Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Wind and Healing

Next time you are outside and the wind blows, notice your stance with regard to the wind. Allow the wind to blow past you. Feel the force of the wind. Allow it to caress your face. Notice how some trees bend to the energy of the wind, and others stand firm. There is no need to resist the wind, to tense your body in response to it. It is simply the wind blowing past.

You need not make the wind a part of you. You need not identify with the wind. You need not fight it or hold onto the fact that the wind is blowing. If it blew yesterday, it may or may not blow today. It arrived, and it will leave. For the wind is energy in motion, and it has no authority over your life.

Now see what it feels like to apply these same concepts about the wind to cancer or some other health condition.

Allow it to blow past you.
Feel its energy.
There is no need to resist it, to tense your body in response to it.
Do not fight it.
Do not identify with it or hold onto it.
Do not make it a part of you.
It arrived, and it can leave.
For it is simply energy in motion and it has no authority over your life.

Pick one of these statements, and try spending a day playing with it in regards to your health situation. Like the first one -- Allow it to blow past you. Notice if you think that a diagnosis means 'here to stay', and that you have already made it part of you, and are holding onto it. Work with the image of allowing the energy to blow past you. Allow it in, allow it out. Let go of the concept 'here to stay'. Unless of course that is what you consciously want. I suspect not -- let that one go.

You are at choice here in terms of what you believe. Allow the energies of Life to blow through you, but do not give them permission to stay. They may be welcome for a time, there may be important lessons for you to learn, and then it will be time for these energies to leave.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Welcoming Summer -- At the U.Mass. Sunwheel

For the past decade for me, Summer Solstice has meant being at the Sunwheel for sunrise and sunset and offering teachings to the public. The Sunwheel is a stone circle calendar, located on the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which I began constructing in 1992. Since the year 2000, the Sunwheel contains 14 standing stones, 8'-10' tall, marking the cardinal directions, the solstice sunrise and sunset directions, and the northern and southern extremes of moonrise and moonset. The Sunwheel enables people to experience the sky, through observing the changing direction to the sunrise and sunset throughout the year. At each Solstice and Equinox, I invite the general public to join me to witness the Sun rising and setting at the Sunwheel, to participate in the experience of the seasons. And since 1997, there have been 9,000 people attending the seasonal sunrise and sunset gatherings, and over 25,000 visitors to the Sunwheel overall.

The beginning of each season is a high energy time for me, full of anticipation, and one in which I feel like I am doing part of my soul's work. Also exhausting, with the Summer Solstice sunrise gathering at 5 a.m., and so much excitement inside me that sleep comes slowly. This year, I had the added element of having been unable to lead the gatherings 1 year ago, so I was coming home. I felt so grateful to be so much better physically than I was 1 year ago, that I was crying tears of joy during dinner Friday evening before going to the Sunwheel. I was unable to eat, as the anticipation mounted.

I never know how many people will come to the Sunwheel for the gatherings -- it depends on the temperature, the day of the week, and how cloudy or rainy or sunny the day has been. The Friday night, June 20, weather was cooler than normal, below 70 degrees at 7 p.m., but the sky was mostly clear and beautiful. In all, 84 people came to the Sunwheel to witness the sunset on Friday, and a total of 192 people attended the gatherings on Friday and Saturday. The crowds at the Sunwheel are always a mix -- people I know and people I don't, people who are new to the Sunwheel and people who are regulars, adults and children, & people who can stand and people who need to sit.

This Solstice, I shared the astronomy of the seasons, the story of building the Sunwheel and being inspired by a Sunwheel on former Blackfeet Indian territory in Montana, and a bit of my personal story including the collapse of my spine and year long recovery. I told people it broke my heart to not be present last Summer Solstice at the Sunwheel, and that I was incredibly grateful to be with them now, in 2008. Together we saw a beautiful sunset, then lit candles to bring in even more light at this light-filled time. These candles were placed on the stones around the Sunwheel -- as darkness set in the extra light made the site look magical!

There was a huge and wonderfully surprising outpouring of love and gratitude from the Sunwheel visitors to me that I will never forget -- people I didn't know hugged and kissed me, told me how happy they were that I was well, glad I was able to be back at the Sunwheel leading the gatherings. I was incredibly moved.

Saturday morning was definitely a stretch for me, getting up at 4:15 a.m. & heading right to the Sunwheel without doing the physical therapy I have been so diligent about doing first thing every morning for 10 months. But a friend was in from out of town, and I told her I would be at the Sunwheel for sunrise, so I went. It felt so familiar -- the quiet of the morning, the damp stillness of the air before sunrise, the sounds of the birds, the smell of damp Earth. And even though it was cloudy, 25 people came for the largest summer solstice sunrise gathering I remember (beginning at 5 a.m., after all).

For the past 7 years -- ever since the tall stones have been at the Sunwheel -- on the morning of the Summer Solstice there has been a red-winged blackbird atop the 10' tall Summer Solstice Sunrise stone AT sunrise. The first year I saw this sight I photographed it, and then year after year the bird (or another) reappeared. Even last year when I was at home, the student who led the gatherings in my place saw and photographed the red-winged blackbird atop the Summer Solstice sunrise stone at sunrise. I always tell people about the bird, and people came to the sunrise gathering to see it. The bird did show up on Saturday morning, but this year it sat atop the 9' tall North stone, the 2nd tallest stone in the circle. It showed up over and over, flying away, and coming back, always landing on the North stone. Avoiding the 10' tall Solstice sunrise stone.

Saturday evening, after a warm and cloudy afternoon, 67 people came to the Sunwheel for sunset. Again it was wonderful, connecting with the people and with the Universe to witness the start of this season of summer. The crowd stayed until 9:15 p.m., when it was so dark that we could no longer see anything other than the candles lighting the stones. And the huge surprise that evening was around sunset someone cried, "There's a hawk on the Summer Solstice sunrise stone." Sure enough, a large bird had landed on the tallest stone at the Sunwheel, and I got a glimpse of it before it flew away. It was very surprising that it landed so close to so many people (it was only ~30 feet away from us). Probably looking for live prey, and we looked a bit too big.

But now I think I know what happened to the red-winged blackbird. It had lost the territorial battle with the hawk, and had to settle for the 2nd tallest Sunwheel stone in the North, not the tallest stone marking the Summer Solstice sunrise.

There is so much more than astronomy that happens at the Sunwheel. A Universe in a circle. All because of love. Love for All That Is.

To learn more about the Sunwheel, click here.
To view the Sunwheel Photo Gallery, click here.
To view the Summer Solstice 2008 photos taken by Sunwheel visitor Steve Fratoni, click here.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Purpose of Life

Today, for the second time in a month, I received the same saying on the tea bag when I had my morning cup of Yogi Detox Tea. The saying was, "The purpose of life is to enjoy every moment." Just think, all one needs to do is drink tea, and the mysteries of life are revealed.

The first time I got this fortune, I taped it to my computer. Now, every time I sit down to check my e-mail or check the weather, I am reminded of the purpose of life, to enjoy every moment. What a wonderful idea!

I guess it has never been entirely clear to me what the purpose of life is. In my adult life and spiritual exploration, I have come across a number of books that touch on the purpose of life and present ideas which resonate with my own knowing. In Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God, the idea is expressed that we are here to be Who We Are, and that in fact we were created in order that God could turn concept into experience. God knew of God's magnificence intellectually, but only through experience could God know God's self experientially. Thus, our very purpose for being is to turn God's concept of magnificence into experience.

In a more recent book by Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth, the idea is expressed that there are 3 modes of what he calls 'enlightened doing'. These modes are acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm. Just imagine -- if everything that everyone did involved either ecceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, what a different place the world would be.

So the fortune on my tea bag today relates to one of these 3 modes of enlightened doing -- enjoyment. Enjoyment brings with it a beautiful energy, an energy that goes beyond acceptance. The energy of enjoyment also goes beyond happiness -- it sends joy out into the world. And joy expressed is inspiring.

Imagine enjoying every moment of life! Every day. Every situation. Every thought. Every encounter. It would transform the world to have just one person who enjoyed every moment. Because the energy of joy is uplifting -- it is impossible to have an encounter with joy and not be changed.

So, if the purpose of life is to enjoy every moment, that sounds a lot like living joyfully with what is. Of course, enjoying every moment sounds like a tall order, so I think I'll just start with this one.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Spinal Collapse

I had never known anyone who had spinal collapse, nor had I know anyone who had compression fractures in their vertebrae. And even though I had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, I never expected spinal collapse to happen, nor did I expect it to come on so suddenly. My father had multiple myeloma also -- he was diagnosed in March 2002 (and died in January 2008) -- but he never had any bone problems. In June of 2007 I was 5'1" tall, and 1 month later I had shrunk 2 inches.

For those with multiple myeloma, serious complications occur as the cancerous plasma cells collect in the bone marrow. There, these cells disrupt the normal biological processes like the production of red blood cells (often causing anemia), and the cancerous plasma cells also disrupt the process of bone building. With multiple myeloma, bone building is slowed and bone breaking down is sped up. If the bone breakdown affects the spinal vertebrae, it can lead to spinal collapse.

For me, shrinking suddenly was just the outward manifestation of spinal collapse. The inward manifestations were continuous pain, excruciating muscle spasms, and a great deal of difficulty moving. I was unable to walk upstairs, so I began sleeping on the couch. I was unable to care for myself in the simplest ways -- I couldn't
dress myself, reach with my arms, shower, or wipe myself after using the toilet. Luckily, my daughter Laura was able to stay and take care of me for the entire summer, as she was preparing for her wedding, and planning to visit regularly anyway. I was sorry that she faced what few 24 year olds have faced, in terms of caring for her mother, but I was extremely grateful to her for being so devoted and loving. It seemed somehow prophetic that she was so close by my side for so many weeks just before she was married. The only other time she was so close to me for so long was the 9 months before she was born.

Beginning in June 2007, I would sleep on the living room couch, and Laura slept on the floor next to me. At whatever hour in the middle of the night I needed to go to the bathroom, she would get up to help me. And it would take me from 30-45 minutes to get up from lying down each time I got up, trying to move so that my spine stayed mostly straight, and trying to move so that I didn't trigger any muscle spasms. I can honestly say that the first month of spinal collapse, before I received any treatment, was living hell.

With so much difficulty moving, I stayed home from mid-June through mid-July except to see doctors and have medical tests done. My contact with the world outside of my immediate family was through the visits, phone calls, and e-mail. I am very grateful for e-mail, because I was able to maintain contact with a wide network of friends and family who prayed for me, sent me love, support, healing energy and uplifting messages. I am also grateful for the devotion of friends at the Jewish Community of Amherst, who conducted a healing circle for me, visited, cooked and delivered meals, and came to offer their love and support. I welcomed all the help that was offered.

I didn't realize at first that what had happened to my back was caused by the cancer, and several doctors in the area were convinced that my problems were not related to the multiple myeloma. Luckily for me, though, my oncologist did realize that the symptoms I was displaying were from the myeloma, and that it was time for chemo to begin. So in mid-July 2007 I went to the hospital for my first introduction to chemotherapy treatment of multiple myeloma.

Chemotherapy consisted of Velcade, Thalidomide, and Dexamethasone, each on its own prescribed schedule, but all 3 were administered on the 1st day. And all 3 are constipating, to me anyway. By the 5th day, my bowel had shut down. So on the night of July 24, 2007, which was Gene's and my anniversary, we called the ambulance to take me to the ER. I remember leaving the house on a chair that I was strapped to, and it was tilted back as I was carried down the sidewalk. I exclaimed with delight as I saw the stars in the clear sky above me -- I hadn't seen the stars yet that summer.

It was a long night in the ER. Dinner had nowhere to go. Four enemas and 1 suppository later, the doctors still could not get my intestines moving. I was in intense pain from my back, and now my digestive system was shutting down. Living was not only no longer fun, but it was just too hard. I was at a place where I didn't care if I died that night -- and it breaks my heart to recall that I had lost my will to live. I was in a stupor, either from the pain meds, or the chemo, or the toxicity of my body, and I recall going in and out of consciousness, until at one point in the wee hours of the morning I turned to Gene and said, "I decided to stay."

So I made the conscious decision to heal. I wanted to dance at my daughter's wedding. I wanted to see my grandchildren. I wanted to live. But it has been a very long road, healing this body with a collapsed spine. It has taken a level of courage and patience and strength and perseverance that I didn't know I had. But then that is another story.