A PERSONAL STORY OF AWAKENING
A PERSONAL STORY
The term teacher does not always mean a human being. Milarepa,
(one of the greatest of Tibetan Buddhist saints) speaks of three types
of lamas first, an external lama who shows the way through linguistic
symbols; second, the inner lama, ones own power of understanding the
teaching; and third, the inmost lama; ones own inmost awareness.
In the word lama, the syllable
la means transcendent wisdom; ma
refers to motherly love and compassion; these two aspects are united in
Chapter 2 - Teachers
Ever since I can remember I have had the feeling that the ground could open up at any moment and swallow me whole. Now, as I am swirling in space on my metaphoric swiveling board, the old feelings of panic overwhelm me. However, the feeling that I, too, am in an initiation ceremony and am being spun around by some mysterious force helps me to begin to let go. And when I do, I feel a powerful surge of energy pour through my body and shoot out of the top of my head. I ask Peter to put his hands over my head. Im curious whether this heat and light can be felt or seen by anyone else. I feel as if it may burn up anyone around me. He tells me he can feel a heat all around my head. My hair feels like it is standing on end, as if in an arc around my skull. I have a lump on the back of my neck, which appeared a month ago, and changes in size constantly. I find a book about the Kundalini awakening process which Krishnamurti experienced and a description of a lump that would come and go on his neck. I assume this is some kind of block. Later I read about the "vishnu-granthi" (knot) at the throat that is spoken of in the Vedic teachings.
This sense of "groundlessness" that I am experiencing is so much a part of the Buddhist and Zen teachings which I have been immersing myself in for the past few years. In the winter of 1998, I wrote to Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist Nun, asking for her help. I had come to a place where I simply could not bear the unrelenting suffering I was going through. I felt like Job must have felt when he cried to the Unnamable, "I had heard of you with my ears; but now my eyes have seen you." I was frightened because I was feeling suicidal. It wasn't that I wanted to die; I just didn't know how to keep on living.
Pema wrote back telling me that she, too, was suffering from a chronic fatigue-type condition, and had been for the same length of time as me. I was moved by this connection between us; I had been listening to tapes of her teachings for the past few years and felt such a deep resonance with them and with her. While reading of how she had been struggling with how to deal with her illness, only then did I realize what a burden of shame I had been carrying about being ill for such a long time. I had assumed that I must have been doing something wrong to deserve such a fate. It seemed to me that if she were suffering from a similar kind of condition and had been doing her spiritual practices and teaching for so many years, then I could let go of this burden of blame. The part of the letter that encouraged me the most was where she talked about how it took her years to learn how "not to resist" the illness and about how hard this had been for her, too. Now, she said, she had learned that:
The key to working with what is so deeply unwanted, is to let go of the ideas, (the thoughts), about how we shouldn't be sick and what will happen to us if we remain sick. Somehow we have to respect the illness, welcome it, enter into it...we surrender and say, okay, what have you to teach me?...about letting go of control, about slowing down...about tasting the full experience of a moment...the light, the sound, the quality of our mood, of our pain, the sight of dust or birds or nothing special...respecting all that. It's a kind of death, this illness, the best kind of death if we'll let it be. It's the death of old stuck patterns and opinions and habits and it makes way for something new to be born in us. Really, you can trust that. Something new will be born if you'll let the illness show you where to let go your grip...And please don't scold yourself for failing, ever.
So I was given a new way of being with my illness: of seeing it as a teacher, and of feeling real compassion for myself and for what I was going through. These werent entirely new thoughts, but somehow it was the timing of the letter that allowed the words to really penetrate. I knew that the old ways werent working any longer: the complaining, the railing against the suffering, the wanting to escape out of my body. These had come to an end and now I was given a glimpse of a new way to be with my experience. Feeling humbled and moved by Pemas understanding and compassion for me, I realized that I could begin to go towards the suffering, instead of fighting it. And so I began to slowly let go my grip.
May 31/99. The spinning has now stopped. It is the middle of the night and I waken from a deep sleep, drenched in sweat and more terrified that I have ever been in my life. I feel as if I am still in my dream:
"A Darth Vader-like figure comes into my apartment building. I am not sure if he sees me."
