Saunders: Monk's prescription of gratitude and generosity cured her ills

bsaunders@newsobserver.comSeptember 19, 2012 

CJ Scarlet knows she was a drag to be around, constantly feeling sorry for herself, bemoaning her fate to any friend who’d listen.

You can’t rightly blame her, though. Scarlet had been diagnosed with lupus in 1990, and by 2000 the once-vibrant mother and wife was in agony. “I was literally at the stage of crawling up and down the stairs” of her house, she said.

“I was very, very ill and debilitated,” Scarlet told me. “The doctor told me I had pulmonary hypertension and that my heart was going to fail. I was one scared puppy. I wallowed in depression.”

She said she was so self-absorbed that she forgot about all the charities to which she used to contribute, all the people she helped. That’s when a friend suggested she meet with a local Tibetan Buddhist monk.

Did y’all know that we had one of those in Raleigh?

Me, neither.

“I hobbled up to him,” Scarlet said, “and made a pitiful bow. I unloaded on him,” decrying her mournful physical and emotional state, wondering aloud why her, why her.

“I waited for him to sympathize with me,” she said. “That’s when I learned that lamas don’t do drama. He looked at me very kindly and told me to stop feeling sorry for myself. He told me to start thinking of others.”

Starting small

That shouldn’t have been hard to do. Before she became so wrapped up in her own ailment, Scarlet said, she’d been a victim’s and child advocate and served on the Governor’s Commission on Military Affairs, among many other things.

“I had just forgotten about all of those things” during the depth of her depression and illness, she said. “I started with little bitty things that didn’t cost anything. I’d give up my handicapped parking spot” to someone who needed it more.

“I bought coffee for the person in line behind me at Starbucks. I’d leave little notes of encouragement on people’s windshields.”

Scarlet, who for a living coaches middle managers in corporate America for Roving Coach International, became a board member of the Lupus Foundation of America’s Piedmont chapter and a volunteer of Hospice of Wake County, a vigil volunteer and a volunteer caregiver, among other selfless deeds.

Her acts of kindness got bigger and, she said, her body got stronger. “I started feeling better. It seemed that I was healing my body from the inside out. Within 18 months, my illness started going through remission. The doctors couldn’t explain it. They said it wasn’t the medicine, because that just treated specific symptoms. ... My doctor at the VA is very progressive. He said my shift in attitude made all the difference.”

Gratitude and generosity

Scarlet said, “People search their whole life for the keys to happiness. I’ve found them.”

What are they? I asked, figuring she’d tell me to go visit the lama myself or to buy the book she wrote – “Neptune’s Gift: Discovering Your Inner Ocean” – for the answer.

“Gratitude and generosity,” she said, giving the answer freely. “Being happy with what you have and being willing to share with others.”

Scarlet said she wrote the book “in 24 hours. It took me a year to edit it, but it just flew out of me” when she was writing.

Her most recent tests for lupus – days before Christmas last year – “came out negative,” she said. “I feel fantastic, better than I have in 22 years. As far as I’m concerned, it was a miracle.”

Who’s going to tell her otherwise?

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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