The bouquet of life

Five weeks. Five weeks! I never planned on a stay in the hospital this long. This wasn’t how my transplant recovery was supposed to go.

These are the workings of the mind and the origin of my tears throughout the night and into the morning. It was a rough one. You see, objectively speaking, I’m doing well. My liver remains functioning better than it has in ten years (!), and my vital stats such as blood pressure, temperature and weight are all in the normal range. The surgeons are ecstatic, the doctors satisfied. Except, I can’t go home and am still in enormous pain from the wound, drain and arm trauma.

But this post isn’t about that. This post is about observing the seesaw of thoughts and fragility and unpredictability of life. This post is about the limitations of the mind, my mind, in circumstances when it isn’t controllable; when emotion takes over the head space either by revolt or resignation. This post is about turning sadness and pain into laughter and joy when the atrocity of a situation turns to comedy,

This morning when I woke up, tears stained my face. During the course of the night I had four different cannulas put into my arms and removed; ending with a pediatric cannula that was too narrow a line to get the anti-viral drip into my vein. As a result, two half-hour drips took the entire night to get into my system. Throughout the day, the pain took over, and as nothing quite went according to plan; I was beginning to lose the plot.

Day turned to night, and I was in a head space that is anything but Positive, Grateful, Loving. Today was about feeling low. Feeling stuck. Feeling unshakable pain. It’s true, they have lowered my pain medicine throughout the week and it is now wearing so thin I can sense the tissues of my body at work as they bind to heal the wound and compete with the hole in my abdomen where the drain is simultaneously working to empty the bile from the ‘collection’ above the wound from the duct leak last week.

My husband, who graciously came at lunch to cheer me up, heard my sadness and resignation through the phone and made his way to the hospital to again turn my frown upside down. And then, wonderfully,. a guest turned up to my bedside before his arrival. It was Professor Malaga, the world renowned transplant surgeon with an infectious smile as large as he is tall. He poked his head through my curtain and saw me curled into a ball with tears in my eyes, and he laughed. He came into my bay and hugged me and kissed my forehead. He told me the amazing news that the CT scan I had earlier in the day was ‘fantastic’; my liver looked great and the bile ducts were no longer leaking. He laughed and said he was thrilled. I felt like an idiot. I told him how I’d stupidly spent the day in pain and he took the time to ask where, and look at my arms and belly. He said I deserved to be low, I had every right to feel sad, but that I should forget about the pain, I should forget about the sadness. He reminded me that I have a new life; he reminded me that in six months I would be able to do things I never thought possible; in six months there would be no cannula, no pain. I took his hand and thanked him, told him what a beautiful smile he had, how lucky I was to have such an amazing doctor. He kissed my cheek and said he would be back the next day. I finally heard what I needed to; my attitude had been adjusted and by the time my husband arrived we could spend our time fantasizing about where we will go on our first trip out of the UK in nearly two years. It was the best ‘date’ I have had in a long, long time.

After he left, the room settled in and the real drama began. First, the woman in the bay next to me lost her shit, literally, all over the floor and all over herself. I was asleep, as were the two other woman in the room, but the stench woke me up and I discovered her traipsing around with her soiled socks and gown spreading the magic all over the floor. Next, the woman across from her, on my diagonal, began to vomit. First on the floor, then outside of the room where she made her way with her arm in a sling held up by a pole. I went to seek the nurses who moved like turtles anticipating the scene that awaited them. The third woman, across from my bay, started to shout for a glass of water, that she was trying to sleep and it smelled like a toilet. She increased the volume as she started complaining about the hospital’s cleanliness and nurse competence. It was truly a scene from a comedy.

I found solace in a green plastic chair outside of the ward and nodded off for a little while. When I came back I saw the endings of a mediocre cleaning job that was in no way sanitary or complete. The entire ward smelled of a fecal mishap, and the woman responsible had since moved to the toilet where she continued to not only spread more of her waste product, but also hum loudly. I then witnessed her return to her chair where she recommenced eating and humming (both of which, non-stop activities since she entered the hospital the night prior). The woman who had been vomiting paced the ward and asked for the professional housecleaning team to be called.

