Dr. Leo Galland is an accomplished doctor known as a founder of functional medicine and has had a long and varied career as both a world renowned physician and a international bestselling author of 5 books. His latest book Already Here: A Doctor Discovers the Truth About Heaven, is a more personal one about the story of losing his 22-year old son and how it sparked his belief in the afterlife. In this episode we talk about Leo Galland the doctor: what inspired him to go into the profession, his experience as a young doctor at Bellevue and how he arrived at using the approach of functional medicine. But we also speak at length about Galland the spiritual person: the experience he had raising and ultimately losing a developmentally challenged son and how that loss opened his mind and heart and ultimately changed how he operates in the world and how he approaches his patients.
To learn more about Dr. Leo Galland, visit www.drgalland.com. Thanks so much for listening! If you like what you heard, please subscribe and rate on iTunes, visit www.ashowofhearts.com or follow us @ashowofhearts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook! Take a screenshot of this episode and share it in your Instastory and use the hashtag #ashowofhearts . Feel free to email us at info@ashowofhearts with any questions or comments!
RP: You’re listening to A Show Of Hearts, the podcast about finding the courage to live a deep and magical life. I’m your host, life coach Rosemary Pritzker. (singing).
RP: Dr. Leo Galland is a highly respected physician, and one of the original founders of the principles of functional medicine. He’s an international bestselling author of five books, and has published many scientific articles. Dr. Galland attended Harvard University and NYU School of Medicine, and has received numerous awards throughout his career. His name also appears on lists such as Leading Physicians Of The World, and America’s Top Doctors.
RP: Dr. Galland has been my doctor on and off for a decade. His latest book, Already Here, is a departure from his usual subject of integrated medicine. In it, he shares the story of losing his 22-year-old son, Christopher, and what he learned about death, grief, and the afterlife. In this episode, we begin by discussing his worldview as a physician. I asked him if there is a common denominator among his most challenging and mysterious cases, and I think his answer will surprise you.
RP: Then we discussed his experiences after the death of his son, and what he learned from him. Christopher was a special needs child who was brain-damaged from birth. He liked to challenge everyone around him, but Leo later learned that what appeared as Christopher being difficult was actually him showing up as a very wise teacher.
RP: To learn more about Leo Galland, visit drgalland.com, or find the link in the show notes. When someone says, “Follow the heart,” what does that mean to you? What does that conjure for you?
LG: Well, I think the first thing is stop running around, pay attention, know what’s in your heart. I mean, listen to it, because the heart will speak to you. That’s where I start.
RP: Were there any early lessons in your life about that that kind of led you to thinking and feeling that way?
LG: Well, I would say that for me, there was always this kind of duality of heart and mind that I probably spent my life trying to learn how to bridge the division between them. For me though, it was always a question of how do you respond to things? I tried to understand that process as I became a physician, I think.
LG: That’s probably where I made the greatest strides, because what I learned was important to do was to be able to approach my patients with my heart as well as my mind, and that the subjective reactions that I had to my patients was really an important piece of information. It was just as important as what any lab test told me.
LG: It was a very slow process. I mean, I spent decades trying to bring the two together to the point where I didn’t have to think about doing it, where it just kind of automatically happened. Of course, compassion is a really important part of being a physician.
RP: What led you to becoming a doctor in the first place?
LG: Well, to begin with, I wanted to help people, and I was told, “Well, don’t say that when you go to medical school. Tell them it’s because of the intellectual stimulation, or whatever.” Yeah, I just thought that I wanted to be useful, I wanted to be able to be of service, and I felt that being the kind of person I was, that using my intellect and my mind to be of service was the path that I should follow.
LG: I like to try and solve problems, and more important than just solving problems myself, I really care about empowering people. What I really like to try and do is to help people learn how to solve their own problems. I went to medical school at NYU, and so the clinical training was at Bellevue Hospital. As soon as I got onto the wards of Bellevue and were dealing with real people who were very sick, it was like, “Wow, this is what I want to be doing. I want to be in this clinical environment. I want to be trying to help these people interact, learn, grow.”
LG: So I mean, it’s very much passion for the work that enabled me to do it. When I finished at Bellevue and started teaching, I realize that there was really something missing. I realized that there was an awful lot that we just didn’t know about people. The whole practice of medicine and the way it was taught was just focused on, “What disease does this person have?” Then you can treat the disease.
LG: But what I learned as a scientist when I was working in laboratories was that science is all about the details, that is you can change the outcome of an experiment by altering the temperature one degree, or by changing one ingredient that you’re using. If you’re trying to practice medicine as a scientist, then the details are really important. Details like what does this person eat? What does this person think? Who does he or she live with? What’s the environment like in which this person lives?
LG: That was being totally ignored, and still is to a large extent, which amazes me. I realized there was an awful lot that I didn’t know about my patients, and I wanted to learn how to get that information. I spent years studying nutrition, environmental health, behavioral medicine, physical medicine, and first thing I realized was there was a tremendous amount of research that had been done in these areas, it just hadn’t crossed over into the clinical practice of medicine.
LG: As I began applying it, I realized that this was really important, powerful information that could help people change their lives, and that once you start doing this, you never want to go back and act as if you … it’s impossible to go back to the model in which I had been trained, and which to a large extent still dominates medical practice in the U.S.
