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The greatest wonder

“Fear comes, but fear passes.” ― Marianne Williamson

As humans, many people seem to dwell on the anxieties of the unknown; thriving on the drama of indecision and placing time and energy into pondering the great question of ‘what if’.

The funny thing is, barring the psychic or master intuiter, no one really knows what is going to happen, we can only be sure that however life is in the present moment, things will change. Impermanence is the only thing we can truly rely on.

When I look back over the past month of being in the hospital recovering from a liver transplant, one of the yoga sutras comes to mind when I reflect on how I have managed through the uncertainty, physical pain and mental challenges. YS 2.1: tapah svadhyaya ishvara-pranidhana kriya-yogah The first word, tapah means accepting the purifying aspects of painful experience; effort, training the senses, discipline. My present work comes in the form of detaching from pain and discomfort,  disciplining the mind to stay focused on creating positive prana, or energy, through my mental thoughts, and getting my body mobile even on the days when I have been physically ill or exhausted. I have been working with the idea of disciplined practice for quite a while now, primarily in the form of my asana practice, but also in various educational forums, most recently my Rolfing training, and even writing this blog. One of the potential threats of having PSC is that with stents in the liver, only half of the blood actually gets filtered and cleaned through the body’s system. The other half of the blood goes directly to the brain, meaning that there is a risk of having blood poisoning, otherwise known as encephalopathy, or confusion of the mind. I have maintained an active mind to keep tabs of my mental capabilities so that I am aware of how my brain is working in various situations. Luckily with my new liver and with the bile ducts fully working, encephalopathy is no longer a risk.

The second word is that of svādhyāya, or self-study. This is a kind of tapah as well, but one that involves understanding the philosophical insights that come from studying the yoga teachings, mantra chanting and from increased Self-awareness and Self-exploration. My blog posts that include spiritual teachings may fit under the umbrella of self-study; as long as it is helping me, and hopefully the reader, to understand the nature of the Self and the divine, it ultimately doesn’t matter what text helps awaken you. There could be an article in Vogue or Golf Magazine that resonates and enlightens. The teaching is ultimately more important than the source.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of YS 2.1 is ishvara-pranidhana, a one-step method to enlightenment in and of itself. Ishvara is one’s personal concept of the Divine, or of God. It could be an image or a name, or the Lord’s manifestation in something tangible; an animal, a plastic-elastic superhero. It is anything that holds one’s personal belief of God, the creative source of the whole of the universe. Pranidhana is to give all of your prana up to this source in devotion, making all thought, all energy an offering up to this supreme source. To “don your pran”, as Sharon Gannon so eloquently puts it. Lastly, Kriya means action; kriya yogah, the practical application of yoga.

I would be lying if I said this month has been a walk in the park, and with a bit of mantra and studying the yoga sutras I’ve pushed through with ease. It’s not like that. The truth is, on Sunday I spent the day in excruciating pain, throwing up every five or ten minutes followed by pain killers and anti-nausea medication. At the same time, I did a lot of mantra chanting, and it helped to focus my mind, to travel through the pain. But there is a much greater force at play; I surrendered. Not only this weekend, but at the time of the transplant and every day since, I offer the whole of myself, my life, up to God. Meanwhile, the Divine angels shine a light into each and every being’s heart and I see Beauty in everyone and every thing. I have unsinkable faith that I am not alone. We are One, and each and every being has the potential for Divinity and Grace. Knowing that so many divine souls are directing Love towards me, and that is reflected right back to them makes even the most painful circumstances tenable. Then there is my faith in impermanence, knowing that however bad something gets, it will not last forever.

True to form, I woke on Monday having fasted for 2 days with major illness to be told that they could not fit me in for the ERCP and I’d have to wait another day. At that point, I surrendered it all again. I could not imagine staying in my state even another hour, let alone another day. I shut my eyes and chanted myself to sleep. I woke up to see my mother’s thumbs up and heard her say, “It’s a go.” We both started crying with delight.

The best news is that since having the stent inserted as the doctors had hoped, the drain has slowed down and almost stopped. During the ERCP they saw that the bile duct from my liver, and the bile duct from the transplanted liver had not grafted together and there was a leak. The reason I was so ill on the weekend was because the bile was leaking into my abdominal cavity which is really quite painful. The doctors inserted a stent between the ducts hoping that it would dry the leak and let the two bile ducts heal together, at the same time drying up the leakage in the abdominal cavity. It seems to be working, which means I could avoid another major surgery. We shall see; I’m not out of the woods yet as they will monitor me for several days, but we shall see.

In the Hindu epic, The Mahabarata, Yudhisthira is asked: “What is the greatest wonder in this world?” He replies, “People see death all around them, but do not believe they’re going to die themselves. This is the greatest wonder.”

Wisdom can come as we age from life experience, but also from increasing awareness that our own lives will inevitably end. It gets harder and harder to avoid this realization when what remains of our expected lifetime is jeopardized or gets shorter. This often encourages us to look closely at priorities and values. One thing I’ve learned is to take the time to look people in the eyes and listen. Everyone has a story to be told; by engaging in meaningful dialogue it gives us the chance to slow down and reconnect to one another. Another thing I’ve learned is to take the time for gratitude. It’s a practice that can be overlooked as schedules get busy and as we adjust our lives to an alarm clock. But taking the time to be grateful, to honor those in our lives who make a difference, to write letters and to remind people I love them; these have become important steps throughout my day.

Love, Listen, Be Grateful. Take Refuge in the Divine. Discipline, Study the Self. Devote every moment to God. Smile and Let Go.

“We have to nourish our insight into impermanence every day. If we do, we will live more deeply, suffer less, and enjoy life much more. Living deeply, we will touch the foundation of reality, nirvana, the world of no-birth and no-death. Touching impermanence deeply, we touch the world beyond permanence and impermanence. We touch the ground of being and see that which we have called being and non-being are just notions. Nothing is ever lost. Nothing is ever gained.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
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