The Song of The Islands

21 November 2018 Bequia, West Indies

We are eight days into our vacation. Longest one in years. We’ve been bouncing around a couple Islands down here and have just jumped to the small island of Bequia. Home to only 4800 residence. There is no fresh water on the island. The residence fill tanks during the rainy season and make it last. Similar to Bermuda. Strange…but a fact of life here.

I think we finally settled in, both mentally and physically. There’s a peace and tranquility that just wraps you like a soft blanket. Your breathing slows, you start waking up at dawn… because you’ve gone to bed before 9. You are just present in the moment…What to do or not do next? I feel like the days have finally slowed down. We take time to watch the sunsets, take a nap or just kick back and chill.

The Sweet Retreat: perched high up on the side of the hill. Built going straight up just like all the pieces of land here. It’s a gayly colored home three stories tall. There are many rooms, studios and suites. I love the layout of out little room. Outside there’s a full moon and all the night peepers are singing loudly. The anoles that sneak into your room and sing like a spastic smoke detector that the battery is dying on, you can never find the damn thing. The ceiling fan creeks as it spins around on its rusting components. The island breezes rustling through the trees and the passing rain showers. Finally the sound of the waves on the beach below and the faint music of the bars floating on the island breezes tops off the symphony.

The song of the Islands…

Escape to the Islands: A Journey of Peace and Healing

Part One

It has been nearly 3 months since I got sick. The last three months have found me working on my recovery and my well being on a daily basis. It took nearly 2 months this for me to regain my balance, my voice and my energy. I feel much more alive than I did before my illness. Much more at peace and much more grounded. Now it’s time for a much needed vacation. So off to the islands we go. First a few days in St Lucia to settle in and settle down. It’s said that it takes four days to relax, turn off and unwind. I guess that means my vacation can start today!

We left home four days ago. Chris did her best to stock up the store with great inventory. I made sure the house was properly prepared for a long time away. We made sure our guys were up to speed and had everything they needed to succeeded. What was left was only the unknown. It was time to go to catch our flight and start our adventure.

We chose to take the late afternoon flight than a stay over night in Atlanta before catching our flight to St Lucia, West Indies. Leaving a cold, wet climate to a warm, humid one will be a welcome relief. Enjoying the last of our “known” creature comforts to the unknowns of the Islands.

The Awakening

To say my life has taken a turn is putting it quite mildly. Over the last month I have experienced perfect bliss, extreme pain, illness, dis-ease, sadness, loneliness, fear and a greater awareness of love and compassion. All these exist within me. My physical being continues on its finite path of growing older yet I have awaken something dormant, something that has been there all along, but stuffed deep inside, buried under all the superficial pain and suffering, fear and longing. My soul, my spirit, my inner most aliveness. I have tapped into a wellspring of emotions and feelings and have made a safe place for these not so friendly parts of me. I have opened myself up to being mindful of all my surroundings, each moment as it unfolds, for good or bad. I have found a calmness that has long since eluded me. Through my practice and the teachings I have the tools to be content. I have found a silence that screams loudly yet does not break the peacefulness in my mind and heart. I am learning to make peace with my inner child, my fears, doubts and longings.

As my life unfolds in this new awareness, I am utilizing as many tools as I have available to try to incorporate this into my life. The silent movements of T’ai Chi, the quietness and inner searching of my meditation practice, taking in the beautiful world in my own back yard, all these are teaching me in their own way. The suffering of an illness way beyond my control and acknowledging the fears that it brought. The courage to put my unraveling life into the hands of caring professionals and friends who nursed me back to health, each in their own way. For all these things I have a grateful heart.

Everything that will happen today, that is happening in this moment, will all be gone tomorrow with just an imprint on my memory that will soon fade away into that which was my life, my past. I no longer need to make those memories, my past, my current life’s story or influence my path. They are just experiences that I have had, today is a new day, tomorrow is unknown, so I choose to live in this moment and make myself the best I can be for this moment, this day.

