Special Announcement: For those of you at AWP, come stop by the Burlesque Press table at the book fair: Table Z18…It’s right by the bar, and we’re going to be giving away snacks!
In 2008, I went to visit my friends Nikki and Nate in Vermont, which was where they were living at he time. They had recently gotten married in a hot air balloon, and I remember sitting in Nikki’s kitchen, asking her to recount the story of how she first met Nate.
“Well,” she said, “I had decided I wanted someone to be with. So I wrote down all the things I was looking for in a partner. Then I sat in the woods with a candle, and I burned the list, and as the smoke rose, I asked the universe to send me a man.”
“Wow,” I said. “I wish that would work for me.”
“It can,” Nikki said cheerfully.
“No it can’t. It worked for you because you believed it would work. And even though I want to believe it would work for me, I don’t, so it won’t work.”
Four years later, I moved to Cape Cod with the intention of putting dating on the back burner and focusing on writing. And yet, I often ended up writing in this very blog about my desire to find someone to share my life with. One of the people who was reading my blog was Paul, the man who eventually went from being my penpal to my boyfriend. Was writing the blogs my version of sitting in the woods with a ceremonial fire, asking the universe to send me a man?
The other day a guy at the fruit market gave Nikki a new age book by Louise Hay called You Can Heal Your Body. Louise Hay believes that problems in your body are due to problems in your thought patterns, such as fear or lack of self-love. She believes you can heal any illness or disease by replacing your negative beliefs with positive ones.
Nikki consulted the handy chart in the middle of the book and told me that, according to Louise, my scoliosis was caused by not trusting life and no courage of convictions, and that there is a daily affirmation I can say to heal myself. Later I looked through the list. Blackheads are caused by feeling unloved. Cellulite is caused by “holding on to the lumps and bumps of the past.” We both agreed that her approach seemed a bit simplistic.
But then Nikki recommended that I read Louise’s life story. I did, and it was quite interesting. She had an extremely traumatic childhood of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. She went through life feeling unloved and undeserving of love.
Later, when she developed uterine cancer, she knew it was related to the sexual abuse of her childhood, and she knew that in order to heal herself she needed to forgive her parents and truly love herself. She saw a therapist to work through her resentment issues and began to look at herself in the mirror and say with increasing conviction, “Louise, I love you.”
These changes of belief, combined with a vegetable-only diet and a bunch of colon cleanses, are what – she says – cured her of cancer. She had no operations, no chemotherapy, and yet, six months later, the cancer was gone.
After I read Louise’s story, Nikki and I went for a walk, and she asked me what I thought. I wasn’t sure. I can see that having a positive outlook and self-love can help one to heal. But can a person cure herself of cancer just by saying a bunch of affirmations in the mirror? Ehh….
“Maybe you can if you truly believe the affirmations. Maybe if you truly believe that by believing those affirmations you’ll be healed, you will be,” Nikki said.
“Maybe,” I said. “Maybe people who truly believe in the power of Jesus can be made better by Christian faith healers. And people who truly believe in alternative medicine can be healed by weird stuff they buy at the co-op. Maybe that’s what heals you – the belief that you will be healed.”
Nikki and I talked about the Madeline L’Engle book, A Wind in the Door, in which Charles Wallace is terminally sick, so his sister goes inside one of his cells – inside one of his mitochondria, actually – and basically convinces it to stop acting so crazy.
“It’s a cool idea,” I said, “that you could somehow communicate with your cells. I mean, my cells go about their business, keeping me alive all day long, and I don’t even have to tell them what to do. And it’s a cool idea to think that if I’m sick, I could somehow have a conversation with my cells and be like, ‘hey guys, what’s up?”
“Of course, it would take awhile,” Nikki said. “They probably don’t speak our language.”
“Yeah.” I sighed. “Of course, it probably wouldn’t work for me anyway. I want to believe that I could do it, but I just don’t believe that I could truly communicate with my own cells, and I’m sure the only way that I’d ever be able to communicate with them is if I truly believed that I could.”
Nikki was confused by this. “Why don’t you believe that you could?”
I shrugged. “I can believe that someone else might be able to communicate with their cells, or cure themselves of cancer, but I can’t believe that everyone can do it, and I can’t really believe that I could do it.”
“Well,” Nikki said, “the first thing you need to do is get rid of your belief that you can’t believe.”
“But what if I don’t believe that that I can get rid of my belief about not being able to believe?”
“What if,” I continued, grinning, “ I don’t believe that I can get rid of my belief about not being able to get rid of my belief about not being able to believe that I can believe?”
“Oh dear,” Nikki said.
Beliefs are really hard to get rid of, anyway. Louise Hay makes it sound so easy: just dump your bad beliefs, replace them with good ones, and you’ll be healed! But beliefs are so deep-rooted that even if we want to get rid of them, a lot of times we can’t seem to dig deep enough.
And isn’t it our beliefs that make us who we are? Maybe there’s a part of us holding tight to our beliefs because without them we wouldn’t be ourselves anymore.
But when I got home I had an idea. Maybe the trick isn’t to uproot our old beliefs and replace them with brand new ones. After all, the body tends to reject foreign objects, and certainly I tend to reject the foreign, new-agey ideas of Louise Hay. Instead, we take the beliefs we already have and find a way to bend them a little bit. Soften them into a putty and sculpt them into a belief that works for us instead of against us.
After all, I didn’t believe that I could go out into the woods and send up smoke signals to the universe, asking for a man. But I do believe that often times the squeaky wheel gets the oil. And I was making quite a loud squeak when I professed my desire for a boyfriend to the entire Interneting world.
And so now I will make another squeak: I want to be a professional writer. I believe that somehow I will get a novel published and eventually have a job where I get paid for writing creatively. If you truly believe it, you can make it happen.
(I’m not actually sure if I believe that.)