A few weeks ago, a very famous Hollywood actor asked if he could meet with me. That's not something that happens every day, I assure you, so I was thrilled, but also, I confess, a little nervous. He'd read my book about spirituality and healing and it had affected him so deeply, he said, that he wanted to take me to lunch and talk.
I quickly learned that this was not a social visit.
Turns out that, after decades of accomplishment and acclaim, the worst had happened: a stage 4 cancer diagnosis had sent him crashing to earth. The inability of conventional treatments to find a cure—in fact, they were ravaging his body, not making things better—caused him to seek solutions elsewhere. At which point, a friend had handed him a copy of A Little Book about Believing: The Transformative Healing Power of Faith, Love, and Surrender, and suddenly there it was: a glimmer of hope where there'd been none before.
The book is about faith healing. Four years ago, I had the experience of a lifetime. Along with a group of cancer and M.S. patients, I traveled to a remote back-roads town in Brazil called Abadiânia, and a prayer retreat run by renowned spiritual healer John of God. For twelve days we prayed together, and submitted to a remarkable spiritual process that, for me, opened a door to an entirely new way of looking at disease. We learned that:
1) The body is spirit's transport vehicle. To keep it working efficiently, it needs to be treated with respect: fed nutritious food, exercised, hydrated, aerated, and kept clean and uncongested inside and out. Often, when we get sick, it's because we have neglected the upkeep of our vehicle with a toxic lifestyle, generating a state of disharmony that can, over many years, tear down the body.
2) Bringing the body back into a state of wellness frequently requires us to change the habits of a lifetime and be kinder to ourselves. More respectful, more loving, more harmonious. And:
3) Before we can begin restoring health and balance at a deep level to our body we must at least believe that wellness is possible. This requires a measure of faith.
Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson once said, "Faith and prayer are the vitamins of the soul." They're also, I would suggest, vitamins for the physical body. Faith is an intuitive knowing, an inner strength born of sureness that we are splinters of the Divine and therefore connected to something greater. Faith applied to wellness means plugging into the invisible, eternal current of God's love, rather than running around madly at the first sign of illness, fearing the worst, falling apart, agreeing in a panic to have our bodies cut open, to swallow handfuls of harmful medication, or bathing ourselves in toxic radiation. Faith means surrendering to a larger plan, even though we may not know how that plan will work out for us, and even if death awaits us. Whatever the case, faith is about releasing control of the vessel and for once allowing a firmer hand to take the tiller.
During our time in Abadiânia, people got to relax, sometimes for the first time in years. We ate well, talked, laughed a lot, took long walks, breathed fresh air, prayed and meditated daily. In this state of relaxation and trust, we removed many of the barriers to wellness, realigning our bodies and minds with spirit, and letting love in. For a short while in that sacred place, faith replaced fear and all thoughts of disease.
Suddenly, people felt their symptoms subsiding, oftentimes miraculously. That happens a lot.
In his classic book The Relaxation Response, Dr. Herbert Benson revealed that 60 percent of doctor visits, and possibly as high as 90 percent, are stress-related. In Brazil, the stress that depletes us is turned off. By opening up to love and peace instead, people begin to raise their consciousness, and with it the physical vibration of their body. The effect on their sense of wellbeing is uncanny and overwhelming.