Orianne and I set off before dawn for the hospital. Check in was at 5.30 am for a 7.30 operation to remove a large cyst from the left side of my head. I’d had it since I was a baby but it had grown over the years and started pressing on my eye. Now was the time to deal with it.
As we sped along the empty highway, I felt calm and quiet. I knew I had the right head and neck surgeon: it had taken almost a year to find him. To be safe, he had invited two other experienced doctors to do their part: a neurosurgeon and ocular-plastic surgeon. A three-person team of experts was looking after me. The cyst didn’t stand a chance!
Over the previous few weeks I’d prepared by regularly checking in with my body and feelings to make sure the procedure was right for me, and to get inner permission to go ahead. At one point, I was surprised to find that although I experienced no conscious anxiety, my body was scared. It needed reassurance that the damaging invasion of surgery was in service of healing rather than harm. Getting quiet, talking to myself and sensing energetically into the temporal area of my head allowed my body to settle and relax.
The pre-op procedures were lengthy and slow but progressed like clockwork: change clothes, get the drip needle into a vein, meet with each surgeon in turn, then the anesthesiologist and other staff, each explaining what to expect. Then everything sped up; I was quickly transferred to the operating table and the anesthetic attached to the needle in my hand. I felt an odd icy flow moving up my arm—and I was gone.
But I wasn’t really gone; instead, I went to that other place. Time ceased to flow and I was there, in that place, forever. It was so familiar, so profoundly real and present—yet I could not capture it with my ordinary mind, let alone describe it to others. All I could hold was a sense of smiling joy and a brilliant hue of green. Those few impressions and an intense calming otherness stayed with me as I returned to consciousness.
Coming back was a shock. This couldn’t be right! The world of solid objects and inescapable events was so clunky and colorless. I felt out of place, dislocated and disappointed. I certainly did not want to be here again; that other place was where I truly existed and this was not.
The events post-surgery are hazy. “Where is Orianne,” I asked the nurse. She was coming soon. I needed to get up and move around—not allowed. My legs wanted to shake but that set off the vitals alarm—so stay still. It all seemed restrictive and a bit silly.
When Orianne arrived, she gave me a treatment. As an osteopath she has many years of experience moving anesthetic out of people’s bodies after surgery and helping promote the our inherent healing response. I felt the soothing energy in her hands; it invited me to come back more fully.
Attached to drips and vital monitors with gaiters pumping on my legs, I was wheeled into a quiet room with a stunning view over the city to the mountains beyond. The afternoon passed peacefully. I had no interest in watching TV or reading anything or talking much; all I wanted was to stay quiet in a kind of empty contemplative state.
Drifting a little but fully awake, I sensed the benevolent presence of two beings. My first thought: Are these angelic beings? That did not fit. Then I realized one presence was my grandmother transformed and the other was unknown to me. They were there simply to accompany me. On the advice of the nurses, Orianne picked up food from a restaurant. The simple dish of fish and rice was otherworldly, exactly perfect. My heart flowed with gratitude.
Orianne left, night fell and immediately I was locked into the hospital’s unyielding routine. Every few hours some procedure or other disrupted my sleep. If I tried to get out of bed an alarm went off and aides rushed in. Even though my balance was stable, a staff member had to hold a waist belt while I peed. Every change request—remove the leg gaiters or lessen the saline drip—had to be relayed to the doctor for authorization.
Thankfully, I was only in the hospital for one night—then back home to sleep in my own bed, to wake in my own rhythm and allow my body to recuperate naturally. I saw how the medical system was brilliant at intervening, at avoiding complications, at making sure all possible health risks were dealt with. They did what they did extraordinarily well but they could not trust or support my own individual way of healing.
The doctors did an amazing job and recovery has gone smoothly with only some ups and downs and minor discomfort. Over the weeks, the swelling around the eye receded as well as my sense of that other place. I’d lived with the cyst all my life and now my face looks different, but I am the same person—or maybe more.
A couple of weeks later, I had a dream. I was watching a video of an operation on my head performed by a female surgeon. She took my brain out of my cranium leaving an empty skull with bits of chicken-like flesh around the edges. The left hemisphere was black, shrunken and decomposed. The surgeon rubbed off the dead tissue with her hand to get to the healthy parts beneath. I did not see the finale, but presumably she put my brain back into my skull and patched me up.
In the dream, surgery on the external cyst was mirrored by surgery on my psyche. An old outmoded part of me connected with thinking, had to be cleansed of useless material and made whole. Healing on the outside reflected healing on the inside; they are one and the same.
I am enriched by the inspirational experiences—drug induced or not—that accompanied the surgery. I am amazed at the creativity and resilience of the psyche in the face of what could be a traumatic event. More than ever, I’m convinced we know little about reality: other states and beings exist outside the mundane realm.
The whole process reinforced my dedication to my spiritual practice. Of all the things that made a difference, cultivating a quiet mind and open heart comes at the top. Inner quiet dissipates anxiety, allows for expanded experiencing and supports our natural healing. It has to be the bedrock of our lives.
Since the operation I’ve been pondering its lessons. Here is an incomplete list:
- Practice engaged acceptance: Accept the reality of the situation and do not slip into avoidance or denial; stay engaged with what is happening at both an inner and outer level
- Do your research and find the right practitioner, one you feel comfortable with and who has the right expertise
- Make sure your body is ready to accept intrusion, trauma and pain in service of greater health
- Stay on top of your pain but do not over-medicate. You need to stay mentally alert and present but not stress your body with excessive suffering
- Face your fear of death; all other anxieties are lesser version of that basic fear
- Stay close to your inner self and restrain your mind from creating phantom catastrophes
- Get out of hospital as quickly as possible and support your body’s natural healing ability in your own individual way
- Use alternative medicine, such as osteopathy to further your healing.
Life and healing are mysteries that can never be fully fathomed. Our task is to face whatever challenges life brings with an open, accepting attitude resting in a quiet mind. Just beneath the surface, treasures are hidden. If we get out of our own way, we receive inner gifts far beyond our limited expectations.