"The impossible can always be broken down into possibilities"
How I did it: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the occurrence of chronic bronchitis or emphysema, a pair of commonly co-existing diseases of the lungs in which the airways become narrowed. The general prognosis isn't very bright: the lung damage is usually poorly reversible and tends to get progressively worse over time. It is most commonly related to tobacco smoking which triggers an inflammatory response in the lung, but there are also people who have never smoked and yet get COPD, including me - I was diagnosed with COPD when I was an athletic, non-smoking teenager following a generally healthy lifestyle. Worldwide COPD was ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in 1990 and it is currently seen as an incurable chronic disease by Western medicine.
The idea of wanting to try out to what extent I could do the "impossible" and reverse my COPD popped into my head in 2007 after reading a book by the Finnish medical doctor Aki Loikkanen who largely opened my eyes to see how Western medicine currently works and to what extent it and medical research is affected by drug companies and money. During that time my COPD was progressing at an alarming rate and and my FEV1/FVC ratio was dropping below 40%, putting me into the "severe COPD" category and made doctors talk about the possibility of needing a lung transplantation in the future. Perhaps it is only a big life-threatening crisis that is able to stop us in tracks and get us out of the fast pace of everyday life and make us choose the pursuit of finding out how far we are able to go.
The irony is, perhaps, that now that I've succeeded and done what I set as a serious goal five years ago as a 19-year-old and that despite being in the process of writing a "How I did it" entry, I cannot tell in detail how I did it. For many years I thought the process would be straightforward enough to be put into simple steps other people could follow and maybe get healthy like I did or at least get into better shape, but that was perhaps the reason why healing my COPD took me so long. If I learnt something during these years, it is this: Healing a severe illness that should be impossible to cure is a very personal journey and it probably cannot be duplicated. I cannot even say what the steps that ended up helping me the most in my healing path were, and I certainly do not know how COPD is healed in other people. But I can at least share one possibility of how the journey can start and progress.
Although I do not believe that the main cause of illness would be psychological, I've come to think that the main cause of healing incurable illnesses lies in the mind and beyond because the right steps to take tend to rise from a certain kind of frame of mind. Although I don't know anyone else who would have healed their COPD, I know several people who have cured other illnesses that are seen as incurable by Western medicine (MS, Chron's disease, hopeless cases of cancer, even AIDS). Although all of these people feel strongly that certain steps they took in taking care of their bodies were critically important (such as certain diet approaches, use of certain medicinal mushrooms, water fasting, etc.) and tend to talk about these diets more than anything when sharing with others how they did what they did, and I certainly believe that curing physical illnesses requires taking actual physical steps such as changing your diet, what in reality all these people have in common is not a certain diet but a certain frame of mind: the belief in endless human potential, the unwavering knowing that they can find a way to heal themselves if they just keep looking and never give up. Even after several failed attempts, they were hopeful, trusting, and had no doubts that health was possible for them if they just kept believing in themselves and trying out different things. They all take full responsibility for their health and are not waiting for an outer source (science, medical research, doctor, acupuncturist, nutritionist, you name it) to save them. They feel the solution to their health problems lies within themselves and not in the outside. Some of them feel that every way of healing has its place, including Western medicine, but the majority see next to no benefit in it at all after trying it for years or decades and yet not finding anything truly helpful in that kind of an approach to illness.
Personally I feel that there are no right and wrong answers to anything in life and something called "an objective fact" doesn't really even exist; what is a wrong choice for one could very well be the right choice for someone else. Everyone has the right and freedom to choose how to live, what to do with their bodies, and in which way to approach illness. No one way is better or worse than another and everyone has to find their own truth. Another thing I currently feel strongly is that you can't really give shortcuts to other people no matter how much you'd want to do so; there's a limit to how much it's possible to help others. My personal journey was transforming from a hardcore skeptic who was fascinated by hard science, medical research and about to go to medical school into the person I'm today which is very far from where I started. It took me years to get to this point where I'm now and yet I know that I needed those years and that no one could have made them shorter or easier for me; I needed every one of those days to take one step at a time, go through the usual medical care and have it fail on me, study medicine on my own, switch to studying health instead of studying illness, experiment with my diet, learn about primal and paleolithic nutrition, and look with an open mind into everything between energy medicine and Ayurveda. Even if I had been exposed to the information of things that ended up helping me most years ago, I'd have rejected them because they didn't fit into my old beliefs. That is actually what has probably been the most difficult aspect in healing COPD: unlearning the things the majority of people around me strictly believe in (such as that COPD is incurable) and opening my mind up to things I used to believe to be complete nonsense. Along the way it has been helpful to remember how the human mind works: it tends to largely reject and ignore information that is against one's beliefs and only let through information that agrees with them, so it often takes a conscious decision to stay open and look into something new without rejecting it before giving it a chance.
