I’m pretty sure there isn’t a week goes by in which my body doesn’t do something to surprise me. Something unpleasant I mean. More often than not there’s a reason for this. Sometimes there isn’t. At the moment, for example, my left elbow causes me great pain whenever I touch it, and I think there’s something loose moving around under the slack and gnarled skin. Similarly my knee is rather sore and wearing the small hat of a large scab. These pains, however, are quite clearly the result of my spectacular fall last weekend, when I slipped on a rogue CD case whilst sprinting for a bus in Camberwell and bounced along the wet pavement, landing in a heap in a puddle in considerable pain.
Then there’s my anus. At the moment my anus seems constantly angry and when I poop it bleeds. This of course is merely a reflaring of my haemorrhoids, which occurs every few months and which I put down to poor diet. Too many Wispas and pizzas, not enough spinach and bran.
So far, so logical.
Every now and then, however, I get a pain I can’t explain. Like the gut-stab that came a couple of years ago and still occasionally recurs. The doctors I saw couldn’t explain it either and in the end I put it down to stress. I reckon it probably was stress too. I’m a great believer in the power of the mind to make manifest physical unpleasantness. I also believe that the mind can cure things, merely by thinking positively. I also believe in telekinesis and spoon-bending. Fuck it, why not? In for a penny….
So recently, when a reader of this here blog with whom I’d been in email communication offered to send me a copy of a book which, she promised, would be good for everything that ailed me, I said sure. I said of course. I said why the hell not.
Heal Your Body by Louise L Hay arrived in the post last week. In the foreword to the book, Ms Hay writes the following:
‘This little book does not “heal” anyone. It does awaken within you the ability to contribute to your own healing process. For us to become whole and healthy, we must balance the body, mind and spirit. We must take good care of our bodies. We need to have a positive mental attitude about ourselves and our life. And we need to have a strong spiritual connection. When these three things are balanced, we rejoice in living. No doctor, no health practitioner can give us this unless we choose to take part in our healing process.’
Now I don’t know about you, but I like this kind of rot. It appeals to the old hippy in me, to the white witch who wants to strip naked and run through dew-drenched glades scoffing mushrooms and rubbing dock leaves on my farmers.
‘I suggest you make a list of every ailment you have ever had and look up the mental causes. You will discover a pattern that will show you a lot about yourself. Select a few of the affirmations and do them for a month. This will help you eliminate old patterns you have been carrying for a long time.’
So, that’s what I did. Affirmations by the way - or 'new thought patterns' - are stock phrases which, through repetition, help to instil positive mental attitude.
When I’d made my list of ailments, I discovered there were quite a lot. Here are a few, together with probable cause and appropriate affirmation, of the most choice:
Now, at this point you’re either nodding to yourself and thinking, ‘Yes. Yes I can see that kidney stones are most probably caused by undissolved anger’, or else you’ve got an IQ of more than four and you’re thinking, ‘This woman is nuts’.
Well, that’s probably your resentment talking.
When I first dipped into this book, I was amused. Then I grew furiously angry. Then I calmed down a bit and just felt bemused.
I don't think she's nuts though.
Louise Hay is actually an enormously successful, enormously wealthy self-help guru and self-publishing sensation. She’s sold tens of millions of books through her own publishing company, Hay House. Her life story has been made into a film. Millions of people love her and credit her with having – through her words and her philosophy – helped them to heal themselves.
To the cynical eye, however, just about everything about Hay smacks of charlatanism. From her unconfirmed claims that she cured herself of ‘cancer of the vagina’ to the free audio download available on her website, which is entitled ‘Receiving Prosperity’. From the life-coaching and spiritual learning centers to the fact that she studied under notorious transcendental fornicator Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Charlatanism, however, is in the mind of the charlatan, and therefore only Hay herself can know if she actually believes that which she preaches. If she believes it, then she’s genuine. If on the other hand, she doesn’t believe it, then of course she’s merely a thoroughly bad egg, lining her pockets with the gold of the gullible and desperate.
Or is she? Even if that were true I mean, even if she were making the whole thing up and laughing all the way to the bank – if people still find comfort in her teachings, does it actually matter? Just like God, you may not approve or believe, but if it works for people, you can’t really deny or begrudge them that, sad simple creatures though they clearly are.
But then there’s this:
This is difficult to come to terms with. Being told that blackheads are ‘small outbursts of anger’ is one thing. Being told that the human immunodeficiency virus is caused by self-denial and sexual guilt is quite another. Because it’s not. It’s a virus. And Hay’s take on it smacks of homophobia. Citing sexual guilt is one step away from claiming AIDS is a punishment from God for a sinful lifestyle.
So it’s tempting to imagine Louise Hay as some puritanical old bigot, surreptitiously campaigning to bring an end to sexual deviance throughout the globe. Well, that would be convenient. However, as it happens, it seems to run contrary to the truth.
The fact is, Hay began holding spiritual counselling groups for gay men with AIDS in the early 1980s. It began with just a few men eating dinner at her apartment and grew to around a thousand a week in huge stadium-type venues. Apparently she helped many of these men a great deal, encouraging them to think themselves into remission, or presiding over the funerals of the ones who weren’t so lucky.
Then came the book, the AIDS book, rather prosaically entitled The AIDS Book: Creating A Positive Approach. Another bestseller.
So it’s unlikely that Hay is a homophobe.
Or is it?
According to a New York Times article from 2008, ‘Without the AIDS epidemic, Hay House wouldn’t exist… AIDS gave Louise Hay a following.’
Could it be that Hay just used AIDS as a hook on which to hang her particular brand of Religious Science bunkum? Could it be that she maliciously squeezed her millions from the terrible despair of the terminally ill?
Or is that taking cynicism too far?
The fact is, we’ll never know. And also, it doesn’t really matter. Motivation and action are worlds apart. And if Louise Hay gets positive results, then who am I to condemn her?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for me. It doesn't work for me because, well, for many reasons. Here are a few...
...and my personal favourite...
Also, as if that weren't enough, and it really is, the new thought patterns are horrendous. Just saying them actually makes me physically ill. Which is odd really, because many of them I actually believe. Most of the time. I really am at home in my body. I really do move with ease through time and space. I really do love and approve of myself. Like I say, most of the time. If you felt like that all the time though, you’d just be a dreadful self-satisfied bore.
With this in mind, I’ve made a couple of my own affirmations. Hopefully these will allow me to heal myself when malady strikes, but also allow me to live with myself and not feel compelled to drive rusty nails into my neck.
‘I am a reasonable person, most of the time. I am filled with love and joy, certainly, but let’s be realistic here. I am also filled with despair, hatred and a fair degree of self-loathing, most of which is not warranted. I am decent and honest and kind to animals. Why, only last night a cat came from nowhere and sat in my lap. I enjoy giving oral sex. Life is good. You know? It’s all right. Cheers.’
This affirmation will be equally effective for pretty much any illness, but if you think you might have AIDS, Hodgkin’s disease, cystic fibrosis or cancer, I recommend you go see a doctor.
Have a nice day now. Oh, and do let me know what you think...