A Diagnosis For Fear

1381 Relax and Succeed - Fear is born in speculation.jpg

Being different from most people I’m often surprised by common reactions, particularly negative ones. I have to stop and actually think about how people would look at those things if they believe their thoughts are reality. That’s why I was surprised when one of my doctors noted that their staff is often mistreated by patients.

I’m not sure whether it’s through good office management, a culture that started as a few positive employees and that evolved over time to include more people, or whether it’s just all just a fluke, but I have never been in such a positive office in my life.

The staff all act respectfully toward each other, they treat each other and the patients well, and they even announced our names with a cheerful tone. All that being case, the question then becomes; why would those people end up being mistreated by the patients? The answer is: fear.

Anger comes from fear, and people will generally be at their worst when they are the most afraid. And many of the people in that office were learning that they were either losing some, or all of their sight, and that their intervention would be somewhere between very uncomfortable and extremely painful.

Part of what was scaring people was the unknown, so they were speculating on how bad things were in the present. The second part was that they were using their imaginations to conjure a scary future. But both of those reactions are illusions. None of them necessarily accurate in that moment.

The only thing that could understandably explain any shortness, frustration or anger would be that people were in pain and had little consciousness left to consider other’s needs with. And that’s fair, and it’s why the rest of us also need to be tolerant to be wise.

The next question is: why was I generally calm and feeling fortunate? And the answer’s important, because the way I do it is how I would teach anyone else to do it too.

First off, I had read up on the eye, and the issue of the detached retina. That meant I understood more of what was happening and what people were saying. I also knew that in theory my future was more likely to be positive than negative. Knowing the truth is generally far better than believing a lot of our own self-constructed, negatively-conceived myths.

1381 Relax and Succeed - Knowing the truth is generally far better

So what did I know? I’m no doctor but, in basic terms, the white ball of our eye is called the Sclera. In the middle of our Iris (the pretty, coloured part) is a dark, flexible hole called the Pupil that shrinks and expands to control how much light enters our eyeball.

Directly behind the Pupil, where the light actually hits –and attached to the back of the Sclera– is an area called the Choroid, which supplies blood to our Retina. And the Retina is the part that actually collects the light from our Pupil and results in our sight.

The Retina itself is like the pages of a book, where each page plays a slightly different role in collecting and translating the light that enters the Pupil. Some of these layers are where our ‘cones’ and ‘rods’ for colour vision are located, if you remember your Junior High / Middle School health classes.

The Retina is centred by a low spot called the Fovea, which acts as the focal point of our vision. As we move our eye around, our focus will be in the centre of our vision –wherever the Fovea and Pupil are aligned.

In a normal detached retina, we get a tiny hole in the top page of our ‘retinal book.’ This hole allows in ocular fluid which then creates a sort of blister. If light hits the far side of that blister, we see dark patches in our vision. If it hits the near side, we see light scatter across the Fovea, which can create sparkles.

If we leave those symptoms unattended (please refer to my previous post for a list of all of the potential symptoms of a detached retina), the fluid in that blister will shake around and turn the hole into a tear, which can lead to the black speckles or curtain quality to our vision.

In my case, rather than a tiny hole on the top page of my retina, I had a large U-shaped tear through all of the layers right down to the Choroid. This allowed the centre of that U-shape to fold up under itself like a carpet might.

All that meant that rather than trying to fix a tiny hole in one layer, my doctors were forced to weld that entire U-shaped canal back into place, layer by layer. The fact that they can even attach each microscopic ‘page’ to the corresponding ‘page’ is a miracle of modern medicine and surgical talent.

My doctors had a suitably serious tone and they were very forthcoming about the facts. As I noted before, it is never a good thing to have an ‘interesting’ case at the doctor’s office. That’s code for ‘rare’ which is also often more difficult. But reality is reality. It’s what our minds do with those facts that matter.

While others with much better prognoses were much more afraid (and were therefore much less pleasant to deal with), I was better off because I accepted my reality and I chose to focus on other things that were equally real.

1381 Relax and Succeed - Reality is reality

I was in one of the leading facilities in the world with equipment that looked like it belonged on Star Trek. The staff was super-pleasant, and my doctors were considered some of the best anywhere. Even staff at the hospital for the surgery felt I was lucky to have such an excellent team on my side.

On top of all of that I was in Canada, where all of this care was going to cost me zero personal dollars. I could even be grateful for my own taxes and those paid by other Canadians who were now helping share the load of my care.

I suspect the work I had done and will have done will potentially be in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is genuinely a lot to be happy about, so there’s no delusion there. I was looking at what was real. It was the scared, uninformed people that were pondering illusions.

In life, we can choose to be our thinking and to have the course of our thoughts dictate the painful experiences that scare us and lead us to treat others badly. Or, we can be incited to have those thoughts, and yet not follow their course because we remain aware that they are only thoughts –while we are the thinker of them.