It is hard at times when I am bombarded with outside negativity on a constant basis. Some of these influences I can turn off, like the TV and social media. Others are present and part of my daily life and I am learning to listen with one ear and hear the lessons of my teachers with the other. I have chosen to stop internalizing those negative influences as this is like a cancer eating at my very inner most being, it is poison to my spirit which wishes to be free and happy. I am brought back to this moment by my puppy who sees me as perfect in all lights. He lives a simple life, happy just to get scratches, play, eat and sleep. Ah…to have such a simple life.

This is a second, third, maybe forth chance at this life. I have messed it up so many times before. I listen, learn, practice and then as time goes on… as life presents itself, I allow myself to get drawn back into the haste and forget to take care of myself and I end up in the same situation over and over again, with the same results. Some people call that insanity. So, as always, this new awakening I am incorporating into my “new life”. My intention this time is to cultivate it, nurture it and feed it on a daily basis with silence and practice. I choose to separate myself from the expectations of those around me that would love for me to be sucked back up into the games. This has to be about me this time and that needs to remain my constant focus. I don’t know if I’ll get another chance at another “do over”.

The Mind Body Connection: How Real It Is?

It’s been two weeks since I got home from my retreat. It’s been a very rough two weeks. I came home and immediately got sick, physically, bad enough to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. It was a culmination of bad food, emotional outpouring when I saw my girlfriend, the many feelings I had had been reacquainted with on retreat, a 180 degree change in my diet and several unknowns at work in my brain. Let’s just say the end result was not pretty. 

I spent the night and half the next day in the hospital being prodded, poked and asked a battery of questions. According to the doctors, nothing was wrong with me but a bad reaction from food poisoning. Somewhere deep inside I knew they were dead wrong. My body felt like I had been plugged into a wall socket and was vibrating, buzzing and my head was pounding. I wrote it off as little sleep and my migraine, that was now on its third day. 

Each day got progressively worse. My hands and legs began to cramp and shake, my head and heart pounded like it was trying to escape from my chest, and I had the feeling of being on a boat, a kind of swaying in my head that made me dizzy. Next came the involuntary and not so pleasant movements and jerks that would tire me out that I had to stop and lie down. I began to get a bit worried to say the least. I went to my chiropractor and message therapist trying to get some relief. I joked that I was impersonating MJ Fox so I could remain in a positive state of mind.  I meditated everyday trying to calm the ever growing panic I was starting to feel. What the hell was wrong with me?!

My practice allowed me to remain relatively calm and I tried to find the root cause of this “dis-ease” in my body and mind. By Friday the movements became so bad I reached a breaking point emotionally and broke down. If there was nothing wrong with me I must be loosing my mind! I reached out to my Holistic Functional Medicine doc, who is also my chiropractor. He got me right in, I could see and feel the alarm when he saw me verses three days before. He did some energy work and found some trigger point that created a wave over my body and stopped the movement, I cried as the release came over me. I explained to him what I was feeling and he listened intently. He gave me some homeopathic serums and explained that I had created a perfect storm. From the diet change, food poisoning, emotional stress and other things that culminated all at the same time, that my body was full of toxins causing inflammation and effecting my brain. He strongly suggested I get an MRI at once. 

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Herein lies the turmoil, my neurologist was a month out and she wasn’t even going to be in the office for two more weeks. I took the serums/medicine and by Friday night I was exhausted, both mentally and physically. My head wouldn’t stop pounding, my body wouldn’t stop moving, my hands would not do what I asked of them, I felt like my core was a lightening rod and it would build up energy then zap the muscles in my shoulders or my legs and cause wild spasms. 

I slept almost all day Saturday. I had learned a reset and it was lying down and sleeping. I slept deeply for around 28 hours and when I awoke, I felt calm and just the tingling. I sat quietly with Chris and watched a show until the wave of exhaustion hit me again and off to bed. I thought to myself, yay it’s over, I just needed to sleep. 

