Meet Sandy, a passage meditator who lives in Arvada, Colorado. Sandy shares how her practice of passage meditation supported her through the medical crisis of a family member.
About a year and a half ago I became acquainted with and quickly immersed myself in a nonprofit setting that I previously had little knowledge or awareness of. The circumstances were unfortunate and certainly unsought – my adult niece had been struck by a car and suffered serious brain trauma among other injuries. After weeks in intensive care and several delicate surgeries, she transferred to what we learned was one of the top ten rehabilitation hospitals in the country just 45 minutes from our house.
For the next 14 weeks I spent nearly every day there in an amazing environment of expert, thorough, and loving care. By “loving” I don’t necessarily mean in the sentimental sense, although I am convinced that staff grew to love many of their patients almost as family. What I observed on a minute-to-minute, hourly and daily basis was love in action; a demonstration by behavior of the deep healing power of taking time, giving one-pointed attention, detaching from ego, attachments and aversions, and truly putting others first.
I have relied over and over again on the spiritual tools of the eight-point program. While for a time I didn’t have the energy to devote to learning new passages, I chose carefully from the many I have memorized over the years to fit the challenges of the day. Many passages from Thomas a Kempis and The Bhagavad Gita, Teresa of Avila’s Let Nothing Upset You, and Swami Ramdas’ Unshakable Faith were especially helpful. Needless to say I found countless opportunities to use my mantram, particularly when my niece was in pain or very frustrated during therapy and I could feel an empathetic rise in my own anxiety. Early in my life I had considered, but decided against, a career in health care, thinking I was too squeamish for the demands. Little did I know that time spent in training the senses would contribute so much to helping me become a happily willing and – I hope – conscientious caregiver.
As you can imagine, the hospital was a scene of much serious struggle – patients enduring pain, some near total physical and cognitive debilitation, fear, frustration, and anxiety about their present state as well as their unknown future outcome. To be sure, all the injuries were unique and people experience lesser or greater degrees of recovery depending on many individual factors. But what I was privileged to witness was not simply a template of what an outstanding rehab hospital should be. It struck me even more as a slice of what the world can be as we keep doing our small part in creating the spiritual revolution Sri Easwaran talks about, a blueprint for how we can conduct ourselves in life, wherever we are. In essence, the atmosphere and staff relationship to their patients seemed to be a living embodiment of practicing the 8 point program. It truly felt like “home,” a constant reinforcement of my own spiritual practice, and a resource I drew upon after my niece was discharged and came to live with us to continue her recovery.
To be alert to non-verbal communication, to patiently move through activities of daily living that now took much longer, to identify and focus on the very few priorities of each day, especially in the early weeks and months, there was a need to maintain a very slowed-down pace, staying in the moment with one-pointed attention. I’ve continued to learn how simple (not easy) and hard (but possible) it is to tune out the little voice of self-will that wants to take me anywhere but where I am. And I now have definitely experienced both extremes of Easwaran’s red-pencil exercise, from “I can’t eliminate anything from this list!” to “have I eliminated any essentials?” (The red-pencil exercise involves writing a list of all the activities you feel bound to do, and then taking a red pencil and crossing out anything which isn't necessary or beneficial.)
This is just some of what I observed at the hospital, was inspired by, and worked to absorb and use:
People who really look you in the eyes when talking or listening to you;
People who slowly and gently help you change your body position or location to be more comfortable or functional when you cannot do it yourself;
People who speak slowly, listen carefully, and wait sufficiently for you to form a response;
People who are slowed down enough to see and interpret body language when verbal communication is difficult or impossible;
People who do whatever is necessary, slowly and focused equally on the stimulating and the tedious, and tend caringly to the most intimate of bodily and emotional needs;
People who, while expertly assisting with physical recovery, regard you as more than your imperfect body and strive to connect with what lies deeper;
People who can focus on just you and your needs amidst a gym full of therapy tables, people, wheelchairs and equipment, each their own little island of concentrated work and service;
People who take the time to smile, to laugh, to let you know there is nothing too small, too distasteful, or too unusual to help you with if they possibly can;
People who can see when you need a break to rest or a quiet caring ear to just listen;
People who help you recognize and celebrate reaching milestones large and small;
People who believe to their bones in the possibility and strength of the human spirit.
I can’t remember who it was that said – and I paraphrase – that life is a hospital and we are all here to heal and recover. Some disability is visible, some not so much; at our best, we also reach out to help others in their own journey of healing. I have been given the gifts of unexpectedly encountering an entire island of the eight points in action in the world as well as a strong, determined and inspiring niece (who is back to walking, driving, and working part-time!) who has brought so much joy and love into our lives.
Sandy's meditation corner.
Over these many months I have had countless opportunities to recognize my own challenges, to stretch my capacities in practicing the eight points, and to absorb more thoroughly the deep wisdom contained in my meditation passages. I think of the words from Thomas a Kempis’ Lord That Giveth Strength: “For I am at hand, to repair all, not only entirely, but also abundantly and in most plentiful measure.” And from The Wonderful Effects of Divine Love: “Love is a great thing, yea, a great and thorough good; by itself it makes everything that is heavy, light; and it bears evenly all that is uneven. For it carries a burden which is no burden, and makes everything that is bitter, sweet and tasteful.” I reflect on this time with much love and gratitude for my niece and the people in my life, near and far, for my teacher, and for this amazing spiritual practice we share.