By seeing that reality, we can then take steps to stop the course of our mind and to redirect our thinking to other considerations that leave us feeling better. The choice is always ours, and that choice always happens in the moment we are in.

I realize I can make this sound easy here, but what people learn by working with me is that it truly is easy for everyone. People generally just get me to expose the folly of saying “But…” After that they’re just practicing the act of acceptance.

They still start off the training as all egos do. I will only take some credit for the fact that I suppose there is something about the way I answer them that allows me to be successful at what I do –but I can’t really see that, only they can. I’m just telling them the truth as I genuinely see it. Take away my accident and my subsequent meditations and I’d be just like everyone else.

If you are living in fear, I’m genuinely sorry you are. But even in the midst of that, keep in mind that there are ways to use our consciousness to make our lives better, even if we can’t materially solve every ‘problem.’

They key to all of that is acceptance, which is a good place to leave off. Because what followed next was an unlikely reaction and the most unbelievable pain I have ever experienced, and I was only kept sane by acceptance. But that is a different lesson than managing fear, and that is for the next instalment….

Until then, look closely at the people and things you love, because just being able to see them is a far bigger gift that we could ever imagine.

peace. s

Foreboding Symptoms

1380 Relax and Succeed - Nothing in life is to be feared

Every adult knows that any life can be loosely divided up into experiences that are ‘good,’ or ‘positive,’ and those that are ‘bad,’ or ‘negative.’ Joy is pretty easy –we can all do that. But our suffering is where we generally require either guidance, or lengthy, meaningful and dedicated meditation.

Whether it is spiritual, psychological, or a mix of the two, any guidance we receive will only come from people who have done their own very practical psychological or spiritual ‘work.’ If there was a way to ‘learn’ our way around suffering, everyone who took psychology classes or who attended places of worship would have miraculous, pain-free lives –and yet we know this does not happen.

In the end, it is only experience that truly teaches us. This is why one of my favourite testimonials for my work comes from a very talented and successful cinematographer who wrote, in part, “The training gets you in the Moment. It’s experiential. Unlike reading about living in the present, this actually lets you do it. It’s the difference between reading about swimming and taking swimming lessons.”

That last sentence is smarter than anything I could have written about what I do. It’s a brilliant metaphor and it is the reason I will undertake this series of posts about how I psychologically managed what would commonly be seen as a very bad situation.

Using my recent eye operation as the example, it would be easy to describe my complex situation and intense pain as being a ‘bad’ experience. But can it really be called ‘bad’ if I live in a place with first class care, and that I was able to help some young medical residents learn to be better doctors, or if I can use the experience to help others through this writing or through my work helping others?

My own story began with good news –I was at a dinner with beloved friends. Due to my heavy workload and the care I provide for my aging parents, this was an extremely rare night out. I remain grateful that such a happy and warm event was my springboard into the most serious medical issue I have ever faced since the childhood accident that ultimately lead me to write so passionately about life in this blog.

Being seated where I was, it was late in the dinner before I noticed the blacked-out semi-circle of darkness that had taken the lower left portion of the vision in my right eye. Thanks to a story told by a friend, I was lead to torque my vision hard enough to the right that it lead me to realize that the spot was there, and something likely worthy of quick medical attention.

Being a scientific sort of person with a penchant for experimenting, rather than immediately follow a course of fearful thinking, I chose instead to focus on testing the eye for both pain and capability.

I diligently used those tests to gather information I felt would be useful to any diagnosing doctor. This included the shape and density of the darkness, as well as its specific location, and whether or not it moved as my eye moved. I was also grateful that it did not hurt. I also thought about the preceding days in case I could find an injury or impact that might explain it (a minor impact from playing hockey was my best candidate).

Thanks to a lifetime of learning about all manner of weird things, I rightly guessed that what I was experiencing was likely a detached retina. My first question was to ask myself how useful or helpful any fear might be.

This represents the moment in which we can all choose to use our thoughts as tools, rather than having them blindly, habitually and emotionally control us. It was like the situation had shown me fear on a menu. My job was to decide whether or not I wanted to request more of those thoughts to actually ‘consume’ with my consciousness.

Since I could find no rational reason that fear could serve a purpose beyond motivating me to get care, I chose not to pursue that line of thinking. The fear had already done its job so I gratefully accepted it as a signal, and after that I largely dismissed it from my consciousness.

Because I have grown up in Canada where hockey is a common sport, I knew that detached retinas were something experienced by athletes who experience impacts to the head. With no recollection of ever hearing about a player’s career ending because of one, my working assumption was that there was likely a fix that would allow some form of ‘normal’ life. That helped to keep me calm.

