The Friendly Afterlife

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I have some good news to share: The afterlife is friendly. A week ago I spent some time with my elderly hospice patient. As she laid in her hospital bed she dozed in and out of sleep; transitioning to her new afterlife. As a witness, I stayed with her, without talking or moving. I watched her; as if I was waiting for something. Then it happened. She opened her eyes and stared up towards the ceiling of her bedroom. Her eyes stared at one thing. Then she closed her eyes. A few seconds later, she opened her eyes for a second time and looked at the same spot. Then she closed her eyes. The third time she opened her eyes and looked up at the same place and smiled. It was the most peaceful and child-like smile I have ever seen. After she had smiled, she continued to look up towards the ceiling, and then she waved her hand as if to say “Hi.”

After this experience, I have come to the conclusion that the afterlife is friendly. My hospice patient has no fear. She is at peace as the veil between her current life, and her afterlife becomes more transparent. Soon she will leave her body and be on a new journey. The human body that she has will never exist again.

As I sat in a wooden chair next to her hospital bed, I glanced over at her black and white wedding picture that stood on her desk. She was a beautiful young woman. She had a heart-shaped face and smooth skin. Her husband wore a navy uniform and slick-back hair. After looking at her wedding picture, I looked back at the old woman with white hair and tried to imagine her young again. As I stared at her, I noticed that she was still very charming. She had the prettiest grayish-blue eyes that are haunting – but in a good way.

I became my hospice patient’s volunteer only two months ago. At my first visit, I realized that my patient was close to death and not talking as much. Therefore, I do not know her that well as a person.

The aid in the hospice house said my hospice patient was always so polite and thankful when she was able to talk. She always said, “Thank you, dear” to all the staff. Her elegance and grace are still with her even as she is dying. I learned in my hospice training that people die the way they have lived.

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I do not know who my hospice patient saw as she looked up at the ceiling. I have heard many stories of people, who are close to death, seeing relatives or guiding spirits. I am so honored to have experienced this spiritual connection as I sat with my hospice patient. I know in my heart that dying is a friendly and peaceful experience.

I see myself in my hospice patient. I know that this, too, will someday be my reality. Sometimes I think, in a warped sense of time and reflection, she is me. And when I reflect on this, I have no fear.

Namaste, world.

Anais-Nin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Worldview of Health

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“Health is a state of balance in which your life is defined by purpose, freedom, growth, and joy.” — Christiane Northrup

Balance is vital to health. When my balance is off, I can become ill. For example, if I feel a cold coming on, I have two choices: I can rest my body or keep pushing myself. I think it is important to listen to my body. Johnson (2005) encourages “people to listen to the messages of their flesh, to embrace their breathing patterns, to follow their styles of moving, and to pay attention to the insights that emerge within the movement itself” (p. 114). There are messages sent to the body every second. It is a choice to listen to the messages or not.

Health

My mother always tells me that if I do not have my health, I have nothing. Health is a gift (illness can be a gift too – see the next paragraph). Adams (2011) states, “Health is obviously so much more than a disease-free interlude. To be healthy is to have a body toned to its maximum performance potential, a clear mind exploding with wonder and curiosity, and a spirit happy and at peace with the world” (p. 190). This quote from Adams aims for perfection, but health is more like a roller coaster. It is impossible to stay in one state of health for a whole lifetime. Health will ebb and flow. The nature of the human being is to experience impermanence. Every person will experience illness at some point in his or her lifetime. Again, these experiences are impermanent. You cannot stay sick forever.

Illness

I am a little afraid of getting sick. About eleven years ago I was swimming in the ocean and a huge wave crashed my head down to the ocean floor – like getting hit in the head with a baseball bat. That following evening I became very nauseous and I started to vomit. I went to urgent care the next day, was diagnosed with a awful case of vertigo, and was given medicine. I could not stand on my own two feet, for even a few seconds, without the room spinning around and around.

I was not ill in the sense of getting a virus or a disease. However, a blow to my head caused me to become very ill. And what scares me the most: something, like an accident, can cause illness. It is the unpredictability of life. However, through the years, I have learned to trust the universe.

Vertigo has made me understand the difference between health and illness. It took about seven days for me to recover fully from vertigo. I understand my body a lot better now, and I know what I need to do if I feel vertigo symptoms coming on. I am prone to getting vertigo because of the head injury. I have to be careful not to hit my head, and I have to keep my ears from getting plugged when I have a sinus infection.

This vertigo experience has shown me great respect for the mystery of life, and I have a lot more patience. I have gratitude every day. I love my life!

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Illness can be a great teacher. If I did not get vertigo, I might have taken my life and health for granted. Now I see my health as being very precious. Dossey (2011) adds, “Although the illness varied, the message was often the same: The disease led to an increase in wisdom and understanding and held lessons that paradoxically made life better” (p. 143).

