Seeking Emotional Health Amid Physical Ailment
Another way to look at life, another way to look at death — this was the goal of Gerald Jampolsky, M.D., when he opened the Center for Attitudinal Healing in Sausalito, Calif., in 1975.
“Our thoughts and our minds have a great effect on how our bodies function and how we deal with the illness — acute or chronic. So, we began to create a place where people could really heal themselves,” says Dr. Jampolsky, an adult and child psychiatrist, who received The American Medical Association Foundation’s Pride in Profession award this past March.
Attitudinal healing, says Dr. Jampolsky, is about making a choice to experience peace instead of conflict and love instead of fear, even in the face of extreme difficulty. It is the realization that it is not other people, events, stressful experiences or circumstances outside ourselves that cause us to be in conflict or upset. Rather it is our own thoughts, feelings, attitudes and judgment about those things that actually cause us distress.
How do you get there?
Dr. Jampolsky took the ideas that spurred his healing from a bad divorce and his own fight with alcoholism and transcribed them into the 12 principles of attitudinal healing. These introduce the dynamic of choice into a psychological process:
The essence of our being is love.
Health is inner peace. Healing is letting go of fear.
Giving and receiving are the same.
We can let go of the past and the future.
Now is the only time there is, and each instant is for giving.
We can learn to love ourselves and others by forgiving rather than judging.
We can become love finders rather than fault finders.
We can choose and direct ourselves to be peaceful inside regardless of what is happening outside.
We are students and teachers to each other.
We can focus on the whole of life rather than the fragments.
Since love is eternal, death need not be viewed as fearful.
We can always perceive ourselves and others as either extending love or giving a call for help.
Love is Healing:
“It is very fascinating … when you are consciously helping another person you are not really focused on your body,” Dr. Jampolsky says.
Take this example: “A woman in her 50s with metastatic cancer in her stomach comes into the Center and says she has not experienced peace in her life in the past four years. It happened that another woman had brought her 3-month-old baby to the group. I asked her if she would be willing to have peace of mind for one second. She says, ‘Yeah, but how do I do that?’ ‘Would you be willing to hold this baby for one second and be totally absorbed in giving this baby your love,’ I ask. She says, ‘Yeah, I would love to do that.’ She did that, and I asked her if she was thinking about her cancer when she was giving the baby her love. She said no. I asked if she felt peace. She said yes. I said, ‘I showed you how to do it for one second, and now your job is to learn how to do it for two seconds, two hours and so on.’ Basically, I taught her how to get more involved in helping others than worrying about her illness.”
And how do you help others? Dr. Jampolsky says by simply treating them with kindness and compassion. “We feel best and most ourselves when we are reaching out to help other people,” explains Carol Howe, a colleague of Jampolsky who worked with him in the 1970s and 1980s and who is also an author, lecturer and life consultant in Orlando, Fla.
See the light in the person rather than the lampshade.
That is Dr. Jampolsky’s motto. He says: “Learning to live in the present without judgment is an important spiritual principle. We can choose to be a love finder, or we can choose to be a fault finder. Well, many of us choose to be fault finders. We have a big laundry list about people we don’t like or things we attack ourselves for.”
Howe adds, “We all have the opportunity to see people how we want to see them. Perception is very selective.” For example, she says if you decide the world is a crummy place, then when you go to the grocery store, you will seek out those who have scowls on their faces to prove your belief. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is also true if you decide the world is a wonderful place.
Forgiveness = Inner Peace:
To reach the ultimate goal of feeling love, you have to let go of the blocks to love. Dr. Jampolsky says about 50 percent of people have not totally forgiven their parents and about 75 percent of people have not totally forgiven their divorced mate or themselves.
There is scientific evidence that when we don’t forgive it is like creating toxins in our mind that affect our body, Dr. Jampolsky says. According to an article in the January 2005 issue of “Harvard Women’s Health Watch,” forgiving can improve your mental and physical wellbeing. They give five reasons to forgive based on scientific research, which include reduced stress, better heart health, stronger relationships, reduced chronic pain, and greater happiness.
Howe adds, “You always have the option to be gracious in the face of someone’s bad behavior. Even if it is deliberate, it is their own lack of fear or awareness that is driving them.” Forgiving is being willing to let go of being a victim, Howe says. Choosing to hold on to grievances and unforgiving thoughts is choosing to suffer. She says to find no value in self-pity.
Is there any room to feel anger?
When you are, for example, diagnosed with breast cancer or Parkinson’s disease, are you not supposed to get mad? Absolutely not, Dr. Jampolsky says. Feeling anger is an important stage that everybody must go through.
The important thing is when people decide how long they want to hold onto it. “Don’t get attached to it, and don’t hurt other people with your anger. Recognize your anger, take responsibility for it, and don’t let it linger for too long. If peace of mind is your goal, you will see less value in anger and see more value in choosing peace and happiness rather than anger and misery.”
The Impact of Attitudinal Healing:
Dr. Jampolsky says the direction of the thoughts we think will constitute our will to live or die, literally. “The truths of the mind defy the usual standards of science.”
To accomplish an attitudinal shift in life, you must really commit yourself, Dr. Jampolsky says. “It is a matter of priority. You must wake up in the morning and remind yourself you want peace of mind more than anything else and that the only way of doing this is being kind and gentle no matter what happens to you.” Dr. Jampolsky carries little 3×5 cards that he can use as reminders of his goal. “It is a constant work,” he says.
Many people are walking around today with peace thanks to the work of Dr. Jampolsky, his wife and his colleagues such as Howe. His wife, Diane V. Cirincione, Ph.D., joined him in 1981 and they have worked side by side giving lectures and workshops in over 50 countries and have co-authored several books.
Dr. Jampolsky has books in over 30 languages, with “Love is Letting go of Fear” as his best seller. As well, 130 independent centers have been established to help people deal better with life’s challenges. The Center, where all direct services are free, sees children and adults with illness, but there are also person-to-person groups for people with no illness who simply want to incorporate Attitudinal Healing Principles in their lives. They have even funded a group called the Power to Heal, for high school children who are stuck in anger and violence, among others.