illness

     INTRODUCTION


What follows is a single case study/self-report, detailing how A Course In Miracles was used as the centerpiece of the author’s own recovery from a seven-year-long debilitating illness. If you’re interested in the Course’s radical stance on the body, the following article by D. Patrick Miller is a must-read. It’s arguably the most credible account ever published of the Course’s potential to treat a bona fide physical illness.


To be clear: this isn’t new-age snake oil; nor was Mr. Miller’s recovery the result of some inexplicable “miracle”––at least, not in the usual sense. Rather, his recovery was the product of years of hard work, utilizing a sophisticated discipline known as A Course In Miracles.


On a personal note, I’ve known Patrick for several years. As a writer, he’s unusually detailed and impeccably honest. For this reason, I can’t think of anyone more suited to writing about the impact of A Course In Miracles upon an actual physical illness. More than any other aspect of the Course, this is an area that’s been the subject of exaggerated claims, at the one extreme and unreasonable criticism, at the other. Patrick’s work is neither. He doesn’t inflate the Course or criticize it. He merely reports bare facts. And the facts, rest assured, are astonishing. Webmaster

A COURSE IN MIRACLES

& CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME



D. Patrick Miller  (FULL BIO)


I T  B E G A N in the summer of 1985, a few months before I would turn 32, with a late-night stomach ache involving extreme bloating and gas pains. No stranger to episodic intestinal trouble, I presumed the sickness would be gone in the morning, and promised myself to eat a little more carefully in the future. But I awoke the next day exhausted and still bloated, even though my stomach was now empty — a peculiar combination of symptoms that was unfamiliar to me.


For a couple of days, I assumed I had a stomach virus. After weeks of declining energy and evers, I decided I had the flu. Within months, my memory and thinking processes had turned foggy and whatever I ate seemed to explode in my stomach. Except for a bout of mononucleosis when I was twenty, I had never been ill for so long and this sickness was more violent and progressive. I was beginning to steadily lose weight and I had very little energy. I was worried enough to consider the possibility that something out of the ordinary was happening.


The first six months of my illness were a dizzying dive into exhaustion, muscle pains, migraine headaches, indigestion, mental confusion, and emotional terror. I had suspended work and although I would return to a light schedule afterward, my freelance business had been dealt a fatal blow. A longstanding relationship with a woman succumbed to the stress of the illness and my male roommate was made so uncomfortable by my condition that our friendship suffered as well.


I began to recede into a cocoon of suffering, able on many days to do nothing more than make a trip to the grocery store. On other days I would sleep for up to sixteen hours. I was increasingly overtaken by a profound sadness and resentment, which I assumed were the effects of my disease. I desperately wanted my normal life back, but it seemed to be slipping farther and farther away.


When several tests for giardia came back negative, I was stunned enough to begin considering that the rapidly deteriorating condition of my body might have something to do with my state of mind.


I eventually found a physician who prescribed a sedative called Xanax. To my surprise, I experienced improvement. My desperate hold on something inside myself had been chemically relaxed, and I recognized for the first time exactly what anxiety was by experiencing its relative absence. Realizing that I had long failed to recognize my own anxiety opened up the second phase of my experience with CFS, as I moved from a focus on the physical experience to a focus on the psychological and spiritual.




A Course In Miracles


I thus began experimenting with a variety of treatments and teachings. However, of all the teachings that influenced my illness, none affected me so strongly as the psychospiritual discipline known as A Course in Miracles (ACIM). I encountered it one week after my thirty-second birthday, while I was on a steep slide into suffering and confusion. Thus I was primed for the first section of its Workbook’s 365 meditation lessons, which aims to break up one’s habitual way of looking at the world. The Course advises the student to look upon any difficulty in life with this focus:


“I do not know what anything, including this, means. And so I do not know how to respond to it. And I will not use my own past learning as the light to guide me now.” (ACIM Text, Chapter 14, Section XI)


Practicing the surrender of prejudices based on one’s past egocentric learning is a central emphasis of the Course Workbook, which in conjunction with its massive Text eventually leads students toward a different kind of guiding light, the intuitive and altruistic wisdom of their own “internal teacher.”


Initially skeptical, I was nonetheless pulled into intensive study by its electrifying relevance to my situation. “To be fatigued is to be dis-spirited,”suggests ACIM, “but to be inspired is to be in the spirit. To be egocentric is to be dis-spirited, but to be Self-centered in the right sense is to be inspired or in spirit. The truly inspired are enlightened and cannot abide in darkness.”(ACIMText, Chapter 4 Introduction).


Although I would encounter other teachings throughout my illness, the Course rapidly became the centerpiece of my recovery. It vastly accelerated the recognition and release of the deep anger that I came to see as the primary stressor of my immune system. It also helped me to define my own sense of spirituality and bring it into the foreground of my life.


Prior to my illness, my curiosity about spiritual experience was something I shared with few people and could not connect with my relationships, work, or sense of purpose in the world. The Course helped me to understand that I had become ill in large part because my mind and body were longing to regain the spiritual energy I had known as a child, but lost touch with during my adolescence and young adulthood.