Wellness

Meditation is very crucial to cultivate wellness. My Buddhist teacher ends every meditation session with this saying: May all living beings be well, happy, skillful, and peaceful. When I am well, I feel lightness in my physical body, a clear mind, and an abundance of energy. When I am happy, I feel joy searing through my heart. When I am skillful, I have a purpose in my life. When I am peaceful, I feel no fear.

Meditation brings my attention back to my inner world. I gain awareness of my whole self. When I meditate, I focus on my breath and let the thoughts come and go without attachment. If I start to think too much, I bring my attention back to my breath. Venerable Ajahn Chah (1992) beautifully adds, “Getting lost in some train of thought won’t lead you to the truth, it’s not wisdom” (p.48). Wisdom is higher consciousness and self-knowledge. Wisdom is seeing the true nature of all things. Meditation fosters understanding.

The New Role of the Healer

I am so thankful for the integral theory and the new role of the healer. According to Ken Wilber (2005), “An integrally informed medical practice changes the practitioners first; they can then decide which of the treatments – conventional, alternative, complementary, and/or holistic – they wish to utilize, individually and collectively when practicing medicine with integrity” (p. xxxi). Several years ago I was in a very stressful job, and I started to feel sick. I had cycles of panic attacks, and I had a touch of vertigo. I put the integral theory into practice, without knowing it at the time. I saw my family physician for medication, had an acupuncturist balance my meridians, and I went to a massage therapist to reduce my stress. I was back to feeling balanced in a couple of weeks after seeking treatment.

Wilber writes a lot about the “wholeness” of the healer or practitioner. The transformation of the practitioner is essential. And, according to Wilber (2005), that “integral medicine goes one step further: it treats the illness, the person, and the physician” (p. xix). The caregiver is a big part of wellness. I so am thankful for the integral theory and the new role of the healer because it is change the world needs so desperately.

The New Role of the Client/Patient

I experienced the empowering new role of the patient. When I was pregnant with my second child, I developed high blood pressure at the end of my pregnancy. My doctor insisted that I get admitted to the hospital immediately (that night) and begin Pitocin to start my labor. Pitocin did not work very well for me during my first pregnancy, so I was against it. I told my doctor, “No. I am not going to the hospital.” For first time, I told a doctor “no.” I explained to my doctor that I wanted to get acupuncture treatments to start my labor. And that is what I did. I went on a Saturday morning for an acupuncture treatment and then again on Monday morning. I went into labor on Monday evening. I trusted myself. And back then, about fifteen years ago, I was practicing self-advocacy. I took responsibility for my health and the health of my unborn child. Hunter Adams (2011) states, “Health results from an active participation that only the self can give. The health professional’s role then shifts from that of a mechanic fixing the breakdowns to that of a gardener nurturing growth” (p.190). It was scary telling my doctor “no.” I stood up to a strong authority figure in our society. I felt empowered when I took my health into my hands.

Paradigm Shift

In the old paradigm, the patient gave all the control of his or her body to the physician. Dr. Northrup (2003) experienced this old model in her practice. She said that she asked a woman to tell her what was going on with her body and the women replies, “You tell me. You’re the doctor” (p. 431). Patients in the old paradigm believed that getting sick was just bad luck and that they did not have any control over the situation. In the old paradigm, the doctor-patient relationship is similar to a parent-child relationship. Dacher (2005) adds, “The science and particularly the medicine associated with this viewpoint have taught us to seek the remedies for our problems outside of ourselves, to distrust our inherent healing capacities, and to look towards the professional as the singular authority on issues of health and healing” (p. 19).

The new paradigm shift to self-advocacy will become the norm. A team of professionals and the patient will work for the common good of the patient. The professional or practitioner may incorporate other healing modalities that are not traditionally within his or her modality. Healing and medicine will be inclusive.

Healer as a Social Activist

Health and wellness are not equal in all parts of the world. Socio-economic factors do affect health. People who live in poor communities suffer from greater ill health and shorter life expectancies than those who live in developed communities. Also, many individuals who live in poor communities do not have the best healthcare. Poverty creates a cycle of poor education, social exclusion, and mental/physical breakdown. Dr. Thompson (2012) offered this perspective:

“Our view of social healing assumes a relatedness between individual and collective wounding and healing. Unresolved historical wounds carried in the collective memory, and collective unconscious can, and do, trigger a complex array of conflicts. This transference from generation to generation of victim-perpetrator dynamics often result in violent confrontation, war, oppression, human rights abuses and terrorism.”

Every human being is a healer. As shown in the film, “Roots of Health,” regular people can get together to create change and facilitate healing in their community. The film started with depressing images and sad stories. But by the end of the movie, I understood that change can happen. Thompson (2012) concludes with this:

“We are on the edge of an evolutionary phase shift and that ultimately healing is about evolution. We can’t heal without evolving. Thus social healing finds its highest calling discerning the information coming through at the edges of the new worldview and translating that into language, maps and tools for healing the historic wounds that have held old worldviews in place.”

