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The Life Skills Approach
Introduction by Richard Solomon,M.D.

On March 15, 1981, Marc Lerner woke up and couldn’t see. He didn’t know it then but he was experiencing an acute, severe attack of optic neuritis, the onset of multiple sclerosis that would leave him legally blind and physically disabled. Marc, who is in his fifties, has now had MS for nearly half his life. Over these decades of living with a chronic and disabling condition, he has gained hard won insights on how to find the inner resources necessary to tap into what he calls “the Wisdom of the Body”. The Life Skills methods taught in this book offer practical techniques that anyone can use to heal themselves. I use the word 'heal' not to mean 'cure'; for though Marc has remained vital and active, he still has MS. And though his disease process has stabilized, amazing his doctors, it is in the realm of attitudinal healing that Marc has the most to share.

As a pediatrician who has cared for thousands of children with chronic conditions, I have witnessed the difficult emotional struggle that families experience as they try to help their children cope with the daily disabilities, the pain and side effects of medical interventions and the fear of the future that illness brings. As Marc’s close friend, I have also witnessed Marc’s struggle with MS. So, when Marc asked me to write this introduction, I felt that, as a friend and physician, I could knowledgeably introduce Marc and this remarkable book to those with health problems.

Marc is legally blind but he can see just enough to allow him to get around. He walks with canes because his balance has been affected by MS. Despite this, Marc remains completely and competently independent, living on his own in Santa Monica. He swims everyday in the cold water of his apartment complex swimming pool to keep his muscles as strong as possible. He uses public transportation to go shopping, meet friends, and go to the UCLA Medical Center to make his doctor appointments. Marc is a full participant with his medical team and uses the latest advances in the allopathic treatment of MS to help himself. He has a close network of friends in the community and he has loving relationships with his family. He is kind, soft spoken, friendly and witty. He uses the word 'amazing' a lot. He amazes those of us who know him best not only because he has a better attitude about life than we do but because he con­tributes productively to society. He has a computer that talks to him so he can 'hear' emails and hear also what he has written. Despite all the obstacles, he is not depressed, anxious or angry. On the contrary, he is mellow, centered and dedicated to helping others. One feels a comfort in his presence. He teaches his Life Skills methods to people with chronic medical conditions all over the country and, for twenty years taught Life Skills Seminars to Vietnam Vets at the nearby VA hospital. Marc teaches not only through his seminars but through the example of his life.

This book, The Life Skills Approach is the gift of his life. His central theme, announced in the first chapter of the book, is that the fear of disability can give way to the 'Wisdom of the Body' and that the past can give way to the present in the service of healing. He emphasizes that those with chronic medical conditions can and must take an active role in their own healing process. Marc does not wear rose colored glasses. He has experienced the shock and chaos, the sadness and loss, of having a serious disabling condition. Marc describes how by working with the experience of mourning, he arrived at a profound under­standing of his disease that allowed him to live fully in the present despite his losses. At the core of the book are a series of 'life skills' that can restore a positive sense of self and a positive orientation to coping with chronic illnesses. He teaches how to trust your deepest intuitions through the use of simple, elegant and effective methods that involve the use of breathing, deep relaxation and specific mental imagery. He teaches us how to permanently put our new found habits into our 'bio-computer' and then apply these hab­its to all the aspects of our lives.

As an academic physician with nearly twenty years in university settings, I am skeptical of methods that do not have a scientific rationale to support them. In fact, though, Marc is contributing to a long lineage of healing methods that probably began with shamanism and have evolved into the scientifically proven realm of physiologic self regulation. The methods of breathing, relaxation and mental imagery have now been well studied. Sound research provides strong evidence that how we think and what we think have immediate impacts on our physiology. Instead of allowing our chronic illnesses to demoralize us, depress us and make us sicker, we can, through Marc Lerner’s Life Skills, develop ways to cope with our illnesses, indeed, use our illnesses to make us more alive to the present moment.

Despite having no major medical problems myself, I have personally benefited from each of the methods described in The Life Skills Approach and have found them to be profound, creative, practical and effective. Marc likes to say that 'to struggle is to grow'. Through his struggles he has grown into a wonderful teacher of life skills that can help each of us tap into our own powerful inner resources. I highly recommend this book.

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