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Life-Changing Experiences of a Housewife/Physician
by Harriet Cooke © 2000 by Harriet Cooke[An early version of this paper was written for a course on exceptional human experiences Rhea White taught in the Summer Studies program at Portland State University in 1998. It was extensively revised for publication in Exceptional Human Experience, 2000, 16, 175-180.]
EHE AutobiographyChronology of Significant Dreams
As a child I had a recurring nightmare of a ballerina who was dancing in space. There was no ceiling or floor. There was only blackness surrounding her. As she extended her arm out gracefully, it left her body. The same thing happened as she gracefully extended her leg up. It, too, floated away. Piece by piece she dismembered. I awoke in terror after all of these dreams. I don’t remember telling anyone of this dream until I was an adult. I always loved dancing, but as a child I was not interested in ballet, either in watching it or dancing it. I took a few tap classes but stopped this because of uneasy feelings about the place where the dance classes were held and the family with whom we car pooled. I reconnected to dancing in high school after seeing The Loves of Isadora Duncan on television, and I began dancing in my living room to various types of music. I remember feeling most wonderful while dancing! In college I took dance classes. One fed the next, fed the next, until my frustrations with my limited ability led me to begin ballet classes as well. I loved it. I loved all dance. I became a part of the circle of women who took all the dance classes, and we organized ourselves into a dance company of sorts. We choreographed and performed. It was heaven. But my knees started complaining. I’d ice them after workouts and be so careful with my technique that teachers who didn’t know me commented on what wonderful technique I had. I worked so hard that one teacher told me that if he had to work half as hard as I did to become a dancer, he would never have done it. But it was nothing to me, because I loved it. My knees grew weaker and more painful as I danced. Finally, even walking was painful, and I realized that I would have to stop. This was my first experience of my heart breaking. A second dream that felt significant occurred when I was about 7-9 years old. I dreamed I knew what was needed for our country to be run successfully. I wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages that night on everything from legal issues to economics (a field that to this day I understand very little about). I was president of the USA in this dream. In my early teens, perhaps 14, I had a horrible nightmare. I don’t remember if it was recurrent, but it has never left me. I was a wall of a torture chamber of some kind. Everything was gray and cold and dark. I could feel the vibrations of all the screams of pain and terror, though I could not see anything. About a year and a half ago, I began wondering about this dream and if it was some sort of blockage for me. I attempted some hypnotherapy to retrieve it, but I was not able to leave my current reality state. Then one night I had a dream. I was in my home, though as in all my dreams, I am never in the same house, and I was readying my children for school and myself for work, when I began to melt back into that old dream of mine. I was going back. But I was too frightened. I had no control, and I was going back alone. My legs were melting, my body would not listen to me. I could hear my children in the background. I could feel myself thinking, "No! I can’t go back now. I have to get the kids off to school. I have to be at work. And I don’t want to go back alone!" I mustered up all the power that I could and tried to snap my fingers to wake myself up. I kept snapping my fingers. I awoke soon afterwards. It was morning, and I was just getting up. My heart was racing, and my fingernail was broken as if I had been snapping it in my sleep. I remember feeling terrified and panicked that entire day. A few months ago I had a strange dream. I was some sort of a medicine man or shaman. I was painted in wild face paints and wore feathers and was bare chested. A body was in front of me. It was unclear if it was my body or the body of another person, but it was in front of me and I remember (this is where it gets a little gross) putting my head into the stomach of this body and eating it. The odd thing was that as grotesque as this dream was, and as frightened as I am about blood and guts, I was not frightened by this dream at all. It had been years since I remembered my dreams or was even aware that I had been dreaming. Only in the last year and a half, since I began meditation, have I become, once again, aware of my dreams.
Exceptional Experiences Associated with Love and Marriage
Before my husband and I were married, we spent a year apart, when I came out to Oregon to do my internship and he stayed back in Miami to finish his residency. We are very different people, and the distance between us grew into a cavern of separateness. We decided to start dating other people. One night I went out to dinner with a man I had met swimming at the pool where I regularly did my laps (my physical therapy for my knees). When he came to my door to pick me up, I hardly recognized him, as I was familiar with seeing him in goggles and a cap and all wet. He was a tall and very handsome man, and his smile was warm and sincere. We had dinner, and we talked and we talked and we talked. I could never remember having had this much fun talking to a man in my life! It was quite wonderful. He took me home at around 11:30 and gave me a kiss goodnight. As I stepped into my little apartment and closed the door behind me, the telephone rang. It was Frank (now my husband) calling from Miami, where it was 2:30 in the morning. He had never called me in the middle of the night before. He called to tell me that he had just had a dream that a prince was taking me away from him.