LG: When I looked at what was effective about what I was doing, and this is like maybe in the ’80s, I realized that I was just … I was thinking about the problems of patients differently. I was in New Haven, saw a lot of chronically ill people. Many of them had been to specialists at Yale. The more Yale specialists they’d seen without getting answers, the more likely I was going to be able to help them, because the specialists were all looking at the diseases, and the people who were coming to me were people for whom that approach had failed.
LG: I didn’t have to worry about, “Was this test done? Was this diagnosis made?” That had already been done. What I could concentrate on is, “What has everybody ignored about this person that we’re now going to try and shed some light on?” That’s been an approach that has really been very helpful to my patients. There’s information, and techniques, and knowledge that comes out of thinking that way that I’ve taught to other physicians, and it’s been very well accepted, and it helped to shape functional medicine, which has had significant impact on medical practice in the U.S. and elsewhere.
LG: For me, that’s been a very fulfilling enterprise, sometimes really frustrating. A lot of work. I mean, the work never stops because when you learn a set of skills and you get pretty competent at managing something, and then you go and you teach that to other doctors. Well, then the people that you wind up seeing have already seen those doctors, and so what you already learned that made a difference has already not helped those people, and your challenge, you’ve got to take it one step further. You’ve got to raise the bar on your practice and your understanding.
LG: I mean, I like doing that. It suits my personality well. It’s also very humbling, because you get to realize, “There is so much that I don’t know, and no matter how long I spend, and how hard I work, and how many breakthroughs I think I’m making, there’s just so much more that I need to address.”
RP: Yeah. Human bodies, and human psyches, and the coming together of those two things, it’s so complex. How is anyone supposed to get to the bottom of any of it?
LG: Right, and that’s one of the reasons why the only medicine that’s really sustainable and ultimately successful is one that brings the patient in as a partner with the medical team, because people ultimately heal themselves, and if someone’s not going to cooperate in that process, there’s a limit to what you as a physician can do, but if someone really gets engaged in trying to restore her health or his health, they can bring insights and understanding that I as a physician can’t really access without that person sharing them with me.
RP: Where do you think the disconnect is between just with how many people don’t want to take their health into their hands? They want to get better, but they don’t want to have to actually do the work. I mean, I feel like that’s pretty prevalent.
LG: Yeah, it is. I had this really frustrating experience a number of years ago. I saw a child who had a kind of kidney disease that can be associated with a food allergy. She was being treated a CHOP, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which is a top place, and no one had talked to the parents about the food allergy aspect.
LG: So I called up the nephrologist, the kidney specialist that she was seeing, to say, “Well, I think maybe we should look at that aspect of it.” He said, “Yeah, we’re totally aware of that, but we stopped telling parents about it, because we found that parents didn’t want to have to change their child’s diet, so we only get into it if the parent asks us.”
LG: I thought, “Wow, boy.” I mean, these were caring doctors, they were really good doctors. They were so frustrated that they just kind of gave up. If the parent went to them and said, “I want to know whether a diet change can cure my child of this terrible kidney disease,” then they would tell them, otherwise they wouldn’t even tell them about it.
RP: Yeah. I have a couple different friends who are ER doctors. I’ve asked a couple of them the same question, “Okay, how many of the cases that come into your ER that aren’t stabbings and other accidents, how much of the rest of them are related to diet in someway, where they’re caused by it or exacerbated?” Everyone I asked that question who’s an ER doctor says, “Oh, 100%, basically. Everything.”
LG: Right. Well, look, we know from studies that have been done that 80% of the burden of morbidity, which is sickness in this country, could be prevented or reversed by lifestyle changes. I mean, that’s huge. The only way to really build a sustainable system is by making that the focus of it. Of course, the big enemy to that are the corporate interests.
RP: There’s two main factors I see there. One is corporate interests, wanting people to buy sugar and all that other crap, and then there’s also the emotional side of changing one’s diet is really hard, especially when you’re surrounded by other people who are eating a certain way, and it may be hard to afford foods that are better for you. Like there’s so many factors.
LG: Right, but that is all part of the culture that’s created by the corporate interests, because yeah, I mean, life is hard, and it’s hard to make lifestyle changes without social reinforcement. We have two cultures, really. I mean, we have a culture that will foster, that will reinforce that kind of positive health behaviors, but it’s a minority culture. Then we have this other culture which really antagonizes positive lifestyle change, and does all sorts of things to try and undermine it.
RP: This is why I get so excited about edible school yards. My friend Kimbal Musk is trying to get a learning garden into every school in America, and he’s already in hundreds of them. Starting young, teaching kids how to grow their own food, what could be better?
LG: Yeah, just knowing what food is.
RP: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.
LG: That it grows and it comes from … plants are real.
RP: Yeah. When someone comes in who’s a particularly complicated puzzle, have you found that there are any connection points between those people, things that they might have in common, like the most mysterious illnesses?
LG: Okay, that’s a really good question. Let me just say that my basic approach is to view every person as unique, every illness as a unique set of events, and to try and approach people on the basis of their individuality and uniqueness more so than how they are like somebody else, which is one of the things that makes it different from the standard medical approach, which is you try to lump people, like do they meet these criteria, and then … I mean, that’s what the disease model is about.
LG: Now, there are certain themes that come up, and I would say those themes tend to have more of an impact on prognosis than diagnosis. They influence how people are likely to do. And of course, the most important is the relationships they have with other people, number one.
