The Woman Who Discovered Endorphins (#889)

I just found out a few moments ago that Candace Pert, the neuro-scientist whose research led to the discovery of endorphins and a true pioneer in the field of mind-body medicine, died earlier this month suddenly and unexpectedly in her home in Maryland.  So while I was already half way through writing a piece about how an inside-out understanding of stress can transform our relationship with our life circumstances, it seemed appropriate to instead take some time to share a very personal remembrance of my brief time knowing and working with Candace which resulted in her writing the foreword to Feel Happy Now!, one of my early attempts at unraveling the mysteries of depression and anxiety and giving people tools for a happier life.

My first meeting with Candace came in Carlsbad in 2006 at Louise Hay’s 80th birthday party. My memory of her is indelibly linked with the scene from The Matrix where Neo is distracted by the girl in the red dress – a sudden vision of vital energy in a red dress being introduced to me in a whirlwind, then taking my arm and walking me around the party, asking me about my work and sharing her research into an HIV vaccine in the casual way you might expect somebody at a party to tell you about their dry cleaning business.

I remembered that meeting a year or so later when I was looking for someone to write the foreword to my second book, which was at the time still called Feel Better Now! It struck me that she would be the perfect person to lend some scientific credibility to the more purely practically researched approach I espoused in the book. In other words, I knew what I was sharing genuinely helped people to feel better; I was hoping she would be able to explain a little bit about why that was so.

She remembered me, but apologetically explained that she was far too busy (and in fact a bit overwhelmed) trying to deal with fundraising and government red tape around her AIDS and HIV research and while she was sure it was a wonderful book, she just didn’t have time to read through it. Something about her vibrantly chaotic energy made me smile, and I was as surprised as she was to hear what came out of my mouth next:

“I’ll work for you as your personal assistant for as long as it takes you to read my book if you’ll consider writing the foreword if you like it.”

She was understandably reluctant (I was a self-help author she’d met one time living on the other side of the country in California), but I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse:

“Give me the task you’re dreading most and I’ll take care of it in exchange for your considering my offer.”

A few minutes later, I was on the phone to a government official in Washington DC explaining that Dr. Pert was no longer going to be working with their department and no, she wasn’t available to talk with him and no, this was not negotiable. When I phoned her back an hour later to let her know it was done, she reluctantly relented and told me to send her my manuscript.

Over the next six weeks, she told me she loved the book and then agreed and “un-agreed” to write the foreword three separate times, swayed one way by her appreciation for the book and the other way by her workload. When I told her I only had a week left before the final edit had to be with the publisher, she agreed for a fourth time to write the foreword.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised when she emailed me with three days to go to drop out for the fourth and apparently final time. What it was that possessed me to reach out to her one last time from a space of playful creativity instead of frustration or anger I don’t know, but after making a quick call to Hawaii I phoned her back with my final offer.

“Candace,” I said, “I’ll get you a personally signed photograph of Josh Holloway with his shirt open if you’ll write the foreword and get it to me in the next 72 hours.”

For some reason, I remembered her expressing a rather glowing admiration for the visual impact of the actor (who played Sawyer in the TV series LOST) when we first met, and somehow that “hail mary” offering did the trick. She sent me the foreword the next morning, the book made it to the publisher in time, and Josh very kindly delivered a glossy 8×10 with a personal message to Candace and signature written across his clean shaven, gently oiled chest.

I only saw Candace one more time after that, about a year later at a Hay House “I Can Do It!” conference. She walked straight over to me, glowing with life, and wrapped me in a bear hug that almost lifted me off the ground.

“That picture you sent me is sitting in a frame on my mantle piece. My husband doesn’t really like it,” she said slyly, “but I love it!”

She then let out a big belly laugh and made her way out of the room. And that is how I’ll always remember her – the woman who discovered endorphins, naturally high on the brain chemistry she decoded, full of life and love and joy. She will be missed, but her legacy lives on.

(You can read the full text of her foreword here. While my own work has moved on since the time I wrote this book, what she wrote reflects both the rigor she brought to her scientific endeavors and our mutual appreciation for the undervalued role of the mind in both healing the body and freeing up the psyche.)

Candace PertCandace spent the last 28 years pursuing research to create a non-toxic treatment and a vaccine for HIV/AIDS.

It would honor her and this work that she believed in so much that donations be sent to the “Candace B. Pert Fund for HIV Research” at Whitman-Walker Health, 1701 14th Street NW, which is the Washington DC community health center specializing in HIV/AIDS care and research, where she conducted some of her clinical research so that others can continue to make advances and discoveries to eliminate AIDS in the world, a big unfinished quest of hers.

Have fun, learn heaps, and may you live all the days of your life!

With all my love,

Michael

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