Fetal Adult

disclaimer – this is my memory as I can best summons, a few words here and there may be off…

I am lying down in the fetal position, eyes closed but not asleep in the standard issue gown on the standard issue hospital bed surrounded by three roommates that weren’t there before I was wheeled into surgery. Suddenly a cold sweat breaks out all over my body, the kind of cold sweat that makes you feel simultaneously freezing cold and instantly sweating through your clothes, hot. “you don’t look good, are you ok?” asks my wife, Amanda. That’s all it took, I sit up and open my dry cracked mouth and instead of the usual heaving and loud vomiting, blood just pours and pour and pours out of my mouth, most of it landing in the hospital issued cardboard puke tray – it fills to the top and Amanda quickly grabs another. I barely heave again and blood flows into the second tray. “Hello, is there a nurse around? We need some help in here” yells my wife. I feel instantly relieved of the clammy cold feeling but am having that feeling that I am not quite of my body. The nurses come in and force me to swallow five gulps of water so icy cold I didn’t know it could be that cold without freezing. “five?!! “I barely manage to whisper. “yes, we need to be sure you stop any bleeding” – it felt like swallowing razor blades followed by cups of salt – “you must have had a small vein bleeding after the surgery while you were still out, your stomach knew to get rid of it.”

The pain of the raw gaping holes in the back of my throat was like nothing I had ever felt before, even compared to natural child birth. My tonsils had become the size of large figs, barely enough space for air to get through. I had been sick for nine months and my body was unable to fight the infections and inflammation – a tonsillectomy was the last resort. I was 35 years old and living in Amsterdam. The gaping holes in the back of my throat were the result. While laying in the hospital bed I scribbled a note to my wife, “can they please give me something for the pain?” When Amanda asked the nurse they told me all I could have was a paracetemol suppository (tylenol without codeine). While marijuana is legal in the Netherlands, they don’t actually believe in pain medication. As a result they don’t have a pill addiction problem. So I suffered. Had I been home in the US I would have been given morphine.

At 5:50pm I had gone 15 minutes without vomiting blood. “Ok, you go now” says the nurse in her broken english “we are close”. I was in an outpatient hospital that closed at 6:00pm, apparently regardless of whether you were vomiting blood or not. Amanda went down to the lobby with her Euro coin and brought back up a rented wheel chair – they managed to get me into the chair and my wife wheeled me down to the car. I don’t remember much of the next five days, other than delirious pain and hunger.

On day six I thought I would feel improvement, at least be able to eat something, it had been seven full days since I ate. The pain was excruciating as I laid on the yellow womb chair in front of the garden and listened to Amanda and my 2 year old son Henry laughing and playing.

Even a joyful life has pain and suffering – and I had dealt with more than my fair share of suffering. I grew up in a house of addicts, my father an alcoholic, my mother a pain pill popper. I sat there remembering the last time I felt so desperate, both physically and emotionally. I was 12 years old. After years of verbal abuse, explosive yelling matches, walking on egg shells afraid to laugh at the dinner table or be sent to our bedroom, two week long disappearing acts where we thought he was dead, we staged an intervention with my dad. My mom told him he was coming for marriage counseling, which he begrudgingly agreed to. It is just like it is on TV, the family and close friends all get together and learn about the disease of alcoholism. Each and every one of us old enough had to write a letter and read it. My brother was only 8 at the time, and my sister just 9. We write heart wrenching letters to my dad telling him how we love him and how “the disease” has hurt us, bringing up happy memories to remind him of how it used to be, in those brief moments of sobriety when things felt relatively better. Then, we slowly crack open the deepest most vulnerable parts of our little hearts to ask, please oh please will you get help and be my daddy again. When it was my brother and sister’s turn to talk all they could say between their sobbing was “i love you daddy, don’t be sick anymore”. Together, we all cried, for lost childhoods and painful marriages and hurt feelings and vacations where we had so much fun we laughed until we peed and then laughed some more. Then came the moment of truth. We all closed our eyes as my mom reads her letter, describing how they met and fell in love and the life they dreamed of having together. She talked about the yelling and abuse and the deep sorrow and their three beautiful children that they made together, and then she asked “Jeff, please from the bottom of my heart, for your sake and the sake of our family, get help so we can be a family again. If you get help we will be with you the whole way and waiting for you with open arms when you get home. There is a van outside waiting to take you to rehab, I love you. But, if you refuse, we will be gone, and you will lose us forever”. We all slowly open eyes to see what he will say. He closes his eyes, and starts to laugh, softly at first and than maniacally, his face turned so red I though he might burst, and then he suddenly stops and says “you thought this would work, you would ambush me with your sob stories and manipulate me? Fuck all of you, this is not my problem, this is your problem.” He then walked right out the door. I ended that day babysitting for our neighbors, which as an adult realize my mom should never have let me do. I was fine until I wasn’t. I put the kids to bed and called my friend, and told her about my day. She responded by telling me that I just told the story like it was out of a book, not like it had happened to me. We hung up and I suddenly had a raging headache, like no headache I had before. I was nauseas and seeing double and felt like I was dying. I can’t remember if I called my mom or not, but I do know I stayed, I stayed until 2am and they were supposed to come home at 11pm – it was before cellphones, so all i could do was lean my head against the cold window and cry myself to sleep, all the while wishing it would all go away.

