By Lissa Rankin
You probably already know that selling your soul in a job that stresses you out can predispose you to illness. However, what if I told you, as a physician, that finding your calling could significantly improve not just your mental and spiritual health, but also your physical health? Let me tell you a few stories to demonstrate this.
The Harmonica Angel
In 1996, Andy Mackie was told he would die within a year if he stopped taking the 15 heart medications that doctors told him were saving his life after he had undergone nine heart surgeries. But the side effects of the drugs made Andy’s quality of life so miserable that he decided to stop his drugs and live the rest of his life as comfortably and happily as possible. Since he figured he did not have long to live, he decided to do something that had always been a dream, he took the $600 he would have spent on his heart medicines and bought 300 harmonicas for children in public school, complete with lessons from Andy himself.
When Andy didn’t die the next month, he bought a few hundred more, and the Andy Mackie Music Foundation was born. Fifteen years and 20,000 harmonicas later, Andy finally died, but not without having taught over 6,000 children how to play the harmonica and many thousands more how to play strum sticks and guitars he made himself.
Cami Walker has a similar story of healing through purposeful generosity. Cami was 33 years old when diagnosed with debilitating multiple sclerosis, which left her barely able to walk. When conventional medicine failed her, she sought out the treatment of South African medicine woman Mbali Creazzo, who wrote a prescription on a pad- “Give 29 Gifts in 29 days.” So she did. Moreover, at the end of the 29 days, her symptoms were nearly gone. This inspired her to start 29Gifts.org, a nonprofit that invites people to practice generosity by experimenting with this generosity challenge- giving 29 gifts in 29 days.
Your body benefits.
Health & Life Purpose Are Linked
How are physical healing and life purpose related? As I described in my book Mind Over Medicine, your body is beautifully equipped with natural self-healing mechanisms that can destroy cancer, fight off infection, reverse heart disease, and slow aging. However, here’s the kicker. Your body’s self-healing mechanisms only function when your nervous system is in the parasympathetic mode, or what Herbert Benson at Harvard called the “relaxation response.” Every time your nervous system goes into the sympathetic mode, which Walter Cannon at Harvard called the “stress response” or which you may know as the “fight or flight” response, your body’s natural self-healing mechanisms get flipped off.
Consider Your Work Life
Does your job relax your nervous system- or trigger fight or flight responses? Are your self-healing mechanisms doing their thing 24/7, or are they turned off half the time you are working?
When you are doing work you love, as Andy Mackie and Cami Walker demonstrate, the relaxation response floods your body with healing hormones like oxytocin, relaxin, endorphins, and dopamine. When you are compromising your integrity or facing toxic people or put in the line of fire at work, your body is filled with stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Which over time, weaken your immune system, damage your heart, and predispose you to everything from cancer to chronic pain to the common cold.
Finding your calling soothes your soul and your nervous system, and the body benefits physiologically.
The Anatomy of a Calling
While not as dramatic as Andy’s or Cami’s, I have my own personal story of health challenges that disappeared when I found and fulfilled my calling, a story I tell in my new book The Anatomy of a Calling. (Watch the book trailer and download the free Fulfill Your Calling Kit here.) The book is a call to action to invite you to bring your soul into your work, not just as a way to be in sacred service in the world, but as medicine for your body.
Join me live in Oakland, California or via Livestream from the comfort of your home for the Miracles & Sacred Activism workshop I am leading on January 9. RSVP here.
Lissa Rankin, MD, New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine, The Fear Cure, and The Anatomy of a Calling is a physician, speaker, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, and mystic. Passionate about what makes people optimally healthy and what predisposes them to illness, she is on a mission to merge science and spirituality in a way that not only facilitates the health of the individual but also uplifts the health of the collective. Bridging between seemingly disparate worlds, Lissa is a connector, collaborator, curator, and amplifier, broadcasting not only her unique visionary ideas but also those of cutting edge visionaries she discerns and trusts, especially in the field of her latest research into “Sacred Medicine.” Lissa has starred in two National Public Television specials and also leads workshops, both online and at retreat centers like Esalen and Kripalu. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her daughter. She blogs at LissaRankin.com and posts regularly on Facebook.