My legs feel paralyzed and numb. I cant move my body at all. There is a tremendous pressure in my head. I am glad that Peter is lying beside me, but even his presence doesnt dispel this pervasive darkness I feel surrounding me. I call on Buddha..Jesus..all the healing spirits I can think of. I hold my mala beads, which have been blessed by the 17th Karmapa and are with me all the time these days. I then decide that I must face this dark figure of my dream. I think of Milarepa in his cave during a long retreat when he comes face to face with the demons. He tries many ways of getting rid of them and does, one by one, until there is only one left. After trying everything and completely exhausted, he approaches the demon and puts his body in the mouth of this ferocious creature. With that, the demon disappears. This action gives me the courage to close my eyes and face this creature of my dream. Immediately he appears at the end of a hallway. I stand facing him and to my surprise he takes off his helmet and there is nothing there. Then he takes off his shirt and again there is nothing. Finally, he removes his pants and he disappears altogether.
I fall back to sleep and dream that the Dalai Lama is with me in the bedroom, sitting in a lotus position. I wake up and feel his presence. When I drift off to sleep this dream comes:
The Dalai Lama is giving a talk. When I arrive the hall is full and already in progress. A beautiful yellow butterfly flies near him. I know that butterflies are very important to him. Then it flies to me and flutters against my forehead. I am scared of it and dont like the feeling, but stay very still and wait. The Dalai Lama comes to get it. He is so gentle. As he walks away I say to him that I have dreamt of this happening 2 days ago. He smiles; he knew. Then I stay to hear a choir sing the most glorious song. When I leave, I tell a few people about the dream. I know I have to be careful whom I tell.
In the morning I bring a picture of the Dalai Lama, sitting in a lotus position, into our bedroom and put it in the corner where I felt his presence the night before. I think of the time when I went to hear him speak in Vancouver. There were hundreds of people who had come to hear him teach. I knew I had to be right up close to him and since I was very ill and needed to lie down I was put in the section reserved at the front for all the Tibetans. I felt a little pushy being there, but it was so important for me to be close to him - to sit at his feet. What I remember most from that experience was the way the Dalai Lama took such care in cleaning his glasses before he began to speak. With hundreds of people waiting for him to begin, he took a little cloth out, then took off his glasses and began cleaning them. He put the glasses back on, then took them off and polished them again until they were completely clean. I dont remember, now, much of what he said, but I will never forget his smile and this careful, measured, slow action of making sure he could see clearly.
The following day I throw my chinese coins and ask the I Ching the question, What do I need to do while I am going through this process? The answer comes in number 39: Obstruction: "Keep still..put yourself under the leadership of a man equal to the situation."
In the next few weeks I have terrible dreams of people trying to kill me. I am sicker than I have ever been. I am in bed almost all the time with the blinds drawn. I dont answer my phone. I have stabbing pains in my liver, spleen, and stomach. My arms are swollen and very sore. I have a frozen right shoulder. I think of the time I slid down a mountainside, while climbing the peak of a local mountain, when I was sixteen years old. I dropped out of sight of my friends as I careened headfirst down a steep slope. My friends thought I would die, and for few moments, I did, too, as I watched events of my life pass before my eyes. After my skis caught on a branch of a tree and saved me from going over a cliff, I was left with very severe wounds to my arms and my brother made rests for my arms out of boxes. I feel, now, as if I am reliving these wounds and I keep my arms propped up with pillows. My head feels as if I have a brain tumor. I know I dont because I have checked with Dr. Wang; he tells me there are blockages in my head and the headaches are also due to my deficient condition. The other memory that surfaces is of the time fifteen years ago when a fireplace mantle fell on my head, giving me a concussion. I feel as if all my past injuries are being revisited. A few days after this memory surfaces, a friends daughter, who has just arrived from Japan, tells me that she is living in the house where I had the concussion.
Now that I have an idea of what is happening to me - that this is some kind of an energy release, perhaps a Kundalini Awakening - I begin reading all I can on the subject. I know I also want to find someone to talk to but I remember the warning from my dream, "Be careful whom you tell."