This was only really the beginning of the suffering we would endure as a family. It was the catalyst for slow self destruction by most everyone. For another time.

As I listened to my son giggling, the memory washing over me, I sat in the fetal position, in our womb chair, and felt nothing and a smile came over my face. Maybe it was the combination of the memory, the extreme physical pain and the fasting that caused the moment, tears started running down my face and I realized that this was it, it doesn’t get any better than this, there isn’t anything else. We all experience pain and suffering and joy and happiness. We break and put things back together again. We take the whole apart and look at each piece but all that is there is a part of something bigger. Life is a series of events, minutes, days, weeks, breakfasts, diapers, friends, joyful surrender, working, mourning, parties, laughter, birth, bills, death, cleaning, stress, finances, broken bones and broken hearts. The searching for the next thing is over. This is what we have and the moments will change, the location will change, the people may even change, and i am the same, i am always there and i am nothing and everything and the rest will not go away, it will just shift and change. I took a deep breathe, it was over.

Acceptance asks only that we embrace life as it is, not life as we want it to be.

“this is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.”

~Rumi

with love.

No fault

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

– Rumi

When I live in the moment with this in mind life is simple – not easy but simple.

Yesness

Pain is not punishment, and pleasure is not reward – both are equal parts of life as it is. The more we accept things as they are and work to become more responsive and less resistant the easier it gets.

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Light in the shadow

In the light of emptiness we are all one (borrowed from the Prajnaparamita) And yet it is so easy to see ourselves as set apart either in the shadow, unequal, unworthy or the beaming light, out-shining all beings around us, creating the shadows and blinding the seekers.

I had the great fortune to learn a valuable lesson this weekend. One of light and love and room for all. I invited my teacher, guru, learned friend, lama, whatever you want to call him, to my house for lunch. He is quite a famous guy in the world of western Buddhism, so I never expected him to agree as I thought he may not find little me worthy. But he did agree. And as the big day came closer I sent a confirming email, assuming he may need to back out, and didn’t hear back. And so I sent another, the day before the big lunch. And didn’t hear back. So as my mind filled in the blanks and created a story I told myself this was bound to happen and he’s very busy with more important things and people. So I didn’t prepare for his arrival. I worked and played with my son and gardened on the sweltering 90 degree day. And then sat at the kitchen counter dripping sweat, cooling off with a beer when a little voice in my head said “what if, just what if he still comes?” Ignoring it I chatted with my mother in law visiting from out of town and my wife – as I casually checked my email to find an email from said guru. “Beam me in Scottie- I am 20 minutes from your house and need directions.” Shit!! I hadn’t made the promised lunch, beer and chips were on the counter and he was minutes away.

We managed to clean up and throw a blueberry tart in the oven just as he pulled into the driveway. When I greeted him and mentioned that I didn’t think he was coming he was perplexed. “I said I was coming, why wouldn’t I come?” I explained the email exchange and of course there was some technical issue with his email and his responses didn’t go through. But that isn’t the point, the point for me is two fold – what my mind does when something seemingly goes awry, the story I concoct is usually not a positive one. In this case I assumed something/someone more important came up. Which leads me to the second point, Lama embodies equanimity – to him I am a person, just like him. He doesn’t differentiate between beings, he sees the inter-being of all of us.

It was a lesson for me in seeing the light and the shadow as two sides of the same, one not better or worse than the other, not more or less worthy.

If we shift our thinking of light and of shadows and of emptiness we can see it is all one. You cannot have one without the other – thus we can learn to ebb and and flow and make space for the great equanimity of life.

Namaste my friends

Running

Stop running, for a moment. What are you hiding from? What feeling, experience, deed, relationship, obligation, responsibility, reality are you currently escaping? We are all doing it, in this very moment, even you, even me. Write down the first thing that came to your mind, even if you don’t want it to be that thing. Especially if you don’t want it to be that thing. Look at it, hold it in your hands, in your mind, in your heart. Feel the fear, shame, love, resentment, anger – where do you feel it. Look at it closely. Turn it over, look underneath. Peer into the tiny cracks and holes and ugliness and stunning beauty.

Are you still there? Good. You made through the first step – looking yourself in the eye, even for just a moment can open up the possibility of softening to the pain or fear.

See what happens with the rest of your day. Come back tomorrow for more.

Slowly crack the shell, one bit at a time and just be. Right here, now. There is nothing else.

Breathe.

With love.

Promiscuous Intelligence

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