Recognizing the Gift
In May, 2015, I moved from the house I had lived in for 8 years to a condominium. My new place is up a flight of 18 steep steps. I soon noticed I felt uneasy, hesitant going down the stairs, and became very mindful, often pausing to take a deep slow breath before taking the first step. Over the next few months I continued to notice this unease, allowing myself to be present to the sensations of discomfort. In October I went to Europe to see Amma and visit relatives in Geneva. When we landed in Barcelona the first thing I noticed through the window of the plane was that there were no buildings in close proximity, and no jetway for us to exit on. Instead, the ground crew rolled up a flight of metal stairs, like in the old days. When I saw these stairs I experienced a huge contraction, fear, a tightness in my being. Breathe, slow down, take your time, pause. At the top of the stairs I did just that. With every step I spoke Amma’s name. Be present. And then again, at the stadium in Granollers where Amma’s programs were held … more steep steps. Some of these seemed pretty rickety so, no matter what, I held to the railing in the middle of the stairs even when someone was coming straight towards me. I was not going to budge! Breathe, slow down, take your time, Amma.
After six days in Cataluña I took the TGV train to Geneva where I was meeting my twenty four year old son Andrew. We were spending a couple of days visiting a cousin I had not seen in nearly thirty years. I arrived on a Saturday evening having made arrangements to spend my first two nights at a flat belonging to a Spanish woman I had never met before.
On Sunday I spent the whole day walking. It was a beautiful, sunny Autumn day and an easy walk from the apartment down to Lake Geneva. I made my way past embassies surrounded by high walls with metal fences and gates. The United Nations complex held mixed messages for me. On the one hand repelling with its very secure looking barricade along the front, and on the other hand inviting with the multi colored flags from numerous nations flapping in the breeze. In my mind’s eye I saw layers of Tibetan prayer flags streaming down from a tall pole high up in the Himalayas, sending prayers for peace and well being across the planet.
I was touched by the abundance of very tall, old trees in this city. Everywhere I looked during my walk I could see these magnificent beings. I felt very moved by a statue of Gandhi on the edge of a park across from one of the embassies. He sits with legs crossed looking down through his spectacles at an open book on his lap. He was surrounded by flowers and offerings left, I am guessing, by grateful admirers.
I walked along the lake for a long while. I was amazed and delighted by its aliveness and the crystal clearness of the water, how visible the rocks were beneath the surface. Memories of passing through this city when I was eight years old. My father, after flying with us from New York to Paris, drove my sister and me to a boarding school up in the mountains. We spent a whole school year there. For me that experience was a huge emotional and physical trauma. And on this day I felt very peaceful and at ease as I walked around the park and city.
That evening I met Andrew at the train station. We stopped for dinner before we walked back up the hill to the apartment. When I first arrived the night before I took the bus and had a general idea of which roads to take but when walking Google maps leads one on different routes. Soon we were making our way along dark paths and neither of us had a clue of where we were. We were just following the map on the phone.
It was dark and I took out a small flash light to help me see where I was going. We were chatting away, I can’t remember about what. Suddenly there was a very bright street light shining in my eyes. It was blinding. There was a high wall between the light and us. It cast a shadow on the path leaving it in complete darkness. The flashlight was now useless against the brightness and I turned it off. The next thing I knew I was flat out on the ground. I had no idea what had happened. It was a moment of complete darkness. There was shock and pain. I heard Andrew saying Mom, Mom you okay? I finally grocked that I was laying on the ground and I was hurt. My chin hurt so bad, as did the palms of my hands. My right knee and hip felt like they had been yanked into an angle they didn’t want to go to. I remember saying something about my chin hurting. I reached up to touch it and felt a hard lump. It didn’t make sense. I had no idea what this was. I tugged, it came out followed by blood. A small rock was embedded in my chin. Both my chin and right palm were bleeding. Somewhere in my mind I remembered that buried in my day pack were some paper napkins I collected from Starbucks in the event of something unexpected happening. Andrew found them, handed me a few and told me to just sit there, rest and apply pressure to the cuts. Just sit there Mom, breathe, breathe, take your time. There was nobody around, it was late, I didn’t know where we were but I knew I had to get up and get moving again. By now I was aware of the pain in my right knee and hip. I couldn’t stand up, I couldn’t find a way to get on my legs. It’s like I didn’t know how. It was such an unfamiliar, bizarre sensation. With Andrew taking my right arm and pretty much lifting me I somehow got on my feet.
We started walking. Andrew guiding us with his phone, repeating periodically keep applying pressure Mom. The few pharmacies we came across were closed. How much longer mi’ijo? Twelve minutes Mom. And again How much farther mi’ijo? Ten minutes Mom. And once more How are we doing? About eight minutes Mom. And suddenly I recognized where we were. We turned on to the street where we were staying. Just a few more blocks to go.
As soon as we arrived and I saw my chin in the mirror I knew it was bad. There was no way I could clean this up. It was too friggin painful and the palm of my right hand was also a mess. I told Andrew I couldn’t do it. It was close to midnight and we decided to wake our host and ask her where the nearest emergency room was. As soon as she saw what had happened she insisted on driving us.