Following my personal and quite logical test of my vision, my internal thought process would have sounded much like this:

Clearly there is a black spot in the right eye that likely has physical causes. It is fortunate that something that serious is only in one eye. I’ve collected as much useful data for a diagnosing doctor that I can think of. This does not appear to impede my ability to drive, so I should probably leave the dinner as soon as possible and do some immediate reading of some scientific papers and relevant medical websites.

I bid my fond farewells, headed home, and immediately began doing some preliminary research on good old Wikipedia, where I ensured I understood any important relevant terminology. I then visited sites for HarvardThe Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, (among others), as well as reading some relevant scientific papers. This further reinforced my belief that I was experiencing a retinal detachment, which every bit of reading suggested required immediate care.

Since I wasn’t sure if driving was wise in case the condition was neurological and not something actually relating to my physical eye, I chose to have a short sleep and then called a good friend in the morning and he kindly offered to drive me into Emergency.

Once there, I found a very busy waiting room and yet I was rushed in ahead of almost everyone. Since triage is about sorting the most serious cases first, I knew that this indicated that my situation was time sensitive. I was grateful for the quick response.

1380 Relax and Succeed - Acceptance doesn't mean resignation

Since further fear served no useful purpose to me, I quieted my mind and surrendered to the process and did my best to focus on, and be cheerful about, anything I could. This left me free to actually help some other waiting room patients cope better with their own fears.

In the end a broken piece of diagnosis equipment meant that they could not get a pressure reading on my eye, but the emergency ophthalmologist arranged for me to get the very first appointment at the hospital’s eye care centre the next morning. That had me feeling lucky.

Following my diagnosis, the doctor asked if a resident could also put me through a quite uncomfortable diagnosis process because it would be good for the young doctor to see what a rare case looked like. Despite the real discomfort, I focused on the fact that I was in a rare position to assist in that doctor’s education. I was grateful to be able to help.

The attending surgical resident then arranged for an appointment as soon as possible at the Alberta Retinal Consultants offices. A visiting Australian doctor explained that the centre is a world-renowned, state-of-the-art facility that was the very reason he had travelled so far for his education. That had me feeling lucky to live where I do.

I will leave what followed for a following post about my potentially frightening diagnosis. But to conclude this portion of the experience I would like to note that, so far, I was simply aware that my situation was very serious, but otherwise I had felt fortunate to get such quick and quality care all the way through the process.

I had reacted quickly, had been given emergency priority, and I had a good friend who had offered to take me to what was the first appointment of the day at a world class facility. If a person isn’t choosing to follow a course of fearful thoughts, that really is a lot of good news.

It might seem strange to some of you that I felt fortunate at this stage. But, if we’re living in the moment, and we’re accepting about life and have no expectations that anyone would live their entire life without any serious medical issue, then the rest really was very positive news. That was the gratitude I focused on rather than investing my energy in worry.

My conscious choice to pursue that course of thinking is what allowed me to get a good night’s sleep before I went in to face what would be a somewhat daunting diagnosis.

No life is lived without some pain and suffering so I do not live with the expectation that I will be able to avoid experiences like this one. But I reminded myself that I come from a family where many had served in WWII and, no matter what my future held, I was still likely better off than many of my own relatives. That had me feeling fortunate again.

If maintaining this state of mind seems impossible to you, remember that I too learned to do this. Yes, I had the advantage of starting my lessons after my accident at only five years old, but whether we start high school at 10 years old or 40 years old, it’s still just high school. Everyone reading this can come to know what I know through practice.

By reading your way through my experience, it is my hope that you will glean something about the active process that allows me to see life in an overwhelmingly positive light.

You may need to find your own way through your own experiences but, in the end, the tool we use –our minds– and the way we use it, are universal principles shared by us all. That being the case, I sincerely hope you find comfort in the knowledge that you too are capable of this sort of beneficial perspective. Any thoughts you have to the contrary are merely limiting, self-imposed beliefs.

In the following post, as things grew more serious, I will attempt to convey my internal process so that you can even better understand how we can all use our minds and our thoughts to generate positive responses to every kind of life experience.

If any reader goes back to just focus on the italicized sections of what I wrote above, everyone will easily see that I was not lying to myself by being positive. I was merely focusing on the most positive, realistic thoughts I could. We can all do this, but first we must believe in our ability to do so. My hope is that this post will help you in that regard.

Until the next installment, value your vision. It’s not guaranteed to last our lifetime, so don’t forget to meaningful behold the faces and places that you love the most.

peace. s

World Kindness Day

1379 Relax and Succeed - Remember there's no such thing as a small act of kindness

As promised, I am working on some pieces about my experience, the fear, and dealing with intense pain. Due to the depth required for those subjects I will need more time to fully assemble those ideas. You are better served if I can find ways to make my experience useful to you in the most material ways possible.

