Un-poisoned

At the time of my writing this, my Bad Neighbor, the smoker, squatter, and apparent drug dealer (based on traffic in and out of the apartment he’s occupying) hasn’t left yet, despite the two eviction notices. It’s going take a court case. And since he won’t move out, I have—temporarily. There’s no safe level of second-hand smoke, and ventilation isn’t enough to get rid of it. The physical impact of the toxicity—headaches, sinus pain and congestion, light-headedness, and difficulty concentrating—was obvious. I didn’t fully realize the mental effect until I escaped. When your body is being poisoned, it’s hard to clear your head.

My landlord found me a place to stay until the problem is resolved. I am so grateful for this escape, and am amazed at how different I feel. I’m in, of all places, The Red Pelican. If you read Death Omen, I expect you remember it well—it’s so eccentrically beautiful. I’m in the room I gave to Kate and Bernadette in that book, and I don’t think I described it quite right, though I got the general ambience of Red Pelican rooms with their Asian art and bright colors.  Some of them have purple walls and red trim, but my room has red floors and white walls and a wonderful collection of Japanese prints. Three festive porcelain Buddhas fling their arms up in delight on the shelf of the transom over the bedroom door. A huge sequined dragon festoons the bedroom wall.

And then there’s the courtyard, with the enormous rock framed by four benches and sheltered by a three-tiered pagoda roof, with gaps open to the sky between each tier. On the rock is perched a Buddha, a radiantly wise, alive-in-the-moment being, a happy traveler with a small sack slung over one shoulder and a fan resting against his round belly. Though I always felt drawn to him, I never knew what his props meant, so I looked them up. The fan is a wish-giving fan, while the sack is said to contain various things, depending on the legend. Treasure. Candy for children. The troubles of the world. The Hotei—or Laughing Buddha—with the fan and the sack is a wandering monk who takes away unhappiness.

On my first night free of being poisoned, a magnificent, long-overdue downpour arrived and stayed for hours. When it lightened to drizzle late at night, I went out into the courtyard, my steps on the gravel the only sound in the world. I visited all the deities and Fu dogs around the perimeter, circled my favorite Hotei on his rock, and then gazed up at him and at the moon through the shredded remains of the storm.

Cleansing. Wholeness. Fresh air. Stillness. Safety. We have no idea how toxic our world, our lives, our minds, our interactions—anything—has become, until we step away from it and breathe.

*****

Thanks again to Donna Catterick for the picture of the traveling Buddha in the Red Pelican courtyard.

Felt like Fiction

The doctor took my arm and studied it, then examined the other. Still holding my forearms lightly, without making eye contact, he asked, “How do you respond to quartz?”

This was a dermatological exam. I’d driven all the way to Silver City because there were no dermatologists in my insurance network in my vicinity. The choice was either a two-and-a-quarter hour drive to Albuquerque or the same length trip to Silver City. I picked the latter because it would be more of an adventure. I hadn’t been to Silver City for a couple of years, and my nurse practitioner in T or C had recommended the doctor there. Maybe it was that recommendation, or spaciness from getting up early and driving (I’m not a morning person), that made me react with less puzzlement to the question than a dermatologist’s patient normally would. Instead, I simply answered.

“It helps me sleep. Makes me feel grounded.”

“And amethyst?” the doctor asked.

“Intuition,” I replied.

“That makes sense.” He regarded me though his glasses. He was a Hispanic man I guessed to be in his early sixties, though his smooth brown skin—appropriately for his profession—looked youthful compared to his thick silvery hair. “We use those for the direction of the North. The ancestors. You feel protection and guidance.”

We use them? My morning brain fog somehow didn’t clear enough to let me ask who “we” were. He said something about the South being the direction of children and family, and resumed the exam, occasionally mentioning things other than the usual dermatological inquiries and slipping into Spanish a few times as if I should understand it, though he spoke English without any accent. He was into holistic health—nutrition, exercise, meditation—and I was already following a healthy lifestyle along those lines, so he had little need to give me advice. Most of his observations about my skin were identical to those my dermatologist in Virginia had made. Perfectly normal medical conversation. He discussed a new study on a nutrition-and-disease link, and then went on to ask me about having premonitions. “Yes,” I said, “I dream the future.”