Aura Vision After we had been married several years, one time I looked over at him while typing and noticed his aura (which I had just started being able to perceive on rare occasions). It began with just a diffuse seeing of light around his head, as all auras appear to me, but it quickly took on the circular shape of a halo above his head. This image lasted only seconds but was as real as any image I have ever seen. It was wild! And I have not seen it since on him or on anybody else.
Desolation and Nadir Experiences
I live in Portland Oregon, far from my family of birth, and so the burden of raising my own family falls squarely on my shoulders. My husband is a good father, but between his working and his hobbies, I am the one who has the responsibilities of the home: the grocery shopping, the cooking, the bill paying, organizing all the schools and child care and socializing activities for the kids, and tending to the religious/spiritual upbringing of our children. Until the events I am about to relate, I also worked outside the home as a half-time physician. As I have struggled with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia since I was about 20 years old, frequent low energy states make my life a bit difficult for me. Still, the joy of having my children kept me in good spirits and going fairly strongly until about my 40th birthday, by which time I was about ready to collapse. I had lost weight from my usual 120 pounds down to about 112, and was not able to put it back on. My hands trembled regularly, and my hair had become quite thin. The only part of me that glowed was the reflection of the light off my scalp. Though I liked my job fairly well, appreciating the opportunity to work with people on a one-to-one basis, I realized that what I loved was the patient contact rather than the allopathic content of my work. After 12 1/2 years of practice I was all too familiar with the limitations of my profession, and I was frustrated with my inability to help many of my patients. I was not at all certain what to do about any of this but decided that a leave of absence to take care of myself for a few months was the place to begin. My patients were most supportive, telling me that I needed to take this time for myself but to please come back. And so in January 1997 I began a 4 1/2-month sabbatical. My children were 10 and 8 at this time, and I enjoyed being a stay-home mom for the first time in our lives together. I exercised regularly, experimented in the kitchen, ate regularly, and managed to put on 5 of the 10 pounds I was aiming for. I volunteered even more than usual for my children’s schools and enjoyed accompanying their classes on field trips. I also read bits and pieces here and there about naturopathic therapies as well as resumed writing in my journal and taking a watercolor class. We planned a remodel for our house, having failed to find one we wanted to move to in the two years we had been looking off and on. We had a daughter and a son and could not imagine them sharing a room forever. The time flew by, and I was back at work in no time at all. It felt good to be back with patients, but the frenzy of my life resumed and was no different from before my leave of absence. I realized that there was little that I could do to prevent myself from spiraling back into the near-collapse state from which I had just rescued myself. I remember looking up to God one day and remarking that I had no idea what to do about my life. And went right on working. Working. Everything felt like work. Raising my children, my marriage (which was pretty shaky at this time), my profession, even my hobbies on those rare occasions that I took time for them. It all felt like work. It was all rushed. It was all interrupted. Then I found a house that I thought we would love, brought my husband out to look at it, and we made an offer the day we were leaving for our summer vacation. By the time we came home and I was able to look at the house again, I didn’t like it at all. What was happening to me? Why did I not know what I liked any longer? My husband continued to think that the move was a good idea, and as I couldn’t trust my changing moods and preferences, I went along with the purchase of the new house, which by then I couldn’t stand. My weight had dropped back down to its low by this time; my period was late; my grand father-in-law, Opa, had a stroke; and a home pregnancy test came back positive. The day we closed on the house, Opa died. It was my daughter’s birthday. Three days later I took an injection of methotrexate to terminate my pregnancy. It was a difficult decision, but one based on my current emotional and physical state of being, the uncertainty of my marriage, and the state of the world with its population that was rapidly exceeding what the earth could handle, and the feeling that I was more needed out there helping to do something about all the problems rather than raising another child. The day after my injection, while standing in a bakery buying a loaf of bread, a car crashed through the storefront window. I was pinned between a Pathfinder and the display case, which was pushed back through the wall of the bakery. Both my legs felt crushed, and my right leg felt decidedly broken as I tried to dislodge myself from the smoking vehicle. I moved my thigh and could tell that my foot dangled somehow from my leg in a no longer connected manner. By the time the paramedics arrived and were lifting me onto the stretcher, my husband had run down to the store and was by my side. I whispered to him, "I deserved it," and I meant it. The next two months I cried regularly, spiraled into depression, and sought the assistance of a therapist for the second time in my life. The first time I had seen someone was during my leave of absence, when I took myself to see a marriage counselor. My husband refused to go, saying that he didn’t need any counseling, but if I did, I should go. I went twice, but I felt like it