This article was also published in the Journal of the British Holistic Medical Association
Here I am alive and well, having gone through my first ever general anaesthetic and surgery and I am grateful to be so well. (What I thought was the natural decline of old age turned out to be a surfeit of calcium, which is now healed, and I feel vital again! And lucky.)
So I thought I would share the strategies I used to prepare for the surgery and that are relevant to other challenging situations. I am hoping that these ideas and tactics will prove useful for you too if you find yourself facing something similar.
The core message of this article is the possibility of transforming a crisis into a blessing, from a state of worry into a state of kindness, courage and generosity. In relation to my surgery, I could not just switch on that attitude. It took me a while to get there.
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The first thing I had to manage was my fear around the surgery. I did not mind the actual surgery, but I discovered that I had a phobia of general anaesthetics. This was related to childhood nightmares and sometimes waking up conscious, but unable to move in my paralysed body.
I did some research and, speaking to friends who are medical doctors, I was reassured that this phobia is completely normal and doctors themselves have precisely the same anxiety. It is a sensible anxiety, isn’t it, when faced with someone using a poisonous drug to render us unconscious. (Several of my ex-stoner friends, however, smiled when they remembered their operations and told me to enjoy the buzz.)
I began regular conversations with my body as if it were a dear friend. I explained to it the reason for the surgery and the whole situation. I acknowledged that the intrusion would be traumatic and reassured it that I would provide the necessary healing and care. I focused on particular organs and body areas, and gave them compassionate awareness and kind energy from my inner smile. All of this sent reassuring signals through my nervous and endocrinal systems, reducing stress, increasing the endorphins and strengthening my immune system.
I also worked directly with my phobia of the general anaesthetic. I contemplated, sensed and visualised myself inside the hospital and operating theatre. I visualised myself slowly going through the whole surgical procedure and as I did this exercise, I noticed the sensations of panic as they arose in my body and emotions. I kept my breathing calm and greeted these uncomfortable feelings with the affection of a loving parent, accepting them and cradling them with comfort. Over a few weeks of daily practice, these phobic sensations decreased and I began to feel at ease with the idea of anaesthesia.
I also asked an experienced homeopath to put together a remedy for me. It included arnica and phosphorus, and had other remedies relevant to me. I also carried some Bach Rescue Remedy.
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At the same time I began to notice a tendency in me to slob out as I approached the surgery. This included the normal stuff of feeling sorry for myself, eating too much of the wrong food, slumping with bad posture and so on. I was playing myself a story that I would get my body healthy again after the surgery.
I knew that I had to counter-balance this slothful attitude. As best I could, therefore, given the pain and fatigue, I worked to offset this attitude and exercised, ate and toned so as to be as fit as possible. I stretched, did weights and walked. Not a lot, but up to my limits. A fit body with a fit attitude, where the immune system is supported, will obviously respond better to surgical intrusion and crisis than one that is placid.
I clearly recognised that any movement in this direction was better than doing nothing.
I also used strategies from spiritual healing and qi gung to strengthen my nervous system and vitalise my subtle energy anatomy. The key here was my attitude, because even if I could not bring my physical body into a toned and vital state, I could nevertheless work on my pranic field and qi.
For several months I carefully prepared myself in daily meditations. As I wrote above, I worked slowly through my phobia and fears. I talked with and reassured my body. I did self-healing.
At the same time I focused on getting the best possible outcome from the surgery. I blessed the surgery team and visualised working in perfect harmony with a full support team of inner helpers, including great healing spirits. I particularly liked a visualisation done by my friend, Jane, when she was preparing for a caesarean. She threw a few grenades into the operating theatre and these grenades exploded with sparkles of light and healing spirits. I asked and prayed for the help and support of all beings who could make the process graceful and easy.
I also visualised myself after the surgery, fit and bouncing with health as I facilitated trainings, wrote a new book and had a walking holiday.
But as I did all this inner work, I knew that something was wrong. Something was worrying me and I could not quite get what it was. Then, slowly, it began to dawn on me and I realised two crucial things.
The first was that I was coming from a point of anxiety and trying to fix it all so that I did not feel frightened.
