“Unconditional love is the most powerful stimulant of the immune system.”
Dr Bernie Siegel
When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, my prognosis was extremely grim. I was given a 10 to 30% chance of surviving, which you could also say is a 70 to 90% chance of dying. Thankfully, soon after I was diagnosed, I read Dr. Bernie Siegel’s book, Love, Medicine & Miracles, and I began affirming that there was a 100% chance that I would be in the 10 to 30% that survived.
Bernie is an expert in mind-body connection. He’s been sharing for decades the mind’s ability to heal the body and our ability to heal ourselves, and what was once seen as kind of woo-woo is now more backed by science than ever before.
In today’s conversation, Bernie shares deep wisdom about the problems with our perceptions around health and wellness, the power we all have to heal ourselves and change our lives, and the unique healing power of love.
- Why self-induced cures rarely make it into conventional medical literature – and what we miss out on when we ignore powerful stories of hope and survival.
- How adopting the survival personality helped cancer patients who were told they had no chance of living outlive horrific prognoses – and how our bodies do what we tell them to.
- The unique mental traits that apply to all survivors of major illness – and how you can cultivate them to live a longer, happier life.
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Hal Elrod: Hey, goal achievers and members of the Miracle Morning community. It's Hal Elrod and welcome to today's podcast episode. You're about to hear a conversation that I had yesterday with Dr. Bernie Siegel, and he prefers to be called Bernie. Now, if you don't know Bernie and his work, I'll tell you a little bit about him. First of all, I can personally say that he literally saved my life or at least played a major role in saving my life. I discovered his book, Love, Medicine and Miracles, when I was first diagnosed with cancer. And my diagnosis was very grim. It was a 10% to 30% chance of surviving, which on the other side of that is a 70% to 90% chance of dying. And early on in his book, Bernie talks about the problem with statistics. And he says one problem with cancer statistics is that most self-induced cures don't get into the medical literature. So, he went on to talk about that people when they are given a statistic, they tend to put themselves on the wrong side of it, “Oh, no, there's an X percent chance that I'm going to die.”
And for me, after I read his book, I flipped it and I went, "You know what, if only 10% to 30% of people survive this, I'm making the decision that there is a 100% chance that I will be in the 10% to 30% that make it and I live that every day.” I affirmed it every day. I felt that every day, and Bernie's expertise is really in the mind-body connection. And that's what you're going to hear a lot about today. You're going to hear stories. Bernie is a storyteller. He's 87 years young, by the way, and just full of wisdom, full of life experience, full of light and love, incredible human being. And he shares. In fact, he's been sharing for decades the mind’s ability to heal the body, your mind, my mind, our mind’s ability to heal ourselves, to heal whatever it is that ails us. And back in the day, he was laughed at because there wasn't a lot of science supporting us, right? It was kind of woo-woo back then. And now there's a ton of science, there's research, and you'll hear him talking about it.
It's funny, he talks about with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, like, “I've been saying this for years. I’ve been writing about this for years, and they used to laugh at me and nobody took me seriously. And, you know, now it's all coming out in scientific studies and clinical trials and so on and so forth.” So, yeah, I'm excited. It's almost it was kind of like talking to your grandfather, you know, hearing just all the wisdom from their life experiences and Bernie's got a ton of it. And I think more than anything for me, what I'm going to walk away with from this conversation, and what I'll never forget is just who Bernie is like how he lives his life, how he shows up in the world and shows up for other people, how much he cares. He calls himself a love warrior. You'll hear that toward the end of the podcast, a love warrior and he just believes in being the change we want to see in the world and loving other people.
So, from this episode, you're going to hear a lot about your ability to heal yourself, which might come in handy right now, depending on what you're going through or it might come handy in the future. You know, for me, it's come in handy on multiple occasions in my life and it's been the one thing that made the biggest difference for me and literally saved my life. And again, Bernie was a big part of that. So, without any further ado, it is my great pleasure to share this conversation that I had yesterday with Dr. Bernie Siegel, better known as Bernie.
Hal Elrod: All right. So, goal achievers, welcome. Bernie was just talking. We just jumped on the Zoom together and I said, “Bernie, can I just hit record? Everything you say is gold.” Every nugget out of his mouth is wisdom. So, I wanted to capture all the pre-dialogue. So, Bernie, it’s good to see you.