Eventually, the room was cleaned a second time and the smell quieted to soft bouquet that enabled us to re-enter the room. This is when the pooping patient peed on the floor as she continued to hum, and eat. It would be a long night.

I got into bed, put on my sound-proof ear-set and fell asleep until now, 4.30am. The woman is humming loudly and has just done something with a fair amount of stench to it. I return to the green plastic chair outside of the ward after notifying the nurses. Now, however, I’m smiling, recounting the words of Professor Malaga, knowing that there will be an end to this saga soon and some other story will fill it’s place, if I let it.

I sit, recounting the past weeks, and begin to laugh. What a trip it’s been. I signed up for this, and despite the tears, despite the sensory overload and discomfort, I would do it all over again. I am alive. I think of my donor and the miracle that is unfolding in my body. I have someone else’s body supporting mine, all the time. A stranger gave me the most tremendous gift without knowing it, without knowing about all the smaller gifts that would come with it. These come in the form of life lessons that have helped me navigate the sticky and downright silly situations occurring on a floor with 34 other very ill patients with ailments crossing the physical-mental divide.

Returning to the room, I hear the loud humming of my roommate. She has locked herself in the toilet and the nurse is trying to get her to unlock the door. It is 5.30 in the morning. The sun will rise, and all three women from the room will move on to other destinations. The pooper and vomiter will go home, the complainer will go on to have a long awaited surgical procedure. I smile, knowing  that I will have a chance for sleep, knowing that in my own time, I too will move on.

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

A chat with Tomo Okabe, visiting Jivamukti teacher from Japan

tomoTomo Okabe is here in London finishing his European Tour. He stopped in to the hospital to say hello last night and made my day. Don’t miss his inspiring, heartfelt teachings while he’s in London; I will definitely be there in spirit!

Sat Oct 26th, 19-22pm
Black Light Yoga:
A Jivamukti Class and Dance Event
(location and directions found thru link above)

Sun Oct 27th, 1.30-4.30pm
Indaba Yoga Studio:
Jivamukti workshop with Tomo Okabe!


ME: Tell me a little bit about how you came to find your yoga path/practice?

TOMO: Well, it was 2004 , and at that time I was an actor in Korea. For the role I had to start working out and putting weight on. So what happened was I started working out at a gym, and every evening they had yoga classes. I would always peak in on the classes, but I was a little intimidated, it seemed so…feminine…but I was interested.
My trainer actually told me it would help to tone my muscles and be good with the weight training, it would lengthen my muscles whereas weight training would shorten them. I was super stiff, couldn’t touch toes. It was very difficult. I got a little frustrated with myself and I thought , you know what, I’m gonna prove something. I started practicing every day. Then the gym closed had to find a yoga studio. That’s how it took off.

ME: So you were living in Korea?

TOMO: My dad’s Japanese, my mom’s Korean. I was born in Japan, then moved to Korea for a bit and went to an American School since 3rd grade when we moved to Korea.

ME: Why did you attend the American School?

TOMO: Well, it’s a funny thing. In Japan you have to go to school on Saturdays, and my brother had started going to American School before me; he had Saturdays off. So he started coming into my room on Saturdays and reading my comics and going through my stuff; I was annoyed.

I told my mom that the world was becoming international and I really needed to know how to speak English. I was in second grade, would you believe that? By halfway through third grade I also switched to American School. That really opened up a lot of doors for me.

ME: That’s a pretty smart little boy to get Saturdays off. And did you find a yoga studio after your gym closed?

TOMO: It was around 2004. there were 2 yoga studios in Korea at that time. The first studio didn’t click with me even though they had a teacher training and lots of classes. It just didn’t feel right.

ME: What kind of yoga was it?

TOMO: Well, it was a slow kind of hatha. Korea has an interesting mix of hatha, or ‘so called’ hatha with meditation, no ujjayi, no vinyasa. But learning this at the gym was such a good foundation, my teacher at the gym did a lot with the breath and encouraged the out breath and extension.

The second studio was much more for me. I decided to go every day, morning and night. The first class was at 7am, the last class, 8pm. Sometimes I had to miss because i was filming all day long, but I went as often as I could.

ME: You were acting at that point?

TOMO: I was doing soap operas and sitcoms. In Korea the soap operas aren’t in the daytime, they show them at night, primetime. So I’d film during the day, and sometimes I didn’t have time, but whenever I had time I went to yoga class.

