Image by Gabriel Doti
Our present thoughts and choices are the sole determiner of our present experience. Because this statement is so foreign to how we usually approach life, I would like to give you an illustration from my own life.
One day while brushing my teeth, I sneezed. My back went into acute spasm and I fell to the floor, screaming in agony. I was hospitalized, had many examinations, and was told I had "organic back syndrome". I was put in traction and given drugs. Two weeks later, I left the hospital feeling better but still in pain. For the next five years I don't think I was ever free of it. My physician advised me to stop all physical exercise -- tennis, basketball, jogging, skiing, gardening -- which were all activities I loved.
As the years went by, the chronic nature of my condition became increasingly apparent. I was simply going to have to learn to adapt myself to this disability. Surgery might be helpful, but there was no guarantee.
Organic Barometer of Emotional Stress
Later, I began to notice that my back seemed to be a barometer of even the slightest emotional stress. But I tricked myself into believing that my reaction to stress was not a fundamental cause of the pain because I possessed x-rays which showed that my condition was organically caused.
At one point my back became so bad that I was hospitalized again. The consulting neurosurgeon strongly recommended surgery. He went so far as to predict that without it my pain would never disappear. As I was facing that decision, I suddenly saw the truth, which had been there all the time.
I realized that behind my back pain was a complex of thoughts -- which included anger, resentment, fear, and guilt -- all of which were my personal ties to the past. These feelings appeared to be caused by long-standing conflicts in my first marriage. I saw that I was angry at my wife for not supplying what I felt I lacked and for not meeting my needs. And yet I was also feeling guilty about having such angry thoughts about her and believed I deserved to be punished for them.
The back pain also gave me an excuse to drink more when the drugs were not effective. I decided that I would try to undo the cause of the pain in another way rather than undergo surgery.
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I am not saying that surgery is either right or wrong. My decision to forego it at that time was simply the one I personally needed to refocus my mind. The body, by itself, is not what is important. Therefore, we must do whatever allows us to let go of our preoccupation with it and return to peace.
Sustaining and Deepening Inner Happiness
It is the goal of peace that will indicate how to care for our body this instant. We should simply do what the aim of sustaining and deepening our inner happiness dictates. Such an approach is far superior to making rigid decisions about the future, which merely tempt us to consult past decisions and fears rather than our peaceful preference at the moment.
As a result of these new insights and my determination to pursue them, my back problems improved but did not go away. After my divorce, I found that the stresses of other circumstances and relationships were also displaced onto my body. One weekend, years later, I was almost hospitalized because of an acute attack. It was a classic example of how guilt manifests itself in the most symbolic part of our body.
I was attending a conference in Virginia, where I met a very attractive and intelligent woman. We immediately became intimately involved. It felt like two lost souls finding each other. But my newfound friend turned out to be married, and I very quickly began experiencing tremendous feelings of guilt. After the conference she invited me to have dinner with her and her husband the next time I came to New York. In my state of rising guilt, meeting her husband was the last thing I wanted to do. Yet another part of me yearned to be with her one more time, so I changed my original plans and flew to New York.
As I picked up my suitcase at Kennedy Airport, an acute pain shot through my back and I collapsed. I managed to get to the airport bar, where I had more than a few drinks. Later, I got a taxi and went to my hotel. Severe back spasms continued, and I returned to San Francisco the next day in agony. It was a full month before I was free of pain.
Attachment to Guilt & Fear of Love
After I was introduced to A Course in Miracles, I began to realize how attached to guilt I was. I became aware that this attachment caused me to fear love, which is the same thing as fearing the present. Many of you may assume that I should have felt guilty since I had had an affair with a married woman. But guilt can't alter our past behavior or cause us to treat others more lovingly.
As I learned to let go of guilt and anxiety, I experienced a new sense of well-being. I decided that as best I could I would no longer allow myself to be limited by my judgments of the past and my fears of the future. But I saw that I couldn't do this alone; I had to ask God's help in making such a radical break with what had become my habitual way of thinking.
I am now actively involved in physical activities that I once was told I would never be able to participate in. However, I want you to know that I am not consistent in practicing these spiritual principles. There are many times I am tempted to judge and to make fearful decisions about the future. When I do, and when my mind is not in harmony, I will sometimes feel tension in my back. Then I look for the unforgiving thought beneath the pain. I quiet my mind and tell myself I want the peace of God more than anything else. I pray, asking my inner Teacher for help in forgiving, and I give thanks that I am joined to everyone in love. When I do this, I often find that the back tension disappears, but more importantly, I again feel God's loving and constant presence.
Now Is Another Name for Love
It might be helpful to examine the mental process behind my episodes of back pain a little more closely. Back pain itself is very common in our society, and yet all physical pain is produced in a similar way, and likewise, its remedy is basically the same.
The fifth principle of Attitudinal Healing links freedom from pain with awareness of the present. Certainly we all think we are aware of the present, and it is true that most of us do see the objects and hear the sounds that surround us. But notice that the fifth principle states that pain and other forms of fear disappear only when the mind is focused in love on this instant. If we are using the people around us only as a means of recalling the past, we can hardly claim to be focusing our loving attention on them or on the present.
It was a small step in the right direction for me to associate my back pain with my judgmental attitudes toward my first wife rather than with only a deteriorated disk, but it was a mistake for me to believe that the years of conflict within our marriage were somehow responsible for my present anger and pain. Guilt produces projection, and projection is simply a way of shifting blame to another rather than releasing blame. And because projection is a form of attack, it makes us feel even more guilty, and so we continue punishing ourselves in some way.
If we see people as they are now, we are currently practicing forgiveness. But if looking at them is only our excuse for recalling their past mistakes, then they become a means for hurting. Our new practice should be the consistent cleansing of our vision of all past associations. We must constantly free all we see of negative and limiting memories.
The cycle of feeling guilty, shifting blame to others, getting angry at the guilt we now see in them, attacking them for their guilt, feeling even more guilty for our attack, and finally punishing our bodies in payment cannot be escaped as long as we believe that guilt is a valid description of anything meaningful. We must make a decision for innocence if we are ever to have consistent mental peace and the resulting bodily peace.
The innocence of others cannot be found in their past behavior. This innocence may also be hard to see within their present behavior. But it can be found in the peace that is within us. It is viewed beyond the personality, beyond bodily behavior, and beyond our mental associations. It is like a light that shines within our heart and the heart of the other person. Once it is glimpsed, it is far more real to us than guilt, because it is more real. All we need to do in order to free ourselves of pain, grief, depression, guilt, and other forms of fear is to undertake the search for innocence.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Beyond Words Publishing. ©2000.
Teach Only Love: The Twelve Principles of Attitudinal Healing
by Gerald G. Jampolsky, M.D.
In 1975, Jerry Jampolsky cofounded the Center for Attitudinal Healing in Tiburon, California, where people with life-threatening illnesses practice peace of mind as an instrument of transformation. Based on the healing power of love and forgiveness, the 12 principles developed at the center, and explained in this book, embrace the idea that total giving and total acceptance are crucial to the healing process and that attitudinal healing can lead to harmony, joy, and life without fear.
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About the Author
Gerald G. Jampolsky, M.D., a child and adult psychiatrist, is a graduate of Stanford Medical School. He founded the first Center for Attitudinal Healing, now a worldwide network with independent centers in over thirty countries, and is an internationally recognized authority in the fields of psychiatry, health, business, and education. Dr. Jampolsky has published many books, including his best-sellers Love Is Letting Go of Fear and Forgiveness: The Greatest Healer of All.