In the meantime, I am grateful that it happens to be World Kindness Day. That fact allows me to take the time to write and finalize those pieces, as well as celebrate this day by discussing how we can extend our sentiments beyond this single day, so they may imbue our lives throughout our year.

We can often see our kindnesses or our gratitude as things we give to others, but this is only because we tend to see our reality as being ‘out there,’ in some external sense. With a deeper understanding, we realize that all of our ‘experiences’ happen within our consciousness, which means genuine expressions of gratitude or kindness are even more our experiences than they are those of the people we may be helping or showing kindness toward.

Today, and going forward, I would strongly encourage everyone to join me in the daily meditation of seeing life not as something happening to us, but rather an experience we are co-creating with the universe, moment by moment. Like the cells of a single organism, our state does impact the state of those around us, just as those parts of reality also affect us, so control is not our answer.

Just as we will sometimes not be at our best, so too will other cells in the organism that is our larger society. There is no hope of us fully grasping or controlling that reality, but we can learn to accept it in ways that are profound, and that permit us to understand what people mean when they say things like, “Before I was enlightened I suffered. After I was enlightened I suffered.”

Acceptance adds a form of grace to the latter portion of that statement. By living in that way, we build no residual resentments, attachments or expectations, although we may experience them fleetingly. Likewise, we all regularly experience enlightened moments. What everyone seeks is a somewhat efficient route from their suffering, and to their moments of grace.

While we are never free of what the Buddhist’s call the cycle of samsara, we can learn to move within it with greater awareness and psycho-spiritual skill.

How this takes shape in real time can be demonstrated with my recent pain, and the fears around potentially losing my sight. As with anyone, the pain was agonizing, and the fears were based in very real potential outcomes. We can come to see that external reality as ‘our environment,’ much like the banks of a river are not the river, but they do form –and are formed by– the flow of our lives.

What gives us grace is our ability to remember that, like the river, periods of tumultuous rapids and frightening waterfalls are only parts of our overall flow through the moments of our life. All rivers change as they move through the geography of our reality, so all states are temporary. This is why I often refer to a wise Buddhist monk who once told me that the secret to living is that “everything changes.”

As we experience intense pain, we can become aware that our state is temporary. This turns our agony into a waiting-game of positive anticipation. We don’t know when or how we might feel better, but we know that the river of our lives continues to flow even though our pain can leave us inactive.

The above describes why suicidal thoughts can be natural, and yet ultimately foolhardy, because they operate on the presumption that nothing is changing if we are still. But whether rapids on a river last for 10 miles or one, our surrounding geography will eventually change our flow whether we act or not. In this way our own patience is a form of meditation or prayer.

If we can see this clearly, it allows us to simply let our suffering ‘be.’ That wisdom is reflected in Paul McCartney’s advice to John Lennon’s son in the song, Hey Jude,” wherein he reminds the boy that despite our periods of personal darkness, it is worthwhile to maintain our conscious anticipation and movement toward better experiences to come.

1379 Relax and Succeed - The level of our success is limited only by our imagination

Again, while our suffering in life is often unavoidable, what allows us to flow forward is our deep knowing that all of our states of mind are always temporary. This also means that, when we see others in states of suffering, we should not see our acts of kindness as merely gestures –in fact these actions are what shape the banks of other’s rivers.

In many cases, our own ‘rapids’ will dissolve thanks to the efforts of others, both seen and unseen. That being the case, in closing, I would like to thank the many people who very recently and greatly contributed to the gradual easing of my own suffering.

Without these people I would surely have struggled far more, and while my gratitude is my own to feel, I do hope they each saw their own kind acts as their own meditations on gratitude, empathy and compassion. In this way, my own pain can act as an opportunity for grace for those around me.

In terms of specifics, I would like to take this opportunity to single out those who have, and continue to, allow this struggle through the rapids of my life to move from near intolerable, to places where I can now feel deeply grateful to no longer be in the worst parts of the experience.

To this end I offer deep and special thanks to Doctors Baker and Sia, as well as the entire remarkable staff at the Alberta Retina Consultants. In addition to them, I would also like to thank the support and surgical staff at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, as well as the family and friends that supported me throughout this process.

These people include Don, Anita, Henry, James, Nick, Mike, Kirsten, Christina, Brian, Jarrid, Christian, Sausan, Sue, and for the compassion shown by Tracy, Beth, Rob, Dwayne and Charlotte (and any others my addled state may have forgotten).

As I also live in a nation with nationalized health care, I would also like to thank my fellow Canadians for your contributions toward making such a system work in my time of need.

In closing, today, as you move about your own World Kindness Day, remember that you are not only lifting weight from the specific people you help but, in total, you are also adding to a much larger force that, along with others, is easing suffering throughout the universe itself.

peace. s