was a waste of time, so I did not return. The therapist I worked with after my accident was a different one, and we connected. We focused on me and my needs, and I was encouraged to read a couple of books related to my frustrations with my work and the other issues I discussed above. Caroline Myss’s (1996) Anatomy of the Spirit was the first book I read, and this began my study into understanding the mind-body connection between health and illness. Other books that I read during this time were Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss (1988), Stalking Elijah by Roger Kamenetz (1997), Funny You Don’t Look Buddhist by Sylvia Boorstein and S. LeBell (1996), and The Wisdom of Healing by David Simon (1998). The latter book clearly indicated the benefit of meditation for healing, and as my bones were taking their time knitting back together, and emotionally and spiritually I was still a mess, I began my meditation practice 20 minutes twice daily, morning and night. I was off work for two months with my injuries, during which time my husband moved us into the new house. The whole moving process felt completely disorienting as did this entire time of my life. Returning to my work was the first thing that felt stabilizing to me. I was still on crutches at that time, and would still have my fiberglass cast on for another month, and my aiër cast for three more months after that. I continued to read, I continued to meditate, and I continued to have marriage problems. Work was at least exciting, as I could see the truths that Dr. Myss described in her book reflected in the lives and illnesses of my patients. I counseled my patients in new ways, based on my readings, and both my patients and I found this to be a rewarding experience. One elderly black gentleman said plainly, "It feels so good to have my doctor talking about God." My depression began to lift after I began meditating, but I continued to work with my therapist. Though I was beginning to feel like myself again, I would periodically have days when sadness, grief, and loneliness were the emotions that I lived in. These days did not linger, but I felt clueless as to what brought them on, and they were so negative that on these days I truly cared not whether I lived or died. I asked my therapist if perhaps I could try some hypnotherapy to get at the root of these spells. He obliged, and after talking to me about different types of hypnotherapy, we decided to try the use of ideomotor techniques. During my next session we were able to get my left thumb to move automatically in response to a Yes identity, and my right thumb to move in response to No. These were subtle movements, but clearly unwilled on my part and quite amazing to me. My therapist then instructed me how I could enter a light trance state, ask questions for which I wanted guidance, and wait for yes and no answers to come by way of the movements of my thumbs. I played with this new skill before my meditations. It seemed to work, but it was a very slow process of waiting for very slight movements.
Unitive Experience: My Most Important EHE
After ten years of marriage, with the exception of our children, my husband and I seemed to have little in common. Additionally, communication had been challenging from the beginning. I am one who needs to talk and who needs some validation and encouragement to help me express my feelings. My husband, on the other hand, does not talk about feelings, nor was he able to help me feel comfortable expressing my feelings, nor did I feel emotionally supported when I did. We got along quite well in this regard only because I am generally not a very emotional person. However, following my abortion and the move, this changed dramatically, and the more I seemed to need emotionally, the more distant Frank became from me. We took the children to the coast for a Spring break weekend. This was about three months after I had begun meditating. On the second night we were there, I talked to Frank about the problems I was having with our relationship. This turned into a gut-wrenching argument, and I was convinced there was no alternative but for me to leave my marriage. Sobbing uncontrollably, I fled to my room. Tears poured forth until, tired of crying, tired of all the sadness and loneliness that I experienced in my marriage, tired of having to try so hard all the time, tired of it all, I shifted my focus to my breathing and attempted to calm myself by meditating. Focusing on my breath, I let go of all the rest. And it was in this moment of wanting nothing, seeing no way out of my misery, that I was able to let go of everything and slip into a state of consciousness that I had never experienced before—never even knew existed. For though I had read of such things, it had never made any sense until that moment when I experienced it. Rumi described this experience as the drop of water melting into the sea, and this is as descriptive as one can be for such a sensation: individual consciousness melting into a sea of connected consciousness that is all that is and all that ever was and will be. I became conscious of my inherent and absolute connectedness with everything, and at the same time, I was aware of the most profound love imaginable. I breathed in an ocean of love and was filled with compassion and understanding for myself, my husband, and the entire world. I understood that God was the sea of connected consciousness, of awareness present in all things at all times, and was all things. And the essence of that connected consciousness was Unconditional Love. My ego dissolved, and from the experience of being one with everything and everyone, I understood that one purpose of the ego is to grow in awareness of all things and all feelings and all states of being so that we can truly know ourselves as the everythingness that we truly are—the everythingness that in its totality is pure Love. But my ego was not exactly gone. It was present and experiencing this experience. And