Just back from our annual Oregon Country Fair (OCF) reunion and it’s always sustaining energy…. couldn’t have come at a better time because I needed it to restore some sense of joyful balance to my life. My recent diagnosis of chronic heart disease was keeping me focused on my limitations; in the practice of medicine, as soon as you give something a name it intensifies its power because it comes with its own language, procedures, and probabilities.
As lay people we surrender to the doctors considerable knowledge, and trust they will help us make good decisions that achieve favorable outcomes. As a physician who understands the basic dynamics I started taking my blood pressure, monitoring my heart rate and slowly my focus became preoccupied with what might happen tomorrow and not what I was living today. At OCF the moment is all there is.
While I was in Eugene I visited my friend David Oaks, a 62-year-old disability activist, and the legendary founder of Mind Freedom International, an international advocacy group for psychiatric survivors. In midlife, David was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis which results in the body becoming severely hunched over; despite his condition and chronic pain he worked every day. Five years ago while he was doing some repair work on the roof when he fell off and broke his neck. He was rendered wheelchair-bound and quadriplegic. He manipulates his wheelchair with his right hand, speaks with assisted amplification because his diaphragm is too weak to sustain conversation, and he still works every day. I asked David how he managed to come to every day with such joy and he said, “I don’t look at my life as behind me, and want to create a revolution that illuminate’s injustice in the world”; he helped restore my balance.
Then I dropped my wife off at her sister’s home in Olympia, WA. and I took a 3-day fishing trip with my beloved friend John Koriath. A psychobiologist, learning theorist, and co-founder of the Turtle Island Project, we fished a little, and talked and walked endlessly. We were on the Makah Indian Reservation in Neah Bay, Washington, and decided to walk one of the great scenic trails in America and stand at Cape Flattery, the Western-most point in the continental United States. The trail is about a mile long with some steep inclines, on a very uneven footpath. Knowing I had to walk back, and puffing heavily I decided to stop just before the Trails end. I felt a bit disappointed that I couldn’t finish, but lay down on a bench that overlooked an exquisite scene. Tree-topped cliffs that plunge hundreds of feet down into the rolling surf. Enormous stone monolith’s that from the sea floor etched by wind and water into arches and caves; spectacularly beautiful.
John continued on, and when he returned I said “ I can probably make it down now”. He looked at me incredulously and asked if I was out of my mind. “Take a look around you, have you ever seen anything more beautiful, and look at how far you’ve come; you better pray that you make it back up because I don’t want to have to call Elaine”.
I’m in better balance now; say “thank you” more; ask for support when I’m light-headed getting up. I am grateful that I can still walk, flap my lips and still tell stories. It’s the same old story about facing whatever you’ve got and understanding it is you who have it, not it that has you.
Choose to live in the now and surround yourself with joyful, loving people who’ll make because they’ll restore your balance and fill your cup with joy, today.