Dr. Bernie Siegel: Let me say that the greatest gift to me is helping other people. When they say whether it's reading a book, hearing you speak, how would touch their life, that really means a great deal to me. I just got off the phone calling somebody in Florida because she sent me a letter, found out where I was, and just to thank me for the past and all the things I've done. And it was just such a gift to me. I was going to write her a note, but then I thought, “No, she has such a wonderful heart. I can't just send her a letter.” So, I've been calling her for a couple of days until she called me back because she got my message and got my number. It's just a gift to connect like that. I mean, it makes your life worthwhile.
Hal Elrod: Let me ask you, because you were a surgeon, pediatric surgeon, you're best known by most as an author. You've written a lot of great books. That's how I discovered you. So, let me ask you this, if somebody is listening to this, and they go, “Well, yeah, that's great for you, Bernie. You're an author and you're a speaker, and you're changing the world in that way,” but maybe they just considered themselves, “I'm not in that position of being an influencer.” How does what you just said apply to every person on the planet, every person listening right now, and everybody on the planet, not just people in positions of influence?
Dr. Bernie Siegel: I'd say you have to follow your heart, find your way of loving the world. That's the key. Doesn't matter what you do. You need people. And just understand about being successful, the only C I got in four years of college was in creative writing. And when somebody came up to me after a lecture and said, “You know, you're very helpful, but you could help more people if you wrote a book than traveling and speaking.” I said, “No, I can't write a book. I mean, I'm not a writer.” Somehow, he got people together to help me and I didn't write the book, the first book. I sat down with a recorder and talked for hours and hours and hours. And then it got typed out and printed and edited, and it became a book. But if he hadn't walked up to me, I don't think I'd ever have written a book as my own way of thinking. For the people that come to me or a publisher had, I would have said, “Oh, sure. Okay, if somebody will help me.”
But I have learned you don't quit because, “Oh, I can't do that. I don’t…” Don't wait until you're almost dead to start doing things because that's the other part that I've seen. When people literally were told they a few months to live and thought, “Okay. Then let me enjoy my last few months,” and then when I don't get invited to the funeral, I call up to say, "How come you didn't invite me?” And they answered the phone and I hear sentences like, “Oh, it's so beautiful here. I forgot to die.” He moved to Colorado in the mountains. And the same was true with the shore in Miami. He bought a house on the ocean because his wife said, "You know, if you're going to be dead in a few months, why don't we get that house you've always wanted and relax and enjoy yourself and listen to Bernie's tapes?” And so, he went on for years. Yeah. What was interesting, I was down in Miami, he came to introduce me for the lecture and he was dressed in such casual clothing I thought, "You know, I mean, this is a guy with multi-millions of dollars who shows up in those clothes.” I said, “What do you dress like that for?” He said when they tell you, you have a few months to live, he canceled the dress code at work. He said, “I told every employee I don't care what you wear. No suits and tie,” you know what I mean, all that stuff. And he went on for many years.
It was because he was persistent too. In other words, I knew he was a survivor because his son drove me crazy, “You got to talk to my father. You got to help my father. You got to meet my father.” And I thought if they're that persistent, they have the talent. They didn't give up because I'm busy and traveling and so we connected and it made a difference. But again, I'm the coach. He's got the talent and performs. And the other I would mention to everybody when you say how do you make a difference? Become a CD or CM. Now, I'm sure you don't know what the hell that is.
Hal Elrod: I don't know.
Dr. Bernie Siegel: I have a suicidal young lady sitting in my office and she said to me, "You're my CD.” I said, “What the hell are you talking about?” She said, "You're my chosen dad.”
Hal Elrod: Wow.
Dr. Bernie Siegel: And this Father's Day, I don't know where I put the cards but I always get cards first from a young woman down in Texas and she told me it's 30 years since she talked to me on the phone. Because I came home one day, and I pick up the phone says, "This is Becky and I would like Jack Kevorkian’s phone number. I want to be dead.” And she went into all the abuse in her life and what had happened. And I said, “I love you. You’re a child to God. I'll be your father.” And here she is 30 years later sending me three Father's Day cards. And I always know every year I laugh because we have five kids but Becky's card always shows up before your five children because she was so grateful for what I did for her and, yes, when I was in Texas, I made sure we met and hugged. But it's giving that love so I'd say to everybody listening, "Become a chosen mother, a CM, or a CD, a chosen dad. You save people's lives when they feel loved. Your childhood is what determines your life. I mean that literally.
A study of Harvard students was, "Did your parents love you?” They were asked that while students at Harvard. Those who said yes, and they were all looked up like 35 years later when they were middle-aged, those who said, "Yes, my parents loved me,” 24% had suffered a major illness in the interval. Those who said, "No, my parents didn't love me,” 98% had suffered a major illness.
Hal Elrod: Wow.
