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…

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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…

Everything is Uphill

“You park here”, the lady said, “and the check in is up there.” I gazed up the hill at the beauty of this place and realized this entire week was gonna be uphill. I never really imagined what I was thinking and the depths of how real it was. Everything is uphill.

From my first step I was beginning the journey of a lifetime. I looked around at the steep grassy hills, dotted with groves of brilliant green trees. I looked at the buildings set against this stunning backdrop and noticed how each one blended in and was accented by the grassy hills. There was a peacefulness here and it was evident that this was a powerful land and this was a powerful place.

I walked slowly uphill to the retreat site and through the gate that had a large prayer wheel…what the heck, I gave it a spin and said a silent prayer as I walked through the gate. I could feel the energy emanating from all around me. At first it was intimidating but soon it washed over me in a wave of warmth and a peaceful feeling came over me. I continued uphill till I came to the first building, a sign said “Start Here”.

That was the beginning of it all. From that moment forward everything was gonna be uphill. My cabin, the main meditation hall, the dinning hall and the path that took you to the top of the beautiful hills. Even my spiritual growth would be an uphill climb. There wasn’t much further down I was willing to go, so I welcomed the energy and settled in.

That was four days ago. I have surmounted more hills both metaphysically and physically. We do a walking meditation eight times a day. At least one of those meditations I take the path to the top of the hill and explore. It is breathtakingly beautiful and in a meditative state you don’t even feel the gravity or your heart beating in your chest. Your breathing is slow and steady and with each slow methodical step you climb further up.

Scattered at the top are more trails leading off to glorious views of the surrounding countryside. Each trail has benches with makeshift alters and colorfully adorned Buddhas with prayer beads and chakra stones. The energy radiates clear up to the top of the hill from the valley below and you can gaze out and soar with the birds gliding on the air currents. Since this is a silent retreat there is no human sound short of footsteps. The deer walk right out onto the fields as you stand there. The lizards scurry around at your feet. Bees buzz as they do their busy work. The trees whisper their stories for anyone willing to listen.

I’ve learned this week that uphill can be hard and it can also be rewarding. Uphill isn’t so bad after all.

Day Three: Mindful Awareness

Each day starts out before the dawn. The sound of bells, deep, low gongs. I awoke in a great deal of pain today. Perhaps from sitting and walking…or maybe it was the bed? No matter, just one more hurdle in my day. It could be pain caused by emotional upheaval manifesting itself in physical pain. The things we put ourselves through to achieve peace of mind, body and spirit.

I roll out of bed and head to morning meditation, 6:15 sharp. The first few meditations were guided, the last few however, have been left to us and our personal practice. After sitting for forty five minutes we have walking meditation and then breakfast. Today I had a special awareness on my walking meditation. I heard a small bird calling in the morning light, hidden away inside a tree. I paused and listened to its tiny calls and finally found it amongst the tangle of branches…it was the smallest hummingbird sitting on a branch singing away. It sat and watched me as I listened. Nothing else around was present, just me and this small bird. I thanked it for its early morning song, and continued on my walk. It is this awareness, this awakening that can only be achieved in a silent meditation.

Have I told you how loud silence is? Silence is very loud at times and very calming others. I can hear the pounding of my heart, the rush of blood through my head, my belly is always making very loud noises since I am eating delicious food that is totally foreign to its system. In silence you can here the wind, you can here the rustling of the trees, every sound you normally wouldn’t even notice is ten times louder when no one is speaking. You can hear birds feathers on the wind as they glide by. In silence I have come to appreciate all that goes unnoticed. You can hear distant buzzing from the bees collecting nectar. The world is silent when we are making sounds and full of incredible sounds when we are quiet.

I have also noticed, when silent, all other senses are heightened. Like I said earlier, I hear even the smallest sound. I wish I could bottle the smell of the air here. My eyes see colors more vividly. My mind thinks clearer. I just want to touch everything as if it were for the first time. A heightened awareness of all my surroundings. The world is alive an vibrant and I have only to be silent to take it all in.

Day Two: The Road to Change

I just completed my first full day at Spirit Rock Meditaion Retreat Center in Woodacre, California. I have run the entire gambit of emotions in the last fifteen hours. I have cried silently, laughed silently and waged battle, silently, with acceptance. I have sat in meditation for eight long hours. I have walked slowly, silently for another eight. I have listened to the teachers as they have reached inside of me, grabbed hold of all my fears and opened the flood gates. I was brought face to face with my darkest demons and tried to make some peace.

Today has been a whirlwind ride into a place I haven’t been in a long time, myself. Here at the retreat we are devoid from outside interference. We all have entered into “noble silence”. We have a life line available to us at anytime if the experience gets to intense, to decompress and seek clarity and direction. This is no cake walk and these teachers are here to guide us and lift us up. It is up to me to decide what I get from this. Trust me, the last three sitting meditations were tough to attend.

This retreat is about Mindfulness. It’s about learning to love all parts of you. To embrace all you fears and felt inadequacies with kindness and acknowledging short comings. It’s about generating a compassionate inner being. Compassion for oneself is needed in order to give it. Love is needed for oneself in order to give it. Understanding how to internalize the good even in a messed up world. This retreat is about me and whatever I choose to take from it. Breakdown the walls, embracing whatever comes up, owning it and embracing it with love and compassion.