I've come to think of a human being as multidimensional being who has a physical, mental and spiritual (which is different than religious - by "spiritual" I mean our consciousness, something beyond the mind, the level above thought) aspect to it. I think that no matter what the cause of illness - even if it was 100% physical - or even if one is perfectly healthy, it is probably wise to work on all these three dimensions and not just on one or two. Western medicine is perhaps one of the most extreme examples of one-sided treatment; even if there was only one aspect to a human being and it was physical, the way Western medicine tends to approach illness would still be extremely limited from my point of view as it tends to do nothing about the real cause of illness and rarely even asks what it is. There even is a drug being developed that is targeted to lowering CRP levels (that indicate inflammation in the body), as if the real problem would be the elevated CRP number and not the inflammation it tells about. When the inflammation itself is targeted, it is usually treated with antibiotics or drugs that lower the immune system responses such as cortisone. No one seems to ask whether the bacteria, for example, is the real problem or whether the actual problem is the fact that the immune system is too weak to handle it.
In the physical realm there a lot of fascinating things one can study and get into: Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, the raw and super food movement (which I don't necessarily always agree with but it tends to attract people who are interested in curing "incurable" health problems and all of the people who have cured AIDS that I know are raw foodists, so it's an interesting area to look into, and a great place to get support from people for whom it's obvious that most "incurable" illnesses are in reality curable), and perhaps especially the paleolithic view on nutrition and lifestyle in general, which is the evolutionary biology aspect to health and asks why the modern human is so sick and the paleolithic humans, even those who lived a very long life and managed to get to an old age without dying in accidents (which largely explain, in addition to higher infant mortality, why the expected life expectancy was somewhat lower then than it is now - it becomes 40 if someone dies as a baby and the other dies from old age at 80), never got the illnesses such as cancer and autoimmune illnesses that plague the modern human. 99% of the people in the world today die of illnesses than have only existed for 1% of the time that humans have existed, and although life expectancy has increased mostly due to the lowering of infant mortality and better hygiene, I can't help but to ask whether we're really living longer or just taking a longer time to die, often suffering from bad health years or even decades before death finally frees us. What we might most desperately need is perhaps not something new, expensive and miraculous the modern science could come up with, but perhaps something old, simple, most of the time free of cost and available to everyone. What is generally seen as a healthy diet - heavy on the whole grains and such - could potentially be one of the leading causes of illness.
The mental and psychological side is at least as interesting as the physical because even if we didn't take the possibility that our thoughts could affect our bodies into account, it's still our thoughts that our actions in the physical world usually arise from. Someone who believes their illness is incurable and hopeless takes very different kind of actions than someone who believes their illness is curable or at least for the most part reversible. So it seems that even if it was a certain diet, for example, that ends up being all that is needed to heal the illness, the cause for taking action still lies in the mind. I've come to believe in the possibility that our thoughts and beliefs could affect even more than that on some much deeper level, but even if this wasn't the case, I think that at first it's still perhaps more important to work on one's beliefs and way of thinking than it is to find out which physical actions to take.
For example, it is very difficult to do something you firmly believe to be impossible for you since we tend to both consciously and subconsciously try to make our beliefs come true; it's difficult to take action that goes against one's beliefs and to work on something one doesn't believe to be possible. A firm belief that you can get healthy isn't perhaps necessary at first though; a wonder, a simple "what if", is enough to start with because it works as an opening and immediately gets the person to a very different level of thinking where they're not the helpless victim anymore but someone with power and someone who could have the ability to solve the problem. "What if my illness is curable despite what my doctor thinks?" Everyone that I know personally who have cured "incurable" illnesses have started with that simple thought, wanting to find out whether what is possible for them and their body could be something different to what most other people believe in.
The spiritual aspect is difficult to put into words; I started out as a hardcore atheist and it is actually the psychological suffering losing my health caused that worked as an opening to something beyond the mind. I can't really say that I would believe in anything at the moment, nor do I think that one would need to believe in anything in particular to get healthy; it is through growing as a human being and the rising in my level of consciousness that I've been able to experience certain things directly without needing to believe in them, so I largely feel like having spiritual knowledge instead of spiritual beliefs. I know I have my limits as a person, as a human, as this "Sitruunapuu", and there are a lot of things that this small egoic self with a name and a life history cannot do, but I also know that there's a nonpersonal aspect to me much greater than that, that is, unlike the small personal me, limitless and has endless potential. For it healing an illness that the world sees as hopeless and incurable isn't much of a task at all.
