After eight weeks in the hospital recovering from a liver transplant, I’ve finally been discharged and have begun to take stock of who I am and what my life is about. Being in the hospital long term and and going through transplant surgery are surreal experiences. The hospital, filled with diversity of very sick, sometimes demented people, is a place to be both coddled as well as traumatized. A transplant surgery challenges the entire physicality of the body and toys endlessly with the mind. Nearly all on my senses have changed, with smell, taste and touch being hypersensitive. My sense of sight has become worse and my equilibrium is slightly off kilter. It’s almost as if I woke up for the first time in a body, a new body, that doesn’t belong to me. I don’t know how this body might react to the outside world.

When I left hospital, I got into a full elevator from the 10th floor. I had to get out on the fourth floor and walk the rest of the way down because I was so anxious and short of breath. There were too many people, too many germs, not enough air. I’m cautious not to do too much or push myself, feeling my heart and lungs being tasked on a simple walk in the park. When my son coughs, I tell him to cover his mouth and I turn away, and the whole family washes hands far more than before. This behavior, as much as I hate to admit it, is based on fear.

The thing is, every day I was in the hospital (56, to be exact), I was told to avoid crowds, not to use public transport, wash hands often, and to avoid contact with sick people. As my operation and post transplant situation were complicated and risky, this message was reinforced at every opportunity by doctors, nurses and loved ones. Obviously, something sunk in. This, coupled with my body feeling as if it were in the twilight zone and my mind trying to gage the nerve synapses and new sensations, has forced me to take reintegration to daily life slowly. One step at a time.

Since I have experienced a lifetime of hospital visits, most of which were concluded by me bouncing back miraculously and resuming life as normal in no time, I presumed it would be like that this time around as well. Setting expectations, however, is the work of the ego, and even when done subconsciously it can be detrimental- it leads us to automatically judging ourselves and others based on whether or not we meet the expectations. This potentially leads us into a spiral of negativity which impacts everyone around us as well as ourselves. It can be a vicious circle as the more negative we are, the more we dig ourselves into a narrow hole; we can’t see or hear anything except our internal, preconceived messages from a narrow viewpoint. In other words, we are ignorant because we are unable to see the whole picture; we judge based on limited information and fear of the unknown. We label it, and then further label it with our reaction–like, dislike, good or bad. The fear of death never looms far away in a mind full of negativity, and voila! We are in the cycle of suffering. Life doesn’t have to be like that, of course.

The fact is that we are all going to die. Most of us know it from an early age. Why are we so scared, then? It’s the fear of the unknown, the fear of a loss of control, of power. Pre- transplant I thrived on this fear. Bungee jumping, anyone? My arm would be the first one up at the chance. Swimming with sharks? On my ‘to do’ list. Eating strange, exotic foods? Sign me up (but no animals, please). Now days I would be reticent to try any of those things. Ok, a transplant surgery is like trying all three of those things at once, so I can imagine I’ve had enough surprise for a few years. Perhaps the fear I’ve been feeling in the past few days is normal, like the doctors say, since I came so close to death and contemplated so realistically what it would mean to my son and loved ones. The goal most people I know have, however, is to live life happily for however long we have with as little suffering as possible. Ironically, this is exactly why we put blinders on in the first place and live in a kind of ‘ignorant’ state, pointing the finger everywhere but at ourselves, labeling things (a form of taking control), judging and familiarizing ourselves which feels safer than being in the dark. But truthfully, we are all in the dark. It is only when we come to realize this and drop the need for control and power, that we start to let light in. When we leave all our masks on the floor and strip down to the bare essentials of who we are, there is nothing left but light. Some amazing super power (we might call God) leaves us without suffering, without death. All the trying, the struggle to figure things out, the naming and deciding how we feel about it? Well, that’s the human condition called suffering.

PS II.3 Avidya asmita raga dvesha abinivesha pancha klesha
Ignorance (mis-knowing), egoism, preferences (likes), aversions; these are the five hindrances to being happy (in a state of yoga; enlightened)

So how can I get rid of these obstacles, how can I stop feeling fearful and get on with life? Well, what seems to work for me is to returning to the present moment. Come back to the breath. Let go, and let God. Ishvara pranidhanad va.

a blip in the continuum

Well, folks, I am still in the hospital, week seven starts tomorrow. The nurses and doctors are frustrated. My regular visitors are frustrated. I’m practicing patience (hard) and doing my best not to be frustrated; some days it even works.

