The writer of this letter to Swamiji has generously offered to share it with you.
My illness started in Malaysia in 2005 with sight problems including double vision. In November I was accompanying my son to Singapore by bus when I suddenly became paralyzed from head to toe. I could neither walk nor move my arms; I could hardly swallow and barely breathe. At the same time I suffered terrible muscular cramps. We were close to Malacca, and the bus made an urgent detour to take me to Hospital for Emergency treatment.
I was diagnosed with an auto-immune illness – Myasthenia Gravis. My return to Kuala Lumpur marked the beginning of a long period of hospitalization, as I did not respond well to the standard treatment for this kind of illness. My condition deteriorated, and after several months in hospital, it was decided that I should be “medevac’d” to France for treatment. I left my family for several more months. In France, a course of intravenous immunoglobulin treatment relieved the symptoms sufficiently for me to be able to return to Malaysia. This treatment continued until the following summer when my condition deteriorated again. I spent most of my time in bed between long hospital stays. Wheelchair-bound, I could no longer read.
In June of 2006 I was hospitalized again in Paris and treated by one of the best known French Professors who decided to perform a plasma exchange to treat my respiratory insufficiency. After several transfusions my condition improved and I could walk normally, though the muscular cramps remained. This improvement lasted for a month, during which time I regained 70% of my strength. It was necessary, however, to repeat the transfusions regularly – at first every month, then every two or three weeks. I returned to Malaysia, where I had to travel to Singapore regularly for the plasma exchange treatment. During the long hours of immobility, I fought in my mind against the disease and tried to accept this change in my condition, but I was full of rancour and rage, at conflict with everyone. I envied all those who could walk, run, swim, etc….At this time I started to listen to Tibetan chants and this calmed me. I would spend hours just listening to the chanting of the monks; I believe that I was already meditating without knowing it. I underwent regular transfusions, and had an external catheter implanted in my jugular vein. This lasted four months until I suffered septic shock during a plasma exchange. This sort of brutal septicemia is often fatal – in the few minutes of consciousness at the beginning of the path to death, images from my life passed by; I was calm and serene, without fear, in spite of terrible pain in my kidneys, and the panic all around me. I died for the first time, and then had the joy of awakening a few days later in intensive care, where I remained for three weeks. I knew that I was no longer the same person, that I no longer feared death. It was as though I was depersonalized. From here onwards I could be treated without the slightest resistance on my part; I could hardly feel pain. I had become detached. I still needed to have a catheter inserted in the femoral vein for each plasma exchange, but I could now concentrate naturally on my breathing.
After 18 months I was still fighting my illness, unprepared to yield; I hated and detested it for ruining my life. It was then that my doctors discovered that I had ovarian cysts and a huge fibroid in my uterus. On account of my immune deficiency, the doctors decided to perform a total hysterectomy to avoid possible cancerous complications. The operation was successful, but a morphine injection, to avoid too much pain, triggered respiratory problems and once more I was put on artificial respiration. Gasping for air, I could feel myself slipping away again. On awakening I found it difficult to adjust my respiration to the rhythm of the machine; so once again I focused on my breathing and let myself adapt. Once on my feet again, I practiced these breathing exercises regularly. A friend introduced me to the work of Eckhart Tolle, and after listening a few times, things started to make sense to me.
Two months after the operation and long sessions of chemotherapy, the stitches had dissolved but the scar was still weak, which led to disaster. One night I was awoken by a terrible pain in my bowels; I went to the toilet and expelled 3 meters of my intestines. The pain was indescribable and the shock unbearable. As we lived in a cul-de-sac and the ambulance could not find the house, my husband decided to drive me to hospital. I needed to go downstairs, disemboweled, covered in blood with incredible pain. I managed to find the strength to do it – survival instinct – and I lay down in the back seat of the car. Every bump in the road was agony; at the hospital the doctors could not operate until they had contacted the neurologist to know which anesthetics could be used. I remained seven hours in pain.
On awakening, I was in shock, I could hardly communicate, I saw things as if through a camera – no sound, unable to focus – I felt disconnected from the world around me. After one month of depression, and considering suicide, a friend introduced me to Shilpa [Ghatalia]. With her I could talk about what had happened in detail. She spoke to me of the explosion and total loss of the ego, and of distancing oneself from the body. I realized that I was not what I had seen that night. I started to learn yoga nidra, and together we shared three sessions a week for nearly two years. I also practiced alone using a recording of one of your guided meditations. From this point onwards, whenever I was bedbound - I spent my time in meditation. With Shilpa I learned the Buteyko respiration technique. My life was now a long sequence of meditation and breathing exercises. I had given up all combat with my illness – I have made my peace with it – I accept it. As if I took it by the hand and said “let’s see where our paths take us together…..” I accept my hours of paralysis, my treatment, the physical pain, as I still suffer from persistent cramps day and night. I had stopped comparing myself to others, and I no longer envied them. Then my second son was diagnosed with two bone tumours – new shock – after an operation the first tumour was found to be benign. I felt like I was on a swing: thoughts returned, then I found the state of consciousness again, and each time it lasted longer and longer.
In 2008 we moved to Japan; I could not find a yoga nidra teacher, but I started to learn Reiki and Mindfullness. I believe that at this time I was completely detached from my body. I tried to take care of it; it lived with the blood of others, and I was grateful (and not bothered) about that.
Your voice, Swamiji, and yoga nidra, have not only saved me, but have allowed me to be born again.
Then I started a new life: a life of complete consciousness. My illness is hardly perceptible; I hardly ever talk about it. I have two perpendicular lives – one horizontal and one active. I can walk almost normally, even with my cramps. When I have to lie down, I meditate and practice yoga nidra. When I’m up and about, I forget my cramps, and I rejoice in the moment. I feel so liberated that I almost thank my illness for having opened my eyes. I no longer think of the future, and I no longer look back at my life before. Forty-five minutes of yoga nidra with you gives me more energy than one of the three hour siestas I needed to take every afternoon. Over the years, I have heard you thousands of times, many times each day. I have found that by practicing yoga nidra before having a catheter implanted, I can hardly feel any pain. This is a wonderful preparation for plasma exchanges which can last several hours, as they become more and more difficult. I no longer dream – no more nightmares after the transfusions – I hardly think, or I choose my thoughts. I am no longer sick; only my body remains sick. I feel stronger than when I was healthy, not necessarily « happy » to be sick, but I feel so peaceful and serene. I have found the very tiny piece of gold we all have in ourselves. I feel indestructible and my gold is permanent. Illness makes you become lonely; I was alone facing death, suffering, pain and sadness even though I had a lot of support. We are lonely when illness hits us though we learn how to dip deeply inside of us, far very far away. We dig tunnels and caves inside our soul like miners, and we get out just like them so dirty, black, lost but with a little tiny piece of gold in our mind that we would like to share, we don’t want to keep it just for us, we didn’t do so much work for only our self, we forget about our self because we discovered that our self was not the one we thought.
When I look at Mt Fuji, this is the tiny piece of gold that I was talking about that I can see, ME. Contemplation, pure contemplation, the key for peace and wisdom. I had a lot of abilities in the past to recognize a shrub or a tree or a flower, I knew all their names because I loved gardening and it was passion for me. Now, even if I still know to name them I don’t need to identify or put a name when I look at them I just see them.
Regarding the phrase: “I think, therefore I am” which no longer has meaning for me. I would say now: “I stopped thinking, therefore I am”.
I worked very hard on my cramps, try to find the way to not feel them anymore and try to use them. With the yoga nidra, discovering pain is stuck energy and it is possible to absorb and relief this energy into the all body. If I used to do meditation to not feel the pain, that is a different approach; we can be able to conduct the bad energy (pain) through your body and transform it in good energy. If I still have the cramps, cannot sleep, etc... I enter very quickly in meditation when I wake up and I am able to see my body (like a Da Vinci drawing) from the top and now also able to locate the pain and act on it with my breath; it is like inhaling the pain. It is shorter than the duration of a cramp so the pain is going away quickly. During the surgery I can remain a witness; I watch the pain, so conscious that I understand exactly how pain works, how it takes over the mind, and the different paths it takes. Everything is clear to me now, whether it is emotions or ego or life or illness, or, of course, death. The most difficult and pernicious step is to overcome the resistance which we put up to suffering, to illness, to life and to death. It is essential to accept everything and to let go, to welcome this transformed life and to adapt to it. We must let the pain invade us to be able to respond to it, and to offer no resistance – to tame it.
During a deep yoga nidra relaxation, I can feel my body falling, the way you are falling from the balcony, sometimes I don’t breathe anymore and probably my heart stopped for a few seconds. I am like a dead body for a few seconds. After I stay in meditation and have such beautiful pictures, colors, faces appearing to me etc... I cannot move my body anymore for a long time with a kind of dead body.
