Renowned Doctor Gabor Mate on Psychedelics and Unlocking the Unconscious, From Cancer to Addiction
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Well, I can’t make this into a lecture on brain development; the point is that which circuits in the brain develop, and which patterns are engrained, has everything to do with the environment, particularly the mutual responsiveness of adult-child relationships. And therefore whatever interferes with that mutual responsiveness will actually interfere with the brain development of the child, including the neurochemistry of the child’s brain as well as the psychological emotional patterns.
So then, if you look at cancer and addiction as two adaptations to stress, what do we find? Well, prior to my work with addictions, which is my most recent work —and I did that for 12 years— I worked for seven years as the medical coordinator of the palliative care unit at Vancouver hospital working with terminally ill people. And both in family practice and palliative care I had ample opportunity to see who gets sick and who doesn't get sick. I noticed the people that got ill with chronic conditions invariably followed certain emotional dynamics that were ingrained in them so much so that these were unconscious and compulsive and for that reason all the more difficult to let go of. And, so who got cancer and who didn’t was no accident, nor was it for the most part genetically determined.
And, I’ve collected a few clippings from the Global Mail newsletter—which is Canada’s newspaper of record, or at least it thinks it is—and these clippings illustrate the patterns that I found in people who get sick.
And I’m saying all this because in talking about my work with ayahuasca and the potential healing that ayahuasca can induce in people, we have to understand what is being healed here. What is the underlying basis of these conditions?
So, these newspaper clippings, then, illustrate something about what I have found in people who get sick chronically. And when I say chronic illness I mean cancer, I mean diabetes, rheumatic arthritis, multiple sclerosis, ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, chronic asthma, psoriasis, eczema, almost any chronic illness you care to name.
The first of these clippings is written by a woman who is herself diagnosed with breast cancer. She goes to her doctor, Harold, and you have to know that her husband’s name is [Hye], and [Hye]’s first wife died of breast cancer, and not Donna, the second wife, who’s diagnosed with the same condition. So she writes:
“Harold tells me that the lump is small, and most assuredly not in my lymph nodes, unlike that of [Hye]’s first wife whose cancer spread everywhere by the time they found it. You’re not going to die, he reassures me. ‘But I’m worried about [Hye],’ I say, ‘I won’t have the strength to support him.’”
What you notice is she’s the one diagnoses with the potentially fatal condition and her automatic compulsive thought is, “While I’m getting radiation and chemotherapy, how will I support my husband emotionally?” So, this automatic regard for the emotional needs of others, while ignoring your own, is a major risk factor for chronic illness.
These others are obituaries and obituaries are fascinating to me because they tell us not only about the people who died but also about what we as a society value in one another. And often what we value in one another is precisely what kills us. And the expression “the good die young” is not a mis-statement. Often the good do die young because “good” often represents compulsive self-suppression of their own needs.
So here’s a man, a physician, who dies at age 55 of cancer, and the obituary says: