I’ve heard people say that 2016 really sucked. Well, we lost lots of amazing musicians and artists, the weather wasn’t great, there was Syria, the refugee crisis, the abysmal U.S. presidential campaign season, and lots more. OK, so it’s not on people’s list of favorite years. I gotta tell ya, my 2016 was one for the books, too. But last year was perhaps one of the greatest of my life, due to the presence of two remarkable teachers, one spiritual and one physical. Let me tell you about them.
(This is a bit long for a post, but there’s a lot to say. I think it will be worth your time.)
The first teacher showed up in April, on the 12th, to be exact. Coincidentally, this is the final day of the Asterian (Sidereal) astrological year, which I think is significant, given what happened. (You can find out more about Asterian astrology here and here.) I had been on an intensive, at-home meditation retreat. I was going at it six to eight hours a day for several days. The method I was using was Light and Sound, a method I had been initiated into several months before, meditating about an hour each day since that time. Progress had been gratifying, and I was hoping to “pop through” into an Awakened state during this retreat. That is, I was hoping without hoping to become Enlightened. The word Enlightenment has some baggage, and lots of misunderstanding, attached (Buddhist pun intended) to it. That’s something for another post, though.
Suffice it to say, I was in it to the hilt. And I’ll be damned if it didn’t happen. I achieved my Awakening, and I have been forever changed. I’ll tell you about it sometime, but the experience isn’t germane to the current discussion, so I’ll save that for later, too. Now, for the teaching part of it. This experience taught me to still my mind. It no longer intrudes. It has become the tool it is meant to be. I understand suffering at an entirely new level, and my compassion for others has skyrocketed. I have learned that we are truly all One. Also, I have learned to see impermanence, the transience of all things. Nothing lasts, but the All is eternal. (You can’t help talking like this once It happens. All dichotomies have dissolved at the level of spiritual vision. It’s indescribable. It’s incredibly beautiful. Everything is.)
OK, on to my second teacher. I was extremely fortunate to encounter the first before the second, as it made things a whole lot easier. In August, I was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a life-threatening illness. This insidious illness is rare (estimated incidence ranges from one in 100,000 to one in a million – I mean, I’ve always been an outlier, but this is ridiculous!), and it has an unknown cause. What happens? Well, cells in the bone marrow start putting out tons of misfolded proteins. These buggers settle in the organs, like the heart, kidney, liver, and digestive tract, gradually gumming up the works and leading to the failure of the affected organ(s). They can also settle in other tissues, like the tongue, salivary glands, body fat, etc. Untreated, the disease progresses rapidly, and death usually occurs in a couple of years. The other outcome is that I was forced into retirement from my psychotherapy practice, but as you will see, it led me to another purpose.
While not strictly a cancer, amyloidosis is treated very much like its cousin multiple myeloma, another bone marrow disease. I was lucky enough that, the disease having been identified relatively early in its progression, none of my major organs had been strongly impacted. Actually, the big tip-off was my very enlarged tongue. Macroglossia, as it’s called, is a symptom that occurs in fewer than one-third of cases, but its presence has probably saved, or at least greatly extended, my life.
Treatment is a bundle of fun. I was fortunate to qualify for an autologous stem cell transplant (Your own stem cells are collected from your blood, and put back into you at the appropriate time during treatment. Since you are your own donor, rejection of the transplant is not a problem.). Add onto this a regimen of chemotherapy and three-plus weeks of hospitalization. Oh, and there’s a follow-up year of chemo as well. Improvements in the condition don’t show, however, for many months into treatment, and a return to “normalcy” is a couple of years after that, as the body rids itself of the accumulated amyloid deposits. So, it’s kind of a big investment in time, energy, and resources.
I’m a couple of months into follow-up chemo, and just over 100 days post transplant. Things are going as well as can be expected, though I have to avoid crowds and wear a mask whenever I venture outdoors, or anywhere else for that matter. My immune system is being relentlessly knocked down by the chemo, as it eliminates the malfunctioning plasma cells. In the hospital, my immune system was brought to zero, as my transplant took hold and replaced my completely destroyed bone marrow. I’m like a newborn! By the way, the irony isn’t lost on me that Enlightenment is also a rebirth. The aggravating thing is that I will have to be re-inoculated against everything, and my smallpox vaccination scars may as well be tattoos for all the good they do me. But through all this, I have remained remarkably even. I haven’t been seized by fear or anxiety, and go through the weekly chemo-poisonings on an even-keel. People have noticed, really!
Disease as teacher. Quite a concept. I have no fear of death. (Enlightenment saw to that.) I have learned to value each moment for the perfect expression of creation that it is. I am at peace with whatever outcome occurs, though I have chosen to pursue continuing to live, as a physical choice. You see, I think I have more to do. I guess it’s part of the reason I’m writing this, in fact. My purpose now is to spread the information, and to offer hope that anyone can reach a pinnacle of spiritual development. I’m here to help.
It’s already helping, too. Even without my trying. The fact that I have this illness, and that I am navigating it as I have, has impacted the people with whom I have come into contact – family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, even Facebook friends. They are examining themselves, their relationships, and their reactions to the physical world and its happenings. The most amazing part is that I haven’t done anything, directly, to influence them. It’s their simple observation, coupled with their desire to take action, that has made the difference. I am only a tool of Grace, the Cosmic, whatever you’d like to call it.
The teaching and learning continue every day. As I teach, I learn; as I learn, I teach. The smooth ebb and flow of the nurtuing energies of the Universe. It’s a beautiful thing.