Sunday came.  I woke up and took an assessment of how I was feeling. I did my practice, had a cup of coffee and sat outside in the warm summer morning. My arms, hands, legs and feet were doing the jerky thing again and I was swaying. A new motion had started in my head and neck and I began to think this is really serious. I took it easy, napped and meditated off and on all day until I lost the ability to speak. My throat and face would spasm into this horribly painful positions, like someone with cerebral palsy. I couldn’t chew or swallow and I was totally out of my mind with fear. Off to the ER again…

Super-brain

I checked my ego at the door, which was leading to my embarrassment, and with help, walked into the ER. I was scared out of my mind but had a sense of calm at the same time. All through this, my practice has afforded me a safe place I could go when this flared up. I finally got my MRI. Clear… they said I had Dystonia probably caused by a severe allergic reaction from my antidepressant. They gave me Benadryl and told me to stop taking the meds and go see my neurologist. 

Monday came, no change. Chris had taken a video of me at the worst and sent it off to my Holistic Functional Medicine doc. He had other ideas. Since they ruled out MS, Parkinson and a lesion, and the regular docs wouldn’t think outside the box and gave me Benadryl, he began aggressively treating the inflammation in my body and my brain. He strongly suggested that I change my diet since he was pretty sure it was an autoimmune dis-ease that was mimicking all these nasty diseases. 

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Fast forward to today. For the first time in weeks, my hands are my own, the buzzing my body feels more like touching your tongue to both terminals on a 9V battery. My body is still, my mind feels like I’ve been on  a month long cruise and never got off the boat, my eyes are focusing better, my voice is not strained though my throat still feels a little tight, only mild tremors in my hands and an occasional random spasm in my face. My whole body aches as if I’ve done a triathlon. My mind is clear and quiet and my heart is feeling joy, optimism and relief.  I am full of gratitude and compassion for the only doc that listened, gave a damn, and never gave up thinking outside the box to the mind body connection.

Day Six: What’s it All About?

If I hadn’t cried enough this week the whole room was a heaving sea of sobbing bodies. The final meditation was on forgiveness. It’s been really hard for me to say I’m sorry…sincerely. My apologies have always been empty and sarcastic.

Today I was forced to examine my part in the harm I’ve caused. The last few months have probably been very difficult for those around me. Today I owned my part in the pain I have unintentionally and intentionally inflicted on those around me. I have forgiven those who have intentionally and unintentionally hurt me. My heart has been released from the heavy chains of resentment and hurt.

As in every sitting we invited those close to us into our heart space and loved them, then those who have passed on and our ancestors into the heart and wrapped them in love. Then, the hardest was to bring in those who have caused us harm and forgave them for what they have done…of the 85 people in the room, including the teachers, there was not a dry eye in the hall.

We closed our session with a dharma talk and prayer for our departed friends, family and others. We had been putting together a small alter in their memory. I wrote a small note about Faye. She would have loved the transformation I have made this week. I thought about her quite often and she accompanied me through my down times as she used to do when she was still with us. I feel that I have finally grieved for her one last time and after five years she is now in a soft place in my heart and a guiding force in my life.

The day ended with our silence being released. Hugs were exchanged and well wishes given. The 85 people I spent these intimate last 6 days with will be indelibly etched into my life, even though I may never meet them again. We shared something so intimate in our individual silence. I have walked away with a felling of community and love. Compassion for life and a love for all beings, most importantly, myself!