LG: If someone who has good relationships with other people, they have strong family support, you’re just in a whole different universe when you try to help that person help themselves, than if you have someone who’s really isolated, angry, really doesn’t have any positive support, and has a lot of negative energy that they’re getting from people around them. I mean, you look at a situation like that and it’s, “Wow, this is going to be really a tremendous challenge.”
RP: Do you ever say to those people anything about that piece of it? Like, “Hey, if you were to do something about …”
LG: Oh, yeah. I’m constantly doing it, but you have to do it in a way that doesn’t … the problem with someone who’s been chronically ill, and is frustrated, and hasn’t gotten better is they’ve seen a lot of doctors who have said, “You know, it’s all in your head,” or there’s a lot of blaming the victim.
LG: So trying to find a balance between helping yourself, but feeling like this illness is your fault, that’s tricky. I really have to go very gingerly in approaching those issues with patients, because it is important that there’s a feeling of some kind of, “We’re working together. This is collaborative. There’s an alliance between you and me for the purpose of helping you get well.” That’s not always easy to build. Sometimes even when you build it and … it’s pretty fragile and can fall apart.
RP: Can you usually tell when someone’s too isolated and doesn’t have enough of a sense of belonging in their lives?
LG: Well, yeah, I mean, that’ll usually come out in the discussions that we have. I ask some questions. I have people fill out a questionnaire, and there are questions in there that relate to that.
RP: When you ever bring up that subject with people, does it ever start to feel like therapy?
LG: Oh, yeah. I have a colleague who’s a cognitive behavioral therapist, and we’ve shared a number of patients. He said to me, “What you do with people is psychotherapy.” The way that I view it as psychotherapy is if you take someone who is sick and feels as if no one can help them, and you help that person understand what they can do to help themselves, the empowerment is that psychotherapy, and that’s an essential part of healing.
RP: We started talking about how he met his wife when they both worked at Bellevue Hospital. So after you guys met, how long did it take before you guys figured things out?
LG: Figured things out. Well, I don’t know. It’s a process, we’re still figuring it out. Marriage is like medicine, it’s constantly a dynamic situation.
RP: Yeah, ever evolving.
RP: How long have you guys been married?
LG: We’ve been together about 47 years.
RP: That’s a long time.
LG: Yes, it is.
RP: Any insights about what has sustained that?
LG: I remember at one point the thought that I had, and I’d only been married to Chris for a year or two, I said, “You know, the secret seems to be that you care about each other and you have fun together.” I mean, that was it. Caring wasn’t enough, you had to have fun.
LG: Then when you have kids and you have a family, the responsibilities and the caring, and also the types of fun, change and expand. So doing things together as a family really means a lot.
RP: Okay, so then you started having kids, and right off the bat had triplets, right?
LG: Chris actually had the triplets when I met her.
LG: It’s not something that I went into in the book. They were amazing, they were just as cool as she was. Yeah, so I was in love with the whole collection.
RP: How old were they when you came on the scene?
LG: Almost five.
LG: And yeah, they were just fantastic.
LG: Christopher was always a challenge, and he … the thing about Christopher that is so remarkable, I think, is the way his relationship to me changed as he got older and with his death. While he was alive, I always thought about Chris in terms of, “Well, he’s my responsibility, and so I’m taking care of him. He’s an amazing, quirky individual who … I mean, I don’t know anybody like him, and he is so unpredictable, and so difficult and frustrating, but has such love, and joy, and sparkle to him that he’s just a unique human being.”
LG: Then things really changed, because at the time of his death, I had … my wife and I both had this experience. We saw with our eyes that there was so much more to Christopher than we had ever really seen. I mean, we always knew that he was special, and I mean, his grandmother said, “Boy, if he wasn’t brain-damaged, what would he be like?”
RP: But it sounds like there were a lot of special things about him that came because of him having been brain-damaged?
LG: Oh, yeah, yeah. That is his directness, his total lack of guile, his lack of resentment. I mean, ordinary people who are not brain-damaged, they harbor a lot of resentment about people who have mistreated them. Chris was like Teflon when it came to resentment. Nothing stuck with him. He would remember things, but it was always kind of like, “Okay, so that’s a fact.” Maybe it was even funny.
LG: If somebody had been mean or nasty to Chris, he might avoid them, because he didn’t want to get hurt, although most of the time he didn’t care about that. He might really try to annoy them to provoke them, because it would just be funny, but he would never hold a grudge against them. He was always ready to be direct and loving with everybody.
LG: People who are not brain-damaged are not like that. That was a gift of brain damage in Christopher’s life, and you can’t really separate Christopher from the fact that he was damaged. This was the way he was. This was Christopher.
LG: What I didn’t understand until his death and afterwards was that he was really here as a teacher. He was my teacher, among others. I mean, as much as I thought I was taking care of him, he was taking care of me at a level that was so much more profound. This was like being in the presence of a holy man, a guru who had so much that you could learn from.
LG: It started with the experience at the moment of his death. He was 22. He had gone to live at a farm in the Berkshires as part of a community called Lifesharing, and he’d been there for nine months, an interesting period of time, when he one morning in November, went for a walk in the woods. It was November 2nd, which is All Souls Day. He drowned, basically. He probably had a seizure, he wasn’t observed. He drowned in about two inches of water in a streambed, because he had walked away from the group he was with.