Dr. Bernie Siegel: And all the violence, all the bizarre behavior is really related to how you brought up.
Hal Elrod: So, I want to touch on that because if somebody is listening, that might be disempowering if they go, “Well, I had a terrible childhood.” Now, I've studied your work, I've read your books, and one of the things you and I share a lot of belief. When you talk, I aspire to be that you're an older version of me I feel and we're kindred spirits but one of the beliefs you have is that we can heal ourselves that we do heal ourselves and it is through our thinking. So, if somebody grew up with that terrible childhood and they don't want to be part of that 98% statistic, which you're also a big believer that statistics skew our beliefs but how do we heal ourselves? Speak to the mind-body link because that is such a big part of your work.
Dr. Bernie Siegel: Well, other people that said can help you, your next-door neighbor, your doctor, your school teacher, there are a lot of lives saved by schoolteachers, because I hear people who remember their third-grade teacher. Now, I can't say I remember my third-grade teacher but why did they remember? Because that teacher did something that made them feel worthy. You know, even though they may have been abused at home, somebody showed them love and I think that's ultimately the key that somebody shows up to help you. But you can also reparent yourself. I tell people, "Put your baby pictures up around the house.” I mean, every time I say that, I said to one woman, "Put your baby pictures up around the house.” She had alcoholic parents who went on to commit suicide and told their children to commit suicide, the only person in her family who screwed up the suicide and lived.
And I said, “Show me your baby pictures. So, show me you’re somebody worth loving.” And she said, “My parents never took any. They were real estate agents. You want to see the house?” And I sat in the office listening to her because she came to share with me because she heard I was a caring person and she would rant and rave and scream for hours while I sat there not knowing what the hell to do. But I learned later from Helen Keller that I did the right thing because as Helen Keller said, deafness is darker by far than blindness. And what I realized was when you listen to somebody, they hear themselves. So, for the first time, Susan hurt herself, not a therapist saying, “Oh, don't act like that.” Told her, “You got to take this pill. Do that.” I just sat there and listened because I thought, “What the hell can I tell her and what can I do?” I mean, it's horrible.
But after a year or two of listening, she began to change because she heard herself that her quote was, "When I let love into my prison, it changed every negative item in it, meaning the experiences in my life and turn them into something meaningful.” And she became my therapist because she made such a spiritual change in life. I love being with her but I didn't know what to tell her to do. So, I just sat there looking at her thinking, "What the hell can I say or do? I mean what a horrible story.” But I still tell people to get a picture of yourself as a child, put it around your house, to your office, and give yourself love every time you walk past the picture. See, I had loving parents. So, I have their picture. I paint portraits. I have their picture right down the hall. So, as I'm going to bed or down that hole, I always see them smiling and looking at me. And I know they love me so I get that feeling. See, if I'm having a lousy day. It's like, “Oh, I don't want them to know.” So, I'll lighten up, feel better, because they've given me that look in that portrait.
Hal Elrod: You mentioned love. You know, I discovered your work after I was diagnosed with cancer. Love, Medicine and Miracles, which is one of the books you're best known for. You've got love, medicine, and healing. How many books have you written?
Dr. Bernie Siegel: I’m up to I think 18 or 19 now. I just put out a couple…
Hal Elrod: A lot of books.
Dr. Bernie Siegel: … with our grandson. Yeah, I can tell you about them.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. The new one with your, yeah, let's get to that. I've got that. I want to ask you about that with your grandson. But I discovered you again after cancer. And for me, affirmations were a big part of my healing. And one of my affirmations was just a direct quote from your book and it was the quote you said, "Unconditional love is the most powerful stimulant of the immune system. The truth is love heals. Miracles happen to exceptional patients every day, patients who have the courage to love those with the courage to work with their doctors to participate and influence their own recovery.” And for me, I would just sit there every day and I would read that and then I would close my eyes and I would meditate and just imagine my entire body filled every cell of my being just love, unconditional love.
Dr. Bernie Siegel: Let me tell you another true story. This is a woman who had polio as a child, so she had deformities and she developed a neurological disease where the nervous system deteriorates and you die. And she said to me, “I don't want to die hating my body because it had been deformed since I was a child that hated it.” So, she said, "What I did was lie down naked in front of the mirror and start loving my body inch by inch.” She said, “Literally, I started the toes, I've worked my way up,” and her disease went into complete remission.
Hal Elrod: Wow.
