His work, contributions and intellect will be missed. He taught us much about life, and in the past few months, how to see death.
The author of the famous book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, announced in the New York Times in February that melanoma in his eye had spread to his liver. He learned he had terminal cancer. Since then, he has written a few opinion pieces in the New York Times, speaking about his outlook on life:
“On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight,” Sacks said.
Without any alternative, Sacks was facing death. He had chosen to stay connected to the present, grateful, still living life from a place of deep love – for people, for science, for the world – a value that many yoga practitioners hold dear.
Sacks leaves behind him a legacy of well-loved books and ideas. He introduced the mysteries of the brain to many, by combining literary storytelling with scientific case studies on his patients.
His 1973 memoir, Awakenings, featured his work with encephalitic patients and the drug L-dopa, which he used to try and bring them out of their catatonic state. A feature film with the same name was based off of the famous book in 1990, starring Robin Williams as Sacks.
He had a unique, humanizing approach to describing his patients and their disorders, which is shown in his Ted Talk on Hallucinations. Even while he cracks jokes, Sacks takes his patients completely seriously and helps them navigate the deep waters of neuroscience.
Einstein once said: “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” Sacks studied the mysteries of neuroscience and brought them to everyday people, packaged in books.
Today, neuroscience has begun to reach into the effects of yoga and mindfulness, with many curious minds referencing the works of Oliver Sacks as a helpful guide.
Some of his last words in “Oliver Sacks: My Periodic Table” leave us breathless; saddened for the departure of such a beautiful mind and spirit.
“A few weeks ago, in the country, far from the lights of the city, I saw the entire sky “powdered with stars” (in Milton’s words); such a sky, I imagined, could be seen only on high, dry plateaus like that of Atacama in Chile (where some of the world’s most powerful telescopes are). It was this celestial splendor that suddenly made me realize how little time, how little life, I had left. My sense of the heavens’ beauty, of eternity, was inseparably mixed for me with a sense of transience — and death.”
[Photo by Mars Hill Church Seattle – CC BY]
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