LG: My wife and I were in New York, and I’d gotten a phone call that he was being resuscitated at the emergency room in Great Barrington Hospital, but he was very cold. I mean, he seemed to be dead, but his body temperature was so low. I asked them to keep warming him and not decide that he was dead until he reached a viable body temperature, you know, because hypothermia can protect your brain from damage.
LG: So Christine and I were sitting there waiting for a phone call, feeling overwhelmed, numb. There’s this tragedy, this life-changing tragedy that’s taking place 150 miles away from where you are. You can’t get there to be part of it. You can’t do anything about it. All you can do is wait. I mean, it’s an agonizing feeling.
LG: Everything felt really heavy, and then all of a sudden there was this feeling in the room that we both felt, like lightning was about to strike. It was this electrical charge sensation, and we both stood up at the same time just spontaneously, and then there was this vision that we had. It wasn’t like a vision with our eyes, it was more like a vision with our minds. There was light, this intense golden light just filled our minds, and the light was emanating from a figure that had Christopher’s face.
LG: The shape of the figure was not exactly like a person. It was a kind of oblong shape with a face at the apex, and when I thought about it later, I realized, “Well, that’s kind of the shape of a ghost.” I mean, I think about it that way. It seems crazy to me that we have this image of ghosts as being sad, and scary, and pale. This ghost was like … I mean, it was more like the Holy Ghost. I mean, this was a ghost that was full of love, and energy, and joy, and it was clearly Christopher, but it looked perfect and beautiful.
LG: I mean, Chris in life had so many scars that his face looked like he was a prize fighter or something, I mean, because he kept bumping into things, and things were always slamming into him. He was very awkward and clumsy. This face was beautiful, and the feeling of total joy that emanated from this being was not like anything I had ever experienced remotely in life.
LG: It was like you wanted to be there. You wanted to be part of that. It was magnetic, it was amazing. Then he was gone. I mean, I don’t know how long it lasted. 10 seconds, 20 seconds. You wanted to go with him. It was like, “Boy, if that’s the way life could be, you would want that every moment of your consciousness.”
LG: Then the phone was ringing, and we knew, okay, yeah, they were going to tell us, “Yeah, we warmed his body up. His cardiogram is flat. He’s …” So we said, “Thank you.” And of course, we understand. It was what we felt, and I still believe this, we were seeing the real Christopher. This is who Christopher was, and this was the energy and the spirit that was within that amazing, complex, difficult human being that we had raised.
LG: If that were the only thing that ever happened, I probably would have thought about it obsessively until I couldn’t think about it anymore, and it wouldn’t have changed my way of understanding the world, but a few days later we buried Chris in the Berkshires. We wanted him to be there with the community that he had been so important to, and we drove back to New York.
LG: Now, at his graveside, on a crazy impulse that I can’t identify where it came from, we decided to release balloons at the graveside. 22 yellow helium balloons, which if I had thought about it, I would have said, “Well, that’s not really a responsible thing, sending helium balloons up into the sky,” but we did it.
LG: They had arrived initially at the church, and then were taken to the graveside, tied together with yellow ribbons that were attached to a sandbag. The knot that tied them was so tight you couldn’t untie them, so we had to cut the ribbons. Each balloon had a short yellow ribbon about 12 inches long with kind of a rough edge attached to it, because somebody had … at the graveside, somebody had a rusty pocket … or an old pocketknife that was kind of dull. Didn’t look beautiful the way I thought they would look when they went up into the sky.
LG: So the next day, we’re driving back to New York, and we get to Columbus Circle as we’re heading downtown in Manhattan. There’s a lot of traffic. We stop at a red light. A yellow balloon literally drops out of the sky, hovers about 10 feet above the ground directly in front of the windshield of the car, and then sort of bobs away. As I saw it, my first reaction was, “Wow, isn’t that a coincidence?” Then I noticed that this balloon has a short about 12 inch yellow ribbon attached to it.
LG: I mean, and this is a cold kind of rainy day in November. We were right near Central Park. This balloon did not come from Central Park. That would be rising up. This was dropping down. I think it was almost certainly one of the balloons that we had released at the graveside, and the fact that it wound up in New York 24 hours later, yeah, that could happen with a helium balloon.
LG: The fact that it dropped down right where we were by Columbus Circle, a place that had a certain meaning for us, because I used to call Christopher, “Cristoforo,” which is Christopher Columbus’ name in Italian. He would laugh, and so that location had a particular significance to us. I mean, that’s pretty extraordinary. That really blew me away.
LG: I felt as if Christopher were laughing at me, and he were saying, “I know you, Leo. I let you see my true soul so that you would know the real nature of things, but I also know that wouldn’t be enough for you. Given enough time, you would doubt that it was anything but some shared hallucination you had with my mom, and so I want you to try and argue your way out of this. How do you come up with an explanation for this?”
LG: Of course, as a scientist, yeah, I’m always trying to come up with explanations, so what’s a rational explanation for what I experienced? Well, most scientists would just dismiss it. That’s not being a scientist. If you dismiss an experience or an observation, then you’re just … I mean, you’re just doing what people what are not scientists do.
LG: They just take the data that fits in with their preconceived notion of the world, and that’s all they pay attention to. They don’t pay attention to the most important information, which is the information that challenges your understanding of the world, that shows you, “Hey, you’ve got to get beyond where you are if you really want to understand things,” which is what I really have learned in my medical practice.