Practicing so many times like that, I had plenty of time to meditate on emotion and pain. I experienced that emotions are not only the reaction of the physical body, but also the interpretation of them, and if with meditation we cannot control the reaction of the body, we certainly control the interpretation - then we can minimize the reaction of the body. It is what happens with the pain; in fact, if we think in advance that we are going to have pain we will have pain, and then if we feel the pain and let the mind be invaded by the pain, it will increase the pain; it is the same with emotions. For me, thoughts are resulting from emotions; thoughts are the sentiments, interpretations of the emotion by the mental and the ego. When we distance ourselves from our mental and our ego, there are no more interpretations/sentiments. In fact, there are, but we are not touched by them like we used to be in the past; we stay intact because we just look at them. We confuse sentiments and emotions; we think that sentiments are coming from the heart, but they are purely interpretations from the mind/mental/ego to an emotion coming from the heart. We develop these interpretations through the thoughts and then encourage, amplify and aggravate the emotions through them and increase their consequences. Then we think having sentiments is love but this is not. We THINK we have sentiments and sometimes let them take control of the mind, the ego, and even the heart if we allow them to grow. But maybe I am wrong. When we no longer identify with the ego, the body and the mind, we can see emotions clearly. Why? Because they are coming up, not from the body, not from the mind, not from the ego, they are coming from the being, our self, deep-self, and I think this is our HEART. Then the emotions are pure, so pure. And they are so powerful, so big, so unbelievable, so amazing that we can only cry and smile in the same time. Because these emotions are touching OUR SELF so strongly that nothing can be so beautiful. Here is coming up the real LOVE. When we enter deeply in meditation, body is dead, mind is dead, ego is dead, only pure emotion is coming up and provokes total PEACE, opens the real LOVE, as we are in mindfulness and this is exactly the same when you experience DEATH.
At the beginning, being sick is like being in front of the Himalayas, suffering all the tempests, clouds, rain and snow, austerity, but not able to see them. Then one day they just appear and we look at them all the time in total contemplation.
Now after years of yoga nidra, I am moved from the inside not from my muscles. Now there is nothing I would like to change, not even my illness, for it brought me to the path. When I wake up in the morning, I do not ask myself where I feel pain, I just ask myself how I feel inside and every day is a beautiful day.
No more pretentions of knowledge, the further I go, the more I lose this pretention of knowledge… The more I get empty, the more I feel full. Thoughts and knowledge are keeping us away from our real self.
Treatments are approximate; we never know how long they are going to be efficient, but they give us relief. Being sick is an art and illness is driving the dance; we just need to adapt our rhythm to it. I never think that anybody gives up during an illness. I just think we realize our boundary, borders, we learn how to adapt, finally we accept. I am not trying anymore to cure my illness. I do not want to suffer anymore by trying to reach a different state. I have no more hope. I am just happy where I am and as I am.
For two years now I have been working with an association for the homeless in Yokohama. We distribute food and try to encourage them to join the association which can help them. From my contact with them, there is one thing that I have learnt. We are not separated from other people – others are us. In other people, there is necessarily a part of us, something “good” or “bad”, fragile or a suffering which cannot pass and which makes them unpleasant, aggressive or unhappy. So they transport an open wound which infects those around them. I learnt this from watching them, through them. It is hard to imagine how similar to us they are, apart from the odor the filth and their despair. They resemble us with our weaknesses and fragilities, but inside the gold remains, intact, and if we get to glimpse this gold, these people seem to be our own reflection. It is an unbelievable observation. So we forget their appearance, their smell, as now we can only see the gold, the love they can still give and the appreciation – not for a bowl of soup, but for having been able to see through to the gold. And it is so important for them to understand through compassion that we are capable of seeing the gold. This all takes place in a glance, no need to speak the language. From this experience, I move on with even greater determination to share in my heart. This experience was important for me, and I shall continue. It is as though the more one gives, the more one receives, and I move on enhanced. Not by pride, that is behind me, but because I feel in perfect harmony with them, as if they were me without the good fortune that I have had. In perfect compassion with them.
The plan for me is to return to France next year. I think I am ready to work with very sick people in palliative centers, to help them to accept their illness and to die in peace.
Here is my testimony, Dear Swamiji, I feel sorry about my English. Sorry also because I haven’t been able to write a shortest one and it may be boring to read. Before you met me, you didn’t know that through Shilpa and through the Yoga Nidra, you saved me. You allowed me to meet you in Narita where you gave me a big part of your precious time. I was moved immensely when you spoke to my ear as your voice permitted me to survive during all these years.
I feel so grateful for the time I spent with you; the retreat has been tremendous. I promise you I will take care of my Mantra. I already memorized it totally and I will keep it as it is one of the best gift I ever received in my life.
With all my love, I wish you all the best.
Take care; I hope we will meet again very soon.