I spent Halloween night in the ER. On a metal cot in a room constructed of retractable curtains amidst the casualties of Halloween excess, I lay breathing waiting for a diagnosis of the intense abdominal pain and febrile seizures I was experiencing. Staring up at the harsh fluorescent lights I remembered a poem I love by David Whyte called The House of Belonging:

I awoke
this morning
in the gold light
turning this way
and that

The image of bright light is a common one in spirituality. It’s especially prevalent in the Zen koans I have been studying as of late. Summarized by the great Zen poet Linji who wrote, “have trust in the light that is always working inside you,” light is used as a metaphor for our inner okayness. But light can also be a reminder of our connectedness, our common life experiences — a reminder that we all share the same light regardless of our external differences.

Laying in the hospital I reminded myself of that light. Keeping a conscious hold on my innate wellness and breathing steadily so as to not slip too far into the sickness that bled through the curtain walls, I listened to the scared mom lecturing her daughter’s friends about their excessive drinking as her daughter cried and loudly vomited on the hospital floor. I had been that parent once or twice in my life; and I’d been that drunk young person too. Their goings on were annoying, but the light reminded me that their lives were mine, and mine was theirs. I overheard the story of the homeless man across the way who police had found unconscious after an overdose on a downtown corner. His panicked screams pulled me out of my conscious breathing each time he awoke from his drug-induced slumber, unsure of where he was. I had been that man too. Never homeless or overdosed, but lost in a haze of life, not quite sure of who I was, or how I’d gotten here — that sensation I knew all too well. I found the light in the eyes of the emergency room staff, clinging to threads of compassion while dealing with the impossible and often incurable pain that surrounded them. And, perhaps most strongly, I felt the light from the loving touch of my wife who held the hand of her husband, masking her fear behind the medical knowledge she’d dedicated her life to.

Laying there, surrounded by it all, I wondered if all the superlatives I’d heard about the light and its “luminous and effervescent” nature had missed the point. It certainly didn’t feel like any of that encompassed this moment. This light was gritty and real and full of all the dark matter of life. And yet I felt the light nonetheless. Like the moon in the dark night sky, this light was inseparable from the dark it illuminated. Its lines weren’t crisp or clean, it wasn’t clear where the darkness ended and the light began. But it was there. There in the puke on the emergency room floor, there was the light.

thinking for
a moment
it was one
day
like any other.

But
the veil had gone
from my
darkened heart
and
I thought

it must have been the quiet
candlelight
that filled my room,

it must have been
the first
easy rhythm
with which I breathed
myself to sleep,

it must have been
the prayer I said
speaking to the otherness
of the night.

And
I thought
this is the good day
you could
meet your love,

this is the black day
someone close
to you could die.

My day had begun like most. I woke up early to meditate and stretch before drinking some Chinese herbal tea and going for a walk with my wife and son. Those walks together, surrounded by so much love, I’m always reminded of how lucky I am. The air of the redwoods is the air of gratitude. It’s never lost on me how much my life has changed. How just a few years ago I’d felt so heavy, so lost … trapped under the veil of aloneness in a world I wasn’t sure I belonged to, with no visible way out. Yet, here I was.

The last few weeks had been hard on my circle of friends though: a death, a suicide in the family of another, a couple of health scares, a painful divorce, an old friend’s aunt had been kidnapped in Mexico, a couple of friends in financial trouble had needed loans. And they had all called me. Which I hoped they would. And which I hope they will… always call … as long as I can be of help. But it was heavy in my heart nonetheless. I walked a bit slower carrying the sadness of my friends.

When I got home, I felt the first pain. It didn’t feel like much, perhaps a strain from the walk, or maybe I just needed to stretch more. Mostly I was tired, so I went upstairs to take a nap and sleep it all off. When I woke up it was worse. I limped downstairs and asked my wife to do some checking. Both of us thought it was just a passing thing. Then the naseau, vomiting, febrile seizures, and the ever-increasing pain in my right abdomen. “It might be appendicitis,” my wife said. “It can’t be,” I thought. “I don’t get sick.” But I was, and when the symptoms didn’t let up, my wife told me it was time to go.

This is the day
you realize
how easily the thread
is broken
between this world
and the next

After several hours lying on my back in the ER breathing, surrounded by the dark light of the real-world on Halloween night, the diagnosis came back. My appendix was infected. A stone had blocked its flow and stagnation had turned septic. Surgery was set for the following morning.

I fell asleep while my wife rubbed my back. When I woke up a few hours later I remembered my mom and her friends praying over each other when ill, sending white light to surround their bodies and make them well. I wondered if I should do the same. But it didn’t feel quite real. I just breathed, in and out. I wasn’t really scared. I’ve been scared by far less in my life, yet here I was oddly at peace. I breathed some more and I realized that this is what I practice for. Not just for bringing me peace on lazy Sunday afternoon strolls in the forest, but to see the light when it’s not so bright. Over and over I’ve written and counseled my friends that our practice isn’t to control our lives, but to shape our response to it. “So here I am,” I thought. “This is my practice.” I didn’t have to think magic thoughts, I just had to breathe. I didn’t have to distract myself from the pain, I just had to accept the moment.

and I found myself
sitting up
in the quiet pathway
of light,

the tawny
close grained cedar
burning round
me like fire
and all the angels of this housely
heaven ascending
through the first
roof of light
the sun has made.

