Can prayer heal
Alain Beauregard's story amazes his doctors, his family and most of all himself. "I have been the victim of a miracle," he says proudly, "a very willing victim."
The Canadian business consultant with the charming French accent has had an extremely successful career. On his "recipe for life", as he half-jokingly called his goals, he was able to quickly tick off most of the ingredients. Building a successful tech company in your mid-twenties? Checked off. Selling the company for a few million dollars a few years later? Checked off. Move in with his school love? Conceive two wonderful children? Buy a huge mansion on the Saint Lawrence River in Montreal? Luxury travel to the Caribbean? Checked everything off.
Until life ticked him off.
When Beauregard discovered blood in the urine at the age of 45, he put the examination on the back burner. What should he, a fit man who ate a healthy diet and jogged regularly, be missing? The physicist specializes in building three-dimensional laser eyes for robots, and he can't escape the irony that he was so short-sighted about his own fate at the same time. For a year and a half he told himself he had pulled a muscle and soothed the back pain with hot packs from the microwave. Until his ex-wife finally drove him to the emergency room amid protest. Doctors found a massive bladder tumor: eight centimeters, the size of a giant grapefruit, and it blocked the kidneys. "My blood was flooded with toxins and the doctors told me I only had 48 hours to live."
"I felt death approaching. I hadn't taken it so seriously before."
There are few surgeons in Montreal who perform special emergency kidney surgery, and they were all overbooked. Suddenly dying became real. "I felt death getting closer. Before, honestly, I hadn't taken it that seriously. Death was something that happened to other people or to me maybe in 30 years. But that night I felt my body slip away from me. It was made by poisoned my own blood, and I was scared to death. "
Alain had met a Tibetan teacher ten years earlier, but had not taken the Buddhist teachings on impermanence very seriously. Now that death was wrapped up in him, Alain Beauregard folded his hands and prayed. "What else? I prayed like I had never prayed before. All the cells in my body were screaming: Help!"
And help came. A surgeon had a last minute cancellation. With blue lights flashing, the doctors sent Alain across town, just in time for the emergency operation. Alain's life was saved for the time being.
80 to 90 percent of us pray when we or a loved one are in an existential crisis, according to a new study by the American Baylor University. We not only believe that belief helps, it actually helps with illness, for example: a four-year study with HIV patients showed that 45 percent believed more intensely after their diagnosis. The study comes to the striking conclusion that a more intense spirituality results in a measurably slower course of the disease. The religious patients had far more healthy blood cells. If we can find refuge in a compassionate force greater than ourselves, we have a powerful ally. "Faith moves mountains," says Beauregard.
But of course we can neither fake nor force such a connection, and vice versa it becomes a disadvantage: not everyone finds God in a crisis. 13 percent of HIV patients from the same study lost their faith. The patients who found their God punishing boycotted their healing and had significantly fewer healthy blood cells. So our beliefs can have an enormous impact on our health, both positively and negatively.
For example, about half of 111 women who were sexually abused and participated in an Israeli study found that their religious beliefs weakened after the abuse. Only eight percent said it had strengthened their beliefs.
Whether faith helps in coping with trauma depends on one decisive factor, namely "whether people have enough leeway in their belief system to be able to embed the event in it," says trauma psychologist Richard Tedeschi of the University of North Carolina: "If the belief is flexible enough, the believer may be sad, upset, or disoriented, but his entire belief system does not waver, and that is a huge difference."
Otherwise, in addition to the pain and grief, there will be a massive crisis of faith. The decisive factor is not whether someone has a Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim belief, as Tedeschi found out in 30 years of trauma therapy, "but whether the belief system is flexible enough to classify the traumatic event within this system If the belief system is broad enough, someone may feel sad, lost, or angry, but their core beliefs do not break down, and that is a hugely important difference. "
So the key question is not: God, how could you let this happen? But: is my God big enough to absorb my pain?
A line from the prayer crossed his mind: "May your will be done."
For Alain Beauregard, the actual test of faith came after the emergency operation: the oncologists discovered that his sarcoma had already spread to the bones, ribs, left lung, hip and spine. A young oncologist was given the task of conveying the cancer experts' verdict to the patient: end-stage cancer, inoperable and incurable. That's it. The doctor's eyes filled with tears when she told him that chemotherapy could, at best, add a month or two to his life, but: "There is no hope. There is nothing more we can do for you. You have no more than six months to go Life."
Alain Beauregard opted for chemo and was sent home for hospice care. He was never particularly religious. He grew up Catholic and as a child felt a connection with Jesus that he lost over the years. He called himself "Hobby Buddhist". He had even viewed some of the more mystical aspects of Tibetan Buddhism that did not fit his scientific worldview quite critically. But then he got cancer, "and it turned out I had very strong beliefs. I just didn't know until he was tested."
He began to pray and meditate every waking minute. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce physical pain, anxiety, stress, and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
Beauregard believes that the power of prayer is universal. He shared his healing meditation with a good friend, a Moroccan Muslim woman who also had cancer, and she practiced the meditations with her faith. "Because the worst thing is not having any faith at all," says Beauregard. "Sure, doctors and treatments can help, but if you don't have faith in something bigger than you are, prayers have no power."
Weakened by chemo, Alain "could barely walk 20 meters. The way to the bathroom seemed as arduous as crossing the North Pole. I was useless for anything." Alain had to "let go of everything: my home, my car, my clothes. I was just lying around. In the beginning I couldn't let go. Gradually I had no other choice: I had to let go."
Alain defines letting go as "very active. It doesn't mean that I gave up or resigned. I fought for my life, but I had to let go of all the things that I clung to."
A line from a prayer crossed his mind: "May your will be done!" He wasn't entirely sure who exactly he was addressing the prayer to, but he repeated it over and over.
For Beauregard, the prayer meant that he had found a balance: "I knew that I was out of control and had to surrender to the situation, but I am still responsible; that is the key. I learned this lesson from the very beginning of my illness : I prayed and asked for help, but at the same time I was determined to do everything I could. "
Alain Beauregard got his miracle: after three months of chemo he had lost twelve pounds and his muscles were so atrophied from being bedridden that he could only walk with difficulty, but the last PET scan came as a surprise. The same oncologist who brought him the death sentence months earlier now said: "I have no explanation for this, but the cancer is gone. We can no longer find any trace, either in the bladder or in the bones." Usually, even in the extremely rare cases of spontaneous healing, a massive tumor leaves at least a scar - but his urologist, Dr. Simon Tanguay, didn't even think that. "If I hadn't seen the tumor with my own eyes," says Tanguay, "I wouldn't believe that there ever was. This is highly unusual."
Beauregard is cancer free. Since this crisis, life seems to him fleeting and enormously precious. He now speaks often at workshops and understands that it can be difficult for other cancer patients to hear about his miracle healing: "My recipe consisted of letting go, prayer and love," he says, "but I don't have a recipe for you. If I give you my recipe, it probably won't work for you. You'll have to find your own recipe. "
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