Adversity can be our greatest teacher. In a recent study, participants who reported the highest levels of adversity also reported the highest levels of personal growth and self-development.
This was definitely true for me. Halfway through my life, my career as a foreign war correspondent was over. After failed surgery to mend my broken back from a freak accident, I was declared permanently disabled and sentenced to life in a stiff body brace. I was washing down handfuls of painkillers, antidepressants, and muscle relaxers every day with copious amounts of alcohol. I gained a ton of weight, and when things couldn't have seemed more hopeless, my doctors diagnosed me with terminal, stage IV cancer from exposure to spent uranium while covering the Gulf War.
With only months to live, I'd given up all hope, until my two-year-old son came to my bedside and pleaded, "Get up, Daddy." Those three words became my motivator and my healing mantra. In that moment, I knew I had to do something radical, or die trying. If I didn't, my son would grow up without a father.
I was diagnosed with cancer in 1998, and by 2000 was deeply immersed in yoga and becoming an organic vegan. In 2002 I had a transcendental experience of feeling cancer leave my body. Today I've been cancer-free for more than 15 years, which my doctors call a miracle. To share the transformative powers of yoga, I founded the Deep Yoga School of Healing Arts and now have the privilege of teaching throughout America and in India.
I now know that cancer and a broken back were two of the greatest blessings in my life, and that adversity is an amazing catalyst for personal growth. Here are five lessons I learned that may help anyone gripped with hopelessness.
1. Create a power symbol.
Who or what touches you at the soul level? For me, it was my son, his three words to me, and the image of his face as I grew stronger. Your power symbol is something you desperately care about, and it becomes your healing mantra that will carry you through the inevitable times of challenge. Whenever I faltered, I repeated my son's words over and over. Ive found that when you anchor into a positive thought, the whole world seems to rise up to support you.
2. Trust in your own power to self-heal.
You have an inherent power to heal to your maximum potential. Don't be passive. Take control of your own healing journey. The way I supported my body's innate ability to self-heal was through mind-body therapies, diet, purification techniques, meditation, a spiritual discipline, movement, and daily practice. By supporting my body's own healing abilities, it was ultimately able to heal and function at its full potential.
3. Turn self-healing into your top priority.
When my body was in a critical state of breakdown, it required a level of single-minded focus and hard work unmatched by anything I had ever before attempted. I would arise at 3 a.m. to begin meditation, deep breathing, and thanking my back pain and cancer for being my greatest teachers. Throughout the day, punctuated by time with my son, I made self-healing my main occupation. I read ancient and modern texts on yoga, explored yoga postures, fasted, did visualization, performed physical purifications, and much more. I refused to let low-value people and activities or outside pressure discourage me from my mission to heal.
4. Pursue the best healing discipline for you.
There are many ways to self-heal. I chose yoga science combined with Ayurvedic medicine, diet, and purifications. Open your mind to what's out there, and find a discipline that resonates with you. Then dive into it with passion. Become the most devoted student you've ever been. Read, study under great teachers, go on retreats, and engage in the discipline every day. Don't dabble in this or that; stick with the path that resonates the most with you and dig a deep well.
5. Clean up your act.
It's nearly impossible to heal from a serious illness or injury if you continue to put things in your body that are bad for you. It may feel like a well-deserved indulgence to have a big fat steak, a sugary dessert, a strong cocktail, or a late night junk-food snack. But unhealthy and impure substances will slow down your progress and can even reverse it. My body was so polluted with alcohol, prescription meds, and food laden with chemicals, salt, fat, and sugar that it took a long time to get these toxins out of my body and reverse their toxic effects. Once I completely cleaned my body from the inside, however, my mind and body responded well to yoga and all the other healing modalities I was using. The purer your life, the more vibrant your health will be.