“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ― Rumi
I am so grateful to be past the series of respiratory infections that first hit me way back on January 28. Lots of people in Albuquerque have gone through something similar, but it seems like I set a record for duration of cough. Not only was it obnoxious in itself, it made work and anything I did in public difficult. It was also bad for my reputation as a healer! My newest patients, who had never seen me healthy, were becoming convinced that something was terribly wrong with me, and my established patients were making noises about my not taking proper care of myself (whereas I was doing everything I could think of to get better). I wasn’t looking like a good example for them, that’s for sure.
I don’t like blaming patients for getting sick, but I know that our inner lives have a great deal of influence over what happens to our bodies, and as this crud went on and on I could not help but think there must be more to it than viruses or bacteria.
This came to a head during a treatment for one of my patients who have dealt with asthma for many years. She was sympathizing with my cough, because that’s the main symptom of asthma for her, and she told me about the worst asthma attack she’d ever experienced. She had hardly finished the sentence when I went into a knock-down, drag-out coughing fit that wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t talk or do much of anything else. It went on for about 10 minutes. This was unnerving for me and for the current patient, but all the more for the next one, one of the new ones, who had walked in just when it started. Fortunately, I was able to settle down and do a good treatment for him, as if nothing much had happened, but the lesson got through to me. The simple idea of an asthma attack was enough to make my respiratory system go off the rails.
This happened even though by that time my cough was lessening and for the most part wasn’t a big deal anymore. I noticed that I was getting some uncomfortable tightening in my chest and wondered if I, too, had crossed the line into having asthma, which was not unexpected after decades of year-round allergies, and possibly could have been diagnosed already if I had ever cared to use the word. Maybe the cough was persisting because it was really asthma? I made an appointment with my primary care doctor*, someone I hardly ever see but who I admire for his empathy and healing presence. He listened to my breathing and agreed that asthma must be the diagnosis.
This gave me a chance to understand more about what my asthmatic patients were experiencing. The albuterol inhaler did make me more comfortable, although it tasted and smelled unpleasant. I thought about what Dr. Pereira had observed, that he only heard a wheeze on inspiration, while expiration was fine. Why was I clamping down on my trachea when breathing in? Well, it was obvious. After weeks of coughing, air felt irritating and threatening to my damaged tissues, and the onslaught of tree pollens and dust didn’t help any. I didn’t want to pull that air into my lungs and was unconsciously trying to reduce the irritation. It was no big surprise. I’d been through similar journeys, including the one I wrote about here, when I first met Chopin and was in the midst of a long challenge to my respiratory system. (https://elenedom.wordpress.com/2011/05/29/how-i-met-fryderyk/) As soon as I realized what I was doing, I was able to talk myself into breathing smoothly again, even when the wind and dust were high. It was clear that my breathing was exquisitely sensitive to the slightest thoughts and feelings.
Late in 2014 I was severely ill for a couple of days with what I suspect was norovirus, which was common here in Albuquerque at the time. It was awful and wonderful and transformative. During this very unpleasant process I was able to observe in detail how I was going about making myself sicker.
The illness had two mutually aggravating components, a crushing headache and nausea with vomiting, both of which went on hour after hour without any improvement. I couldn’t take any kind of painkiller because I couldn’t keep anything down, throwing up made the headache tremendously worse, and I couldn’t rest or sleep because I had to keep running to the bathroom. I’m telling you this TMI stuff because it has to do with what I discovered.
At the beginning of this trouble, I was feeling a lot of self-loathing, boatloads of it. That may have been as much a symptom as a cause, I don’t know. It followed an episode of serious failure with my singing voice, which was giving me a great deal of trouble at the time. I was deeply ashamed and horrified by my inability to put out much of any sound, which was a shock at the time, and the worst of it had happened in front of musicians whose opinions I cared about.
At the same time, I was at a standstill in a relationship, and was frustrated both with the other person’s unresponsiveness and with my own inability to communicate more effectively.
Since I couldn’t do anything but lie there hurting, I had plenty of time to think. I noticed that whenever the thought of my recent debacle crossed my mind, the tension and the headache increased. I was disgusted with myself and felt that the person who had heard me was disgusted with me too, and the disgust translated into more intense nausea instantly, the moment this crossed my mind. Which happened over and over. I couldn’t seem to do anything to break the cycle. And then the other frustration would come up. Eventually I found myself sitting in the bathroom wailing in desperation, feeling that I couldn’t manage another second of this. My husband came running and tried to rescue me, but couldn’t do much besides hold my hand and let me know he was there. At the height of the crescendo, the crisis seemed to break and I started to get better.
I’m pretty sure that if I had not gotten into this emotional tailspin, I would still have been ill with the virus or whatever it was, and it wouldn’t have been easy, but I would have been able to rest and ride it out without turning it into an existential threat.
At some point during that afternoon, while trying to work through the emotional morass, I had a breakthrough. It suddenly hit me that loving someone didn’t depend on their doing or saying what I wanted or meeting my expectations in any way. If I loved them, I loved them no matter what. Eventually I realized that I needed to extend this concept to myself too! With this revelation I started to become well in a profound way, even though I was still physically miserable.
I already knew about the fundamental dichotomy of love vs. fear. Through this experience, it became palpable, embodied, no longer abstract. I knew which side I was on, and I understood that the emotional part of my illness could be traced back to fear.
Not too long after that I encountered a sample of a book, Beyond Willpower, that was being offered for pre-publication orders. I was already familiar with the author, Alexander Loyd, from his Healing Codes work. The sample chapter told how he had nearly lost his marriage through approaching love as if it were a business deal, “if you do this for me, I’ll do that for you”— otherwise, no love. “Loving truly, on the other hand, has nothing to do with the other person’s response,” he wrote. “If you truly love someone, you’re all in: no safety net, no plan B, nothing held back.” Yes, exactly! I put in an order for the book.
Dr. Loyd expounds on what he calls the Greatest Principle, that pretty much all of our life and health problems are rooted in fear in some way, and that transforming fear to love is the way to solve them. He outlines practical methods to make that happen, because just talking about the matter won’t do the job. At this juncture in history, with fear so obviously in ascendance in our public life, I think it would be particularly useful for us all to be working on this. You can find some resources at http://beyondwillpowertogether.com/ Dr. Loyd and his associates have been trying to get a widespread movement going, and a number of people have started their own groups.
The book is being reissued as The Love Code. The original Beyond Willpower contained some screaming errors about science, particularly one Dr. Loyd likes to repeat over and over in his talks and materials and relies upon for evidence of his claims, regarding the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox (he even gets the name wrong and refers to “Podasky”). I was dying to correct his misconception, but never found a loving way to bring it up with him, nor managed to put together a brief, clear explanation of the issue for him. Reviewing some physics books was good for me, though, so being annoyed was a gift. But if nobody else brought it up and it wasn’t fixed for the new edition, I will feel guilty! If you read the book, you can look past this weakness, because it doesn’t take away from the overall message. At least you can look past it if you don’t have an obsessive copyediting brain like mine, or if you aren’t driven crazy by appeals to garbled quantum physics in popular books.
Imagine if everyone moved out of their closed-up state of fear and into an expansive state of love! Dr. Loyd suggests that we try to live completely centered in love for just 30 minutes at a time— that’s hard enough. If you can get through that much, you try for another half hour. If you get derailed by your reaction to someone misquoting Einstein or whatever, you try again. And keep trying.
*Oswaldo Pereira, MD at Albuquerque Health Partners.
I saw the Rumi quote at: