: Secret to Happiness (1996), You Can Beat Heart Disease (2000), The Better Life Diet (2001), and now Open Your Heart to the Magic of Love: A Healer's Testament to Health, Happiness and Compassion.