ME: How old were you?

TOMO: I started acting when I was 19, but by this time i was 24.

ME: Wow, that’s impressive, you were doing a lot of television work for a young guy.
So what happened after that?

TOMO: I was really hooked, and my yoga teacher encouraged teacher training. I wasn’t interested…to me yoga was a lifestyle and I didn’t want someone to teach me how to live, but then they gave it to me for free. They were trying to promote their teacher training with my name since people knew me from tv.

ME: What kind of teacher training was it?

TOMO : It was a lot like JIvamukti, but less on the asana side and  very heavy on philosphy and kriya. it really helped me when i did my Jivamukti teacher training in 2009.

ME: So you did do the Korean Teacher Training it in the end? What year was it?

TOMO: It was 2005. So then in 2006 I went to Tokyo wanted to experience some yoga in Japan. There was a very popular studio called Lotus 8 and Jules Febre from Jivamukti was teaching  an assists workshop. The ad read “Jules Febre, from New York, the Magician of Assists.” It was limited to 8 people and I decided to go. It sounds kinda corny now in retrospect, but they got me with it, and that’s how i got into Jivamukti. I was already a vegan (one of the kriyas is about fasting and after the I did the kriya fast during the first teacher training I didn’t eat meat again. Then I started to learn to eat macrobiotically and went to Japan to receive these macrobiotic teachings. Jules connected veganism and yoga for me. We became friends, I invited Jules back and every 6 months he would come back and teach. Jules kept trying to invite me to teacher training but i couldn’t due to all the work. After 3 years i finally did it. In
2009 I went to New York to do the Jivamukti teacher training.

ME: Where do you consider ‘home’?

TOMO: Wherever I am is home. Everywhere that I go people care. The satsang of Jivamukti is so compassionate and caring i feel like I’m home whenever I’m with the satsang. Japan is where I hang my hat.

ME: Are you finished your days of soap operas?

TOMO: No more soap operas or sitcoms, but there is one movie I’m working with a writer. We’ll see, I thought I’d do a movie and then really stop.

ME: Who are your primary teachers?

TOMO: I consider myself to have four or actually five main teachers: Sharon-ji and David-ji; Jules, who shows me the path of yoga by living by example; my first Korean yoga teacher; and Lady Ruth, my apprenticeship mentor of 800 hrs. She is soft and hard, that blew me away. It’s kind of a nice story, how she became my mentor.

After teacher training, in 2009, I was staying with a friend in New York. She invited me to Ananda Ashram, where Ruth was doing a retreat with her husband. We asked Lady Ruth if we could join for a class, and she said yes, just to make a donation to ashram. Jessica Perry was the assistant during the retreat, and she did the dharma talk for the class. There was a story about a little bird and a mother bird. The story went that the mother bird makes the right environment for the little bird, but doesn’t ‘make’ the little bird fly. The mother bird builds the nest and feeds the little bird, and creates the right environment. the mother bird can’t help the little bird fly out of the nest, but she can prepare and encourage the little bird. After the class I asked Lady Ruth to be my nest.

She said it would take a little while, but yes, she would be my mentor. So after waiting a year, I moved to new York to do the apprenticeship for 3 months with Lady Ruth. It was transformational. She sees the beauty in everything. Anything I did, even the mistakes I made, she saw the beauty in all of it and knows how to overcome judgement. I saw the path of yoga. Technically I learned a lot from Jules, but the ease of living, the ease of teaching a class, even the natural way of sharing a story I feel I learned from Lady Ruth.

ME: Any teachers or practices outside of Jivamukti that you follow regularly?

TOMO: I go to Mysore to take classes with Saraswati Jois. Lady Ruth’s guru. Any guru of my guru is also my guru. I have a relationship with her now, I invited her to Japan, and students become the bridge for us to keep in touch.

ME: What is it like to practice in Japan?

TOMO: In japan yoga existed already 40 years ago, combined with zen and pilates and meditation. It took a big hit when in 1993 there was a terrorist cult named AUM that hit several locations with gas attacks. A lot of people died and were very badly permanently injured. The scene went dead for a large part of the 1990s.