After surgery and a couple of hours of rest, I began plotting my escape. “Can we get you anything?” the nurse asked. “I’d like to go home and heal,” I replied. “Well,” she replied with a smile. “You’d have to be up and walking and eating and … passing gas … before the surgeon comes to check on you tonight.” So that’s what I did. I started drinking the green juice and Chinese herbal tea my son had brought from home. Then I got up and walked, and each time I passed the nurse in the hallway I’d smile and tell her I’d just passed gas.

By the time the surgeon arrived the staff was convinced that their meditating, green juice guzzling, gassy patient was ready to go. The surgeon agreed. And 24 hours after arriving at the ER I was on my way home.

When we arrived home I lay for a while, alone, looking out the bedroom window at the stars.

This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I ask
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.

This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.

There is no house
like the house of belonging.

“This too is my life,” I thought. It has taken me so long to learn to love it all. Perhaps, I never quite will. But I do know I belong. For the first time I want to be here. I want to live this life, the one I have. I want to feel it all … even appendicitis on Halloween night. There is light. There is dark. I’m learning that I belong to it all. And so do you.

This too is our life.

This is our house of belonging.

Big hugs of love,

Jason

  1. wendy st. john-devereaux says:

    I am glad that you are ok, and will be sending you healing and light
    this was such a beautiful posting

    peace and love always xxoo
    wendy

  2. Carol Watercutter says:

    May you have a speedy recovery. Sending healing light, prayers, & love. Always love your postings! I hadn’t seen one here on my I-pad for quite awhile. After reading different posts of yours, I decided to start meditating & have been now for almost a year. I meditate with a small group on Sunday mornings, and alone through the week. I do Sahaj Marg Sadhana Meditation. Go into the light in my heart.
    A quote I love I will share with you. “It’s the growth within that matters. For it is the riches of the souls that gives true joy and cannot be robbed away”. Anon.

  3. Thank you Jason for sharing a part of your life. As I was reading, I felt like I was there with you, feeling what you were going through. I’m so very glad that you’re okay and back home. Your article was powerful for me and touched me in a way that I can’t really articulate…it’s a very comforting feeling…

  4. Despite the fact that you had a terrible experience this is a Beautiful Story! I could hardly breathe as I read this story. It came to me at a time that I needed inspiration and encouragement. I wish you blessings, love and light and Keep Writing!

  5. There is nothing better than after any hospital experience, you go home and can put your head on your pillow in your own bed. As a retired Critical Care nurse who unfortunately had serious health issues & cancer when much younger, do know the sense of really even appreciating being able to go and open your own fridge and having access to food or fluids whenever you wish. In hospital, so much is out of your control. Clothes are gone (a big part of our identity), everything is foreign including the doctors and nurses, vulnerable to the other patients noise, as you described. You have to cooperate even though the feeling is, “I want to go home.” Maybe Jason, your appendicitis was your mind-body connection letting others know they were leaning on you too much without your being able to tell them so. With the death, suicide, divorce, need for support even financial, your body told you something about leaving your life just for a little while. Glad you are recovering well. Glad you gained even more insightfulness about the joys of your life. Be well. Hugs.

  6. Brian Victor Hernandez says:

    Hello my brother, thank you for sharing your story, and for all the wonderful things that you do. I trust and hope you are on the path to recovery. Such a reminder of the temporary nature of stay. Truly no greater feeling that we have accomplished to the best of our ability, what we have come here to accomplish. To love, to teach, to discover, to perfect and to share our life purpose (Dharma) with the world. Keep smiling, keep inspiring, keep teaching. Hugs, Much Love and Healing. 🙏💜☺️

  7. Oh Jason, so glad you are alright and I am wrapping you in love and healing thoughts. A beautiful, thoughtful post and I am so grateful for you. David Whyte’s poetry is special. <3 Xxx big hugs Xx

    • Thank you Jane. David is wonderful isn’t he? I once spent an afternoon walking with him through San Francisco practicing the art of intimacy with the world. Some day I’ll write about that. Big hugs – Jason

  8. Saludos Jason. “this is where I want to love all the thingsit has taken me so long to learn to love” stopped me in my tracks. As you well know, we are moving always moving, I’m starting to find that standing still is bringing me more peace than the chase ever did. Love this post and hope you’re feeling better.

  9. Jason! I’m so glad that you’re okay! Wow! And you still amaze me! You are so deep! And you see things that others don’t, and relay it so well! AMAZING! And so true. I find that I’m learning to belong to it all as well…..even the negative work environment that I’m in. I’m so glad that you are feeling better. Sending warm thoughts to you! Take care:)

  10. Light is a metaphor for halo around the head signifying the presence of the holy ghost literally,don’t take it lightly.seek it.

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