Dr. Bernie Siegel: And even the oncologist. You see, years ago, I have all these magazines which discuss things about me as the controversial Dr. Siegel. Well, there was just a study done by physicians published in the surgical journal, which showed that if you help patients meditate, they're added to a whole host of things. They left the hospital sooner, have less pain, and spend $3,000 less per patient who were in this study. That's what I talked about 40 years ago and nobody would help me do research because they all said, “That's crazy. What difference what you’re thinking?” And as I said, I was just controversial. Yes, I was on talk shows because people would come to fight with me and so it was an exciting show. I always remember, as a matter of fact, Phil Donahue, to give him credit, I showed up with three women with cancer for his show and he said, “Bernie, you sit down in the audience.” I thought, "What?” He said, “Yes, I'm putting the women on this stage.” And I thought, "Here's the guy who's read my book and knows what the hell I'm talking about,” that they're the teachers. He’s showing an example.
See, the fact that you read the book tells me that you will outdo statistics. What about the predicts because you have a survival personality. Because I offered many people, group therapy, books to read, drawings to do to help me know how they felt about themselves and treatment, and so forth. And they say, “I'm not an artist. I don't have time to read a book. That's not a survivor.” And one lady I always remember, I think she's from New York, I said, “Look, in order to join, you have to have some background. I want you to read my book, draw some pictures to bring with you, things like of your treatment yourself, etcetera,” that can help them evaluate how they felt about everything. And she said, “Fine, I'll sit up tonight and do it.” And I know that’s a survivor. She'll exceed anything that any doctor tells her. And that's the part people need to understand. Your body believes what your mind pictures and can see it does.
So, what am I saying? If you picture your chemotherapy as a devil giving you poison, you'll have every side effect in the book. My patients might see it as God giving me a gift that'll make me well. They had no side effects at all. And the doctors at first used to think, “Oh, I must have screwed up. We didn't give the treatment. The nurse didn't put it together or the X-ray machine isn't working and having no side effects.” And then I used to get phone calls saying, "Hey, I thought the radiation therapy machine was broken. Then I saw your name on the chart. So, I knew it was a crazy patient and the machine wasn’t broken.” And this is a quote from an oncologist because a woman came up because a relative told her to come all the way from North Carolina where her doctor said, "You'll be dead in two months. Don't bother with treatment. You'll just feel sick.”
So, she said, “Oh, come up here. Dr. Siegel makes people well.” She comes up here. I met her. I said, “Yeah. Leukemia, it's not a surgical problem. I'll get my oncologist friends to see you.” He saw her. He said, “Bernie, I want you to know I agree with her doctor. She has about two months to live,” but I know you and your crazy patients, so I'll give her hope. Then he sent me a letter like an email each week, "Doing well, very well.” After six weeks, his email said she's in complete remission and she can go home and drive her doctor crazy now, “You told me I’d be dead and, look, I'm feeling fine.” And that's the part I learned that there were always changes in the person's life. So, when I was out lecturing and I see somebody I thought was dead because if they're told they're going to be dead, I would never say that to a patient but they stopped coming back to the doctor, so you don't see them anymore.
And then you see them in the audience months or years later and I say, "Why the hell did you come back? What's the point coming back?” Everybody gives me negative, you know, but I learned they all had a story to tell me about why they didn't die. It was about, again, giving love to the world. As one landscaper said, I said, "You need more treatment for your cancer.” I’d operate on him. He had stomach cancer. He said, “No, it's springtime. Going to go home, make the world beautiful so when I die, I leave a beautiful world.” Six years later, he came in and it was hysterical because the nurse said, "Yes, it's him.” I said, “He's dead.” “No, we don't have two people with that name. It's him.” So, I opened the door and he said, “Bernie, I have a hernia from lifting boulders in my landscape business.” He became my therapist and I mean that because he showed me how beautiful nature was. And I used to spend time outdoors with him
and I'd feel more peaceful and see what a beautiful world it was and incidentally lived to 91.
When his wife died, he said, "Okay, I'll go with her.” And let me say that’s something else. It’s just so many times it was just in our local paper. This couple, they're both in the obituary. Wife died. A day later husband died. And I wrote to the paper, I don't know, they'll publish my article but I have seen this happen in the hospital when the husband and wife were on different floors. In this case, the wife died. They went up to tell the husband. When the nurse got there, the other nurse said, “Oh, he died 15 minutes ago.” He died like about half an hour after his wife died and I'm sure he knew. She came and said goodbye. He went and joined her. And so, we have that kind of power and control. When you get ready, you can turn off the will to live and the switch but when you're loving your body and willing to live and can see treatment as a gift from God, whether it's eating vegetables or taking a pill or having surgery.