Through the slow, uncertain evolution of my recovery that began in 1986 — encompassing many long plateaus, frustrating relapses, and heartening bursts of improvement — A Course in Miracles would serve as a steady beacon of inner guidance. It helped me make sense of all the physical, medical, and psychological work that still lay ahead.


What I was not aware of was what I now recognize as “deep stress”: the fundamental and substantial tension of maintaining and defending the personality I had built for myself by my early thirties. This personality carried a great deal of unexplored, unexpressed resentment and sadness that had been invisibly sapping my vitality for years. Those suppressed emotions showed through in my personality chiefly as a sarcastic fatalism about life. Inwardly, I was often beset by circular and repetitive worries, although my calm demeanor mostly concealed this stress from other people.


In spiritual terms, before my illness, I was living only the life of the ego, intensely persecuted by my own self-doubt and regarding life as a high-risk game in which I felt I was constantly falling behind. My personality was beginning to crack under the strain of its own contradictions, but at the time I could not imagine another, more peaceful way to live. (I now suspect that this sort of deep stress underlies many kinds of illness, particularly those involving autoimmune failure.)


A frequent criticism of A Course In Miracles is that it tends to blame the victims for their own suffering. I went through such a negative process myself a number of times; for instance, I would realize that my perpetually bubbling stomach was “angry” with suppressed hostilities, and then I would chide myself for being an angry, suppressed person. It took me awhile to realize that the search for meaning and the attachment of blame are not the same process, even though it is a common human habit to react to unpleasant realizations with self-blame.


Over time, I learned to stop blaming myself for being an angry and suppressed person, which allowed me to explore exactly what my long-buried angers were about. As they’ve surfaced, I’ve been able to question the justification for every form and variety of anger I’ve recognized in myself. Thus, when my stomach gets “riled up” nowadays, I’m better able to listen to its complaints without blaming myself or anyone else for my suffering. Likewise, I’m better able to listen to other people’s angry or upset feelings without blaming them for any problems or difficulties between us.


How Well Did I Get?


My emotional health improved because I have unlearned, chiefly through my work with the Course, habits of blaming, resentment, and self-persecution. Now I have few doubts about myself not because I’ve replaced them with “self-esteem,” but because I have learned to place my faith and confidence in my own internal teacher. I call it a sense of silent, intuitive guidance that I feel within me, but whose source is certainly far greater and wiser than my own personality.


I consider myself fully recovered from the CFS siege. Since 1997 the year I took on the challenges of becoming an independent publisher I’ve had several stress-related episodes of exhaustion. These episodes of compromised immunity did not involve the full CFS complex, but rather a narrower range of symptoms one would normally associate with exhaustion or influenza.

   

There are actually ways in which I’m more than 100 percent recovered meaning that I’m physically and emotionally healthier overall than before the illness struck. My vitality is stronger because I have a better idea of what my body requires to be healthy, without  harmful and limiting ideas getting in the way.


A Course In Miracles And The Meaning Of Illness


I’m not saying that every illness must be viewed as a spiritual crisis in order to get better. I am reporting that my own recovery did not begin until––through the prudent application of A Course In Miracles––I surrendered my erstwhile pride, defensiveness, and self-image. Then I had to accept that my life would be redirected from the inside out in ways unpredictable and possibly unacceptable to my ego up to that point.


When I first tried to write this article, I experienced a two-week relapse severe enough to cause me to postpone the project. I experienced another, lesser relapse when I began again three months later, but this time I knew I would be able to complete the work. Internally, the second relapse felt like the shedding of an old skin, the final shaking-off of my identity as a CFS sufferer.


Another way of putting it is that I was experiencing some deep reluctance to be fully well, despite my longstanding conscious desire to become so. I’ve learned that the ego is often divided against itself and can be more attached to the presumed nobility of suffering — and the familiarity of an old self — than to the vitality of health. Still another lesson was that I grew up with a number of unhealthy habits and had grown accustomed to a significant degree of physical and psychological suffering even before my immune system collapsed. Unlearning unhealthiness is a kind of surrender I must still face from time to time.


But once one is firmly on a spiritual path the ego becomes subject to many deaths — that is, the surrendering of habitual fears, defenses, and beliefs — and always resists the next breakthrough of some aspect of the larger self. After the breakthrough — when one has become less selfish, more humble, less afraid, more open, and otherwise more wise — it’s clear that there was nothing to fear after all.


As someone who has had to learn to compassionately decode my physical symptoms, I now regard most of my brief illnesses as times of such ego death. After a while, this kind of dying comes more easily. One of the great gifts of my illness has been a reduced discomfort with inner change. Most people, I believe, spend their lives evading experiences of ego surrender, with the result that they are largely cut off from their true inner spirit, as well as their full vitality.


A life starved of spiritual vitality is a life of struggle, confusion, and misery; I know because I spent my teens and twenties there. The onset of my illness allowed the eruption of my long-suppressed spiritual life and, even more importantly, my immersion into the teachings of A Course In Miracles.  I will always be grateful for that despite the exceptional pain and discomfort that came with it.

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