Q & A with Bernie – December 2, 2013

Question for Bernie:

Thanks so much for your wonderful book, Love, Medicine and Miracles, which I have read a good many times. My habit while reading is to underline important passages. Then, the very important ones get highlighted with a yellow marker for emphasis. In the case of your book, there’s a lot of yellow highlighting and miles of underlining.

To me, the most important sentence in your book is on page 181, “The truth is: love heals.” On the previous page you write, “I also feel that all healing is related to the ability to give and accept unconditional love.” I’m at home today because I have a bad chest infection. This gave me the good fortune to find you on YouTube in conversation with English nurse Adam Shaw. I would like to quote some wonderful words you said, “I can pick up a scalpel and kill or cure you, and I can kill or cure you with words – and I mean that literally. I’ve watched people die when words have taken hope away, and I’ve watched people survive when I’ve given them hope through my words.” I love it so much when you say, “We are all wounded.” It gives me a sense of being human—of being connected.

I turned sixty in early November. I’ve had severe panic attacks since I was seventeen. I was in a motor bike accident at 16, and had pneumonia and pleurisy at 15.  I don’t think I was in a good position after that for the steep mountain climb into adulthood.

Within a month of starting my study of civil engineering at University College, Cork in 1971, I had a complete nervous breakdown.  My childhood history includes becoming totally claustrophobic after having polio during the 1955 epidemic in Cork. Another trauma suffered in my childhood was being thrown into a cupboard by a teacher.  Then, at 18, I developed total separation anxiety regarding my mother and couldn’t cope when she was out of my sight.

But the good news is that in spite of these challenges, I got my degree and things kind of worked out, although I still can’t travel on trains, boats, and planes or on buses. I’ve been blessed with two wonderful daughters and am “happily married” – whatever that means.  As a couple, we get on well sometimes, badly at other times, and great sometimes. I love music with a passion, and I play the guitar and write songs. Economically I’m fine, thankfully.

To me your greatness stems from your ability to transform the power of your authority as a surgeon into the tenderness of love as a human being. Authority figures can be so daunting. They often have the power over our life and death, and very early on we realize that.

You are so right to say that what you have been preaching for many years is science. It is backed up by that great engine of life itself, natural selection. Nurture in the form of love is a given for all mammals, birds, and many reptiles. Without mother-love, all mammals, with the general exception of humans, are dead. (I know you know this, but I’m just writing it down anyway).

The problem for humans is that we can survive in an environment devoid of love, though we cannot thrive there. I know that my ills in life stemmed from a lack of love. It was no one’s fault; it was the environment in which I lived. My mother was overwhelmed by the difficulties she encountered in life. But now I realize that she was being poisoned by a culture that was toxic (Catholic). It made her associate sex with shame.

If only she had heard the words of Voltaire on that matter; “It is one of the superstitions of the human mind to have imagined that virginity could be a virtue.” The authority of the church in Ireland was a barrier to the development of self-esteem for its unfortunate adherents. But that, I think, is the way with many institutions – loveless and joyless habitats where all that is good withers.

I believe my agoraphobia and panic attacks developed because I felt that I lacked the permission to become myself. Laurens Van Der Post summarizes the dilemma like this: “Unreality starts in an incomplete awareness of ourselves, it starts in the elevation of a part of ourselves at the expense of the whole. Then out of this dark gorge which we have allowed to open up between the two halves of ourselves, out of this division between the Europe and the Africa in us, unreality rises up to overwhelm us.” (Venture to the Interior [penguin] p212).

On page 203 of Love, Medicine and Miracles, you quote Carl Jung who said, “The thing that cures a neurosis must be as convincing as the neurosis…” I love that logic as it complies with the ideas of cause and effect and Newton’s law – to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

I am deeply grateful to you for the wisdom and love you impart. If it’s ok with you, I consider you my heart friend. Also in this very exclusive – actually very inclusive circle are Rachel Remen, Carl Rogers, Matthieu Ricard, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jean Vanier, and others who lend meaning to my life. Jean Vanier says that our greatest need is “To be appreciated, to be loved, to be seen as somebody of value.” His wonderful interview with Krista Tippett entitled The Wisdom of Tenderness can be found at this link:  http://vimeo.com/462130

I wish you so much happiness and joy in your own life. I thank your mother, father, and of course your wonderful grandmother for the love you have brought into this world. Just one last quote from page 45 in Love, Medicine and Miracles, “Only empathy can build the connection needed for healing.”

Thanks for the empathy you display. Best wishes from my heart.

Bernie’s Answer:

I would add to the great Vanier quote, “To be appreciated, to be loved, to be seen as somebody of value, NOT JUST BY OTHERS, BUT BY YOURSELF.”

Keep re-reading books that you feel are meaningful to your life. If they get better the more you re-read them, it is a sign that you are continuing to grow.

Bless you,


Question for Bernie:

Okay, I will keep it simple and stick to the important points.  I have a recurring dream. I dream that I have bought a house, but the previous occupants won’t leave. They are smoking and eating while I am telling them to leave because I am now the owner. (I don’t like smoking, by the way).

My words seem to be falling on deaf ears, but eventually, after I get angry, they leave. In the house there are three stories (I do actually live in a large, three story Victorian house).  In my dream, there is another extra floor with three sets of rooms which need updating, but I feel this floor is haunted.

Haunted places don’t usually bother me, as I see ghosts. Haunted places only perturb me when I sense an evil presence. I am a bit scared, which is unlike me, but decide to face whatever is haunting the place anyway.

The extra rooms need updating, so I carpet them with a green carpet (green is actually my favorite color). I sense the presence of my deceased aunt who was very kind to me.

That is the basic dream. It is the extra floor and the haunted feeling there that bothers me.

Thanks, and I hope I haven’t taken up too much of your time.

Bernie’s Answer:

In your dream, you are the house.  Just as you must do with a house, you need to take care of yourself, repairing “the house” and protecting it from damage.

Through this recurring dream you are telling yourself that you needn’t be afraid of making changes in yourself.  The message coming through in the part of the dream about the extra rooms needing to be “updated” reflects your sense that you need to bring parts of your life into alignment with how life is now.  It can mean changes as simple as your outer appearance, or it can mean deeper changes, like learning to meditate or visualizing attaining the goals you set for yourself.

Change is something almost everyone resists because of our natural “fear of the unknown.”  So think about what you find scary when you think of making changes to anything in your life. Whatever it is that you think you need to change in your life—however big or small—visualize yourself living with those changes without having any fear.  If there are things about yourself that you do not like, visualize yourself free of them, and being happy, loving your life and yourself.

Colors can be significant in dreams.  The color green appearing in your recurring dream signifies being alive—living. Through your dream, your mind is telling you not to be afraid of change and to really live life fully, loving both your life and yourself.  Go ahead and make the changes that will “update” your life.