LG: You always have to look at the stuff that challenges you. You have to take that seriously. Chris was giving me an opportunity to really challenge the way that I thought about things, and that started me on a journey, but it took a long time. For a few years, I didn’t exactly know what to make of this.
RP: There was another interaction with Chris on Thanksgiving not long after his death, where Leo suddenly felt very sick. He immediately got in bed and began to have an experience in which he felt all the disappointments Chris had as a brain-damaged child, all the things he couldn’t do.
LG: I felt as if I really understood the strength of his character, the way in which he took pain, and the disappointment, and unhappiness, and transformed it into love and joy. When I came out of it, I was really … I was so impressed by him.
LG: I just understood him more intimately than I had ever before, so I think it took a few years as I began to let that understanding of Chris’ strength, and that being that I had experienced at the moment of his death, and the power of that being who was able to transport a balloon from Great Barrington to Columbus Circle who had that kind of control. Okay, that’s wonderful. Boy, I wish I were like that. Maybe everybody’s like that. How do you find that in everybody?
RP: If you love what you’re hearing in this episode, subscribe, give a five-star rating and write a review in iTunes and then share it with someone you know who will love it too.
RP: After that, there wasn’t much interaction with Chris until five years later.
LG: I woke up the middle of the night with this voice saying, you have to tell my story. My heart was pounding, and it was crazy. Nothing like that had ever happened to me, but I recognized that was Chris who was speaking to me. I started planning this book. In the morning, I said to Christina, “This is what happened and I’m going to write this book.” She said, “Well, that’s a great idea, but keep it simple.” Because I was already planning all sorts of … She said, “Just talk about Chris.” I figured I would write it over the summer when I had time, but I started thinking about it, and I started contacting people who had known Chris, to ask them for stuff that they wanted to share.
LG: We flew to Palm Springs for this conference. I woke up during the night with another one of these messages. The only two times in my life this has ever happened. This voice was saying, “Tomorrow, there will be a revelation in the desert.” What does that mean? Again, it-
RP: It sounds ominous.
LG: Yeah, it did. I was shaking. My heart was pounding.
RP: Leo had planned a day of outdoor activities for him and his family while they were in Palm Springs, but nothing seemed to work out. Everything he planned seemed to go wrong. Later that day, he went on a walk in the desert by himself in the hot sun.
LG: I sat down on a rock and I was feeling sorry for myself, I guess. I got to change things here. I’m working too hard. Christina was almost killed in a car accident three months ago. Everything seemed unsatisfying. I think I said, “Okay, Chris. All right. What should I do?” All of a sudden, there was this presence. It wasn’t quite the same being that had been there before, but in the desert, in this heat and sun, there was a bright, joyful presence, and the words that came to me, and I’m not hearing this with my ears, I’m hearing this with my mind were, “Follow my lead.” I thought, that’s ridiculous. That was my initial response. How am I going to follow your lead? I’m 50 years old. I’m a doctor. I’m really busy. You died when you were young. You were just a child. You were brain damaged. How do I follow your lead?
LG: What came back were the words, teach and serve. I didn’t understand Christopher at that time. I can tell because of my response. It was, oh, come on. I’ve been teaching and serving for 20, 30 years now. I’m really tired of this. I just want to have fun. I want to go mountain biking, body surfing. I need to make a change here. He just repeated it. He said, “Follow my lead. Teach and serve.” I realized that it was Chris who was the teacher, and who was of service, and I was being told to understand that and to follow that lead. One of the most striking characteristics of Christopher is there is no ego there. He just was. He loved being himself. He loved getting gold stars, but it was not the kind of ego that we walk around with. It was that ego-less teaching and serving, that was a model that I have to strive for and that was being presented to me. That was a huge breakthrough for me emotionally, intellectually.
LG: About three months later, I had this summer, it’s mostly out at the beach going into the city to see some patients. I decided, okay, I’m going to spend three months now and I’m just really going to write and work on this book. I felt very peaceful writing it. It was a wonderful experience. There were times when I was writing it where I would be walking and asking questions of no one in particular about the book when Chris would come to me and he would say things to me. That went on during the length of the summer. There were only a few of these, but they were really profound.
LG: I think the first one was I was remembering as a child and I was remembering Chris as a child and I was remembering his relationships with people in the family and my wife’s uncle, Jerry, who had died during open heart surgery a number of years before, and how Jerry used to love Christopher and he would toss him up in the air and say, “There’s nothing wrong with my little Charlie. He’s way ahead of all of us.” I just wondered like, I wonder what Jerry would think of Chris now. I said, “Where are you, Chris? Are you with Jerry? Is he there?” This voice comes back to me saying, kind of like, “Well, where else would he be? What’s wrong with you? Of course. We’re all with God. We’re all living, all of us who are no longer living in your world, are living in spirit and we’re all together.”
LG: He then went into this long explanation about the illusory nature of time and space. The problem that people have is that we all think time and space is real and that that’s what determines our world, but that’s not what’s real. What’s real is outside of time and space. There were a series of other conversations along those lines that occurred as I was trying to write the book.
LG: I put the book aside for a while in the fall because I got really busy, and then there was a really tragic event that occurred. A friend of ours, someone whom I had mentioned in the book, who had sung the mass at Christopher’s funeral, [Peter Semina 00:06:57] was killed by a taxi cab. He’s crossing the street to get the Sunday Times on a Saturday night. The taxi killed him. He had two young children who were friends of Jordan’s. We knew the family well. They were Polish immigrants. I was so angry and confused. I had developed a lot of insights into Christopher at that point. I had really come to recognize as I was writing the book that Christopher was a spiritual master and my teacher and that what he did in the world that he really was teaching everybody, although you couldn’t recognize him as a teacher.