Because the nurses used to say to me, "Your patients are a problem.” I said, “What is it?” “They don't take pain medication. They refuse it.” I said, "Did it ever occur to you, they don't hurt?” They looked at me like, "What kind of idiot are you? You make an incision six inches long in their belly and they don't feel any?” But they were seeing surgery as their gift, see as their cure as their way of being well. So, when I would see a negative drawing, I would tell people either don't have this treatment or change your concept. Four or five times a day picture yourself going to the hospital, having surgery, waking up, feeling fine, and going home. And a week later, they would draw this beautiful picture of the operating room. You know, it's not a black box with them alone. Now, it's filled with people in lovely colors who are caring about them and their families waiting and everything's fine. And it's incredible how much control.
It's hard not to tell you one humorous story because my father-in-law had a spinal cord injury and became quadriplegic so caring for him was hard. And my mother-in-law developed the hernia helping to move him and lift him. So, I told her we’ll take her to the hospital. I can do it under local and do it as an outpatient, etcetera. So, we took her to the hospital, and she had been an opera singer. And the reason I say that is I've learned from other opera singers, if you hit the wrong note on stage, you're a disaster. It's hell, they said. And that's what my mother was like, everything had to be perfect, polite, where the fork was on the table. I mean, everything had to be in the right place all the time. And we take her to the hospital, the operating room. I do the surgery and I thought, “How can I embarrass her so she'll be so distracted, she'll have no pain and go home and feel fine?” And then I realized, I yell out at the end of the operation, because she's awake, just local anesthesia, regional. And I yell out for everybody to hear, "Remember, no sex for six weeks after surgery.”
Then I went to the locker room, got dressed in my normal clothing, and went to the recovery room to see if she's doing all right. I look around the recovery room. There's no mother-in-law. I said to the nurse, "Where's my mother-in-law?” She said, "She came out in the operating room, refused pain medication, asked for her clothes and went home.” I thought you did it. We gave her a gift. I embarrassed her, but no pain and she's home now, not having trouble recovering. And I'll also add this. When she died, she came and said goodbye to me because we became real friends, teasing each other and kidding. But I was at a religious service, synagogue. I saw this cloud about a yard long come in through the open door right over to me, over my head. And I heard her voice say, “Bernie, goodbye.” Then it went out. So, I jumped up, got in my car, and drove to the nursing home she was in. I walked in the door, what do I hear the nurse say? “Oh, you've heard.” I said, “I didn't hear. I know. I got her message.” And that's, again, the part that I can't deny that that happened. People talk about near-death experience, all kinds of things, "Oh that can't be. That's crazy.” It's not crazy. I've been there. I've had them happen to me. I was choked to death as a child when I was four years old. So, I've had these experiences I know they're real. My wife died two years ago. She hadn't stopped communicating with me. Okay, how? By signs.
We were married on the 11th. I keep it now in my pocket. There's a whole bunch of dimes and pennies in this little thing and her picture on the other side. Why? Because I find a dime and a penny in places where it's impossible for people to have dropped a dime and a penny, in birdbaths, in the woods, under all the blankets and sheets on our bed when I'm making the bed. There's a dime and a penny there. Well, I mean, it's just totally bizarre, but I know it's her saying hello. And many more things happen. Oh, even the numbers we mentioned before. Nine months after she died, the organ in my heart was feeling at my heart. So, my rhythm went crazy what's called irregular fibrillation. So, I go to the hospital. I walk in the emergency room. I hear a voice yell, "Put him in room nine.” I know my wife's watching over me. “We don't have a room upstairs yet.” Next day, "We got a room for you upstairs.” What's the number the room? 819.
So, if you add them together, it's a nine, nine. And also, eight is a symbol of a new beginning. It's like seven days in a week for every religion. So, the eighth day is a new beginning and my wristband which is the hospital number and my number, all the numbers added up to nine, sixes, threes and two nines, and it can be 7254 but when you looked at the thing, everything was always 999 with an occasional eight in there saying, "You'll be okay. It's a new beginning. You'll be fine.” And that every single time I have gone to see the doctor, that has happened, and I can't call that a coincidence.
Hal Elrod: Wow. Beautiful story. You said something earlier or you said this in different ways quite a few times and it's one of the main things I got from Love, Medicine And Miracles, which was you said every cancer patient that you treated that beat their cancer, including those that were told, "You have no chance of living,” you said the one thing they all had in common, and I'm paraphrasing, but you said they decided there was no other option they were going to beat cancer. And you said that you saw a lot of people that have lesser cancers, much better survival rates, but they gave up and I think that what you said I say that all the time in similar terms, which is our body does what we tell it. If you live in fear and you put your energy into, “I'm dying,” your body goes, “Oh, I guess that's what we're doing.” Okay. And you go, “No. I'm going to live.” He goes, “Oh, that's what we're doing? So, I guess I better heal you.”