Conclusion

Awareness leads to transformation and a new worldview of health. Health is a state of balance but there many factors contributing to health and illness. Listening to the messages of our bodies is important. Awareness is the starting point for health and wellness. However, to go further and ignite transformation, we need to invite the new paradigm shift in the new role of the client and the new role of the healer. This new paradigm shift will heal our historic wounds and guide the new healer as a health activist to create new ways to heal the world.

Namaste, world.

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References

Adams, H. (2011). Foundations of complementary and alternative medicine. St. Louis Missouri: Elsevier, Churchill Livingstone

Chah, V. A. (1992). Living Dhamma. Thailand: The Sangha, Bung Wai Forest Monastery

Dacher, E., Johnson, D. & Wilber, K. (2005). Consciousness & healing: integral approaches to mind-body medicine. St.Louis, Missouri: Elsevier, Churchill Livingstone

Dossey, L. (2011). Foundations of complementary and alternative medicine. St. Louis Missouri: Elsevier, Churchill Livingstone

Northrup, C. (2003). Voices of integrative medicine: conversations and encounters. St. Louis Missouri: Elsevier, Churchill Livingstone

Thompson, J. & O’Dea, J. (2012). The social healing project. Retrieved from:  http://www.servicespace.org

The Meditation Challenge

Challenges

This past week I went on a 4-day silent meditation retreat. It was the hardest retreat I have ever been on. I was challenged on every level – mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional. After the first full day, I wanted to leave. My suitcase was packed and I was planning to leave early in the morning.

Then I stopped. I realized that I always run from things when the “going gets tough.” I decided to stay for the whole weekend. I had several friends at the retreat and I wanted to fulfill the commitment. I instilled in my mind a resolve and stayed.

This retreat was like a meditation boot camp. We were on a strict schedule; which wasn’t my plan going into the retreat. I was looking forward to some meditation and a lot of relaxation. Instead, I had to wake up every morning at 5:00 and be sitting on my meditation cushion at 5:30. The days repeated with the same schedule: chanting, group meditations, walking meditations, yoga class, and teachings of the Buddha. I led the yoga classes.

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This retreat reminded me of a sweat lodge experience I had about 18 years ago. I was invited to an Native American sweat lodge. It was an honor to have that experience. A good friend of mine had connections with a Native American tribe. Before the sweat, my friend educated me about the sweat lodge rituals. I had to prepare my body by fasting one day before the sweat. I also made tobacco prayer bags to hang in the sweat lodge. I remember creating the tiny bags and dedicating each one to my family members and friends. Before the sweat began, I gave the Native American elder a bag of tobacco as a gift.

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The sweat lodge experience and mediation retreat were similar because of the challenge. Each experience challenged my whole being. It was difficult to stay and not flee. In the sweat lodge experience, I had to connect with my breath – just like sitting in meditation. The thick, hot, moist air forced me to go inward and focus on my breath. Also, in each experience I had to overcome the obstacle of fear. In the sweat lodge, I feared dying because I could hardly breathe. I remember laying down in a fetal position and putting my face to dirt floor so I could breathe better. I prayed to God that I would survive. The Native American elder helped me to stay connected with my inner journey as she chanted with the drum. In the mediation retreat, I feared losing my mind or fainting from sitting too long. The second morning of the retreat I sat in a group meditation for about two hours. As I sat, tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn’t help but cry. My hips and legs hurt, my mind was swimming, and I was grieving the loss of my dad (he has Alzheimer’s disease).

After wiping my tears, I acknowledged my emotions and refocused on my breath. After this moment, I felt better. I changed the position of my legs and I sat with clarity and focus. My body felt lighter and my mind tranquil. I had overcome one of my toughest challenges during the weekend.

I also survived the sweat lodge experience. Each of these experiences created a new me – I was reborn. The sweat lodge is round, wet, and warm like a mother’s womb. The large, round rocks that baked all day in the fire pit warmed the lodge. Water was poured onto the rocks and my body sweat like it was raining. The heat scorched my body and my heart beat along with the drum. I laid in a fetal position trusting God and the Universe. Several hours later, the flap lifted and fresh air rushed in. I stepped out of the sweat lodge wet and slimy like a newborn. The cool, fresh air refreshed my body, mind and spirit. I felt a sense of accomplishment and gratitude filled my heart.

I was reborn after the meditation retreat too. I am a different person because of the meditation challenge. This challenge created determination and resilience inside me. Now I must go forward and remember keep my light shining bright…because I am radiant and strong.

Namaste, world.

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”   — Rainer Maria Rilke

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