He examined my hand. “You have the signs of being a sensitive.”

I knew I was. The surprise was that a medical doctor would bring these things up as if it were as normal as explaining the importance of eating right and using sunscreen. He mentioned what he’d found to be a few other indications of a sensitive and completed the exam. Nothing was wrong, and I should come back in a year.

On my way out, I noticed an intriguing work of art propped on a table, a crucifix with the Christ figure on it crafted from forks and spoons. The circle above the figure’s bowed spoon-bowl head was made from a small ponytail holder, containing a pinch of pink-red dirt under a clear cover, and the word Chimayo was engraved into the wood, following the shape of the circle. This was healing dirt from the chapel in northern New Mexico, the Lourdes of the Southwest.

“That was a gift from a patient,” said the doctor, noticing my pause to admire the artwork. “He was complaining to me about his ‘crazy aunt’ and how she claimed she could tell what was wrong with people just by …” He mimed running a hand over a human aura. “She was curandera and she had people lining up for her limpias.” This was the first time he’d slipped into Spanish that I knew what he was saying. A limpia is a healing and cleansing ritual. The doctor continued, “I explained to him about her gifts, and then told him he too had this gift. He had the signs of a sensitive. An hour later, he came back to give me this. The fork is meaningful. On those special occasions when we had dessert, Grandma would say, ‘keep your fork, the best is yet to come.’ Some people ask to be buried with a fork, because the best is yet to come. The spoon means ‘I will feed my people.’ ”

The patient had been so relieved to understand and accept his gift of healing, he had brought the doctor the gift of the fork-spoon-and-healing-dirt crucifix. I didn’t ask if the patient has made it, still too dazed by the strangeness of the whole encounter to ask questions I later wished I had.

I kept thinking about it, though, as I played tourist in Silver City, passing a sign in a window that said “Dog Grooming and Healing Center.” (You know you’re in New Mexico when you see something like that.) After strolling in a shady park, shopping at a second-hand store, and admiring murals, I followed a series of little purple pig-like outlines stenciled on the sidewalk to the most excellent and badly needed Javelina Coffee shop. After a dose of their light roast, I finally felt awake and clear-headed. And yet, still confused. Had I walked into a Mae Martin mystery or a Selkie Moon mystery? It felt like a bit of both. The doctor’s crystal questions were like something that would happen to Mae in my books, but the way he told me I was a sensitive and that his patient who gave him the unusual crucifix was also one struck as the sort of thing that happens to Virginia King’s synchronicity-prone protagonist, Selkie.

I wonder if I’ll create a curandero-dermatologist character. And what he’ll say during my check-up next year. I know I’ll be more awake and ask more questions.

Conscious Listening

Sound can be noise, it can be distraction, it can be enjoyable, beautiful or soothing, and it can also be a direct route to clearing the mind. Sound reaches the brain faster than thoughts, faster than images or sensation. So, if you listen mindfully, you can silence the inner chatter and be. I recently attended a concert of healing music, a sound bath, in a St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Truth or Consequences. It wasn’t religious music, but it was sacred. I started out with thoughts of writing, of possible scenes and settings, since one of my ongoing characters is a musician who composes healing music. He would have loved the event (writers think this way about their characters), but I forgot about him during the performance. The beauty of the experience was getting past verbal thought altogether and into pure sound—bells, electronic tones, rain sticks, non-melodic music created to promote a meditative state or an inner journey. The composer/performer encouraged the small audience to close their eyes and go inward, and I did. The music came through eight speakers in patterns that gave it a spatial structure and a quality of movement that triggered flowing abstract color visions in my mind, and yet I was always grounded and present in my body, aware of my own energy. The next morning I still had a lingering sense of deep clarity, as if I had been meditating. And that is not the way I normally feel before coffee!

Recommended listening: Tom Montagliano

If you have a chance to hear his music in person, don’t miss it.