Sometime later I am laying on a hospital table, and the doctor covers my face with a sheet of paper in which he’d cut out a hole for my chin. It’s hard to breathe. I feel like I am suffocating The shots are going to hurt, he says. And they do, both of them. Off the charts painful, and then the stitches. Andrew standing by my left foot, holding it. Offering his mala for me to hold, reminding me to chant my mantra. All I know in this moment is excruciating pain. Just wanting it to stop. The doctor saying c’est rien, c’est rien as sounds of pain come out of me even though he told me to keep my mouth still. After the second time of hearing him say this I can’t stand it anymore and I don’t care if I move my mouth or not. Stop saying it’s nothing, it IS something, it hurts a lot! All you have to do is acknowledge that it hurts! With the next shot, as I cry in pain he says yes it hurts, it does hurt. This time I hear gentleness in his voice. I feel my body relax, some of the tension dissipates as my experience is acknowledged. A felt sense of being seen, of empathy. Compassion! I think of all the young children, teenagers and adults around the world who cry in pain and are told, c’est rien, no es nada, it’s nothing … arrête de pleurer, deja de llorar, stop crying! How we shut down, store this pain in our bodies, in our souls. Until one day this very young inner part feels loved and cared for by me, feels safe enough within myself to yell out STOP! I hear Pema Chödrön’s teachings on the Buddhist practice of Maitri, loving kindness and friendship towards ourselves. Moments of acceptance, love and understanding for ourselves.
As I lay on the table my mind races around, wanting to understand, to make sense of it all. How did I get here? How did this all happen? Then instances, maybe seconds of being flooded with thoughts and images of Amma. Amma, what did you mitigate? This happens here in Switzerland, the place that holds one of my earliest childhood traumas and where I haven’t been in nearly thirty years! And I’m only here for three days! Amma, how are you holding my whole life? Years ago a friend who is a Krishna devotee said to me: I truly believe that not a blade of grass moves without the Lord willing it.
When the procedure was over and the doctor was leaving my legs were shaking. It felt so good, such a relief to release the energy that had built up in my body. But the medical staff were not comfortable with seeing my legs shake. It seems they were worried about my being in shock, so I was given a pill to stop the shaking. As I write this my whole body goes into contraction, shuddering as it remembers the pain, still wanting to shake it all out. Just like injured animals, our bodies want to release trauma and stress through shaking.
Earlier, when Andrew and I were walking back to the apartment, I knew without a doubt that my falling was something that was meant to happen. No matter how careful I was, nothing I could have done would have prevented this from occurring. I was meant to experience this. I felt it in my body, in my whole being. In these moments I had glimpses of understanding karma and the Guru’s grace. I experienced my fall as ‘prasad’, a gift from my Guru. No matter how vigilant I could be there was a moment, a very precise and choreographed moment, when on this smooth even path there was a single step that I could not see, that I was blind to. One step. I didn’t even see myself falling. I have no memory of the sensation of it. One moment I was walking and the next I was flat on the ground, my right leg twisted, a rock stuck in my chin.
I have often heard that we manifest our thoughts. What I am experiencing now is that our higher selves, the part of us that is beyond shape and form knows what is ahead for us, and is constantly communicating this information to our earth body beings. That we often label this knowing as intuition. It can be a felt sense, an image, a thought, a feeling, something someone says or does. It can be anywhere from so subtle, barely palpable, to loud and unmistakable. A quiet, whispered thought in the confines of my mind, or a loud external shout that startles. Expansive moments of understanding the continuum of my lives and with this the omniscience and omnipresence of the Guru. That Amma has always been with me in some form or other, and that she knows everything about me, past, present and future.
With these glimpses of seeing and understanding I remembered the story about Krishna and Yashoda, the mother who raised him. As a young boy Krishna was very playful and liked to play pranks. On this one day Yashoda catches Krishna playing with, and eating sand. She tells him to open his mouth for her to see the sand. At first he refuses and she insists. When Krishna opens his mouth she sees the Seven Oceans and the entire universe. She is so overcome by this sight that she faints. In that moment she had a glimpse, and understood who Krishna was.
The day after I fell, the term “little deaths” from Elisabeth Kübler Ross kept coming to me, and I understood my experience of falling as a ‘little death’. I was also aware of my son, how he showed up. I felt his strength, the presence he held throughout this whole experience. I could imagine how difficult this was being for him. It seemed like a pivotal transition in our relationship, something we were meant to experience as part of our karmic journey.
And, just in case I didn’t get it and needed a clear blatant reminder of Amma’s presence… the woman whom I had previously never met, who drove Andrew and me to the hospital and then waited to drive us back to her apartment, who held me with so much care, who, as we were leaving hugged me and gave me arnica and other remedies to help manage the pain, her name… Amparo.
In English… Refuge.
This summer, while on Amma’s US tour I connected with a friend I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. David was limping and his arm hung by his side, his hand semi closed. I wondered if he’d had a stroke. He told me he was out walking his dogs and they lunged towards another dog. He got caught in the leashes and landed on his chin. He had severe injuries, bruised his spinal cord, and required very painful surgery on several vertebrae in his neck. He is now doing a lot better. There but for the grace of God go I.
At the end of our time together David told me this experience was very humbling for him because he now needs to rest more and ask people for help. We talked about the Guru’s gift (prasad), Amma in our lives, the mystery of it all.
Aum Amriteshwaryai Namah
This dance is about wanting to live fearlessly, valuing and celebrating who I am. I imagine that my life’s journey might touch or inspire others, as I at times feel touched seeing myself reflected in someone else’s words.
Written for the On Living and Dying series. If you’d like to be a part of the challenge, find more info here: 365 Days On Living and Dying. But first leave a comment and let Arati know how you feel about what she said, and be sure to visit her over at Dancing to the Words when you’re done.
Featured image via www.eskipaper.com