Poor health changed everything for Dr. James Pilc.
Before he was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in 2005, the Orchard Park native said, he was a busy OB/GYN in Williamsville.
“I was probably working 80-plus hours a week, on call at night doing deliveries, and going back into work the next day without sleep to see patients in the office. It was just a huge workload. … When I got the diagnosis, I thought this was a sign, or a gift, to slow down.”
The news came about the same time Pilc and Dr. Frank Carnevale, then partners and now married, adopted the first of their two sons.
Pilc (which rhymes with “stilts”) first took an approach to his healing that you might expect from a doctor. He underwent 25 chemotherapy treatments at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, which pushed his cancer into remission.
“But I continued with all these other symptoms, very psychosomatic, from head to toe,” he said. “Food intolerances, hypertension, GI upset, back pain, massive diarrhea, and I couldn’t find the answers. I think it was a manifestation of stress.”
His colleagues in Western medicine got him half better using a “laundry list of medications,” Pilc said. He also tried Eastern medicine – chiropractic, massage therapy and acupuncture – which helped, too. Then he discovered meditation, he said, “and I found I was able to come to this 95 percent improvement.”
Pilc believes the spiritual piece of his treatment is the kind that often gets overlooked. He closed his medical practice last year, wrote a book about meditation, and spent the summer leading meditation classes in quiet places across the region, including a couple of times aboard the Spirit of Buffalo schooner in Lake Erie.
He and Carnevale, a pediatric emergency room doctor at Women & Children’s Hospital, bought a house along the lake in Angola earlier this year. Pilc often can be found seeking quiet strength on the beachfront outside.
Q. What would the principles of meditation be?
A. Meditation alone is to essentially quiet your mind and your physical being, so you can sit in the space of peace. And in that space alone, they’ve shown in different studies, you can decrease your cardiac risk, you can decrease your anxiety, your stress, your depression.
Q. What’s the best way to meditate?
A. With a meditative guide or get a meditative CD. The alternative way is to find a quiet space. You can’t have children around, unfortunately, or a dog barking, none of that stuff. Sit in an incredibly comfortable position. It doesn’t matter how, as long as it’s most comfortable for you. Use a fan for white noise to cover up external noises. It also has a way of grounding you to this internal calm. Music, peaceful music. Something that’s not haunting, but neutral. There’s tons of it out there. Then close your eyes and use your imagination to walk to your most peaceful place and try to just stay there. All these things help you to get to that space.
Q. Talk about meditative healing, and your role as a guide.
A. To finally unravel what’s causing this disturbance in the energy in your being, which of course leads us to what’s causing the disturbance in your physical being. That core causative agent is different for everybody. We have different life experiences. But it’s something we’ve held onto, this sort of stuck energy – that’s why I call my book ‘Unstuck: The Enlightenment of Medicine’ – we’ve held onto something in our past, maybe even unconsciously.
We’re sort of like the bus driver. We drive you to the [dreamlike] space. We may help you in the space to ask questions, because our left brain – the analytical side of our brain – turns off. Sometimes we need a little guide in there because we’re more relaxed and … the creative side of our mind is going. Sometimes we need some questions, or prodding: ‘What do you see next?’ ‘What else is going on?’ ‘Look around.’ ‘Ask this person or that person this question, that question.’
We have a list of questions before you go into meditation of what you want to ask when you’re in there. So we drop you off at that space and your journey continues. Then you come back and we review, and all these epiphanies occur: ‘Oh my gosh, this happened when I was this or that.’ ‘This happened when I was a kid.’ ‘This is how I felt way back then. Am I revisiting all that stuff? I didn’t ever let that go?’ Then there’s healing that goes on.
Q. Is there an illness beyond the bounds of determining a cause and cure?
A. I don’t think there’s anything beyond meditative healing, because the way I look at it, it has everything to do with spirit, or God, and that’s who does the healing.
Q. I wonder if you can explain death? If you can heal anything, there’s an implication that dying is failing.
A. Death is not a punishment. Death is a transition. There are life’s lessons that we need to learn, and with that is the letting go. The disease process may continue forward if we don’t dig deeply enough to resolve the issue.
Death, either way, is inevitable. … It’s more of a letting go, letting go of all these physical ailments that you have. It’s a release from all these things. If we can’t solve it in this lifetime, and uncover our issue, we’re released of that burden. We die, we go to heaven, God forgives it all and we let go of it.
On the Web: Find out more about Pilc’s book at jamespilcmd.com and blogs.buffalonews.com/refresh