In the middle of a healing arts career as an acupuncturist, massage therapist, and end-of-life care provider, Michael Harrington found his life radically shifted by an awakening to truth and subsequent chronic illness. With a blend of spacious insight, playful humor, and engaging prose, this book takes you on a journey through diverse elements of chronic physical and mental illness. Part memoir, spiritual inquiry, and exposé of mainstream Western medicine, From Illness to Stillness points to the root causes of many disorders, highlighting an alternative vision of wellness. Michael offers holistic approaches to the pharmaceutically dependent Western medical system, whose treatments for chronic degenerative conditions mask the underlying imbalance and introduce an array of toxic complications. Not only does the author draw from the insight gained from his own experience, but also that gleaned from numerous spiritual teachers, saints, healers, and medical and naturopathic doctors, interspersing their wisdom throughout the book.
Uncovering my essential nature when I was ill revealed a wondrous diamond. When all my spare time went toward this quest, I experienced grace as a constant stream exuding from within. What I called “illness” became an invitation to divinity itself. Sickness and dis-ease were seen as catalysts, divine karmas, in disguise.
Chronic illness, initially interpreted as a disabling force, felt like a fire storm. It demanded a deeper sincerity. As I began to include and acknowledge everything, witnessing the simplicity of what-is through eyes unclouded with right and wrong, this or that, a more complete recognition of my true nature emerged. From this illuminating, but entirely natural perspective, life could not be seen as a malicious force holding me down. Events and feelings I once judged as horrible, I now saw as part of a magnificent orchestration.
A chronic illness was certainly not anything I thought would be part of my journey. I was the health coach, the guy who climbed the Casaval Ridge of Mount Shasta, skied double black diamond runs, raced bicycles, and helped people restore and optimize their health. Besides “Health Coach with chronic undiagnosed illness now accepting new clients” would not look good on my brochure. I believed that vital health was in my control. But when a chronic illness set in, that sense of being a controller was seen as the true ailment. And when my treatments, strategies, and manipulations failed, I regurgitated them in myriad ways, until one day, checkmate. I stopped seeking for something other than what-is and rested as present awareness.
I knew that Western medicine could not help, as its strength lies in emergency medical intervention. Western (allopathic) medicine has an abysmal record when it comes to treating chronic illness. Chemical medicines (pharmaceuticals) like antidepressants have side effects such as “suicidal tendencies.” Coming off these medications, we deal with more repercussions than when we originally took the drug. These pharmaceuticals are in fact a “pseudo-savior” for people in a quick-fix culture unwilling to make necessary lifestyle changes and take responsibility for themselves. Therefore, I went for “alternative medicine” and nature cures. The program also included vigorous exercise to sweat out the illness.
Each human body has what the Chinese call a “congenital essence.” This constitutional makeup includes the inherent weaknesses and strengths of the body. From previous traumas and latent habits of mind gathered through the life journey, a unique illness form arises. While in the throes of my chronic illness, I came to the realization that the illness form was not me, that I was more than the illness, that I was my essential nature with this illness form.
Maybe the chronic illness would stay a week, maybe months or years. What if this illness lasted the rest of my life? Could I face that truth and remain happy despite the fact that my body preferred to be horizontal as opposed to vertical?
Today seven out of ten Americans have a chronic illness, which is defined as an illness of long duration (lasting at least three months) with slow progression that takes away a significant measure of health. Over the last 30 years, there has been a major increase in fatiguing syndromes, from those that are neurological-based, like Alzheimer’s disease and ALS, to those that involve every major organ and system in the body. Chronic illness is misunderstood in our Western culture. Some people are chronically ill yet are able to work a full-time job, exercise sometimes, and appear to function normally. We make subtle and not-so-subtle judgments about those people who have no commonly accepted disease label or exterior sign of illness, yet many are dealing with a debilitating condition.
Myths about chronic illness include “Your disease is progressive and will only get worse,” “You need pharmaceutical drugs,” “You brought it on yourself,” “How can you be happy and be ill?” “Your illness is an excuse to avoid something in life,” and “You are not really sick.”
Western medical labels are not helpful when it comes to chronic illness. They do not identify an underlying physical causative agent, nor do they address the deeper emotional and spiritual dynamics. Labels signify disease processes and syndrome manifestations. If you research these processes and manifestations, you will find that most have no known cause and no known cure.
Based on my own research, I have found there to be seven major incapacitating agents involved in most physical disease states: mycoplasma bacteria, Lyme disease, parasites, dental toxins (metals and root canals and cavitation infections), fungal infections, gluten syndrome, environmental exposure to chemicals and food additives. I will touch on these often stealth toxins and co-infections, the true physical causative factors that are often undiscovered, untreated, or improperly treated, throughout the book. These agents also contribute to mental dysfunction and emotional instability.
Making a deep contact with that presence, closer than my breath, was the most important aid to true health for me. Ironically, my chronic illness led me to stillness. Dis-eases are an opportunity to let go of personal control, check willfulness, adjust focus, and uncover the Innermost Being. As we become still, defective patterns harmonize, allowing our essential nature to shine forth unimpeded. Trusting Source became my refuge, the sane course of action. The body, the mind, everything I experienced, guided by Innate Intelligence, was expressing in the best possible way.
In this book, as you accompany me on this journey, you may discover true wellness as I attempted to restore bodily health through a vast array of healers, sages, treatments, procedures, and other exotic remedies. Chronic illness woke up every area of my life. When I heeded the invitation, the destruction of illusion accelerated. In my case, this included the unearthing and burning up of anger patterns (passive aggression, sarcasm, and habitual defenses), the resolution of covert depression, and other things that I had hidden from or bypassed.
When my body was sick, it behaved much like a tree in the forest during a storm. A powerful transformation was taking place. The body (tree) may have been knocked to the ground, but its root essence remained intact. The body (tree), forced to turn all its energies in a renewed focus toward the essential, had to find a way to reach the light. I did not know what could happen to my body (the tree), as the old form was being rearranged. My life force might suddenly extinguish or become incapacitated and barely be able to hold on to life.
In a forest, after a storm, post-deluge, one hears silence. That stillness is always here.
The waves of mind demand so much of Silence. But She does not talk back, does not give answers nor arguments. She is the hidden author of every thought, every feeling, every moment. Silence. She speaks only one word. And that word is this very existence.
—Adyashanti (American spiritual teacher)
I want Truth more than anything else!” I exclaimed from the top of an obscure peak in southern Utah. It was the spring of 2003. The night before, while in my tent, I devoured a gift from a friend, the book, My Secret Is Silence by Adyashanti.
What was I thinking, asking for Truth? An intuitive stream, a witness inside the deep recesses of my being, demanded truth. It did not have anything to do with “me,” who I thought I was, what I would achieve, who I would become. This force was not interested in a better dream life or well-adjusted personality. It wouldn’t settle for that. This earnestness, an ever-present sincerity, exposed aspects not in alignment with reality. There would be no shortcuts, cheat sheets, or bypass routes.
In one of my favorite newspaper cartoons, a small frog, about to be eaten by a pelican, wraps its front legs defiantly around the seabird’s neck. The dissolution of ego-centered mind is inevitable, though resistance and doubt can last a long while. It was time for the suffering game to end, but I had no idea that the murky, unmet parts of myself would crash in or that waves of exasperation would arrive. There would be days when I would put a phantom gun to my head and pull the trigger, over and over and over, as the “thinker” rebelled against its own undoing. So I bolted off that mountaintop, on the journey home, the place where mind, ego, birth, and death were no longer seen as separate things. They were part of the all-encompassing oneness of life. I had begun to call off the war with myself.