Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Doing what you love can save your life.
Book review: ‘Walking Nature Home’ by Susan Tweit

When many of us are wondering how to make a living during this fearful time, perhaps the answer is to change the question.

What if it isn’t your livelihood that was about to end but your life? If doctors told you had two to five years to live but that although, they didn’t know how to cure the illness, they did know that where patients made major life changes, their health improved dramatically. What would you do or not do? How do you deal with the fear, find your way to love, and a healthy life?

These are the questions that Susan Tweit faced in her early 20’s when she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. As a trained scientist, she took on the research project of saving her own life and shares her journey with us in her new book, “Walking Nature Home.” Her warm and wise memoir has lessons for us all on how love, nature and finding your own creative voice are important for our very survival.

After reading and enjoying, “Walking Nature Home”, I wanted to ask Susan more about how she saved her own life by doing what she loves.

SusanGT: When the doctor told you that it's much more difficult to get well, if you're not happy, how did you find your health and happiness?

Susan Tweit: I had to learn to listen to my body and to my heart and spirit. You'd think we'd just know that--I'm sure we do as children--but as we grow up it seems like we are trained otherwise, or forget how to pay attention to those inner voices. I started by paying attention to what my body was telling me by taking notes on my symptoms: what they were, when they occurred, what I was doing or eating or feeling. It helped that I saw this as research. That somehow gave me permission to pay close attention. After a while, it just became habit. But I still didn't know what made me happy. When I'd ask myself, I was so out of practice at listening to myself that I just drew a blank. So I started paying attention to when I felt good, too, and what I was doing or eating or feeling then. Pretty soon I could actually hear that inner intuitive voice when it spoke to me. As I learned to listen to myself, I learned how to manage my health, and of course, surprise, surprise! I saw positive changes in my life too.

SusanGT: You say that you saw your illness as a teacher, a source of wisdom that you needed to hear, what lessons did you learn?

Susan Tweit: My illness forced me to find those "core values," the things that are most important to me in living a healthy, authentic life, to being myself in a positive way in the world: How to be attentive to myself. How to trust myself. How to articulate my needs in a way that was respectful to me and to others. The importance of living in an open-hearted, generous way, a way that honors all of the lives with whom we share this miraculous planet.

SusanGT: How did your illness help you find your true voice?

Susan Tweit: It gave me permission to listen to myself, to be attentive to what I heard, and to take myself and my needs seriously. It also gave me the impetus to learn who this entity I call "I" is, and what sustains my life--why living matters to me. Once I got in touch with that entity "I," I gradually found my writing voice, the genuine and unique things that the real me has to say, and how to say them in a lyrical and compelling way.

SusanGT: In your book, you talk about how love healed you and how love has been proven to heal others, would you share that story here?

Susan Tweit: I came across one of the most fascinating pieces of research about the healing power of love in Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom by Christianne Northrup, MD. She tells a story there that I retell in Walking Nature Home: Scientists studying heart and blood vessel disease at Ohio State University bred a group of rabbits to develop both hardening of the arteries and coronary artery disease. The bunnies were then fed a killer high-fat diet, but when they were dissected at the end of the study, researchers were puzzled to discover that a significant group of them showed no trace of coronary artery disease. Finally, the grad student who fed the lab rabbits confessed that at mealtimes, she took these rabbits out of their cages to pet and play with them. Subsequent studies replicated this result: the animals that received loving attention came out clean.

What that says to me (and to others as well) is that love can heal. Being loved, being tended to in a loving way, causes chemical changes in our brains and immune systems that can actually heal our bodies. Studies of the chemicals that transport our emotions from cell to cell explain the mechanisms for that kind of healing, and studies of various sorts on touch in healing, emotions and healing, bear out those conclusions. What it comes down to is that love--not sex, not passion, but steady affection, respect, caring, and support of those who feel warmly toward us, really can help us heal.

That does not say that love will banish every health condition. It didn't make me well. But the love I live with has helped me adapt to my physical challenges, and live a good life with them.

SusanGT: So, if love heals, did you find doing what you love also created healing and health? And what are those 'things'?

Susan Tweit: What I love is writing, speaking, and restoring nature and its community at home in the places where we live. I believe in the power of love--love for my husband and family, love for nature and the community of lives whose interrelationships make this Earth a habitable and inspiring place, and love for life itself. Living in an open-hearted and generous way that respects the lives around me--human and all the others--has restored my life to a rich and rewarding path. I believe that our species has one important talent to contribute to this life and this planet: love. It is our capacity to be compassionate and generous and loving that makes us special, and could well save us. It certainly has given me back my life.

Thank you, Susan, for sharing your story with all of us. The lessons you learned about love could be life-saving lessons for us all.

You can learn more about Susan Tweit and her book, “Walking Nature Home,” by visiting her website at or her blog at

And you can participate in a teleseminar with Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnet, phone 1-712-432-0600, access code #998458, at 5pm Pacific time/8pm East Coast. Here’s the link for you


Deborah Robson said...

Thanks for the conversation. My own experience of illness in my 20s has given me the strength, determination, or whatever it takes to draw the line frequently on what I will or won't do with my life.

Sensing what is the right thing to do at each point is a constant exercise and challenge. I greatly appreciate having the opportunity to hear how Susan has approached these same questions in her life.

It's a wonderful book, and I hope many people read it and reflect on what they could do more effectively to reach the state you talk about here.

I'm not there. But I'm closer than I was.

Susan J Tweit said...

It's funny about this book: I wrote it as the imperfect, fallible person I am, striving for the open-hearted and generous and meaningful life we all want, and just articulating that has helped me actually "be" that life more fully. So I guess it really does help to articulate your dreams, and if you're crazy enough to go public and publish them in a book for all to see, it really helps!

Thanks, Susan for the thoughtful introduction and interview questions, and Deb for the similarly thoughtful comment. Onward we go, practicing and learning....

Susan GT said...

Susan...your open hearted sharing of your very personal experience is what provides us all with much needed road map for finding our own paths. Thanks for having the courage to shine the light for the rest of us.

Deborah...Yeah to you for learning to draw the line for yourself and your health and trusting your 'sense' ...I'm so glad your closer than you were...hopefully we all will learn to be closer as well.

Susan GT

Janet Grace Riehl said...

--Permission to pay attention: present in all contemplative traditons.

--Finding your core values: basic to all humanistic action.

--Being healed by love...part of the Feminine Spirit.

It seems as if you stumbled backwards and helpfully into the core believes of Feminine Spirituality...including yourself in the energy field of Gaia.

Janet Riehl

Susan GT said...

Interesting observations, Janet.