Sunday, September 03, 2006
The Fixer And The Fixed
And now for the main posting event: I was out on site last week, and I am going to have to spend time on site at a different bank this week. So I seized the interval to load up with the medicine. It produced a pretty dramatic effect (as it's supposed to), and I wasn't about to go to church this morning and writhe in the pew, pulling at my leg to straighten out the ferocious cramps. Instead, I went off to my bedroom to pray this morning, and got rudely booted to my computer and this post. I was tired, because I've been working hard the last two days. Now I'm boiling with energy, fighting the urge to go out and run a mile, and I have to think hard to even feel my bad leg, which is indeed twitching and jerking. If I concentrate hard enough, I can feel that it also hurts. It's hard work to find that sensation though, because I am occupied territory. Occupied by what? Read on.
Last week I posted about a brain scanning experiment a researcher did on Carmelites. I still find the story really funny for several reasons, but there is something I should have explained and didn't, pertaining to this finding:
Rather than reveal a spiritual centre in the brain, a module of neural circuits specifically designed for religious experience, the study demonstrated that a dozen different regions of the brain are activated during a mystical experience.The emphasized words have a meaning to me that it would not to most persons, and I'll try to explain. Regular, longterm readers of this blog know that I am recovering from an illness which caused severe brain and nerve damage. When I use the word "severe", I mean so profound that I feel personally offended when I read about a doctor referring to Terri Schiavo as a bag of lettuce. The description could just as well have been applied to me, I think, and it fits neither of us. Bags of lettuce we were not.
In other words, mystical experiences are mediated by several brain regions and systems normally implicated in functions such as self-consciousness, emotion and body representation.
If, when I was a teenager, anyone had come to me and said, "Look, here are two doors marked 1 and 2. They represent the course of your future life. If you walk through door 1, you will end up in this condition: You will become paralyzed. You will be so damaged that you will experience long intervals of unconsciousness. When you wake you will not know your name, you will not have any moment-to-moment memory, you will be unable to speak, to read, to remember long-term memories, to understand that you have a family. You will be mostly blind. You will be unable to breathe or swallow, because the nervous tissue controlling those functions will have failed. The only thing left to you will be severe physical pain and distress, and the pervasive reality of God's love, and you will experience the absolute reality of God's love in proportion to your deprivation of every other human experience other than pain" - I would have unhesitatingly walked through the other door. I wouldn't even have bothered to ask what door 2 held for me.
And now - now I am so glad that I did not have that choice. I would have made the wrong choice, because I wouldn't have understood at all what the experience of God's love meant. My ignorance was my blessing. Now if I were sent back in time I would be afraid to walk through door 2.
Obviously I have made a very complete recovery. I didn't do it on my own. Not only did I have the benefit of family and Chief No-Nag, who did not share Michael Schiavo's idea of how to deal with disabled persons, but I had the light. At my worst, I lived bathed in the light. That's mostly what I remember. I remember the light.. I remember the rushing, quiet, joyous, serene, triumphant and glorious sojourn in the light. The light is all I remember. I remember when my only reality was the light.
I remember the light leading me out. Go back and read again these words "mystical experiences are mediated by several brain regions and systems normally implicated in functions such as self-consciousness, emotion and body representation." Body representation is the ability to sense your own body. Close your eyes. You can feel your arms and legs, and where they are in proportion to each other. I remember not being able to do that.
I remember the light telling me to look at at my hands, and bend back my fingers. (Place your hand palm down on your bed. Bend your thumb and fingers up and back so only your palm touches the bed. Move your hand so only the heel of your palm is touching the bed. Feel the heel of your palm. Yes, like that. Now shut your eyes and move the bottom of your palm so that it touches your chin.) It's only as I write this that I realize it made me bend back my fingers like that so I didn't accidentally injure myself by putting my fingers in my face.
I couldn't do it at first. I remember losing my right arm. I had to lie down to find it. I guess it had gotten stuck outside of my range of vision. I had only a narrow, dim field of vision directly in front of me. I remember vividly how it lit up the heel of my palm. It was sort of as if there was a red light on the heel of my palm and on my chin in the darkness, and all I had to do was connect the two of them. I did, because it kept telling me to. I didn't even know what it was all about.
