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Fear and anxiety. I don’t know about you, but since I came down with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/’CFS) / fibromyalgia (FM) it seems like those two states of mind are ever present.  Fear that I’m suddenly going to get worse, or will have money problems, or that tomorrow everyone will sudden stop reading the blogs. Reason doesn’t to seem matter at all to my fears; they are simply there.

anxiety- fear-chronic-fatigue-fibromyalgia

An undercurrent of anxiety and fear came packaged with my ME/CFS?FM

Then there’s the “anxiety”: the difficulty making decisions and the continual “vigilance” that seems to be present. I am wired to the hilt, my mind is running a hundred miles an hour, and it’s flitting from item to item like a maniac.

I don’t know why this under-current of “arousal” or vigilance is there, but it isn’t unique to chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) or FM.  Donna Jackson Nakazawa describes a similar situation in her book “The Last Best Cure: My Quest to Awaken Healing Parts of My Brain and Get Back My Body, My Joy, and My Life“.

Donna doesn’t have ME/CFS or fibromyalgia; she has a serious autoimmune disorder that has twice left her temporarily paralyzed. She was lucky enough to find several powerful drugs that allow her to be up and about now, but her mind is still running a million miles an hour, she constantly feels fatigued and run down, and she experiences little peace. Thanks to modern medicine she is still alive, but the quality of her life sucks and she wants more.

Having exhausted all her traditional medical options, Donna turned to findings from neuroscience which suggested she could use her brains plasticity to re-find her joy in life and improve her health.  Health Rising has been following her year of immersion into techniques to do that in a series of blogs.

In next chapter in our series called “The Compassion Cure”  Donna explains why sending healing messages to her brain may, by turning down her immune system, improve her health, and give her some much needed peace.

The Compassion Cure From “The Last Best Cure”

The Old and the New Merge

First Donna relates how the loving kindness meditations she’s about to do were developed by the Buddha to combat fear. Then she skips forward to the 21st century to see what physiological effects these meditations have. Charles Raison, an Emory neuroscientist, reports that stress causes an immune response that’s similar to what happens during an infection:

“Stress activates cytokine activity and inflammation, taxing your immune system in a way that’s not all that different from what happens when you’re infected by a virus or bacteria….Stress is implicated in every disease from depression to irritable bowel syndrome to heart disease to cancer.”

Studies indicate that not only are ME/CFS and FM two of the most difficult illnesses to have, but that the stress response systems are dysregulated in both to boot. In fact, it appears that the stress response in these diseases never shuts off; that it’s present even during sleep. That suggests that learning how to bypass those stress responses, and experience some joy might be good both physically and for one’s peace of mind.

Loving Kindness Meditation

At her evening class Donna practices an age-old Buddhist meditation called Loving Kindness Meditation that consists of repeating the following phrases to herself:

  • May I be filled with love and kindness
  • May I be safe and protected
  • May I love and be loved
  • May I be happy and contented
  • May I be healthy and strong
  • May my life unfold with ease

Plus she adds a personal wish: “May I be a person of joy”

loving kindness meditation

Loving kindness is designed to replace feelings of fear and anger with feelings of kindness and loving

As she repeats “May I be a person of joy” a desire for being joyful once again pervades her body – a warm, welcoming feeling she hardly recognizes.  As a bonus an unasked for recognition that she really is a good person suddenly appears! Donna recognizes on a deep level that she really, really is a good person. This is a far cry from the judgmental, damning voice in her head she’s usually at the mercy of.

When Donna is asked to send loving feelings to someone close to her (she picks her children) the warm feeling pulses again, and her worried thoughts about a big move she is about to make disappears. She is simply present to the love she has for her children and feels relaxed and at ease.

Then she is asked to send loving feelings to someone she doesn’t know well and, finally, to someone she is upset with. When Donna brings up someone who lied to her, and then stiffed her for a lot of money, her mind boils with anger and resentment.

She recalls the words of Tsoknyi Rinpoche about people who vex us. There’s “Lots of drama” attached to that person, he says. It’s as if that person is “driving a truck through you…vroom, vroom” everytime you think of him or her.

Donna agrees. The anger she feels for this person dominates her very being. When Trish asks her bring that persons image into her heart she can’t. Donna knows  that her angry state of mind is causing her immune system to spew out the very pro-inflammatory cytokines that have done her harm in the past, but she is too embedded to let go.

She can, however, give herself a little space by reminding herself that she is not these thoughts, and  recognizing that these are, after all, are just thoughts. They are not reality – they’re the workings of a machine called her mind and she doesn’t need to feed them. (Landmark Education suggests that we thank those thoughts for sharing and then move on.) Donna is still agitated, but she’s taken a step forward; she’s cleared some space for her self to show up in.

Donna’s experience reminds me of something I heard at a Landmark Education Seminar:  “You can’t be a person of grace, purpose and ease and be resentful – of anything!” It just doesn’t work. You can have grace and ease or you can have resentment. You can’t have both. Most of us for some reason choose resentment but we  do have the choice to leave it behind.

When Trish, Donna’s instructor instructs the group to send the following wishes to all beings everywhere: “May all beings be filled with love and kindness”, Donna’s torment begins to fade. Her mind begins to relax. She even begins to have experience the beginnings of compassion for the person she’s angry with.

Then when Trish asks everyone to say “May all beings be safe and protected” Donna simply feels compassion for a man who has alienated so many, and who therefore must be so isolated. Her experience has completely flipped.

She has forgotten about her angry feelings, her big move to a new house, her illness, her work issues – all she is feeling is love.

Imagine if you could flip your experience with your illness, your body and the people or circumstances around you which trigger feelings of resentment or fear. Imagine if grace and ease was present in your life.

  • May I be filled with love and kindness
  • May I be safe and protected
  • May I love and be loved
  • May I be happy and contented
  • May I be healthy and strong
  • May my life unfold with ease

Find more blogs on “The Last Best Cure” here


Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Donna Jackson Nakazawa was swimming 60 laps a day in a pool when she woke up one day and was unable to move

Donna Jackson Nakazawa is a science journalist, author and public speaker. She is the author of  How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology And How You Can Heal, the Autoimmune EpidemicDoes Anybody Else Look Like Me? A Parent’s Guide to Raising Multiracial Children and Childhood Disrupted, as well as a contributor to the Andrew Weil Integrative Medicine Library book, Integrative Gastroenterology, (Oxford University Press, April 2010).

She is also the recipient of the 2010 National Health Information Award, and the 2012 international AESKU Award from the International Congress on Autoimmunity for her lifetime contribution to autoimmune disease research with the book The Autoimmune Epidemic.

She tweets often about breaking medical news. Follow her tweets and check out her Facebook site and website and blog. 

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