Each of the last couple of years, I have taken journeys to sacred places in order to seek clarity about my life by stepping outside my normal place and activities. I found northern New Mexico the perfect place to welcome the Millennium, and India last year at this time was a profound teaching about living simply and with spirit.
Now I find myself unexpectedly on new journey of discovery right here at home, simply by confronting the mortality and disability that comes suddenly with emergency surgery. Sunday, Feb. 17: went out dancing and felt frolicsomely 25.Thursday, Feb. 21: Noon: played racquetball and felt on a par with my 38-year-old opponent. 4 p.m.: in bed with bellyache; lost my lunch. Friday, Feb 22: slept all day; pain localized in my right lower abdomen, which felt hot; check the Internet under Appendicitis: suspicion confirmed. To my dismay, there were zero alternative therapies even mentioned, only the one I’ve always considered barbaric: surgery. I slept the night psyching myself up to deal with The Medical Machine.
East or West?
For over 25 years, as I have explored, preached, and practiced holistic health. I have looked critically on how mechanistically our Western medical system treats people. It view humans as machines, with parts that get worn or broken and need replacement or removal. I have favoured Eastern health systems that promote wellness on subtle levels as a way to prevent disease and experience truly high-quality living. Yet it was clear that none of my herbs, breathing techniques or meditations would cure the aching fever in my gut. Saturday, Feb. 23, 10:30 a.m.: a friend delivered me to my destiny with The Knife. Despite my dread, or maybe because of it, the experience was a series of pleasant surprises, which felt like grace. The E.R was empty; they had me in a bed in 15 minutes and began a 12-hour series of tests to assure an accurate diagnosis. Though the poking and prodding were not pleasant, I appreciated their thoroughness, which aligned with my own keen desire to avoid unnecessary surgery. 11 p.m., diagnosis confirmed; wheeled from E.R. to a regular room. (Instead of the ward or quad I expected, it was a semi-private, and on the 10th floor with a glorious easterly view!) Sunday, Feb. 24, 1 a.m.: a gentle nurse whispered, “They’re ready for you.” I was wheeled to the O.R. and greeted by a cheery team of bright-eyed, enthusiastic, caring folks. I felt safe, and in good hands. Knowing I was utterly trusting these total strangers with my life, I felt at ease as I deeply inhaled the anesthetic. The next moment [actually 2 hours later], I wondered where I was. It took a while to realize it must be all done; felt amazed to have gone so completely unconscious. Slept surprisingly well. Sunday was surreal (enhanced perhaps by morphine). A glorious sunrise shone in my “penthouse” window. I still had pain in my belly, but it was a different pain; I trusted it would heal in time. I contemplated that 100 years ago I would have simply died with a feverishly bloated belly. I felt gratitude for my “new lease on life.” Friends dropped by and called; I felt surrounded by love. In the sunny afternoon, I heard much cheering and horn honking: the Canadian hockey teams had swept up the Olympic gold. The sun set golden on snow-capped Mount Baker. It was a new experience to be weak, feverish, and in pain, yet elated and joyous all at once. Monday, Feb. 25, noon: another friend brought me home to a new life; felt 95. For at least a couple of weeks, most of my major activities will be on hold. I’ll hardly leave home, will not jog, bike, swim, or play racquetball. The healing energy I normally delight in sharing with clients will be directed entirely toward me. My apartment, which I usually view more as a live-in office, will become my nest of self-care. I’ll let go of lots of “doing” and allow much more time to simply BE. It’s a new self-image. I usually view myself as a rather youthful, vigourous, helping professional and teacher. For the next while, I’ll go in Slo Mo: —fully acting and feeling “old,” —a dependent recipient of others’ care, and
—a conscientious practitioner of the many skills I’ve learned to restore high-level wellness.
West meets East
When I gingerly walked out of the hospital, Western medicine left me to my own devices to regain true health. For that I’ll rely mainly on Eastern cultures:— gentle yoga and meditation;— acupuncture and Chinese herbs; In particular, I will use this break from routine to be more mindful about food. (The nurse said simply I could return to my normal diet, which might have consisted of Big Macs, fries, and six-packs. My recovery might be slow at best.) For three days, I had only water, and wanted nothing more. Now I am stepping out of habitual eating patterns: I am waiting until hungry, and asking what my body wants, choosing foods as medicines as well as for pleasure. I’ll restore my intestinal flora, damaged by antibiotics, with living yogurt cultures. My food portions, like my activity level, are much reduced. It feels good. Yet, never again will I malign Western medicine: there are times when we do “break” and need to be “fixed.” I also know that, walking out of the hospital, I was far from well. As I leave mechanistic medicine behind with gratitude, I will return with renewed appreciation to the subtle realms of holistic healing, to move from being merely mended to truly thriving once again. East and West truly are complimentary.
Why this? Why now?
I understand illness is most often precipitated by stress. This last year has been one of my happiest ever, with much fulfillment in work, love, and play. This past month, I’ve been taking a class about using play to open up the energy in the belly for both laughter and tears. I call it “Adult Kindergarten,” as we act out, let our child-like imaginations guide our cooperative play, and I gleefully giggle. So it at first seemed odd that I’d get sick when feeling so full of life. Then I remembered one of the principles of healing: our systems are always needing to cleanse. If our energy level is low to medium, toxins gradually accumulate; when stress hits, we succumb. When we do something to turn our energy level up “high,” in addition to feeling great, we may experience a cleansing “healing crisis” — a massive detox. I feel now that’s what I am doing. My appendix has been a collector of toxins; the fever tried to burn it out; the surgery excised it completely. I hope to recover to an even higher level of good health.The other “value” of illness is contrast: am surely grateful every day my health gets better. In the same way, when I’ve lived with perpetual sunshine, I’ve gotten bored. After days of rain, I treasure the sun once again. Tuesday, February 26: feel very hopeful; moving with more ease, and thinking with more clarity; (am already down to 80!) I am learning much on my pilgrimage: the fragility of the body and the beauty of spirit: my own and that of all the caring, dedicated folks who do the mostly unglamourous work of putting broken bodies back together. I am thankful to them for a chance to renew life. I am grateful for the vast array of health-enhancing traditions now at my disposal. It’s up to me to learn and use them all to experience true health. Sequoia Thom Lundy, M.A., is in private practice in Vancouver, offering stress counseling, yoga, and Mystical Massage: www.growinghealthier.com While chronologically 57, he is exploring the whole range from 5-95, and maybe beyond!