Dr. Bernie Siegel: First, I would say I don't use the word beat. I always say to people, “I don't want you to fight a war. I want you to heal. So, it's not about fighting the enemy.
Hal Elrod: I agree.
Dr. Bernie Siegel: It's about healing your life. And the simple statistics prove it. Women live longer than men with the same cancers, married men longer than single men. I mean, I've saved people's lives by telling their children, "You can't get rid of your mother's 12 cats,” because they said the house stinks. They don't even visit her and she needs treatment for cancer. I said, "You get rid of the cats, your mother's dead. You tell her nobody wants 12 cats and you clean the house.” And for years, they would come and thank me for making that wise statement to them because mama had to live and take care of her cats. And the other was a woman with nine kids who said, “I can't die until they’re all married and out of the house.” And see this is what fascinates me as a doctor. Twenty years later, the kids were all out of the house, and the cancer came back. Now I can understand, in a sense, how you can control a disease for 20 years. You know what I mean? Why wasn't it eliminated? But she just kept it under control because she has kids. And once they were gone, "It's okay. I can go now.”
But those are the things that they say that changed me, learning the stories that people had to tell you and why I became a storyteller so other doctors wouldn't fight with me and argue with me. They would listen to an anecdote and not feel threatened by it. But if you gave a statistical study, "Oh, no, that's poorly controlled. That's in a lousy journal.” That's why it was so nice 40 years later to see this study having been done about survival related to all the things I was teaching people. And somebody did it. It was on the internet and everywhere else. They sent out this story and I think they were more impressed with how much money they saved than each patient. It's things as simple as nature scenes on the wall of your hospital room versus abstract paintings. Yeah, I get tired. I don't keep going to doctors where you go in and while you're waiting for them, everything that's on the wall is what you're going to die of, you know, diabetes, heart disease, cancer.
I don't want to sit there for 15 minutes learning what I'm going to die of. If they had some pretty pictures, like my doctor does now, lovely colored walls, outdoor scenes, I don't care if they come late, because I'm having a nice time lying there, feeling good waiting for them. It's like a meditation. So, I've played music in the operating room, talk to patients under anesthesia. People hear you when they're asleep. Obviously, you wake up if the alarm goes off but they would hear you talking to them too when they were under anesthesia. So, it was like a hypnotic effect. I can give them positive statements and they would wake up with those positive messages in their body. And one of the anesthesiologists, he made a coloring book because as you said, I did a lot of children's surgery. So, the kids would come in and do all the coloring, you see, and then we look at the book. And this is what was fascinating, one page said you'll be seen by an anesthesiologist. He's wearing an outfit that looks like green pajamas. The kid drew the anesthesiologist in red.
I said to him, "This worries me because he's not following.” And the guy said, “Yep, the kid’s right. His mother has muscular dystrophy.” If he has a genetic defect, muscle relaxants could have an adverse reaction and threatened his life. I said, "Look at the last page,” and he draws himself purple. I'm sending him home. I'm not putting him in the operating room. The last page was red and black saying I’m unhappy and I'm hurting. So, that was normal and fine. But those are the things that convinced everybody at the hospital that I wasn't crazy because you'd see those and people even drew the picture of the operating room they'd never been in, but their consciousness knew about the lights and the people and everything that was going to be there. So, you couldn't deny what patients drew. I mean, one child, because the children didn't have a problem worrying about doing it right. She had cancer. The mother was doing everything to try to find a cure. And then the kid drew this purple balloon with her name in it floating out of the picture. Amber was her name. I said to the mother, “Daddy, Amber’s ready to go. Look at this picture.”
Because what was interesting, she drew a child's face in yellow, which is an energy color. And I thought this doesn't make sense, an energy and ready to die? I said, “What's this?” “That's not me. That's the child in the next room crying.” That's what was so fascinating. See, she changes the colors she's drawing with because it's the kid in the next room. So, I said to her, “Patty, Amber is ready to go. Why don't you take her home and stop all the treatments?” I said, "There are some colorful things in the picture that I don't understand right now but that purple balloon says a lot.” So, she took her home. I got a call about eight days later and Patty said, “Bernie, today's my birthday. Amber woke up and said, ‘Mom, I'm dying today as a gift to you to free you from all the trouble.’ And when I counted these little decorations, there were eight of them. And I knew that was saying that’s how many days I have left in my life where there was some pretty colors in them.”