Today I’m getting blood results back from the CMV test, which, if negative, means that I will need one more negative test on Friday to be discharged. My fingers are no longer crossed because, frankly, it doesn’t work! If the test is positive, they will put me on a stronger but more controversial medicine that my kidneys will not like. C’est la vie. If it’s positive I’ll be in at least another week. The hospital stay has become Groundhog Day on steroids.

In other news, the drain lodged through my stomach and behind my new liver is has just come out, and hopefully, some of the pain will go with it. It was actually due to come out yesterday, but then, that’s sometimes the way time moves in the hospital.

Most of us think that seven weeks is a long time to be in the hospital. It sure feels like it to me. Eight of the nurses have undergone dramatic hairstyle changes. Three of the doctors have had haircuts. I’ve seen the leaves on the trees change from green to red to brown, and start to disappear to the earth below my window. The passing of time is evident, yet there is a bigger picture that reminds me that the haircuts, the transitioning of seasons, my stay in the hospital are all just a blip in the continuum.

I have been watching the BBC series called Earth: The Power of the Planet. Not only very educational and beautifully filmed, the episodes each highlight one key point: the earth is changeable and changing even as we speak. The moon moves 4cm away from the earth every year. Glaciers melt and meteors collide into the earth’s surface. We humans walk around so concerned with our individual lives, worrying about things that could be rendered meaningless in an instant if the universal forces were to interfere. And they will interfere, at some point, just look at the dinosaurs, or to the most recent planetary disturbance, the typhoon in the Philippines moving towards Vietnam. The Jurassic Coast of south western England is losing ground every year due to erosion, and as the climate warms, the delicate ecosystems in our oceans and on land are jeopardized with global impact. It is a fact that the earth is changing. What we do with those facts, how we perceive those facts in relationship to our own lives, that’s not so measurable.

Patanjali states in the Yoga Sutras:
vastu-samye-chitta-bhedat tayor vibhaktah pantah (YS IV.15)

Which translates as “Each individual person perceives the same object in a different way, according to their own state of mind and projections. Everything is empty from its own side and appears according to how you see it.”

Everything and everyone we see is coming from our own minds. Our perspective is actually just a product of our past actions; in yoga we call this karma (action). Those of us who are invested in the practice of yoga are interested in cleaning up our actions. Through practice and shastra (self-study, reading the ancient texts) we come to understand that many view the world as black and white, or the good guys vs. the bad guys. In reality, there is no black or white, good or bad.

Through the practice of yoga, we come to realize that everything is in our mind; the world as we know it is a figment of things we have done in our past. This is a massive concept to fully comprehend, but when it sinks in, we realize that the way we treat someone will be the way we are treated in the future. We see the value and expansiveness in our actions, and become more aware of how we want to automatically respond when someone is unkind to us or things don’t go the way we want them to. We may even come realize that we don’t have to wait for others to change the world so that we can be happy.

The practice of yoga is (in part) about taking responsibility; responsibility for the earth we live on, for other beings, and for our own happiness. I’m amazed at how many people openly voice their frustration at my situation. I have certainly had moments of frustration, sadness, even anger and the moments of feeling like a victim; however, these have been fleeting and rectifiable. Through my practice, I am brought back to the other ‘reality’, the one that reminds me how lucky and blessed I am to have holy beings looking after me; how grateful I am to have been given this monumental gift of a healthy liver.

Time moves slowly and quickly, all governed by our perspective. There is one fact, and that is that sooner or later, everything will change and disappear. It’s our responsibility to find the pockets of happiness in the present moment, where time stands still.

Love Invincible

PYS III.24 Maitri Adishu Balani
Through friendliness, kindness and compassion, strength and success will come.

heart-meditationWhen we let go completely of the ego, our insecurities, our need to please others and ‘act’ according to societal norms, then we can live through the heart. When we live through the heart with nothing to lose and nothing to prove, compassion and kindness shine through as our true nature, and we become more capable of saying what we mean, and meaning what we say. This leads to great strength, for we are free of the fear of our potential to be greater and more powerful than we ever thought possible.

Since I’ve been in the hospital recovering from a liver transplant, my relationships have undergone a transformation along with my mind and body. So many Beautiful Beings have offered up all of themselves with tremendous power of intention to my health and healing, and this has manifested in a number of different ways. In general, I value my friends more than I thought possible – I love them like family; they are a part of me. I sometimes have difficulty compartmentalizing the animate world as everything and all of us are so interconnected; and therefore the word acquaintance doesn’t register with me; rather, colleagues, nurses, doctors, yoga ‘students’, ‘teachers’ and strangers alike all fit nicely under the friendship umbrella.

