Surgeries and My Experience in the Field of Awareness
Juliette Perry, LCSW
I began meditating many years ago. The day that I was initiated changed the trajectory of my life. From the first taste of the Primordial Field of Awareness, I felt as if I had come home to something I had always searched for but been unable to name. There was a familiarity, like finding an old companion that had been lost. Certainly I had glimpses of the Field earlier in my life and some undefined memories from childhood, but nothing I could put into words. That first experience was deeply profound. Suddenly the noise in my head quieted, and a deep felt-sense of calm and peace took me. I knew then that meditation would always be an integral part of my journey. Through the years, I have been extremely fortunate to have attended many teachings and empowerments that have deepened my experience and continued to fuel my desire for more.
Meditation carried me through life with its joys and some very deep sorrows. My relationship with the Field allowed me to taste the richness of life with the felt-sense of protection that comes with a daily relationship with the Field. Without struggle I could sit for long periods even in times of extreme stress. I always felt I could rely on my practice to get me through whatever life presented.
In 1998 I began a series of 15 surgeries over an 18-year period, 6 within 3 years. Most were major surgeries involving hospitalization. Almost all were orthopedic in nature due to a genetic disorder. The chronology of the surgeries is important because it relates to my recuperation and healing of my body, and of my relationship to my practice and to the Field of Awareness.
After my first hospitalization, pain and medication interfered with my ability to sit and to access the Field in the usual way. I could not extend my awareness, and I felt energetically numb. Initially this created immense frustration, deep fear, and a sense of loss that was profound. However, with advice and guidance from my mentor, I learned that I could lie in my bed and relax, simply allowing my awareness to rest within myself. If there was pain, I would not fight it or focus on it. If sleep came, I would simply go with it. Within a few weeks, I was able to begin to sit for short periods of time several times a day. Eventually I returned to my regular practice even during times of chronic pain.
I repeated this process after each surgery, developing it into a more refined and comprehensive procedure. I also developed a pre-surgical routine so that when I learned of the necessity for another hospitalization or out-patient surgical procedure, I could prepare for it. This process involved sitting for longer periods each day, often with an additional meditation in the early evenings. I would try to remember to stop 4 or 5 times a day so that I could simply extend and experience the Field while I was going about my daily life. Prior to a later surgery, I added another component. I started carrying my phone with me so that I could listen to a chant, which I did throughout the days preceding the surgery, on my way to the hospital, and even waiting in pre-op. Those techniques were very successful in cutting the pre-surgical anxiety and fear. As the years went on, and additional procedures were required, the knowledge that I could cope with them successfully gave me the confidence to keep practicing and preparing.
I began to see a pattern emerging within my practice as I came to understand that my medical issues were an integral part of my Dharmic journey. After each event, my practice would do a profound shift as I began the healing process and could start sitting again. My relationship with the Field would deepen and my desire for it would intensify. I certainly did not look forward to these surgical events, but I could put them in a context that made dealing with them more doable and allowed me to bypass the depression, hopelessness, and fear that often accompanies chronic pain and illness. I began to see the emergence of understanding through gnosis of the acceptance of “what Is just as it Is” without judgment. I certainly had my times of feeling why me, this is not fair, etc. But as my acceptance deepened, I understood it was a gift of profound importance that allowed me to live my life more fully and with gratitude.
Six surgeries in a 3-year period was, to say the least, extremely difficult. My life was a blur of doctor’s offices, hospitals, and surgical units interspersed with diagnostic procedures, large quantities of drugs, and severe pain. I was able to continue the healing process I had developed, and to maintain my very deep relationship with the Field. The last of these surgeries was the most complex and difficult to date. I was in a weakened state, but I could not put it off. I began my preparation routine several weeks in advance. I had experienced complications in some of my previous surgeries, so I understood the risks and felt prepared.
Due to doctor and hospital error, I almost died. The morning after the surgery I was given several units of blood then rushed into emergency surgery to repair the damage. Unfortunately, the surgery had to be done under local anesthesia because of complications. Due to my genetic disorder, local anesthesia is not very effective so I was semi-conscious during the procedure. The pain was so intense, I screamed throughout the hour-long ordeal. Finally I was taken to the ICU.
It was my sixth visit to this particular hospital. I had always had more than adequate care, and many things in the hospital had been improved. Unfortunately, that did not include the nursing care. The details of events in the ICU left me terrified for my safety. Two days later, I was taken to a room on the orthopedic unit. The nursing staff was not attentive. The hospital was grossly under staffed, and there were long periods, especially at night, of waiting for someone to appear. Several incidents occurred that caused me to be more fearful, and I felt extremely vulnerable. After 5 days, I explained to my doctor what had occurred, and he reluctantly agreed to let me leave the hospital conceding that I would probably get better care at home.
For the first month I was in terrible pain, which necessitated taking large doses of drugs. I followed my practice of lying in bed and allowing whatever to arise. A month went by, and although I was still very weak I met with a physician who is an expert in my genetic disorder. During the interview, my husband described the events of the surgery and the complications. The impact of hearing him relay the events had a profound effect on me. I knew the story. I had lived it, but so much had been through a haze of drugs and semi-consciousness. Hearing it laid out in a matter-of-fact manner caused my memory to become crystal clear, and the memories began to engulf me. By the time we arrived home, I felt like I could not breathe. My heart was pounding. I felt overwhelmed and terrified.