And so, those drawings and dreams are enormously helpful. Again, they're not part of medical education. That's what drives me nuts. See, I've written articles and medical journals, and they come back saying, "It's interesting, but it's not appropriate for our journal.” I sent it to a psychiatry journal. Came back again. “Yeah, it's appropriate, but it isn't interesting.” So, we're separating. So, you were talking about how the mind and I'm writing about that but when you go to the doctor, they separate your mind from your body. “Oh, you're depressed? Here's a pill.” That's what the ad says. I can't get any drug companies to put in, “Would you sit down? Tell me what's happening in your life. Why are you depressed?” I mean, if I went to a doctor and said my house burned down and all my family died in the fire, and they said, "Okay, here’s a pill.”
Hal Elrod: Yeah, that's a band-aid.
Dr. Bernie Siegel: Those psychiatrists literally became more supportive of me than oncologists because when the psychiatrist was seeing people to help them with AIDS and cancer, coronavirus, whatever, they realize there's a personality to the people who survive. So, they would write articles about immune-competent personality and support me because they realize it’s not controversial. This is what I'm seeing when I'm helping people whose lives are threatened.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Well, the decision I wrote down when I read your book and you talked about statistics and how most people when they're given a statistic, they accept it as fact. And for me, my statistic, I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia with a cellular mutation. I was given a 10% to 30% chance of surviving. And I told my wife and I told myself every day, there
is a 100% chance that I'll be in the 10% to 30% that survive. And, for me, there was no other option. That was it. And the fear was there occasionally but I just kept replacing fear with faith like I'm going to do this. And one of the things that another big part of what allowed me to do that and I want to ask you because I think you and I share a belief or a perspective and that is that life is always perfect. Life is always perfect. The cancer that I have, I decided on day one, this will be the best thing that ever happened to me. I'm going to learn. I'm going to grow. And it's the topic of your new book when you realize how perfect everything is. So, can you speak on that? How is it that especially with right now, life's a mess, people are losing their jobs and people are, you know…
Dr. Bernie Siegel: This one, when you realize how perfect everything is, a conversation about life between grandfather and grandson. It’s filled with our poetry. And I'll tell you why that and the other one that I ended up writing this because of no endings, only beginnings. Well, the subtitle a doctor's notes on living, loving, and learning who you are. The different paragraphs, not just paragraphs, chapters about it but what happened was I use the word faith and spirituality. Those are things that I wanted to include in my no endings, only beginning. So, I was talking to our grandson, Charlie, and I realized he is incredible. He's 30. I say incredible because he's where I was. It took me probably twice as many years to learn what he learned at age 30. He's into outdoor photography, writing poetry. So, we started sharing because I was looking for some wisdom from him to include in my book, and then it's like the two of us were Siamese twins in some ways. We're both writing poetry about the same things to get our feelings out and things to express.
So, in this book, when you realize how perfect everything is, it's still good poetry, one by him, one by me on different topics. And the other thing, the reason I show you the cover, there's one bird on it. And I said to him, "How come there aren’t two birds because it's two of us?” And he said, "It's the journey of the person reading the book.” And I thought, "Wow.” That's why I love him. He's full of wisdom. And it's part of what you were saying is say you are on a journey. You decided where you're going. You got a sense of direction from the writings of other people. And that's why I keep writing. I keep learning. And I have to say in one of my books, can't remember which one I put in the foreword, there's nothing in his book that hasn't been already written because it's forever. You know, we're writing and rewriting. Everybody who has their experience says, “Oh, I got to write and tell people what happened to me,” and my comment is, "Yes, somebody already wrote that book.”
But we put it in our own unique way because it's personal and it can help people. So, I keep trying, and I have to say I reread my own books because I keep relearning. I mean, I have one book that I haven't stopped reading for years, 365 Prescriptions for the Soul. So, every day you have a message and I love it because I can't remember 365 little messages, but every day, you relearn. And I'll tell you this, too, what I've learned and some of the examples in the book we talked about love. I tell people to be a love warrior. What does that mean? Somebody drives you crazy. Tell them I love you. You’ll be amazed. They don't know what to do with you then. And I have done this practice what I preach with violent people who could have had guns. I have no idea. This is on the street, screaming, yelling, and I've walked over because I said, “Why don't you live your sermon?” I walked over and I said, “I want you to know something. I have no idea what you've been through in your life but I want you to know I love you.” Every single one has turned and walked away in silence. One younger boy, I added something because it was so obviously true. I couldn't get the cops to stop him from screaming and yelling. I can't believe they wouldn't go over to him. So, I went over and I said, “I want you to know something. I love you. I'm sorry your parents don’t.” He left in complete silence. And the people who see me do it always come over and say, "Oh my God. Thank you for what you just taught me. Thank you. Thank you.” And so, to me, what's my weapon of choice? Love.