it began asking questions of the Universe, of God, and my thumbs would twitch instantaneously with an answer. Sometimes. though, I was just filled with answers, my thumbs being superfluous I don’t have any idea how long I remained in this state, but at some time I slipped into bed for the night. I was at peace with everything and everybody. No longer did I feel the chasm between my husband and myself. The following day I awoke with great energy and with peace of mind. I didn’t share my experience with anybody; the thought never crossed my mind. I simply enjoyed being with my family and my friends. I enjoyed our last day at the beach. I drew swirling designs in the sand. I was content. I laughed with our children and with children I met that day I did not know. I flew my kite and shared it with my friends. I breathed deep and enjoyed being alive more than I had ever remembered. During the ride home, though I was no longer in the state of unity consciousness that I had been in the night before, I was quite aware that something was radically different inside me. A quiet joy filled me. I had a heightened awareness of my surroundings and felt at peace with myself and my life. I felt a deep love for my husband and decided that I wanted to renew our vows or have some sort of remarriage ceremony. And the quiet joy grew. Answers filled me without using my thumbs. Over the next few days, my energy grew to sensations I had only known while on high doses of prednisone for ITP ten years before. But that was a pressured and unsettled energy, whereas this energy was joyous and exuberant. I needed only four hours of sleep for the first two nights but then settled into my usual eight hours. My emotions flowed freely, unfettered by the "shoulds" of society. I laughed like I hadn’t laughed in years. Puns flowed from my mind with great regularity. Compassion and love were present at all times, though anger erupted just as freely as my laughter. Nothing was held back. Nor was anything held onto. I was filled with a love and a dramatic decrease in the fearful-mindedness that is my more usual state of mind. Giving became as much a part of me as breathing. If it was asked for, it was given—as long as I had it. Bills were still paid, and reality was attended to, but there was a flow to my life that was exhilarating. I had a little trouble reading during the most joyous times but was quite able to read and concentrate during other moments. I wrote some interesting thoughts and poems in my journal, which unfortunately I lost. Prior to losing my book of poetry, I decided I would publish it and call it The Poetry of Healing. The day after I lost it a radio station I was listening to spoke about a new book that had just been published called The Poetry of Healing. I let it go. Frustrations and disappointments left quickly as I was continually lifted up by feelings of contentment and peace. These feelings, I believe, were the consequence of knowing that I mattered, knowing I was loved, and feeling absolutely connected to the source of all life. I was joyous, and I lived a smile as I went out into the world and to my work. Work, in fact, was quite fun, and the spiritual etiologies of my patients’ illnesses were more clearly evident to me than ever before. In this state of mind I was so free-flowing that the deeper conversations I had been having with some of my established patients were shared with patients that were new to me. A number of them were offended by my take on their illnesses. They wanted pills, and even when they were given them, found my counseling offensive. It was easy enough to reign in my counseling, as I realized my own error quite early on. I needed to always come from where the patients were coming from, I reminded myself. I was also reminded of an old Jewish folk saying, "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak!" Overall, I enjoyed my work immensely during this time, and after making slight adjustments, I had no further difficulties. In fact, I had wonderful connections with patients who were openly grateful for what I had to offer. The few complaints there were, however, reached my boss, who scheduled a meeting with me to discuss what was going on. It was there that I shared the experience that I was having. I was so high by this time, and existing in Love and not Fear, that I had no hesitations. I knew whatever happened would happen for my ultimate benefit. I had nothing to be afraid of. Only the divine purpose behind everything and honesty mattered. I wrote copiously during this time, often in poetry. I also wrote about the information that I was feeling and that I was flooded with at times during these days. I continued to use my thumbs to talk with the Universe, but I also used them for practical things. I was quite delighted by the way they could lead me to parking places and to items that my daughter and I needed at the mall. They even led me to a dress that I still hope to wear some day for a ceremony in which my husband and I renew our vows. Whether that will ever come to pass, who knows, but the dress I was led to was a purple gown with sequins that was on sale for $15.00 (down from over $
I also resumed vivid and memorable dreaming during this time. One of my dreams was of a good friend back in Florida whom I have known since the second grade. In my dream, I was with her in a hospital recovery room, where she was recovering from having had a hysterectomy for a cancer. I asked her how she knew she had cancer and she told me her mother had commented on her having lost weight. She reassured me that the doctor had removed all of the cancer and that she would be all right. This dream was so life-like that I called my friend in the morning and inquired about her weight and whether she was up to date with her pap smears and the like. She was up to date on all that and had in fact put on a few pounds recently. Two months later, however, she had a breast lump removed that was cancerous.
