Two and a half weeks ago, I had a total knee replacement here in Hualien, Taiwan where I continue to recover day by day. I feel grateful in this moment for so many reasons: I’m still alive and life offers endless opportunity to learn and grow, to make a difference in the world, and to cultivate inner peace – even through hardship – something that everyone must face at one time or another, often without choice.
Over the past month, my mind has at times slipped into a dark tunnel. Even in this moment, my stomach is churning somewhat from the prescription medication I am told that I must take. I’m guessing that many, if not most readers of this blog can relate.
As an acupuncturist, deciding where to put the needles is important. The needles help the chi flow and move, easing pain in body and mind. But equally important is learning how to convey empathy which can only best be accomplished through personal understanding and experience. If we haven’t confronted our own demons, how can we help others?
A few times this month, I was close to tears. Everything was going so perfectly. My daughter and I had just climbed Taiwan’s second highest mountain and enjoyed a heart warming visit with family. We returned to Seattle, and then a few days into the new year, I woke up with an excruciating arthritis flare.
Impermanence (change) is the only constant in life. Nothing that arises due to causes and conditions lasts for even a second moment according to both quantum physics and Buddhist philosophy. How does one walk through life at peace on the edge of this precipice? My usual mode is to fill my life up with people, activities, recreation, endeavoring to do good things for personal and planetary happiness. “Keeping busy” as the expression goes. But we often forget that physical illness and injury can occur at any time, seemingly closing the door on all our hopes and dreams, locking one in a cave of despair.
Clearly, I needed a new strategy to regain peace, and I sensed that I already knew the way. Let go! Sounds simple in theory, but not easy to practice. Let go of hopes and fears and clinging identification with your preferred story of life. In times of darkness and emotional pain there are many possible strategies: A professional counselor, skilled acupuncturist, or a good friend who knows how to listen are always good options. Medication shouldn’t be ruled out completely – it’s an option, though skilled consultation and informed consent is essential. But what if none of these are immediately available? What does one do in the dead of night, or in a foreign country away from home, or in a tent in the wilderness, when the inner demons strike?
Sometimes the only option is to turn inwards, to train the mind to expand the radius of one’s awareness beyond the usual locus of ego-based stories we tell ourselves. This requires training in meditation to do well, which is one of the
benefits of acupuncture, opening a doorway into this inner space of quiet where the chatter of voices quiets and a more expansive awareness can transcend our hopes and fears which often only amplify our experience of suffering.
My words seem clumsy here and can never reveal these truths in their full potency. It is up to each of us to explore the great treasury that exists within each of us – the mind is clear, unstained, pure, and is the gateway to complete freedom. The sands of the time never stop flowing down through the hour glass. How each of us uses our time is our decision. May it be for wisdom and inner peace.
This too will pass. Keep walking. Never give up hope. But do not cling to hope. Much love to all and hope to see you at the end of February or soon after. Buddhist teachings on overcoming suffering: