Gladys T. McGarey: Wisdom from The Well-Lived Life

Usually I’m a voracious reader.  I’ve always enjoyed reading and gobbling up books.  But this year it seemed I couldn’t get past more than a couple of pages of anything at any time.

“The Well-Lived Life” –a new book by Dr. Gladys McGarey–had been sitting on my desk collecting dust for months. Finally, I picked it up, started reading, and could barely put it down.

Thank you Gladys.  Thank you.  Thank you!  Thank you!!

Dr. McGarey is one of the most interesting and inspiring people I’ve ever had the honor of meeting. She is widely recognized as the Mother of Holistic Medicine, and she has lived an extraordinarily rich life.

Her new book is centered around the following six “secrets”, which she says are the keys to living a happy and purposeful life:

Spend your energy wildly: How to embrace your life fully, and feel motivated every day.
All life needs to move: How to move—spiritually, mentally, and physically—to help let go of trauma and other roadblocks.
You are here for a reason: How to find the everyday “juice” that helps you stay oriented in your life’s purpose.
You are never alone: How to build connections and community that are meaningful and supportive for you.
Everything is your teacher: How to glean lessons and meaning from the pain and the setbacks we all experience at times.
Love is the most powerful medicine: Learn to love yourself, and you’ll learn to love others. This is the wellspring of healing.

Throughout the book, McGarey addresses the reality of suffering, and offers guidance on responding to it in a life-giving way: When we look for the lessons, we move our attention away from our suffering and direct it back toward life.”

Gladys T. McGarey, MD

I first met Gladys at a meeting of the American Holistic Medical Association, back in 2000, around the time we launched Holistic Primary Care. I was moved by her presence, and she has been a guiding spirit for me and for HPC ever since. Twenty years ago, we published an article covering her talk about the ways that military metaphors and fear-based logic were ruining medicine.

And in the height of the Covid pandemic, we hosted an open conversation in which she reflected on the meaning of the pandemic from the perspective of someone who lived through the Great Depression, World War Two, the Cold War, the cultural upheavals of the 60s and 70s, and many personal and societal crises.

Whether in person, or in her writing, Gladys McGarey has a gift for saying what needs to be said, for touching peoples’ hearts.

“Grief isn’t quite the same as depression–grief moves, while depression stands still.  When we let our grief move, we don’t suppress it; instead, we focus on our love for whomever or whatever was lost, while letting the suffering pass through us.”

The 25th anniversary of my mother’s death came up this July and I was experiencing all the grief I hadn’t felt at the time when way too much was happening all at once. It was like a volcano erupting or an oil cap blowing.

In honor of my mother, I wrote The Peace Rose, a poem about love, loss, rebirth and life’s great mystery.

As Gladys writes: Life itself is always in movement, so aligning with our life force means that we must always look for the flow within us.”

The Well-Lived Life isn’t just a description of Gladys’ interesting, exotic and contemplated life, it’s a support and template we all can use to frame our own existence.  This very wise woman—who raised six children and practiced family medicine for more than 60 years–distills a lifetime’s worth of insight on how to heal – how to help. 

At the end of her book she shares a dream of walking up an aisle to receive an award while realizing the back of her dress is unbuttoned.  With each step she takes, a hand fastens a button, and then another hand fastens the next button until she reaches the stage and her dress is completely fastened. 

It’s a beautiful image, and doubly interesting to me because in the Spring of 2020 Holistic Primary Care was going to honor Dr McGarey with a lifetime achievement award at our then annual conference, The Practitioner Channel Forum.  Then COVID came and the world shut down, our Forum along with it.  We were unable to present her with the award.

Not that she needs it. Gladys McGarye’s life has been truly well-lived, and is its own reward. Through her writing, she shares her experiences and tells her tales in a way that inspires and comforts at the same time.

This wise woman is not only a Godmother of Holistic Medicine, she’s a Fairy Godmother of life itself, spreading love, and always pointing us toward the fundamental truth that we really do need each other to grow and live healthy, fulfilling lives.

One of the first American women to ever earn an MD degree, Gladys McGarey trained at a time when there were so few female med students that she had to sleep on an x-ray table for want of a proper dorm room.

From the very beginning of her career, she recognized the limitations of alopathic medicine. She was one of the first physicians to introduce spirituality into medical practice, to utilize modalities like acupuncture, and to speak openly about the vital role of love in the healing process. Back in the 70s, she co-founded the American Holistic Medical Association (now called the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine).

At 102 years old, Gladys is still going strong, continuing her healing work as a medical consultant via her Foundation for Living Medicine, and through her writing.

Gladys McGarey’s new book, The Well-Lived Life, and its accompanying Well-Lived Life Workbook, are available on Amazon, or from Dr. McGarey’s website. Her previous books include: Living Medicine, Born to Heal, Born to Live, and The World Needs Little Old Ladies.

Subscribe to Holistic Primary Care