LG: In fact, what I realized as I was writing the book was that Chris was part of the tradition of nontraditional teachers. Fools basically and gestures and people who challenge you and they taught you through paradox and that Chris did that with everybody he knew. If you thought that you were a real loser, Chris could show you what a strong person you were. He could get you to take care of him in such a way that you could feel really good about yourself. If you were a pitiful person, even more damaged than Christopher, he would show you such personal attention and respect that if you were all able to perceive it, you would feel like a loved and respected human being. The kind of people that everybody else would ignore, Chris would go out of his way just naturally. He would notice them. He would be kind to them, never in a showy or condescending way, just a natural way. This is a person who needs love and respect, and I’m going to give them love and respect.
LG: If you were like so many of us, someone who thought of yourself as, hey, I’m pretty on top of things. I’m an adult, and this is a brain damaged child. I’m in authority. I’m smart. I’m kind. I’m general. Whatever you thought about yourself, he could show you that the opposite was really true. He could drive you, and he often did to me, he could really drive you out of your mind. The more your ego was involved in being this authoritative individual, the more that Chris could drive you crazy, and he would just keep doing it and doing it. I realized that actually that was an act of love. He was teaching you about yourself if you were a large enough person to be able to see that.
LG: I learned that about Chris, and I really understood it by the time of Peter’s death. When Peter died, I was just so angry and upset. I went to Christopher because by now, he had become my spiritual master. I think this was probably the most important conversation that I had with him and it was the last one also. I said, “You helped me understand your death. I don’t understand Peter’s. Is this some kind of freak accident or is this somehow part of God’s plan?” He totally blew me away. He said, “You still don’t understand. You don’t get it. There is no plan. Plan implies before and after. It implies going from here to there. That’s dependent on time. You’re still trapped in that way of understanding.” The conversation went on from there.
LG: I said, “Okay, so what’s it like in heaven?” He said, joyfully, “This is what I always wanted. Everyone is here. Everyone, even you.” That was like, wow, how does that happen? Okay, well if you understand that the arrow of time is a small part of existence than outside the arrow of time, there is no time and we’re all there, and we were all together in heaven.
LG: I asked him some other questions because I always have to test him and push him. I said, “Well, you’re saying everyone is there. What about the evil ones? What about Adolf Hitler?” I immediately regretted having asked that because I felt this chill come over me and felt like the air was being sucked out of the room. Christopher went into this amazing explanation of things. He said, “You have to understand the nature of evil. A lot of bad things happen. Bad is not evil.” The reason we are here, the whole purpose for the universe is because God is love, not just that God is love as a noun. God is love as a verb. God is loving. The act of loving is God. There is no God without that. In order for there to be loving, there has to be separation.
LG: The reason there is a material world is because you need the material world to create the separation, and our purpose here as human beings is to bring God’s love into the material world. There are beings who perversely turn against their reason for existence and do not cherish and love others because of their otherness, which is why we are here. They hate others because of their otherness. That is evil. That is a crime against God. Those beings live in eternal torment. There is no hell. The punishment is the separation from God, from the reason that they are here and, yeah, they were with us. They are part of this whole experience. We feel sad for them, but our sadness for those tortured, tormented evil beings is not enough to diminish the joy that we feel because it was always like this and it always will be.
LG: I think that was the most profound explanation of things he gave to me. I was actually depressed after I heard that because I’m always trying to improve things. To me, it’s like I have this … I’m always trying to figure out how do things get better? How does the world get better? How do people get better? He was basically saying it doesn’t happen like that. I went and I sat down in my study and I said, “So the world will never be perfect.” He said, “Well, not the way you want it to be.” He said, “You know the way you like to tell stories about the way that I was when I was alive, all the quirky, weird, crazy things that I did.” I said, “Well, around here, some of us like to tell stories about you and how you’re always trying to get everything right and you’re always trying to figure out what’s the right thing to do. Lighten up. You’re already here.” That really blew me away.
RP: Yeah. When I started reading your book, I read the first chapter and then got to the end of it, which was the end of the experience of his spirit coming to you the day that he died. There was this one thing that you said that really just moved me, I guess I would say. You said something about like, “Well, if there’s that version of him, is there a version like that of me and of everybody else?” Actually when I read that, I burst into tears and I had to put the book down because that’s something that I very much believe, and I think that a lot of the struggles I’ve personally had in my life has mostly come from not being able to see and feel that version of myself.
LG: I think most of us are separated from that version of ourselves, but there is, and I don’t know how you get there, honestly. What I do know is that there is this thing that I call the arrow of time, and we’re pinned to it while we’re here in the world. I don’t mind it most of the time. I enjoy a lot of the stuff that goes on, although sometimes you just get really exhausted and angry and frustrated. As long as you’re pinned to the arrow of time, you just don’t really see what things really are. There’s a model for this in physics. As long as you’re measuring things in a Newtonian way, which works pretty well in this world, you’re not understanding the true quantum nature of things.
LG: The route to seeing the way things really are is finding a way to un-pin yourself from that arrow. This self, this marvelous, magnificent self, this is not a self that you own. There’s no ego in this self. It’s not like, wow, boy, aren’t I special? I’m an angel. This is not about you, not the you that’s in the arrow of time. This is God manifesting in all people. What Christopher said to me, it’s not so much about finding your perfect self and getting there to like get out of the way. Let that self find you. Give up all of these things that separate you from that perfect self.
RP: I would say that a lot of wisdom traditions say something similar. I was also wondering, while this was going on, while he was saying all these things to you and then afterwards, throughout the years afterwards, have you found yourself comparing the things that he taught you to other wisdom traditions?
LG: Yeah, I have. Originally, I was going to write a book about that until Christina said, “Just keep it simple. Just write about Christopher.” There’s nothing that Christopher taught me that is not part of the great spiritual traditions because he didn’t invent this stuff, and these traditions didn’t invent it. This is the real nature of things, of the universe. These are just different ways of recognizing it and communicating it.
RP: When you think back to the things that he taught you and then you consider things like the idea of reincarnation, how does that fit in?
LG: People have asked me that actually, and I don’t have a definite answer here, except that reincarnation is very much a time-related process. There’s this life and then there’s the next life. The one reference point that I have for Chris’s understanding of timelessness, it’s in Siddhartha.
LG: Siddhartha has this vision, the moment of enlightenment, after which he then becomes the ferryman and takes the role of the ferryman. He realizes that everything happens all at once, and every life he has lived is happening all at once. It’s not as if there’s a progression. I remember when I read that in college, I was puzzled by that. It was like, wait a second. Don’t you get better? Isn’t there a progression? Don’t you earn your way to nirvana? No. It doesn’t happen that way. It’s just all happening at once. If there is reincarnation, that’s just part of the whole party. You’re not earning anything. There’s no ego here. Just get your ego out of the way of God.
RP: How has what Christopher taught you affected your practice as a physician?
LG: I certainly, I relate to death and loss differently. As someone who started out always wanting to, I use the term empower, why would I want to empower people so that they’re stronger, so that they’re better, so they do more? I have always been very outcome-oriented, like let’s get the best outcome here. Ultimately, there’s always the same outcome. Everybody dies. Maybe the process is more important than the outcome. I’m a much softer person than I used to be because of Chris.
RP: Does it affect how you see what’s going on with your patients with their symptoms?
LG: Sometimes, it will. There are so many things that impact on how I understand the illness of any individual patient. It’s hard for me to say yes because Chris taught me this. There are so many things that happen. He has really helped me take my ego out of the process, and that I think is essential to be a healing practitioner.
RP: How has it affected your everyday life knowing these things that he taught you?
LG: Well, I don’t worry about death. There are a lot of things that don’t bother me anymore, but there are still things that do, but I’m less caught up in them.
RP: Is there any guidance or advice that you can offer for parents who have lost children who were not able to have a visit from their spirit?
LG: I feel unbelievably blessed by having had Chris to teach me. That doesn’t happen for most people. First of all, I wrote the books to help people who had experienced loss and suffering. At least look at my experience and what I learned and try to see how they can, as I said before, find the Christophers in their life. Find the teachers that are there to guide you because of your loss and because of the pain, not in spite of it, but because of it. Understand that the pain is an important part of your journey here, and that the separation is the illusion. We are all together for eternity. Eternity is now.
LG: We live this life pinned to the arrow of time in this segment of reality that has its good and its bad and it’s, as Einstein said, this strange world we live in. One of the things that Einstein said, by the way, is physicists know that before and after are illusions. Yeah, so there is this strange, weird world of time and space that we’re in for some period of our real existence or for some part of it, but it’s really just a small part of it.
RP: I’m curious. Why did you have these conversations with Christopher, write the book and then wait 20 years?
LG: The first thing was that at the end of my last conversation with Chris, just about the time he said, “Well, you’re already here, I said, “Is there anything else that I need to know that you want to tell me?” He said, “No. I told you everything. That’s it. You’re on your own now.” I wrote the book. I shared it with my family, with some friends. The question is, okay, what do we do with this book? Do I really want to publish this book now? I’ve got all this other stuff I’m working on, so I put it away.
LG: Then, there were a series of events about two or three years ago, Christina said to me, “I want to send a copy of Christopher’s book to a friend of ours who just experienced a major loss.” I dug it up and I sent it to her. She and I read it. We probably hadn’t read it in 10 years, maybe even longer. It was just overwhelming to read it.
LG: I also had a publisher that I was pretty sure was right for it, HayHouse. I had just published a book, The Allergy Solution with them. A lot of the stuff that they do is spiritual. They think about things differently for most of the commercial publishers. I sent it to my editor and she said, “Yeah, this is great. We’d love to do it, but,” as editors always do, “you need to present it this way. This can’t just be a tribute to Chris. This has to be about how Chris impacted on you because we’re interested in you. You’re the doctor.” I said, “Yeah, I think I can do that.” Actually, that was a good process for me to go back to it and to try to recognize and understand, what had I really learned? What were the teachings here? To get much more explicit with that. That was basically how that process went.
LG: I love the fact that the book has been meaningful for a lot of people. Chris, if there was anything that Chris loved, it was to interact with other people on any level. Just having this book out there, whoever is reading it, that’s got to be a delight to him because he just loves interacting with people.
RP: It keeps him alive in a way.
RP: Do you have any fears about what’s going to happen now that this book is out in terms of just professionally or whatever?