The American scene and Hollywood started to catch on, Duncan Wong came out to Asia with his martial arts, vinyasa-style yoga, and it caught on because it was very trendy. The vinyasa scene came with the IT boom. and a growing expat scene. Around 2004-2005 a lot of yoga studios opened. Even today, the scene isn’t as large, but there is such an influx of teachers and people teaching from their homes. There are some studios that have classes in English, and a wide variety of styles. So far there is no Jivamukti school, but there is an affiliate outside of the city, and we are trying to set up a second in Tokyo.

ME: Tell me a little bit about how you frame your classes?

TOMO: I always look to the Jivamukti Focus of the Month. I get ideas about some themes I could talk about. I play the harmonium and chant, I choose the chants, make the playlist, then I visualize how the songs will shift the energy of the class. At the end of the day, all the teaching and framing sometimes thrown out of the window and I just go with the flow. Being able to attend my teachers’ classes as often as possible ultimately becomes my foundation for classes I teach.

ME: When you are not practicing yoga, what are you doing?

TOMO: Well, I own a company making custom earphones for musicians. They have kind of taken off and now it ‘s mainstream thing, not just for musicians. I’m not so dependent on the teaching, it’s good because it makes me less stressed about money.  Sometimes teachers get dependent on privates, or teaching fifteen or sixteen classes a week, but then there is no time to practice or really enjoy teaching.

ME: Tell me a little bit about your European tour…

TOMO; I get a lot of invites from people who believe and trust in word of mouth. It started with a 2 week private I had schedule in London. The grace of other people who care to share these teachings brought everything together. I decided to visit Petros in Munich and took on some of his classes when he went away, and then Bern, Switzerland extended an invitation as did Paris. One thing built upon another. Charlie Kelly told me about his concept of Black and Light Yoga, incorporating yoga and dance.

My dear friend Emma Henry connected me to Ellen from Indaba Yoga studio, and I was invited to teach there. Emma promoted me in her classes around London and also opened up her home to me. Nothing would be possible without opening up and trusting enough of teachers and studios to send an invitation; and nothing is as powerful as having the voice of another teacher.  With the grace of the teachers, to be able to take the time to learn the teachings together. So many people are open. With an invite it is an open offer, like visiting friends. It’s different, to say I’m going to be there, in your town, versus, a friend or fellow teacher’s request to come. It’s what Sharon-ji talks about when she says dare to care. Be welcome. Share.

Sign up now for Tomo’s Jivamukti Workshop at Indaba Yoga Studio and the evening yoga and dance event, Black and Light Yoga, and avoid missing your chance to meet Tomo!

Update: 2 weeks after liver transplantation

During the second week following surgery, my body and mind have undergone multiple transformations. I started the second week walking with a cane; I’ve ditched the cane and am now focused on mastering the stairs. Afterall, there are 20 stairs up to our first floor flat, and with the goal to leave this evening for a weekend trial, I’ve to get up there somehow!

I have about 200 staples in a “reverse Mercedes” surgical cut; today I’m due to get every other staple out, although the whole area is getting more sensitive and itchy as I have less pain medication; some skin has started to peel, and the water continues to seep out of the pours of my legs. I’m losing about a kilo of water weight a day, and for the first time I have a “pear-shaped” body. Who knows how I will end up?

Those who have seen me tend to comment the most on how white my eyes are, and how rosey my skin is. After ten years of jaundice, the body recovers incredibly quickly once the plumbing works. And it is working. A week after surgery, apparently I was in a risky situation, my body fighting to reject the organ in an unusually strong and premature reaction. A week on, and nearly all my liver tests have dropped into the normal range; something that has not occurred since I was diagnosed with PSC in 2004.

All of the cannulas and lines out of my body have been removed, and the side effects of the immunosuppressants are starting to show; namely, my once thick, curly hair is now thinned and flat.

Things on the floor also have also changed substantially. The woman across from me went into cardiac arrest. While salvaged, she remains in critical condition. The other transplant patient was moved to a different room due to a more ill patient needing to be in the bay across from the nurse’s station. Last night was a kind of three-way non-sensical conversation as they responded to each other’s cries with random statements.

I’m not sure I will go home this evening or not; something ultimately left up to the bloodwork and doctor’s discression. We shall see…

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