Autism Treatment Center of America®

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Happiness Is A Choice

Chapter II Continued

The Way We Look at Life Determines Our Experience

Many years ago, my mother had surgery for breast cancer, followed by radiation treatments. Several years later the cancer reappeared in other parts of her body. Operations and additional radiation therapy disfigured and disabled her. Her dying process overwhelmed her and the rest of our family for years.

Not long after her death, we received a phone call from a researcher at the famed hospital where she had been treated, inquiring as to her current health. When informed of her passing, the researcher asked for the date of her death. I realized, on reflection, as he did, that she had died only a little more than five years after her initial surgery, although the cancer had continued to spread and more invasive treatment ensued. Since she had survived five years past the initial surgery and the study did not inquire into the quality of life during those years or the possibility of recurrences, the hospital representative indicated that my mother would become a favorable statistic for the hospital's cancer clinic.

Months later, major journals carried the news of this hospital's success in treating and effecting breast cancer cures based on a five-year survival rate. The agony of my mother's final journey had been filtered through the statistician's hand and transformed into data supporting the hospital's claims. The evidence had been gathered to support the beliefs of the gatherer and to further enhance the reputation of his facility and its methods. And so often we, the consumers of beliefs and evidence, buy just such "facts" as gospel.

Exploration of the belief-making game becomes even more beguiling as we pursue it further. Many years ago, after trying unsuccessfully to deal with a minor medical problem I sought the input of an elderly Chinese physician and acupuncturist who had been educated in Beijing and Shanghai. In accordance with his beliefs, he began his examination by checking the twelve energy meridians in my body. He placed his fingers gently on my wrist and then, to my surprise, continued to stare at his watch. Finally, he shook his head.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Weak heart," he declared with great conviction.

My mouth dropped open. "Impossible," I countered.

"Weak heart," he repeated pointedly.

Surprised and concerned by his comment, I asked for further explanation. He noted that my heart beat only fifty-two times per minute, rather than the "normal" seventy-two to seventy-six times per minute.

"Oh," I sighed with relief, "I'm a runner. I jog six miles every day and have done so for over twelve years. My cardiovascular system has been well exercised," I added. "That's why, at rest, my heart beats so slowly." I had had a complete physical exam recently, including a stress test with an electrocardiogram, which determined that I had a well-toned and strong heart. I repeated what I had read, sprinkling my summary with additional information from my regular physician and the latest cardiovascular statistics.

"Now understand why weak heart," he said authoritatively. This eastern physician then explained that because of my continuous running, my heart had been fatigued; thus, it was no longer capable of putting out seventy-six beats per minute.

"Ever watch dog?" he said. "Breathe very fast. Heart beats fast. Twelve years, maybe fifteen years, dead. Big whales. Hmm, breathe slowly. Heart slow. Easy. Can live one hundred years. More, maybe." Then he explained that, in accordance with his "vision," the heart can beat only a finite number of times in a lifetime. By running, breathing fast and making my heart beat fast, be maintained, I had been using up those beats unnecessarily and had exhausted my heart muscle as well.

The exact same evidence in the hands of two different doctors led to profoundly opposing conclusions. I did note that the Chinese physician was a lively man in his late eighties (perhaps he had been saving up his heartbeats). What did I want to believe? In this case, my intention was to be healthy. Although keenly aware that two cultures held different "truths" about the same data, I still wanted to find a meaningful way for me to select beliefs and behavior which would support my health. I resolved the dilemma by choosing to consult what I call my "nonverbal/nonconceptual resource within." I would make a decision about running based on what felt good to me physiologically. I had pushed myself for years to make a certain quota of miles each week, sometimes ignoring fatigue and an internal inclination to ease my standard. I decided now I would run only as long as I felt energized to do so. I would gather new evidence to support my new criteria or new belief. Within weeks, I trimmed my mileage by almost fifty percent.

Our conclusions follow from our chosen biases (our chosen beliefs).

Chapter 2 Continued - We Are Belief-Making and Belief-Consuming Creatues