Those beings who have helped me through managing my transforming body have gotten to know me in different forms: Lizzie with more and less body; Lizzie with more and less mental capacity; Lizzie in Love with life; Lizzie in great pain. Throughout this five week process I have been 25 kilos heavier than I am now with water weight, my face and body inflated nearly twice my current size; in fact, I was so over inflated with water that it was literally leaking out from my pores. I have had friends bathing me, changing my oozing wound, helping me to the toilet, washing my hair. These friends have surrendered themselves for my well being, and I believe that I can fairly say we’ve both benefited and grown stronger from this process. We’ve become One pillar of strength and love. I am wholly devoted to this growing circle of friends, and feel truly that there is no separation of heart or spirit. The Love is a result of surrender, of devotion, of offering everything up to the supreme source, that is You, me, all of us. Together, the power of Love is invincible.

Despite the Love, despite the deep connection with so very many, I am an introvert by nature. When in the hospital, my innate tendency is not to engage with patients, keeping my curtains drawn and earphones on. While I’m able to speak casually with the doctors, nurses and support staff, I observe myself doing all I can to not get caught up in other patients’ dramas. I used to feel awkward, even guilty about this, but have since come to terms with my method of coping, which I have rationalized as related to saving energy and keeping myself as calm as possible while not yet in a stable physical condition. Perhaps this is selfish, when I could be doing so much more to help those around me in their beds. I honestly feel I do the best I can, but it can become overwhelming, especially when the three others in my bay suffer from a confused mind and are continually doing strange things that I can’t help them to avoid. Example from this morning: pouring coffee into a jug of ice and letting it overflow all over their bedstand. This is par for the course of day to day in the room I’m in, times three.

There has been one exception to my generally introverted self since I’ve been here. After being on 10N for a week in a very loud room, one of the patients was sent home, thus there was a bed free. At about 9pm on a Friday, a new patient was wheeled in as if she’d just landed in a helicopter with an entourage of very happy, excited Spanish nurses and family. A bright energetic aura blew into the room with her, and over the next days I came to know this spark of energy as Eva, from Spain, who had just had a double kidney and liver transplant.

Eva and I commiserated about many things, we shared information about our lives, and quickly we got into deeper subject matter, like how to quiet the mind and learn to let go; even discussing our experiences regarding the space between life and death. Eva’s daughter and my mother came in every day, and within a few hours, the four of us were like life long friends. Every morning we got up and ate breakfast and talked a little more. Then, two weeks ago Thursday, we were both given the green light to have a trial weekend at home. Thursday turned into Friday, but over the course of the night we both took a turn for the worse. I woke up being taken for a liver biopsy; Eva was gone.

It turns out that Eva was taken back to the ICU for two immediate surgeries to try to stop an internal bleed that was accompanied by a large blood clot. She has remained in the ICU for the past weeks in unstable condition. Then, two days ago, her new liver died as a result of the blood clot. She was put on the urgent transplant list, which meant she had 72 hours to find a new liver for her to live. Today I’m unsure of what has happened. Her daughter must be exhausted and dependent on how the call out for a donor has gone, she may even be in surgery as I type. I have been praying blindfolded.

Every moment since receiving the call on the evening of September 25th I have been basking in the glow of gratitude and compassion. I have felt compassion for my donor, for all the very ill, blessed beings I have encountered in the hospital, my incredible circle of friends, and those incredible beings of light energy, like Eva, that contribute so much to the life force. In or out of the body, I’m continually reminded of the tremendous power of compassion, friendship and the sending out of positive thoughts, words and actions into the universe. Eva is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met, and that strength comes through the kindness in her eyes. I surrender all up to the great Lord knowing she is filled with God’s Grace.

