There’s a well-known Course passage from Lesson 136 (“Sickness is a defense against the truth”) that says some stunning things about what will happen to our bodies if we really let this lesson all the way in:
Perhaps you do not realize that this removes the limits you had placed upon the body by the purposes you gave to it. As these are laid aside, the strength the body has will always be enough to serve all truly useful purposes. The body’s health is fully guaranteed, because it is not limited by time, by weather or fatigue, by food and drink, or any laws you made it serve before. You need do nothing now to make it well, for sickness has become impossible. (W-pI.136.18:1-4)
What this passage says sounds truly unbelievable (but is echoed elsewhere in the Course): If we lay aside the egoic purposes we’ve given the body and devote it only to the “truly useful purposes” of the Holy Spirit, “the body’s health is fully guaranteed.” It will no longer be subject to any of the sufferings and limitations that normally ravage it; it will be free of aging, heat and cold, hunger and thirst, and anything else that might limit it in any way. “You need do nothing now to make it well, for sickness has become impossible.”
This just sounds too extreme to be true, does it not? After all, even great saints like Francis and Mother Teresa and Ramana Maharshi suffered from physical ills, and surely they were at least using their bodies for the truly useful purposes of God much of the time. True, it may well be that these individuals still got sick because they weren’t fully free of egoic purposes, giving the ego a chance to sneak in and try to thwart their tremendous spiritual progress. But if that Course passage is right, surely there must be some examples of people who have demonstrated it in their lives. I’ve often been asked if I know of any such examples, and here, I’d like the share the story of a person who sure looks like one.
This story is from a wonderful book by George Ritchie called Return from Tomorrow. The book is mainly about an amazing near-death experience that happened to Ritchie, but it also relates other events of his life, both before and after the NDE. He served in the American military during World War II, and while his unit was helping to liberate a German concentration camp in 1945 (this was after the NDE), he met an amazing Polish man whom the American troops called “Wild Bill Cody.” This nickname was a mashing together of the names of two Wild West figures, “Wild Bill” Hickok and “Buffalo Bill” Cody, and they called him this because he had a long handlebar mustache similar to theirs, and his real name was “seven unpronounceable syllables in Polish.”
As you’ll see, “Wild Bill” was a truly unforgettable person, a miracle worker par excellence, and by all appearances a powerful example of what the Course passage above is talking about. Here is Ritchie’s account of him:
He was one of the inmates of the concentration camp, but obviously he had not been there long; his posture was erect, his eyes bright, his energy indefatigable. Since he was fluent in English, French, German and Russian, as well as Polish, he became a kind of unofficial camp translator.
We came to him with all sorts of problems; the paperwork alone was staggering in attempting to relocate people whose families, even whole hometowns, might have disappeared. But though Wild Bill worked fifteen and sixteen hours a day, he showed no signs of weariness. While the rest of us were drooping with fatigue, he seemed to gain strength. “We have time for this old fellow,” he would say. “He’s been waiting to see us all day.” His compassion for his fellow prisoners glowed on his face, and it was to this glow that I came when my own spirits were low.
So I was astonished to learn, when Wild Bill’s own papers came before us one day, that he had been in Wuppertal since 1939! For six years he had lived on the same starvation diet, slept in the same airless and disease-ridden barracks as everyone else, but without the least physical or mental deterioration.
Perhaps even more amazing, every group in the camp looked on him as a friend. He was the one to whom quarrels between inmates were brought for arbitration. Only after I had been at Wuppertal a number of weeks did I realize what a rarity this was in a compound where the different nationalities of prisoners hated each other almost as much as they did the Germans.
As for the Germans, feelings against them ran so high that in some of the camps liberated earlier, former prisoners had seized guns, run into the nearest village and simply shot the first Germans they saw. Part of our instructions were to prevent this kind of thing and again Wild Bill was our greatest asset, reasoning with the different groups, counseling forgiveness.
