People often go to a retreat or a healing center with a set of symptoms that they identify as “their symptoms”. The things they wish would go away (perhaps so that life could “go back to normal”.)
Yet, those symptoms have underlying causes.
Often much deeper than we imagine.
A retreat or a healing center that is dedicated to the transformation that our lives are capable of (and dedicated to that transformation creating better citizens, a better society, a more connected world), won’t likely allow us to believe that these are just the pesky symptoms of our life which, if we just solved them, we could go back out to the world to be “productive members of society again”.
No, the centers - and the teachers, providers, or staff at those centers - they don’t want to shortchange us on our transformation.
I am at just such a center right now in southern India. Vaidyagrama Healing Village is dedicated to traditional, authentic Ayurvedic treatments. They are also dedicated to social and ecological welfare (see future blog). Given the treatments I have been receiving, and the seemingly unending supply of kichadi and rice porridge - aka congee - that I am served 3 times a day, I can confirm that the Ayurveda here is the real deal. (Tell you more about the ghee drinking treatment and body therapies in a different post!
At the same time that I am very far from home - the house and garden and community and neighborhood where I dwell - I am also very much at home here. Both in India and at this center. A few days into my stay here, I was casually walking on the path and saw the only other American who is here.
To be honest, I wanted a silent walk. One of the challenges I have had since my concussion is social apprehension. That might sound strange for those of you who know me since I owned a vibrant yoga studio for 20 years in which I taught yoga classes using my extroverted social skills! (I am not a natural extrovert.)
Social apprehension means what it sounds like. I would rather not approach you. I would also rather you don’t approach me. However, the paths here are not that wide. And, again, each of us being one of two Americans here, it was the neighborly thing to do.
Earlier in the day, my neighbor did the not neighborly thing and he turned on his porch lights to do his yoga practice during my 4 am yoga practice (!!), which I was doing in the beautiful darkness of the morning! (Check the blog: Echoes of Past Thoughts In The Darkness of Morning)
So, here comes this neighbor with whom I am holding a teensy bit of resistance (dvesha) toward and he wants to connect with me while I still have a concussion! I want to put up my hands as if to say “No, don’t run me over!” (The source of my first concussion was being run over by a cyclist.)
I resist this strategy while scanning for another. He smiles and the obvious social interaction is about to begin. Pre-occupied by my resistance, I managed to get the details logged. Name, where he lives. How long he is here. Ironically, the same length stay as me, which is, in fact, an unusual length of stay. It’s usually a 3 week protocol. 21 days. I am here for a 33 day treatment cycle. So is he!
(Future blog topic: The difference between privilege and duty when it comes to having the opportunity to be here.)
I realize that my turn is coming up. Here’s the part where I share my name, where I am from, and one more generous social tidbit. Would that be about why I am here? Or why I am here alone? Or what I do for a living? Or how my pandemic experience was? Or how challenging this concussion syndrome has been?
I sift through the options deciding that the disruptive and traumatic behaviors of my former spouse, those that have me navigating this medical journey without my longtime relationship, and which mean I’ve traveled here on my own, concussion and all, to get into all the healing I can receive…
No, that isn’t the detail you lead with!
“Back, back!” I tell that curious urge, like someone quietly hushing a puppy not to approach the door while they sign for the Chewy’s package. Apparently that part of my pandemic story is one that wants to be told. But, not right now. (see future blog)
Okay, that’s not it. How about what I do for a living? Ick, no! He might ask for guidance or try to look me up on the social media highways. (My concussion mutes my previously generous self like this from time to time.)
Wait! I am being spared! He says to me, “You’re from Portland. Do you know Dr. Livingstone?” (Hooray! We landed on a topic! Social apprehension abated. Whew.)
AMAZING! Yes, I do! I should have titled this blog “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?” but that wouldn’t be a fair rendition of this experience, nor the book from which that comes.
My neighborly neighbor beams with delight. Fortunately for my social apprehension, he fills in the details. My neighbor once lived in China and had a high stress job in international business. While feeling ultra stressed and having health problems, his local colleagues recommended the Chinese Medicine Hospital where, drum roll, Dr. Livingstone was on staff.
But, his name is not Chinese, you say? Greg studied in China for a long time amassing quite a significant understanding of Chinese Medicine, especially herbal medicine.
During my neighbor’s treatments with Dr. Livingstone, the good doctor said to him:
“Well, I’ve done all I can for you now. You ought to try YOGA!”
So, now, I can both delight in this very small world interaction and send a few playful fumes in Greg’s direction since my neighbor does his early morning yoga with those porch lights on! Or, I can not do that. Instead, I can smile at my neighbor and tell him how I know Dr. Livingstone. Which is a story for another blog.
I started by reflecting that Healing Centers bring people together for, well, healing. Our civilization needs healing right now. We need both personal and collective healing. The indigenous medicine ways would serve us well to recognize that our symptoms, both personal and widespread, are not inconveniences nor detours.
They’re messages from the Wound that wants us to Heal.
A health journey is a radical opportunity to wake up to our circumstances, to recognize the root causes of our condition, and to realize and respect our interconnectedness with all of life. The global pandemic was our collective opportunity for that. I personally fear that we did not take that opportunity sincerely enough. We’ve damaged the only habitable planet we currently call home. We need significant awareness and action and a return to more indigenous ways of life. We’re on the brink of destroying ourselves and our children’s futures, and their children’s futures. Yet, we’re so easily distracted by the immediacies of social media, or small pleasures that temporarily abate the larger dilemma that our bodies know is already here.
Meanwhile news cycles of violence and injustice, the insistent and now reflexive pursuit of economic growth, and the destruction of previously established justice initiatives like affirmative action, or rulings that threaten the sovereignty of one’s personal body, such as the overturning Roe v Wade, these are our symptoms. Escalating symptoms.
I recognize, of course, that our human condition is complex. Our brains prefer immediate gratification, especially when we’re scared. Yet, our brains are also capable of exquisite collaboration and visioning.
I am grateful that you’re here, reading this blog. It can feel lonely to have one’s life slowed down so beautifully and tenderly and to have the time and the inclination to look deeply at our collective denial about the dilemmas that only we have created. I don’t deride or resist this loneliness. I embrace it. It reminds me how fragile our species is. It refines the nature of my friendships. It has me out of step with most of the cultural conditioning that surrounds me at home in the US. It offers me the time for my spiritual practices.
I enjoy friendships that are not cluttered with distraction. Meaningful and deep connections that recognize the preciousness of our time. The kinds of connections that are fostered at healing centers, or on retreat with other seekers, or in settings where we reconnect with nature, spirit, and each other in intentional ways. Experiences from which we emerge with a wider sense of being connected, purposeful, and clear-minded. Our bodies and hearts restored, some of our pain resolved, new awarenesses kindled…
We come to know that the beauty that made us is not causing the problems that plague us.
May we return to this beauty. May we bow to our symptoms as reflectors, showing us where that beauty lies.