This is a story about healing for us.
A few weeks ago, I received a text message from Belgium saying that my mom is nearing death. She was staying with my sister and had come home from a hospital stay due to a fall, but wasn't recovering well.
So, my brother and I booked a flight and arrived a few days later. We sat down in the kitchen and when she was wheeled in, she really did look close to death--barely conscious and immobile. But today, just 2 weeks later, she is much more conscious, has been taking daily walks with assistance, smiles and is definitely alive! How did this healing happen?
It seemed to me that the most important thing our mom needed was as much love as possible. My sister had done a fantastic job getting her this far with lots of healthy food, fresh vegetable and fruit juices and clean water, but was so tired! If you have ever been the primary caregiver for someone sick, you know how exhausting it can be. My sister just needed a little help.
So, the three of us kids hung out with our mom and told her how much we loved her, gently touched her and hugged her, helped her move from wheelchair to bed and back, fed her, sat silently on the back porch and watched nature together, moved her arms and legs to music that she enjoyed while she was seated in the wheelchair, and so on.
Not only that, but we also paid attention. And isn't our ability to pay attention, to be aware, to simply observe--isn't that an act of love? By paying attention, we were able to notice the big and little things. Big things: constipated! So, we gave her psyllium seed powder and encouraged lots of drinking. Little things: when she seemed uncomfortable, we helped her shift her body appropriately. And so on.
As she perked up a little, we encouraged her to sit up, to stand, and to walk. Bit by bit, she has gotten a little strength and confidence back and now she can even talk again in quiet simple words. This was healing for her, healing for us.
And for me, the most important part of the day was the early morning period of meditation, because it seemed to tap right into the motherlode of love, the source of awareness, the storehouse of attention.
With more love, there was an overflowing of kindness and patience for my mom. With more awareness, there was more presence when being with her. With more attention, the tiny details showed up. And in this way, I got to know my mother in the moment, not as she used to be, but exactly how she was.
That all sounds amazing, but there were challenges. Bring any family together and patterns start showing up. It is easy to get hooked when those patterns arise. Someone brings up a topic that once caused conflict and suddenly, we feel compelled to defend or attack back, or withdraw. But the effect of any family conflict or agitation for my mother was clear: more thinking and worrying and a kind of dis-ease would set in.
So this was something to watch for. A person who is weak and needs to heal should be protected from the vicissitudes of life as much as possible. But how to prevent escalations in front of (or with) someone who desperately needs to heal?
We can look at ourselves first and foremost, rather than the stressor. Often, we simply cannot change the person who is causing a stress reaction and so we must look within and see if there is something to change there or at least to be aware of.
My own experience when conflict was happening was just noticing my buttons. A slight internal feeling of a pull or push translated into "Oh, here is a button of "wanting" that is being pressed. Here is a little button of "anger" being pressed. And by simply noticing without reacting, the hooking evaporated. Again, chalk it up to meditation.
And what is meditation but a dissolving of one's own little expectations into the movement of the whole? The whole experience. Not twisting one's experience to fit one's expectations, but having no expectations and thus experiencing the whole and being moved by it.
So this brings us to the origin of the word "healing". When we think about healing for us as a human being, or a group of humans or an ecosystem of humans and life of all sorts, we can look at multiple meanings, but I like the following: "to make whole".
In order to heal, to make whole, we need to learn how to not meddle with things. Let things be for a little while before we change them. That's what meditation trains us to do: let things be. Let everything be. Let everything happen, just as it is happening. And then bit by bit, a silence sets in, a clarity arises, and in that completeness you will naturally know what to do and how to do it.
Of course, to make whole—whether that is yourself or helping someone else isn’t a guarantee that it lasts forever—especially physical healing. Our bodies are simply not made to last forever and the sooner we face that, the less we hang on to some image of physical perfection.
On the other hand, to make whole can be more lasting if we are pointing to a kind of mental/emotional/spiritual healing, because it means we see the whole first, and once you see a greater vista, it changes you. From that point on, you are never the same. And you bring that wholeness to others too, helping them just through your quiet presence, and your helpful words and little actions that bring a little soothing, a little joy moment by moment.
Some time during our stay in Belgium, our sister shared a tale of wisdom: A man hired a wise gardener to help him design a path through his garden. The wise gardener sat and watched. Day after day, the man would come and go about his chores and all the wise gardener did was watch.
After some time, the man got irritated and exclaimed: "I hired you to work, not to just sit there. Why are you just sitting there?" The wise gardener said: "I am watching how you walk, how you go from plant to plant, how you move your body, how you interact with your world. In this way, I will not have to design a path. It will be designed on its own."