For the past few months, I have been searching for words to share with you. Now, at moment of relative stillness, they reveal their wonderful simplicity.
The practice of Mindfulness saved my life and the life of my son. Thank you for not only helping us survive an incredible medical ordeal, but in its midst, to come to know something of a complete, direct experience of the nature of life. We are thrice blessed.
So often in daily life your dharma talk messages come ringing through. They ring louder when they are needed more, such as when my father died upon my return from the retreat at Sunrise Ranch, and when--in my work with The Salvation Army Disaster Services--I was at Ground Zero in NY.
It was while working in the ashes at Ground Zero that life presented itself anew -- we learned we were pregnant. A few months later I was put on 24-hour bed rest due to preeclampsia. This often dreaded bed rest was, for me, converted to a 24-hour Vipassana retreat. A blessing in and of itself. Each day the body became steadily more ill and the uncertainty of the pregnancy increased. Your words rang in my ears, "You know what to do." And moment-to-moment I applied precision awareness and radical acceptance. I felt myself cracking open. "Keep opening up to what is," over and over. And so it was from February to June.
In this pregnancy-induced condition, the only cure is delivery and at mere four months pregnant, time was needed. I had a Knowing that nothing would radically worsen until after the 34th week, which is when the baby's lungs might be mature. Stillness was the best and only medicine. The necessity to be mindful and equanimous was clear--it was literally a matter of life. It is with complete certainty that I know the Vipassana practice delivered us peacefully to the 34th week. 34 weeks and one day, the condition worsened. I was admitted on June 14 for an IV of magnesium sulfate to help prevent seizures from high blood pressure.
One day later, your instructions rang loudly. I awoke unable to breathe save a small stream as thin as a spider's web--my liver was rupturing. Preeclampsia had done the statistically unlikely thing; it turned into to Class I HELLP Syndrome. I remember the nurse saying, "You’ve got HELLP, you're in trouble." This was unexpected.
In excruciating pain and knowing that both the baby and I might not survive, there again was the practice and your instructions. There was nothing else to do, but to be present. I told the nurse, "Acceptance of what is, whether it is what we want or not, is critical." She said, "You don't understand, you're dying." I assured her I understood fully and asked her to be as still as she could. She asked if I wanted last rites. Metta practice was directed to everyone helping and to all suffering beings.
Then came the ultimate challenge, I had to, in order for us to live, open up to death itself, for even the most microscopic form of resistance would kill us both. I was emptied of all fears, past and future. And in so doing, I was set free to chose to stay in this manifestation or to not.
Death was seamless and neutral. From what I can only describe as perspective of vastness, I saw the nature of suffering in this life and though quite real, also easily blown like sand from the hand, in comparison to the awesome beauty of what I believe to be a direct and complete experience. I saw no separateness.
While in this vastness, I decided to keep walking on this earth for two reasons. First, I saw the endless and intense beauty, visible even in the pain of this life. Second, from this sacred vastness, compassion compelled me to vow to share the Vipassana practice with others--to relieve their own suffering, and to perhaps drink from this well.
This profound state stayed my constant companion through October. Then I felt some illusion of separateness slowly rise here and there. I have such gratitude for the experience, on so many levels. Not only did we both survive a 50%+ mortality rate, but we are both healthy--on top of this, a glimpse at the universe I would never thought imaginable. I am an average, but sincere student of Vipassana since my first retreat at the Tao Center in Winona, MN. This experience has shown me that average people have profound experiences with the tools of Vipassana. I know how fortunate I am and I want to help others.
When I learned we were pregnant, I remembered you saying at a retreat once, "Become the activity of birthing." As it turned out, I became the activity of birthing and dying simultaneously.
I am filled with gratitude for these clearly articulated teachings. Please let me know if there is any way I can assist this work.