The second was that my approach was self-centred and concerned only with me.
As I saw this, I was surprised, in fact, slightly shocked. With everything that I teach, with everything that I truly believe, in this situation I had missed the essence.
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So I came home to the core of what I teach, three golden keys.
How can I use this situation to connect more fully with the wonder and energy of nature and the cosmos?
How does it help me to reflect and expand my consciousness?
How can I serve others and be more compassionate?
Coming home to these core issues, I immediately felt different. Asking those questions completely reframed the whole situation. With one of those miraculous waves of the attitudinal magic wand, I swapped worry for gratitude.
This health crisis was doing good work. It was opening me up and helping me to surrender to the bliss fields of the cosmic ocean. Every concern and every fear was a useful reminder to be fully conscious and to watch what was happening with compassion and equanimity. As Margaret Newman professor of nursing wrote in her book ‘Health as Expanding ConsciousnessÃ¢’, we human beings are always doing wellness and illness. We swing between the two. The real issue in not whether we are ill or well. The real issue is how our consciousness is developing, whichever state we are in.
All of this also led me to another uncomfortable insight. As is normal, the fatigue, anxiety and discomfort of the illness had put me on a short fuse and I, usually a very cheerful creature, had more negative thoughts and emotions than usual. I had been blaming the crisis for this irritability. But now I could clearly see that the pressure cooker of the crisis was actually just revealing what was always there but repressed and below my threshold of awareness. Those negative thoughts and irritabilities were all mine, usually repressed and managed inside a cheerful container.
Now they were emerging. Instead of rationalising that they belonged to the circumstances, I needed to own and accept them as mine. In fact, one of my prayers over the years has been to meet and integrate every aspect of my shadow-self before I die. In this context, this surfacing of negativity was to be welcomed. Now I see you! Welcome!
This does not get rid of the actual pain or crisis, but it sure provides an opportunity to self-heal deep psychological stuff, expand consciousness and develop compassion. Thanks for the prods! What a great silver lining.
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I also noticed that I wanted to control the medical team so that they benefited me as much as possible. My attitude was completely understandable, but not congruent with my core values of compassion and supporting others. So I began to visualise the medics and the hospital, and I began another kind of prayer.
Whatever happens to me, may my presence and the whole process be a blessing for everyone involved.
I have created and am responsible for this whole situation. I am sorry for everything negative I may have created and I ask for forgiveness. May everyone in the hospital be loved and blessed. I give thanks for this wonderful situation and lesson.
So for weeks before the surgery, I visualised and rehearsed that my presence there would be a complete blessing for all of them, regardless of what happened. I thought the unthinkable: that the operation might be botched, that I would become a cabbage, that I would need multiple surgeries, that I would die, that I would be immobile but conscious. But that whatever happened, I would still nevertheless be a blessing and comfort to all those people.
If these ideas are uncomfortable for you to read, they were also uncomfortable for me to think. But this surely is one of the great strengths of true spirituality, that it calls us to face the truth, to be courageous and to be generous.
Of course, I still wanted a perfect outcome to the surgery and, of course, I want everyone to emerge from their crises and challenges with grace and fulfilment. But if we are on the path of spiritual development, then we need to acknowledge that far more important than our usual desires for happiness and health, is our growth and transformation to becoming conscious and compassionate.
Aligned and congruent with this kind of spiritual philosophy, I now felt a genuine sense of inner calm and that I had a foundation of integrity from which I could move cleanly forward into the situation.
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As usual, the real solution to facing and managing my crisis was not simple.
I needed to be intelligently kind towards myself. I needed to allow and work with my own negativity. I needed to use all the different healing and therapeutic strategies that are available. I asked for and received help. And I aligned with what I consider to be the core purpose of spiritual development -Â the growth of connection, compassion and consciousness.
If you too are in any kind of crisis, I wish you love, healing and relief. And if you have the reserves of energy, I wish you also the grace of using your crisis for personal growth and transformation.
Thank you for this beautiful, comprehensive, deeply responsible approach to a potential crisis. I guess one of the silver linings of scheduled surgery is that we have time to prepare for it – not just dread it. You outline a path of action that is grounded and effective.