I remember the light teaching me to count to control my breathing. I remember getting up and moving around, and being so tired and getting dizzy, and the light coming and explaining that I had to change the count because when you move around you need to breathe more. I remember the light teaching me how to swallow liquids. (Stop the count. Freeze that space there. Now swallow. Now unfreeze that space. Now start the count.)
I remember the light teaching me how to do things, because I couldn't remember from moment to moment what I was doing. It taught me how to do things like take a shower by putting them in a frame. There are steps to each frame, and you have to do them all, in order. So each moment you look and figure out what step you are on. (You are standing in the shower. Is the water on? If not, turn on that faucet over there. ALL THE WAY. It is cold. If the water is cold, turn the other faucet a little bit. Count to twenty. If the water is warm, and the soap is in that little dish, get the soap and hold it in your hand. If the soap is in your hand, and that leg isn't slickish, rub your right leg with it. If the soap is in your hand, and that leg is slickish, but the other leg isn't, rub your left leg with it.) It went in a circle, ending up with if my face, and then I had to put the soap on the big thing. If the soap was on the big thing, I had to get the shampoo bottle and put in on my hair, then put the shampoo bottle on the little dish, so I would know that I had done that.
I could go on and on. I could tell you about the incredible adventure of learning to wash the dishes, a feat of which I am sincerely still proud, but which took a lot of careful tutelage by the light. I learned how to wash the dishes when I was still mostly blind, and I could do it when the light would walk me through it. On my own, I had a severe problem grasping the concept that the dish needed to be wet before soap would work. I would constantly have to stop and ask the light what wasn't working. I think what confused me so was that the water was in two steps, at the beginning and the end. Chief No-Nag still regularly buys cheap dishes of the same pattern, because he hasn't quite gotten used to the idea that I no longer break them. However, if you are not brain damaged, this stuff is deadly dull, so I will not bore you with that saga.
I could tell you about the light teaching me to regulate my heartbeat, but I"m afraid to. If I think about it, it interferes with my heartbeat now. I guess that's fixed. I no longer count to breathe, or have to modulate my body temperature by changing the breathing count, or have to take a shower by rote steps. I really don't seem to have any disability at all. I kind of wrenched my wrist the other night, because I was trying to do cartwheels when I was walking the dog. It was an irresistible impulse. There is no way I can tell you how wonderful it feels to run.
Poor Chief No-Nag still gets very anxious if I am exposed to a situation he is not sure I can handle. He hasn't yet realized that I really do have full memory. In June, I went out one Sunday after dinner to pick blueberries (they were very late this year). He warned me not to eat any before they were washed, because he had sprayed them a few days before. The entire time I was out there, he lurked in the puckerbrush watching me while pretending to play golf. I kept working my way around a bush and encountering the sight of Chief No-Nag trying to look casual and pre-occupied with his own business, with two totally confused dogs circling around him. I am pretty sure that he was worried that I would forget and start eating the berries, but that he didn't want to damage my confidence by telling me not to do it. Chief No-Nag is a brave man in many ways, but I think one of the purest evidences of his loving courage is that he hasn't gotten in the way of my recovery. I think that has taken both great character and great faith.
The point of all this is that the light is real. It exists independently of me. It is not a state I produce in myself, but something outside of me that is not dependent on my mind.
I'm supposed to be human now, and do things the right way, just as it wanted me to learn how to wash the dishes by myself. But I still call on the light for things that are out of my control, so I know that the light exists, and that these are true memories. I'm searching for some way to tell you about this, and here's an example. I wrote in June about the situation with my mother and her neighbors. I was not exaggerating the medical problems my mother's old neighbor had either. When I got there she was in bad shape. The light had told me to go, and the light told me to take over her care from my mother. Well, I didn't know what to do, so I asked the light what to do. The light told me several things to do, and they worked. She has not been back in the hospital. I was there late Saturday through Friday. When I got there her blood sugar was unstable and she was sort of tottering around. She was hideously bruised - she still had severe bruising from a fall she had taken in the winter. By the time I left all the bruising was gone, she was able to test her blood sugar by herself, and the nurse kept asking me about my medical training, and the doctor was plainly amazed at her condition when I took her in. From start to finish, none of what I did was out of my own knowledge.
