There are no mistakes, no missteps. Life’s events only become calamities if we allow them to become so. If you look at challenges as a normal part of life, they can actually be the driving force of change.
The mind is capable of many levels of activity that span the full gamut from utter chaos and hyperactivity to serenity and peace. The commotion of the mind is analogous to the surface of a raging river as it rapidly travels downstream. Deeper in that same flowing body of water, the turbulence is less chaotic, its movement much less than that found on the surface. The deepest part, the bottom of the river, has barely perceptible motion to it at all.
Life in its hectic phase can be like the river’s rough surface churned up by the wind. Those waves represent the flurry of thoughts, the recurrent worrying thoughts stirred up by the perceived windstorms of life. The incessant nature of these streams of thought, the constant chatter generally gets us nowhere, imprisoning us in an unending eddy of discontent. If we are not mindful of its trap, we can get caught in its current as it drags us into the abyss of the turmoil that created the thoughts in the first place.
Meditation allows one to transcend limitations of the human experience. It allows one to become more reflective, coaxing us toward self-realization, ultimately enabling us to commune with the consciousness of the Divine.
When one is able to turn off the incessant internal dialogue reverberating in the mind reaching a space of quietness and serenity, it is like looking into a calm pool where one can see with absolute clarity all the way to the bottom. It is through meditation that one can find this respite, this conduit through which you can gently reach the deep recesses of the mind, arriving at the bottom where calmness prevails, a place where things are peacefully quiet.
When the sound ceases, the lessons of silence will reveal themselves.
The peace offered by achieving inner silence is cleansing in the sense of emptying and clearing one’s mind of the chatter and chaos of everyday life. It allows purification of thought, a simplification of thought, clarity of thought that, in my experience is achievable in no other way.
In The Power of Now written by Eckhart Tolle, he states, “True inner silence puts you in touch with the deeper dimensions of being and knowing. Nothing in this world is so like God as silence.”
It has been said that when we pray to God we are talking to Him. But when we meditate, that is when we hear God speaking to us.
During the winter, I witnessed what appeared to be a miracle. At first light, I looked out onto the lake in back of our home and saw our swans walking on water! I thought to myself, wow, they must have experienced some sort of epiphany through the night as just yesterday they were paddling around the lake like normal birds.
When the gray skies brightened a bit, I realized the optical “delusion” of the miracle. Through the frigid night, nature had deposited a thin icy layer on part of the surface of our lake, a layer so smooth that it appeared to be fluid. The swans were actually walking on thin ice. How natural they looked as they waddled across the silvery surface. As I pondered their feat, I acknowledged that I too have been walking on thin ice these past several months. I don’t believe that I have pulled off the balancing act as well as the swans appeared to be doing on this crisp autumn morning.
As more daylight appeared, I could distinguish the lines of separation between ice and water. The lines of demarcation were S-shaped, six of them to be exact. Some were large, others smaller. I meditated on the S’s. What was the lesson this consonant was trying to teach me?
The reason there were six S’s was obvious. There are six members in our immediate family. I made the “S” sound over and over again. Their meaning slowly came to me.
The accumulating weight of responsibilities in life, whether work-related, financial or relational can be a formidable and overwhelming challenge. We may be forever walking on thin ice in a futile attempt to manage. If the burden becomes too heavy, the thin surface fractures and we lose our footing. For some, the burden falls from their backs allowing them to be rescued from the frigid waters. For others, bound tightly to their baggage, the weight drags them under as they sink deeper into the cold darkness below the icy surface.
Meditating on the S’s, what came to mind was K I S S. It was not the band or the touching of lips. It was just the letters K - I - S - S.
Then it hit me. Years ago my good friend, Don Karas, a colleague at The Heart Group, made an insightful observation. Every year he, Tyler, and I would put together a band for “Docs Who Rock”, a United Way fundraiser. Each year the presentation became more grandiose and extravagant. We performed some crazy antics! When things got too wild, Don would implore me to “K-I -S-S”. No, he wasn’t coming onto me; he was merely suggesting for me to Keep It Simple, Stupid. And he was right. The more complicated our presentation, the less successful it became.
Hence the lesson of the S’s etched in the thin ice. Keep life simple. Despite the fact that challenges may appear to be very complicated, in truth they are not. By keeping it simple, living one day at a time, tackling one problem at a time, distilling things down to the basics, we can meet those seemingly overwhelming challenges with greater success.