Hal Elrod: At 88 years young, Bernie, what is next for you?
Dr. Bernie Siegel: I'll be 88 in October.
Hal Elrod: Oh, sorry, I just aged you.
Dr. Bernie Siegel: Yeah. Well, 88 is a good number, though.
Hal Elrod: That’s true.
Dr. Bernie Siegel: We can begin again. But it's like rebirthing myself all the time. And I keep thinking every day, “What am I going to do? Who am I?” I love working outdoors. So, that's a part of my life, making the world beautiful. I mean, this may sound crazy, but when I walk the dog, we live on a dead-end which is a big circle for the street comes up, and then I'm on this big circle. So, I just walk around, and I'll see a mailbox door that's falling off. So, the next day I bring stuff and I fix it. If there's a branch lying on the road, I pick it up and move it aside. I've noticed it's my personality. I have to keep making the world a better place, even if it's just mechanical things. But I feel better by the time my walk is over because I made it nicer today. People will have less trouble.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Wow. Well, Bernie, you know, I could talk to you all day and I'll tell you, the reason is I think that you exude love. You're the embodiment of the quote from Gandhi, that to be the change that you want to see in the world. And I think that if anyone from today listening to you, you're just an example of how much joy and energy and enthusiasm and humor we can have at 87 years young when you live from a place of love and you’re a love warrior, as you said. So, thank you for, you know, you've added so much value to my life through your work. It's an honor to finally actually get to talk to you after I've read your work. And, yeah, thank you for how you've lived your life and how you continue to live your life and serve others.
Dr. Bernie Siegel: I call it living the sermon. Let me share one more thing because, in a meditation, I met a gentleman named George. I didn't understand why he was dressed the way he was but the meditation was you need a guide. And to make a long story short, twice, after I have spoken at a spiritual center, people came up and said, "There's a man standing in front of you.” And one of them drew his picture and I saw I knew who she was seeing. It was George. And that was the first day I gave a lecture and realized I didn't follow my notes. I didn't say what I plan to say. I just stood there and talked for two hours and I realized it's George. The way I put it to people so they understand, if you’re watching a television program, the set doesn't make the program. It portrays it. And so, I'm like the television set, putting on the performance.
The second time really blew my mind because I spoke at a Christian funeral. And this mystic named Olga Worrall, wonderful lady who was a mystic since she was a kid, seeing people who weren’t there kind of thing. And she came up to me after the funeral and said, “Are you Jewish?” I said, “Why? Yes.” And I go, “I spoke at a Christian funeral?” “No, because there's a rabbi standing next to you.” And that was George, and for the first time, I understood everything he was wearing because it was all related to his religion and from, you know, like the 1800s in the sense of not a little flat red cap but it's a different type so what he was wearing related to time and everything else. But when somebody sees the person you met in the meditation, that teaches me something too. So, I trust in George and I don't have to prepare, if you know what I mean. He's there always sharing and why it's hard for me to stop talking because if George wants to keep talking.
Yeah. One more, and then I'll stop. I was on public television and the person said, "This is a very interactive program.” And so, we start the program and I notice after a while, she's smiling. And then we had a commercial break. So, I said, "Is there something funny outside? What are you smiling about?” She said, “I was smiling about you.” I said, "This is an interactive program and you haven't stopped talking for 20 minutes.” So, we burst out laughing. But that's my problem. See, he's telling stories all the time and I can't stop.
Hal Elrod: So, he's your muse. You'd say is he’s your muse?
Dr. Bernie Siegel: Thank you. Bless you.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Well, it is a pleasure, Bernie. Again, thank you for who you are and how you serve others and we need more Bernie Siegel's in the world.
Dr. Bernie Siegel: Yeah. And we need to listen to each other then you hear yourself. That's what I learned from Helen Keller because most people choose to be deaf, not blind, but you can’t communicate if you're deaf. Yes, you can learn sign language but we need to listen to ourselves and to each other. Okay. Thank you.
Hal Elrod: Listen and love. Well, I appreciate you, Bernie. Thanks for being on today.
Dr. Bernie Siegel: Bless you. Bye.
Hal Elrod: Bless you as well, brother.