I feel that beliefs are mental structures, thought patterns going on in the mind, and thus within the mind even if they were spiritual in nature, and part of the psychological side rather than the spiritual; experiencing your true self, the consciousness in which everything you experience happens, and knowing through direct experience the nature of your true infinite being is what I personally feel spirituality is about. Having an open mind is perhaps necessary, though; if one is absolutely one hundred percent sure and convinced that absolutely nothing of spiritual kind can exist and that it is absolutely impossible that one could have something else than a body and a mind, it is probably difficult to experience anything that could change one's views. I certainly never experienced anything spiritual when I was a skeptical atheist and convinced that there wasn't more to this life than my physical existence (unless someone would prove me otherwise, but it simply doesn't work that way), so even though certain beliefs aren't necessary, an open mind probably is.
Be present in the moment. Feel your body and be fully present in it; when I was feeling really unwell, I noticed I often tried to escape the body and wasn't present in it anymore. If there is pain or other discomfort in the body, surrender to it, welcome it, don't fight it; accept it fully. You don't have to accept the story the mind has created about the illness which comes with prognosis and mental images of how the future is going to be like, or how long the mind thinks it will have to take for you to get better because you've been ill for so long, or the history of the illness. Just accept the present moment without labelling or calling the feeling in the body anything. For me, the feelings I usually surrendered and offered no inner resistance to were the feelings of drowning, suffocating and not having enough oxygen; I only accepted the fact that my body was feeling that way at that particular moment but not the story of the illness and not how my doctors thought it would progress. I stopped calling the symptoms "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease", then stopped mentally naming them altogether but just let them be. For me personally this aspect was certainly the most difficult one, much harder than the mental (beliefs and such) and physical (diet, lifestyle changes, etc.) and reading Eckhart Tolle and David R. Hawkins was probably what was most helpful, so I would warmly recommend looking into these authors.
Often during the first meetings of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) a recovered alcoholic tells others that are in the beginning of recovery that being an addict was the best thing ever happened to them and that they wouldn't exchange the experience for anything. This is usually incomprehensible for the alcoholics still in the beginning of their recovery and for someone to say such a thing could even cause rage - how could someone say that the most painful experience of their life could be something to be grateful for? That feels absurd, and yet, later during and after their recovery, those who stay sober for the rest of their lives, usually come to understand through their personal experience what the recovered alcoholic meant.
I feel largely the same way about losing my health - I certainly would never have chosen to get sick if I had had a choice, but now on the other side I am grateful for the experience and humbled by the wisdom of Life, the universe, divinity, God - any name works well since I don't believe it has a name. The most unprofitable life would be a life without problems and suffering - up to a point, the deepening in a human being and the rising of consciousness can only happen through suffering. You can learn knowledge from others, but growth and wisdom can only be experienced directly and no one else can teach it to you; their words can only work as pointers. Looking back, without losing my health, I would have wasted my life doing something that wouldn't have been of true importance. I wouldn't know what to prioritise. I wouldn't have as much unconditional love, forgiveness and compassion towards others. The intelligence and purpose behind something as painful as a severe illness can be close to impossible to see when one is in the middle of it, but it is almost certain, especially if the illness is seen as incurable by the majority, that it is impossible to get through it and heal it without experiencing tremendous growth as a human being. Life is full of possibility and opportunity on the other side as you're a changed being now aware of your limitless potential.
One of the quotes that most resonated with me during my journey was this from Robert Heinlein:
Always listen to experts. They’ll tell you what can’t be done and why. Then do it.
Lessons & tips:
Love yourself and your body.
If possible, don't obsess about the problem - the illness - but get excited and concentrate on the goal - perfect health - instead.
Fighting against anything and making something into an enemy rarely works; if possible, don't be "anti illness", but be "pro health" instead. Don't try to decrease illness, but increase health instead. Be a friend to your body and know that it is trying its best. Help it to heal.
Know that no one else can know and find out what is possible for you and your body but you. You're an incredible, infinite, limitless being with endless potential ready to be discovered and used. As in Winnie-the-Pooh: You're braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. :)
Resources: Aki Loikkanen, Vasant Lad, David Wolfe, Daniel Vitalis, Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Olli Posti, Jaakko Halmetoja, Clinton Ober, Caroline Myss, Anthony de Mello, Eckhart Tolle, David R. Hawkins
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