Joy is Healing

There are days that don’t promise much. Too busy. Too cold. And then there is the endless business of being human, being a body. It’s a resilient organism but it’s also vulnerable to the strangest injuries from the most random, unlikely sources. On a day like that, where will joy come from?

I was stuck having to run indoors today due to all of the above. One of my most reliable joy sources, nature, was only outside the windows. I decided to make up for it with music. Most people who like Krishna Das’s music use it for yoga, but I needed the uplift of his voice while I ran. His voice is a gift to the world, rich and warm, full of feeling. Because the songs are in Sanskrit, I don’t get lost in words, I simply respond in my heart.

The catharsis of joy mobilizes the chemistry of healing. It also broadens the spirit, touches the soul. Spirituality is hard to define, and yet when I hear this music, I know it, and sense that the singer lives it. It’s not solemn or rigorous, but full of melody and rhythm, love and life.

Listen at http://www.krishnadas.com

Have a joyful day.

Healing as a Mythic Journey: Book Review of The Healing Path

The unifying theme of this book is that healing calls for making meaning out of illness. Stories have arcs that organize experience into meaning, as they grow from the initial alarm into conflict and struggle in pursuit of a goal, and finally come to a resolution. Marc Ian Barasch uses classic films as myths of the healing path, a framework within which he tells his own story and the stories of others who have confronted serious illness. The essence of healing isn’t always surviving. Some of his journeyers, as he calls his fellow travelers on the path, died. Others had virtually impossible recoveries through spiritual and holistic approaches to self-healing, defying both medical predictions and medical advice. Still others, like the author, had conventional treatment while integrating psychological and spiritual changes.

Barasch did substantial research. His own encounter with cancer and his bizarre dreams that diagnosed it long before his doctors did and predicted aspects of his treatment provoked his curiosity about how others heal. (He wrote another book, Healing Dreams, which I highly recommend.) I’ve read just about every book or study that he cites in The Healing Path , which made this section of the book a little too familiar to me, but then, I’m a professor who has taught a course on alternative medicine. The book is few years old, so its medical information isn’t the latest, but the essence of the message holds up. His adventures as a seeker of alternative options, and the profound self-explorations of the journeyers he interviewed, make for a compelling story.

His language is extraordinary. I bought this book as a used paperback, idly curious after having liked Healing Dreams, and I’ve actually highlighted and starred sections, something I don’t normally do to my books. There are so many shining jewels I had to make sure I could find them again.

The final sections of the book blew me away. I’ve studied energy healing, psychology, and a lot of yoga and meditation. I teach the latter two. I write fiction that involves a healer. I know this stuff, but he knows more, because he has lived through things I haven’t. He taught me, even though all the facts were familiar. His wisdom isn’t platitudinous. It’s hard won.

In James Scott Bell’s writing guide Super Structure, he discusses how great movies and fiction all have a turning point in the middle where the protagonist confronts a painful or frightening truth about himself or his life. Bell calls it the Mirror Moment—looking in the mirror literally or figuratively—and says the essence of it is change or die. This might not mean bodily death; it could be spiritual or emotional or professional. (Synchronicity: He uses one of the same movies Barasch does, the Wizard of Oz, to illustrate his ideas.) This next observation is a minor spoiler, if nonfiction can have spoilers. Barasch says his realization at the key stage of his journey through cancer was change or die. He had to change his whole life, not just get the disease treated. He was facing all the forms of death, not just the one threatening his body.

Change or die. That’s the hardest lesson—we fear change. It can seem like a death of sorts. When sick people change, it can upset those around them. This aspect of healing and illness is examined frankly in this book. The larger story around each journeyer shows over and over that healing is not a return to sameness. Disruptions ripple in all directions.

Anyone who is or has been seriously ill, knows someone who is, or simply loves good writing, could appreciate this book. And strangely enough, there’s a lot in it for fiction writers to learn from, as Barasch uses fiction to illuminate aspects of the plunge into illness, the confrontation with mortality, and the helpers and obstacles encountered on the way out—the healing path.