LG: Well, I wondered about that. That might have been one of the things that delayed my publishing it 25 years ago or 30 years ago. What actually has happened is that colleagues of mine have reacted really positively to it and said, as David Perlmutter, wow. Who would have thought?
RP: I’ve known you for I think probably almost a decade, and I had no idea this whole time that there was this whole other side to you and whatever. When I came across first a podcast where you were talking about this and then the book, I was like, “Oh, my.” I was actually excited. It’s like, there’s this whole other side, this whole other angle.
RP: Dr. Galland was born Jewish but converted to Christianity as an adult.
LG: In many ways, Christopher is aptly named because so much of what is in the book and what he taught me is so consistent with what Jesus was teaching.
RP: Well, and with what a lot of those guys were teaching.
LG: Yeah, right.
RP: There are many roads up the same mountain.
LG: Absolutely. At some point, I tried to figure out, where am I most comfortable in terms of spiritual traditions in the world, and concluded it’s in that ground where Christianity and Buddhism come together. That was the spiritual and intellectual ground in which I felt most at home.
RP: Overall, what gifts did Christopher give to your life?
LG: Well, the way I describe it in the book are these three gifts; the gift of the opposite, the gift of presence and the gift of timelessness. We haven’t really talked about presence. We talked a little bit about the opposite. Presence. In order to really understand the opposite, you need to be fully present. One of the things about Chris is he was always fully present in everything that he did at every moment, and that’s what he wanted from the people around him. Most of the time when he caused problems for people because they weren’t willing to be fully present, they had their agendas, they’re running off doing this and that, and he wasn’t going to go along with any of that.
LG: I reflect on the importance of presence. What was so special about the way that Chris brought that gift is it was not for any purpose like a gymnast has to be fully present, but the gymnast is fully present because if you’re not fully present, you’re going to injure yourself. A brain surgeon has to be fully present because you’ll cut the wrong thing if you’re not. Chris, it was presence just as a way of being. You need that in order to really be able to experience the gift of the opposite, which is the fundamental characteristic and quality of our universe.
LG: The gift of timelessness, I’ve spoken about that. Time is the enemy of presence because time, you’re always, “Oh, I got to be here. I got to be there.” Even if it’s not the artificial kinds of time that we create, time is just everything is always changing. This was the hardest part of his gifts for me to try and understand and explain, the gift of timelessness. I came to a way of describing it by actually going to Siddhartha because Hesse is the only other person that’s really said to me what Christopher said to me, just basically time is an illusion. It’s all happening all at once, so don’t try to measure it out. Chris, we even went further with that. It was like time is what keeps you ignorant. You have to step outside of that. You have to step outside of time.
LG: What I realized as I pursued this is, and scientists have studied this and philosophers have written about it, there are really two kinds of awareness. I went with the more scientific discussion. There is the usual awareness. The awareness that is so important to me in my life and in my work is what’s called sequential awareness, and that absolutely depends on time. This happens, then that happens. That’s how you get cause and effect. That’s what you need for rational thinking, for problem solving, but there is this other kind of awareness which Christopher had, which is simultaneous awareness. Cognitive psychologists who have studied this recognize this as the basis for intuition as opposed to reasoned thought.
LG: Chris really helped me to understand the importance of simultaneous awareness and the reality of it. It is not an illusion. It is a way of if you can bring yourself, if you can let go of sequential awareness and allow simultaneous awareness to present itself to you, you really deepen your understanding of reality.
RP: I would imagine that it takes a lot of presence to get there.
LG: Oh yeah. Yes, you have to free yourself from time to do that and from thinking, oh, what do I have to do next? Each of those things is very much essential for the whole package of gifts.
RP: When I think back on just meditation sessions I’ve had, the longer I sit, the less focused I am on time and the more that concept seems to melt away and I’m just there. What do you want the readers to take away most? Also, how can these lessons be used for helping to navigate and survive what’s going on in the world today?
LG: Well, what’s going on in the world today is a perfect opportunity to understand the gift of the opposite and how wonderful the opposite is. I think if you can really understand the nature of things through the opposite, it can help you transform the way you approach problems and think about things. Everything contains its opposite. That essential relationship can help you move from anguish to peace, which is pretty … You look at what goes on. Yeah, it’s pretty challenging not to be in anguish much of the time.
RP: Yeah. I think that there’s another way in which what’s going on in the world is a perfect example too of pain and suffering being important. I’ve been saying to people all day today, just because the midterms just happened, when Trump was elected, the first thought I had was, okay, this needed to happen because we needed a virus to kick up the immune system of our country.
LG: I think that what has happened politically has spoken to evil and has unmasked evil, and especially evil in the sense that Christopher talked about it. That is the hatred of others because of their otherness. I love the fact that Chris said to me that is a crime against God because it is, and I think we need to understand it and see it that way. As agonizing as it’s been, this is something that needed to happen because of the torpor and lethargy that we had allowed. It’s going to cause a lot of pain. The environment which has to suck up most of the mistakes that we make has taken a big hit, but at the same time, there is the opportunity for a responsive, spiritual growth and an understanding of the profound role of love.
RP: Thank you for listening to A Show of Hearts. If you enjoyed what you heard, please subscribe on iTunes and share it with your favorite people. Visit our website, ashowofhearts.com where you can sign up for emails and explore all our episodes in depth. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @ashowofhearts. Remember to choose courage even when it’s scary and join me in igniting the world with our hearts.