I realized I was having a panic attack. My husband was frantic, not knowing how to help me. I tried to do breathing exercises to calm myself down and eventually I was somewhat successful. After that, the fear and terror seemed to sink into my bones. I was afraid to come out of my bed room, and I could no longer sleep without the lights on. I could not tolerate visits from friends for more than a few minutes. My asthma was out of control and was exacerbated when the panic intensified. I was deeply frightened when we would go out of the house for any reason. I knew I needed help. Fortunately, I was able to find an excellent psychiatrist. Unfortunately, it took several visits before he felt confident in his choice of medication. Then it took about a month for the medication to begin to work.
Needless to say, during this period of time, I could barely sit still to practice. I tried breathing exercises to calm myself, and I started using a mantra in meditation because I could not extend. If I tried to extend, I was engulfed with fear and a sense of complete vulnerability. When I made myself sit for more than a few minutes, the fear would become terror. My mind had taken over, and it was out of control. I felt lost. Suddenly the one thing that had always been there for me, had protected me, and held me was no longer available. The Field of Awareness was foreclosed in ways that had never happened before. The shock of it was devastating. What was not foreclosed was my desire. That drove me to continue sitting regardless of how uncomfortable I was.
I tried to think logically and follow the advice that I had been given in the past. I still sat daily and continued breathing exercises and the mantra. I used extension cautiously in a very contained fashion, and I sat only as long as I could. As soon as my anxiety level started to rise, I would stop. Once the medication started to kick in, I was able to sit for longer periods. But I still became jittery and uncomfortable, my mind often racing until I would jump up and want to run away.
Fortunately I began to see a remarkable therapist who was incredibly helpful. One of the modalities she used was EMDR. I had used EMDR in my own practice as a therapist, so I was familiar with it. It provides a way for a client to access the Field of Awareness and to have that support to work through issues. I worked with her for over a year. The healing process was very slow, but my meditation practice continued to improve. I could access the Field intermittently but still struggled with sitting. After 30 minutes, I would feel agitated and uncomfortable but would continue sitting for 45 minutes, while perpetually watching the clock.
Prior to this event, I habitually sat for at least an hour a day and longer on weekends. My experience of meditation and the Field was of vast spaciousness, waves of bliss, light, and rapture. I would feel as if the world was within me filling my heart. Sometimes the material world appeared as an energetic hologram that was completely embodied within me. I looked forward to these wonderful experiences in meditation. With just a slight shift of my perception, the Field would arise. I tried to do this several times a day as a way to bring that experience into my everyday life. For a few years, I had experienced the Field in my sleep, spending occasional nights aware that my dreams were dreams or simply being present in the vast sea of Awareness. After that traumatic surgery, all of that was either foreclosed or had changed dramatically. My first teacher had made a point of saying that one should never look for or expect certain experiences because that leads to grasping and attachment. I knew this to be so, but meditation had always been so easy and pleasurable for me. It seemed as natural and effortless as breathing. I looked forward to resting in that vast sea of bliss and rapture. Now it seemed like an arduous task, and I did not look forward to it. Often the feelings of frustration, sadness, and loss would arise. It became clear to me that I had been seriously damaged not just physically but also on a much deeper level. My confidence was severely shaken.
I decided a couple of months ago that it was time to consult my mentor to see what insights he could give me. Due to scheduling difficulties, that meeting did not occur for a couple of months. About 10 days before the meeting, I experienced a major shift. It was quite stunning, because it just suddenly happened. I sat down to meditate and all of a sudden the Field of Awareness opened up with no effort. I easily sat for an hour. I couldn’t believe it. I was stunned by the absolute Presence within silence and stillness I experienced. When I finished, it was still with me. For the first time in almost 3 years, I could access the Field every time I reminded myself to shift my attention. It was if I had been plugged back into the Light.
I was ecstatic. I felt as if some intensely heavy weight had been lifted from my body. Over the next few days I kept expecting that experience to disappear, but it did not. Still, something was very different. I no longer experienced the waves of bliss and rapture that I had in the past. Instead, I felt my body grounded into the earth. My body and my being seemed like an extension of the earth, and as if the earth and all of existence was an extension of Awareness. There was a complete sense of solidity, fullness, and an all-encompassing Oneness far more complete than ever before. The spaciousness and stillness within movement was so vast it seemed to go on forever. The illumination of Presence was crystalline with an embodied felt-sense of gnosis.
I did meet with my mentor. As we discussed my situation and how my perception of the Field had changed, he helped me articulate that I no longer feel damaged. Healing happens on many levels. Time had mostly healed my body, and therapy and medication had helped heal my psychology. But my sense of being damaged went to a much deeper level of my Being. I have felt reborn since the sudden shift happened. I know that my daily meditation practice is responsible for that depth of healing.
We also discussed the fact that my experience of the Field had changed. He helped me understand that this relates to my Dharmic journey. My experiences indicated a deepening of the Dharma Kaya. The “view” had shifted as it had after my previous surgeries, but this one had taken much longer to manifest.
I know that sense of opening and foreclosure is natural when working in the Field or even in life in general. Fortunately, I have also known for many years through gnosis that even when the Field seems foreclosed, it is always there. It is my perception or “view” that has changed. It is this knowledge that kept me sitting day after day even when there were times that I just wanted to stop and run away.