My mother is a blazingly competent woman. She'll probably be competent on her deathbed. She is far more competent than I am. The old lady had been in the hospital six times, it turns out, and in a nursing home for three weeks. None of those people were able to figure out how to remediate the situation. I just did what I was told by the light, and it worked.
I come from a family of hardheaded skeptics, and I am still a hardheaded, skeptical type of person. However, even by the rigorous standards of scientific proof, it is impossible for me, now that I have an independent existence from the light, not to believe in it. I see the results too often and too clearly. You don't need to be a holy person to ask the light for help. You don't even have to believe in it. All you have to do is renounce the intention to hurt others in a particular situation before you ask, but that renunciation does have to be sincere. And you are in a very strong position when you ask for help for others. Such requests are never, ever refused, although the light's standards of help are anything but human. If you don't understand this, go back and read what I wrote about doors either. Would any human being have made the right choice? I don't think so.
Don't be afraid of anything - it's a waste of your time. Do ask for help when you need it. The Lord's Prayer is the right way to start. Remember that there is no "I" in it, which is purposeful, and that we are forgiven as we forgive others, not because God denies us grace but because we are unfit and incapable of receiving it until we do abandon grievances. It was the light that taught me to understand this prayer, but I have searched and found what the light taught me here.
Learn this prayer, and you will defeat fear itself. Learn this prayer, and victimization theology, which is tearing the world apart, will have no power over you. You and I will both die, but while we live we do not need to live in desperation and anger, and we most certainly need not be driven by that desperation and anger to strike out at other people. And when we die, we die to light. It's just that for some of us, who have allowed ourselves to become determined, willfully piloted vessels of seething bitterness and reprobation against others, the light burns us even as it sustains us. That is hellfire, and purgatory is a sort of insulation from the full fury of the fire granted as a sort of blessing while we learn to dismantle our own self-forged chains. That Which Is does not destroy what That Which Is has created, and That Which Is does not torture it either.
I was granted a great gift and blessing, which was being too unaware of myself to sustain lies and bitterness, and in that oblivion I encountered a great awareness. I could form no ill thoughts and sustain no grudges, because I could form no thoughts. In that state, I was unable to lie, to deny, to defend myself from grace. Grace moved in, and led me back to free will and a condition in which I could choose. I will not choose helplessness, bitterness, and futility.
Don't forget to pray for those who don't know how to pray for themselves. Don't forget to pray for those who have been taught nothing but lies. Don't forget to ask for grace who don't know how to ask it for themselves. Don't forget to ask for those who haven't knowingly chosen, for all those are open to grace. God has granted us free will in this world by allowing us the choice of whether to experience That Which Is in this world, and we must invite That Which Is back in by deliberate human choice if we want to help others.
" And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things."
What a beautiful post--your best ever, in my opinion. Thank you.
Makes me think of the words from the Hallelujuah chorus: for Thine is the power, the Glory, forever.
When my college-aged, all-knowing daughter had a seizure earlier this year, I did a frantic amount of research on seizure disorders. (What DID we do before the internet?) The human brain is an amazing and marvelous creation. One thing that struck me then, and I use this explanation now when talking with other parents about epilepsy & seizures - was that when a seizure episode begins, it's like being in a theater. The different parts of the brain stop to watch the other area "perform". Sometimes it's just a few in the audience, other times it's a full house - in other words, a grand mal. When the performance is over, everyone returns to their assigned tasks. That's one reason why seizures can be so hard to diagnose - it's like trying to find a troupe of traveling minstrels. You never know when the show is, who's in the cast or who will show up in the audience. Thanks to good medicine & a boatload of prayer, she's not seized again, Praise God! One change I've noticed in her is that she doesn't suffer fools like she used to. Which may be a big step for one so young.
Thank you again for sharing. There definitely is a battle raging between the light and evil all around us. The light WILL win, because it is in each of us.