When we’re down, we need a helping hand.
And when we lose our heads, it’s cause they’re always buried in the sand.
But when we get stuck on our selves, feelin’ sorry for our selves.
Will you help us grab a hold and please don’t patrionize our souls.
When we start to lose control, when we get irrational, when we start to get too high,
You see us come floating by, I say,

Touch us with the morning sun, when we feel impossible.
Touch us with the morning sun, show us what is possible.
Touch us in the morning sun when we feel impossible, show us what is possible.
Teach us love invincible.
~Michael Franti

Progressing Toward Kindness: Jivamukti Focus of the Month: November 2013

samniyama-indriya-gramam / sarvatra sama-buddhayah
te prapnuvanti mam eva / sarva-bhuta-hite ratah
Those who are able to control their senses, have equanimity of mind and rejoice in contributing to the welfare of all creatures are dear to me.
Bhagavad Gita XII.4

Sometimes we all fall into negativity and despair, particularly when the news is filled with tragedies like school shootings and senseless wars, harsh political rhetoric and greedy behavior by banks, and the atrocities we humans are committing against ourselves, other animals, the oceans, forests and the body of the planet herself bringing us all closer and closer to an environmental, physiological and psychological collapse. From one perspective, things seem to be getting worse and worse. But is that the only perspective, and do we have the power to change it, if it is?

We can look to entertainment culture to get a picture as to what is in our psyches—what fears and longings lie beneath the surface of our consciousness. For example if you read 18th and 19th century literature, you will find a lot of class struggle and emotional unfulfillment. The characters are mostly dissatisfied and feel victimized by society. But there is little, if any, mention about the real slaves of the system—the horses who are harnessed to the carriages pulling human beings to this party or that, or the cows who are tied up in the back alleys of tenement buildings anemically producing blue-tinged milk. The other animals only appear as extras, insignificant to the important stories that are being enacted between the human beings.

When I was growing up in the 1950s, war and science fiction/monster/alien films were very popular. In The Incredible Shrinking Man, the hero of the story has been shrunk down to a half-inch tall and has to battle a “giant” spider with a sewing needle. Many, if not most, of the films of that era reveal a deep mistrust of Nature and a feeling of human fragility and vulnerability in the face of Nature and other animals. The protagonists annihilate and conquer, rather than communicate, collaborate and get along. It was “us against them.”

More recently, films like The Matrix, which asks questions about the nature of reality, and novels like Cloud Atlas, which explores the concepts of karma and reincarnation, introduce characters who are empowered to work within reality as they find it to solve problems or improve their situations. It is inconceivable that works like these would have been understood and accepted in the 1950s; it would have been over people’s heads. In this regard I would say we are making good progress. The message is less “us against them” and more a reflection of shunyata (emptiness)—putting the cause of problems on the individual as opposed to the faceless other and exposing corporations and/or governments for what they are—amplified personifications of greed and boredom that arise out of ourselves. So from this perspective, there does seem to be cultural progress, and yet so many of us still feel disaffected and dissatisfied. How can we align our increasingly sophisticated understanding of the world with our emotional and spiritual bodies? The answer is through kindness.

Often when I talk about animal rights, people ask me, “Why care so much about animal abuse when there is so much human abuse in our world?” I care about animal abuse because we are all animals, and I choose not to be locked into the prejudicial system that proclaims this animal to be more worthy than that animal. Human beings are animals too—that is a biological fact—and the systematic and unquestioned abuse of non-human animals creates a cultural environment in which abuse is accepted, which in turn results in the abuse of humans. If we want to solve a problem, it is best to look for the root of the problem and change that; otherwise our efforts will be limited to the surface and the problem will inevitably recur. As my holy teacher Swami Nirmalanda said, “This picking and choosing who to love promotes schisms and prejudices and causes us to feel separate from all of life. We should be more cosmopolitan and feel ourselves as a citizen of the cosmos—a friend to all.” Kindness can lead us in that direction.

We all want to be successful. Yoga teaches that success comes to one who is friendly and kind towards others. For Yoga to happen—for us to experience freedom from the need to consume material products and exploit the Earth and other animals, for us to experience the joy of needing nothing and feeling whole, as Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati described the state of Yoga—we must explore kindness. We cannot remain tight and miserly, only doling out kindness to those whom we like or who are like us, or to those who will give us something in return. When we begin to shed the limits of our kindness, we begin to understand our potential for being the limitless beings that we really are. This is truly the great adventure: to break the self-centered chains that bind our hearts and begin to see the other as our own self. This equanimity of mind will lead to God-realization.

—Sharon Gannon

The Prophet

On Joy and Sorrow
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your
laughter rises was oftentimes filled with
your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your
being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very
cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit
the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your
heart and you shall find it is only that which
has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful, look again in your
heart, and you shall see that in truth you
are weeping for that which has been your

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,”
and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone
with you at your board, remember that the other
is asleep upon your bed.
– Khalil Gibran

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