“It’s not easy for some of them to forgive,” I commented to him one day as we sat over mugs of tea in the proceeding center. “So many of them have lost members of their families.”
Wild Bill leaned back on the upright chair and sipped at his drink. “We lived in the Jewish section of Warsaw,” he began slowly, the first words I had heard him speak about himself. “My wife, our two daughters, and our three little boys. When the Germans reached our street they lined everyone against a wall and opened up with machine guns. I begged to be allowed to die with my family, but because I spoke German they put me in a work group.”
He paused, perhaps seeing again his wife and children. “I had to decide right then,” he continued, “whether to let myself hate the soldiers who had done this. It was an easy decision, really. I was a lawyer. In my practice I had seen too often what hate could do to people’s minds and bodies. Hate had just killed the six people who mattered most to me in the world. I decided then that I would spend the rest of my life, whether it was a few days or many years, loving every person I came in contact with.”
Loving every person…this was the power that had kept a man well in the face of every privation. (George Ritchie, Return from Tomorrow, 129-132)
What a story! Here was a man who endured things most of us can scarcely imagine. He lost his entire family, and then was subjected to the unspeakable hell of a concentration camp for six years. But as another concentration camp survivor, Viktor Frankl, famously said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” This is what Wild Bill did: In the face of his circumstances, in which he could have so easily succumbed to anger and hatred, he chose instead an attitude of love. He made a firm commitment: “I would spend the rest of my life, whether it was a few days or many years, loving every person I came in contact with.” And we see that commitment lived out in a spectacular way in everything Ritchie saw him do at the camp.
And you may have noticed another element to this story, the element I’m highlighting in this piece: Throughout all of this, in a situation of extreme deprivation where we would normally expect someone to experience horrendous physical effects, Wild Bill’s body remained miraculously healthy. We see references to this sprinkled all through Ritchie’s account:
[It appeared that] he had not been there long; his posture was erect, his eyes bright, his energy indefatigable.
Though Wild Bill worked fifteen and sixteen hours a day, he showed no signs of weariness. While the rest of us were drooping with fatigue, he seemed to gain strength.
For six years he had lived on the same starvation diet, slept in the same airless and disease-ridden barracks as everyone else, but without the least physical or mental deterioration.
Loving every person…this was the power that had kept a man well in the face of every privation.
What can explain this? Ritchie offers his own explanation in the last sentence I’ve quoted above: “Loving every person…this was the power that had kept a man well in the face of every privation.” And this reminds me so much of that passage from Lesson 136. Here was a man who, in his decision to love everyone without exception, had apparently given up all the egoic purposes he had formerly ascribed to his body. He was devoting his body entirely to the “truly useful purposes” of loving and helping his brothers and sisters in need, even the Germans whose compatriots had killed his family. And as a result, it seems that what happened is exactly what that Course passage says: His body was no longer subject to the sufferings and limitations that normally beset us. His body’s health was fully guaranteed. Apparently, for him, sickness and suffering had become impossible.
Now, I think Wild Bill’s story would be astounding and inspiring even if he had experienced physical ills in the camp. The biggest takeaway for me is his shining example of forgiving love, not his miraculously healthy body. That being said, I am heartened when I see one of the Course’s most extreme teachings actually demonstrated in a human life. It increases my confidence in the Course, which I think even long-time students can really use. We may have read passages like this many times, but let’s face it, we still don’t truly believe them deep down, and we need all the concrete evidence we can get.
On top of that, I find myself uplifted by Wild Bill’s manifestation of a healed body as an instrument to extend miracles from his healed mind. Yes, the body isn’t the focus of the Course, but we are promised that our bodies will be healed as we devote them solely to healing our brothers, and to me this is a beautiful thing. How wonderful to think that one day, we all will reach a stage in our development where our minds are so completely devoted to love that our bodies will be a perfect reflection of that: healed instruments that extend healing of mind and body to everyone we encounter. Who wouldn’t want to be a living witnesses that sickness has now become impossible?