I Always Knew Meditation Was Good For Me, But I Had To Go Through The Most Difficult Experience Of My Life To Realize What Profound Effects It Has Had On Me.
Last December I went to the ENT to get a sinus congestion and sore throat that weren’t going away checked out. He discovered a massive tumor going all the way from my sinuses into my throat and almost completely blocking my air passage. He had never seen something this big.
“How on earth do you eat? How do you breathe? How haven’t you choked? This is unheard of!” was his reaction. His nervous smile as he talked didn’t fit the seriousness of what he was telling me, and in his own words, he sounded so cheerful because “he didn’t know how to react”.
“You’re going to need surgery as soon as possible. But the size of that growth is so big that I have no idea how I’m going to get it out. I have a lot of thinking to do.” Ah…American doctors…gotta love how direct they are.
I left his office with an estimated date for my surgery, and an order to get an MRI so that they would have a better idea of what it was I had stuck in my throat, its real size, position, etc.
It was the beginning of the winter and a few days before Christmas, which is one of my favorite times of the year in NYC. The doctor’s office was just a few blocks away from Central Park, so I decided to take a stroll in the park and breathe some fresh air. As I walked there, I called my best friend to give him the news. “Can you f*$%ing believe it?” I said, more surprised than scared. “I would have NEVER EVER thought this would happen.”
“What if it’s something really bad?.” The thought dawned on me suddenly, “What if this is my last Christmas?”
But when I got to the park that thought had already left my mind. I sat on a giant rock in front of the ice skating rink and as I watched families having a good time and listened to the background music, I felt deeply content. There was nothing else I needed in that precise moment. “What a beautiful evening” I said to myself with a smile on my face.
From that day until February 24, when what I now refer to as “The Alien” was removed, I had to go through innumerable doctor’s appointments, second opinions, x-rays, all kinds of complicated exams, never ending blood work, needles, and needles, and more needles, many moments when I felt I couldn’t breathe, coughs so strong that they made my whole body ache, and 3 surgeries, including a tracheostomy which left me completely mute for a few weeks, communicating only through a notebook, and with a tube stuck in my throat which my mom had to clean thoroughly twice a day.
*On that note, I have to acknowledge my mom for being a saint.*
But back to my point.
During those 2 months, the 2 craziest months of my life, I cannot really say I had a great time. But I can’t say I had a really bad time either. In fact, I can’t even say I had a bad time at all. Where there some physical discomforts? Sure. And there were also a few moments (2 that I can think of) when I panicked and cried. There may have been some more, but only those 2 stand out. They stand out both for how rare and short lived they were. A few minutes at the most.
The rest of the time, I spent it in a state that fluctuated between neutrality and joy. I don’t know exactly how my mind did it, but somehow it managed to block everything that was scary or negative about this situation, and focus only on the positive aspects of it. I enjoyed resting in bed all those week. I enjoyed finally knowing what was causing all my symptoms and solving the mystery. I enjoyed relinquishing responsibility and putting it all in the doctors’ hands. I enjoyed my mother’s care and love. I enjoyed sleeping with her next to me, holding my hand and caressing my arms, back, and head. I enjoyed her delicious, nourishing food which only a mother knows how to make. I enjoyed the encouraging messages and support from friends and family. I enjoyed the flowers the girl who works at the corner store sent me. I enjoy the kindness of the nurses at the hospital. I enjoyed and marveled at the medical technology and the professionalism of my doctors. I marveled even more that the universe had put me in the position to receive the best possible medical care in the world. I felt SO LUCKY in so many ways.
Before going into the operating room the three times I had to do it, a wave of anxiety filled my body making my heart beat faster and my muscles tense up. But my mind was completely calm.
My mind was completely calm 99.9% of the time when all of this happened.
People around me are still amazed at how brave I was. I suppose I was brave, but at the same time I feel I didn’t need to be brave because the fear simply wasn’t there. The mental uneasiness wasn’t there. The stress wasn’t there.
Most importantly, what wasn’t there was the victim attitude many people acquire when things don’t go as planned. I never felt that things could have been different nor did I beat myself up for going to the doctor so late. I never once felt I didn’t deserve this. What I felt every step of the way was that there were lessons for me in all of this, and that this was my path for a reason. I knew that once this was over I would be grateful that it had happened because of all the growth that took place inside of me thanks to it. And I was right about that.
Am I naturally so chill and accepting of life’s difficulties? I don’t think so. I know I didn’t use to be that way and much smaller things would trigger much bigger reactions than this did. I’m sure that this kind of inner peace, which is still not perfect or permanent, but is taking over more and more areas of my life each day, is a direct result of my daily meditation practice.
I’m sure of this because the kind of serenity and contentedness I felt throughout this process was the same kind I feel when I’m sitting down with my eyes closed meditating. The more I practice, the more that feeling stays with me even when I’m not meditating. The more I practice, the more certainty I have that everything is exactly the way it should be. The more I practice, the more I notice the little miracles that surround me at all times and the more grateful I feel for them. At the end of the day, I spend so much of my time in a state of joy and gratitude that there’s very little mental space left for focusing on negative things or complaining.
The results of meditation may go unnoticed for a long time because they can be very subtle. But when things go wrong, that’s when you will see them shine. At the end, everything turned out more than OK. My medical procedures were a huge success, what I had was completely benign, and my recovery was miraculous. I’m healthier and happier than I’ve ever been. But I know that if I didn’t meditate this would have been a very different experience. Yes, this has been the most challenging episode of my life, but my meditation practice really came through for me. Its depth and strength stared at me in the face, and with a wink, gave me further confirmation that it works, and motivation to keep doing it for the rest of my life.