The Other Side of the Hedge: Daily Practice Saves Lives

Once upon a time, I felt I had developed some mastery over my mind, body, and spirit. I trained in meditation and went from a scatterbrain to a steel mind. I studied martial arts and went from bent to confident. I trained as a healer and my spirit became as much a part of me as my right hand. Then I lost it all.

This is how I got it back.

"Sword of Damocles" (detail) by Richard Westall.  From WikiMedia.
“Sword of Damocles” (detail) by Richard Westall. From WikiMedia.

REMISSION

Remission’s not a cure; it’s life with the Sword of Damocles. But hell, I’ll take it.

“Is that a new haircut?”

“No, it’s my looming and unpredictable doom.”

“Well, it looks good on you!”

About a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with a particularly crappy blood cancer. As if that weren’t bad enough, the whole thing turned into a House episode, where the case gets weirder and weirder. Things went from bad, to worse, to did that doctor just say goodbye to me for real? And then, thankfully, it took a turn for the better.

By that June, I was out of the hospital and sporting a brand-new immune system. I was weak as a kitten on every level. I could hardly keep a thought in my head and I could barely walk a mile. My spirit was completely trashed, ripped open, and deflated.

How bad was it? I found HGTV extremely stressful. I was the walking wounded – which was still better than anyone expected.

LESSON ONE: IT’S ALWAYS UPHILL FROM THE BOTTOM

Even before I was released from the hospital, my daily practice had begun. It started with shuffling three hundred feet each day, wheeling along my “staff of power” – a monstrous IV pole with a dozen medications and four pumps on it.

I had to work my way up to actual walking. Then, slowly, I pushed on to a whole mile in a single day. The day I was released I managed to walk two miles. Just to prove a point.

When I was provisionally allowed into a hospital-campus apartment, it was summer in Los Angeles. If the weather allowed, I would get out (at night). When it was too hot, I would pace back and forth in the little hospital apartment. One hundred and sixty-two lengths of the apartment was one mile. We counted.

Even now, I don’t miss days unless I’m really sick. These days, I walk faster. I carry weights to strengthen by muscles and bones. Maybe the Sword of Damocles looms for all of us, but at least it won’t catch me unprepared.

ProTip: No matter how bad things are, there’s something we can do. Can’t walk? Breathe. Do something, anything. Take action. When things are bad, there is no easy way out. So make one.

LESSON TWO: ACCEPT HELP

This is my least favorite lesson. I’ve never been good at letting people help. It’s ironic that now I am literally being helped by my donor every day of my life. That man seriously has my gratitude.

But my donor isn’t alone. Dozens of people helped, from my diligent, dutiful, and wonderful wife to my miracle-working doctors, nurses, aides…you name it. For a guy who thinks he doesn’t like help, I sure accepted a lot.

Even more people prayed. In a fight for your life, there’s no scoffing at anyone’s prayers. Not because one of them might be righter, or maybe have some secret that can help. Accept their support, their willingness to stand with you, one person with another. That alone is enough.

ProTip: Prayer is powerful. No one can hold back death forever, but sometimes if we all join hands, we can hold it back just enough.

"Damocles" by Thomas Couture, from WikiMedia.
“Damocles” by Thomas Couture, from WikiMedia.

LESSON THREE: MIND, BODY, SPIRIT – IT’S ALL YOU

Being a Western ceremonial magician isn’t really my main shtick, but I am a Westerner and a magician, so I know the LBRP – the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. A year ago this week, I was finally strong enough to start a daily spiritual practice.

I was so weak, I couldn’t manage anything fancy. And whatever I chose, it had to be something that would help me to rebuild on every level. The LBRP was what I landed on. It wasn’t the first time I had devoted months to this ritual; it was something I knew well.

So I took up a blade and began. I lifted that knife and touched the sky, then drew it down to my eyes. The first word – “A-tah!” – resonated weakly. My daily devotion, my daily training, my daily practice had begun. There was much to be done.

As I practiced, I remembered. These were the same words had I chanted the first time I was dying. There, the words could only be spoken in my spirit. In the hospital, my chanting had to be silent. Held down by IV tubes, it had to be unmoving.

It was the long practice, years before, that saved me. It had welded together my body and my mind and my spirit. It allowed me to receive all those prayers.

And so every night since I’ve had the strength (I admit, I might have missed a handful), month after month, I have “waved my hands” as my wife so eloquently puts it. Just as it did back then, it brings every part of me together.

ProTip: A ritual doesn’t just happen in the spirit. It forces the body to move. It brings the mind into focus. The training pays off when all parts of you move as one.

Image by Juppi66, Public Domain, From WikiMedia.
Image by Juppi66, Public Domain, From WikiMedia.

LESSON FOUR: START FROM WHERE YOU ARE

One of the hardest lessons of all of this is the simplest one: things are what they are. Reality has an ace up its sleeve, and it’s the ability to destroy illusions.

Through a lifetime of training, I thought I had developed some mastery over my mind, body, and spirit. My mind had become steel, my body straight, and my spirit strong.

And then all this shit happened.

In the aftermath of this fight for my life, everything I had worked for was gone. Everything I thought I had, had been burned away, buried under garbage, or flat-out sacrificed to keep me alive. All those “accomplishments” were shattered. Hell, I was shattered.

It was time to start again from the very beginning. And so I learned to walk. And to think. And to pray. That’s the power of daily practice.

And how am I doing? So far, so good. There’s a long way left to go, and there are no guarantees. But I’m feeling pretty strong. I’ll be out for a walk tomorrow. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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