Day Five: Serenity Awaits

This morning’s meditation was full of thoughts I couldn’t control no matter how deeply I breathed. I thought about how I am enjoying the slow down, giving myself a well deserved break from the busy life I lead. I thought about all I have learned this week and how it’s mine alone. I thought about how I wished that my girlfriend could share in this peace with me but this is my journey. I thought about my crazy puppy and how his energy and smile can pick me up on my darkest days. I thought about my new understanding of my anger and depression and how alone I feel. I felt a belonging in this path I’m on and how I hunger for more Dharma talks and Metta. I became aware of the silence and how rewarding it is to just sit quietly in meditation. Then, all at once, love and peace as I placed my hand on my heart and took a deep breath.

Mindfulness is becoming aware of all of these things. It’s a way to dig deep and understand, own and learn to live with everything inside me and around me. It’s a way to step back when I feel that anger, be aware of it before I spontaneously combust. It’s a way to deal with, identify and embrace my sadness and depression. It allows a deeper appreciation of all things, kinda like living life in macro. It’s about internalizing the Metta and the Dharma and learning to be kind to myself and those around me. It’s a source of peace and serenity I have longed for for a very long time, I was just too busy to notice.

This practice of Mindfulness strengthens as I practice here in this container of love and likemindedness. The internal peace I feel grows deeper each day and is consuming and comforting. I am determined to hold this peace and love once I re-enter the world. I need to remember all I have been taught and continue my practice daily. For this effort…serenity awaits.

Day Four: Metta

Loving kindness…what a concept. The practice of Metta in meditation has been my undoing. Metta is basically positive affirmations with a Buddhist twist. It is all about internalizing positive thinking and learning to project it back out into the world. It is about learning to love yourself and all your short comings, accept the parts of you that are not so becoming and learning to live in a positive space. We end everyday with this practice and teaching.

Last night I cried so hard during the Metta meditation. It was a deep sobbing cry. We were asked to think about all the people in our lives that were instrumental in teaching us, loving us and inspirational. At first I felt lost, unsettled and empty. Who in my life has picked me up and carried me when I couldn’t do it for myself? Who has been my confidant? Who have I shared my deepest fears, aspirations and joy with? Who has loved me and accepted me for who I was at the moment without judgment or scolding? Unconditionally…living or passed on. Who has been my teachers? Not out of obligation as in immediate family…

Once the flurry of anxiety had cleared and I began to think a bit more clearly, I thought of Chris, Faye and Sylvia, church members from my childhood, speakers at rallys, singers and song writers perhaps I’d never met but were inspirational. I thought about how I treasured bits and pieces of all of them. I began to understand that I am not alone in my life, and even though I have felt deeply alone, that if I let down my guard and was honest, people were always there for me.

In the past, and even now, there were people I opened up to that were not so positive and supportive. Sometimes they were judgmental, sometimes they would tell me to suck it up, tell me I was silly and sometimes I was told to “grow up”. It was those times that I remember and stopped reaching out. I learned that I had to carefully choose who I shared myself with, who I could let into my “space”.

Last night I summoned the positive back and dismissed the negative. I surrounded the negative in a pink bubble and set it off into the universe. The sadness flowed out of me in rivers of tears. I felt such deep emotions that had been buried deep under piles and piles of shit. On day one I had spoken one to one with one of the teachers here when I became afraid that I would not be able to control the explosion of anger, tears and whatever emotional upheaval might occur. I was assured I was not alone. I was also told that anger and depression is manifested from deep sadness and it is often a way of coping. He shared last night about his own sadness and bouts of depression and how when he started his journey he found that he could never fill the void he discovered inside his being but had to embrace it as part of him and surround it with good and nurture it, giving it its space to be. I get it…and cried myself to sleep.

This morning I struggled to get out of bed for the 6:15 meditation but I forced myself awake. The pain my body was in all day yesterday was gone and the anguish I felt last night too was gone. I sat in meditation this morning and thanked the universe for taking care of me through the night and for the clarity I feel this morning. I feel very raw and emotional. This is the beginning. I am now an empty vessel. From here it is my choice to let go and let myself heal…to listen deeply and with an open mind and heart. Let the day begin.

P.S., the sun is out…