As Winston Churchill once shared: “Out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge.”
One of the nicest compliments ever paid to me was when one of my patients described me as reminding him of Hawkeye Pierce from the TV show, M.A.S.H.
Now, some physicians might be offended by such a comparison, but I was flattered to be described in such a way. You see, Hawk-eye Pierce was a jokester; he always had a wisecrack, a quip on the tip of his tongue. He was constantly concocting some sort of tomfoolery to play on his friends, fellow co-workers, and even on those who outranked him!
The beauty of the man was that in a Nanosecond, when the need arose, he became a serious healer; in an instant he could morph into a superb surgeon who became hyper-focused and could operate with the best of them as he saved lives of injured soldiers.
Hawkeye had somehow learned from his ancient predecessors how to heal not only with his gifted hands, but with his heart as well.
Norman Cousins, editor of Saturday Review Magazine from 1940-1971 suffered from what was diagnosed as a fatal connective tissue disease. It was during his infirmity when typical pharmaceutical therapy failed to relieve his pain that he became interested in the role of emotions in combating disease. While hospitalized, he began to watch funny movies, enjoying comedies that caused him to laugh out loud. He found this gave him remarkable relief from the excruciating pain his ailment was causing him.
After a remarkable recovery, Cousins accepted an appointment to the faculty of the School of Medicine at UCLA and helped to create a program in psychoneuroimmunology. It was there he examined the interrelationship between the body and the mind, how they function in conjunction with one another and the ramifications of what happens when this symbiotic harmony is disrupted.
He was once profoundly offered: “It becomes necessary therefore to create a balanced perspective, one that recognizes that attitudes such as a strong will to live, high purpose, a capacity for festivity, and a reasonable degree of confidence are not an alternative to competent medical attention, but a way of enhancing the environment of treatment.”
In his 1939 best selling novel, Disputed Passages, Lloyd C. Douglas described the awareness of physicians that healing the physical illness was only part of the job when someone is ghastly sick in the soul.
The concepts described above are not new. Hippocrates, the Greek physician known as the “Father of Medicine” who lived and practiced in the 4th century B.C. regarded the mind and body as part of a single organism. His approach was that the body must be treated as a whole, not just the sum of its parts. He noted that there were some individuals who were better able to cope with their disease than others. He found that thoughts, ideas and even one’s feelings played into the ability to combat disease.
By what means did Hawkeye Pierce discover the healing capabilities of the body and the spirit? How did he know that laughter releases endorphins in the brain causing the body to relax while strengthening its immune system? Did he understand that holding a patient’s hand gave confidence to the mind? He had a command of this knowledge; he knew there was more to healing than just the reliance on scientific facts.
Feeling is a part of healing. People know when your touch goes beyond the body, entering the heart. This is the medical profession’s secret remedy. We call it the bedside manner; it is the key to the healing relationship, which transcends well beyond pharmacopeia and surgery.
When Hawkeye told a joke or played out a prank, his patients knew he cared enough to share himself — he went beneath the surface. When he made them laugh, they all felt better, even the poor sap who had the “honor” of having the joke directed at him. He was an intuitive healer. His knowledge was more profound than books; it had to be experienced.
Significantly profound people are humorous because they see more than is obvious to others. They are able to touch a dimension of consciousness of which others are not even aware. People feel important when someone cares enough to make them laugh, to turn on that part of the self that is usually hidden away. It makes one feel special.
For many years, I practiced within mainstream medicine, helping to “cure” my patients of various diseases. Many physicians believe that in order to be an effective clinician, patients must be treated in an objective fashion thus removing all emotion from the interaction. I learned early on that there is a huge difference between treating someone’s medical condition and actually participating in their healing.
Treating involves utilizing the knowledge gained from science in order to deliver quality, evidence-based medicine. Not to minimize that contribution to wellness, but healing on the other hand is facilitated by tapping into the heart of the wounded patient. It is with laughter that one is able to connect with the heart of another ailing soul. It is in that milieu of nurturing energy that true healing occurs.
Laughter is always beneficial. As George Gordon Byron once shared:
“Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine.”
Terry shares his personal story of tragedy both as a young man and recently as a father. He has come to know that life offers what we need most, at precisely the right time and that a life experience only becomes a calamity if you allow it to be.