New Knowings and Understandings
Sometime over the approximately two weeks that I remained in the state of altered consciousness, certain wonderful awarenesses filled me. Of most significance to me was the reality that we, the planet and its inhabitants, are indeed nearing a messianic age. It will be a time when knowledge of the reality of who and what we really are becomes so prevalent in our society that the healing of our planet and peace will be our way of life. This felt like it would occur within our lifetime, perhaps within the next 12-15 years. Another understanding that I was filled with was the power of human thought to create without using our hands. This was a bit confusing, as the need for human hands to manifest change on this planet is quite clearly a reality of life on earth. I made sense of this later as I conceived of the full mind of humans creating the body of man and the earthly plane of existence on which physical manifestation could take place by the power of our minds. These ideas were later validated by the last half of Autobiography of a Yogi by Swami Yogananda (1981), which I read months later. And yet, I have since become aware of many times when things that I desire to happen do so through the hands of others. So I’m not quite sure how one’s mind and the hands of others are connected. Last was the realization that I personally needed to do nothing but what I am compelled passionately to do, in order for this change to come about. It would happen. Period. And I was responsible only for doing that which I was passionately drawn to do. What was important was for me to simply be the kind of person that I desired the world to be filled with and to love that which I did and those with whom my life was filled. For the most part this is easy, as much of this is who I am. Still, however, I have my closets of judgment and criticism that need their corners to be cleaned out. The heightened state of my glorious altered consciousness began to dwindle after a couple of weeks. Shortly after that my boss instructed me that I was not to return to work until after I was evaluated by a psychiatrist of her choosing, and I returned to my more usual state of consciousness. Whether it was the reality of my vulnerability that contributed to the end of this wonderful period of time I don’t know. My readings on this subject have alluded to the natural cycling of such heightened states and that they settle down on their own as a matter of course. What never left me was a new confidence in the ways of God and the path through which each of our lives uniquely unfolds. It includes the knowledge that everything that happens does so for the purpose of our ongoing spiritual evolution and maintaining us on the path of our life that we are meant to be on. When it is time to change, change will happen. If we cannot manifest it internally, it will be encouraged through events in our lives that feel out of our control. We cannot stop our growth. It was this realization that carried me through the next 9 1/2 months of my life when my medical license was suspended and I was given the diagnosis of being bipolar and having had a manic episode. Contrary opinions by my therapist and a psychiatrist that I chose to evaluate me went unheeded by the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners (OBME). Even the results of extensive psychological testing that I underwent at the recommendation of my psychiatrist, which uncovered no evidence of mental illness, were ignored. I was both surprised by the way the Board strung me along for so long and briefly angered at each decision they made that kept me from my practice. But as time went on, I came to see this as a message for me to look carefully at my returning to work. My patients were being cared for without me. In all this time I was driven to read only about spirituality and healing, about consciousness, about how one can live one’s life in a way to remain healthy. My allopathic journals gathered dust, as they always seemed to do. I began to see that it was time for me to turn onto a different path, though I did not quite know what path that would be or where it would take me. I consciously turned my life over to God and asked for guidance. I met with my boss, who was holding my old job for me until my license was released from the OBME. She was not interested in my pursuing my belief in and passion for mind-body medicine through her county health department. A week later, I sent in my resignation. It had been such an ideal job. Half time. Home in the afternoons for my kids. No hospital call. On call only twice a year for the triage nurse by phone. A good salary. I let it go for God only knows what.
Renewal of Purpose and a New Way of Life
And that is where I am, believing there is a unique purpose for my life and that I am on the path of that purpose without knowing just what it is. I am writing my story. I am enjoying being a mom and having time for my friends. I accepted the position of PTA co-president for my daughter’s middle school next year. They were desperate. I’d only been to one PTA meeting last year and my co-president didn’t go to any, but we have dreams and visions for a kinder and more supportive and esteem-building community. I still commune with my thumbs, though the answers these days often seem incongruous with truth. The parking places manifest better when I don’t use my thumbs. My thumbs just seem to lead me around in circles. Still, I ask, and they twitch. Sometimes they twitch ambivalently. A yes, then a no, then a yes, then a no. But when I am nostalgic for my old life and its certainties that were never really certainties at all, my thumbs are constant in their twitching that stepping off my old path was the right thing for me to do. Most importantly, I have come to understand this whole process differently over time, and what at one time might seem to have steered me in the wrong direction later could be understood to have done quite the opposite. I do, however, believe that it is time for me to develop my intuition beyond the wiggling of my thumbs. I believe that that is also the reason that the answers I get seem off the wall at times, and the parking spaces don’t materialize quite as spontaneously as they used to. I read and I study all kinds of things about God. I believe it is not so much what I do with my life that matters at this point, but how I go about living it. I am practicing patience. I am practicing honesty. I am practicing courage. I am practicing replacing judgment with understanding. I am practicing kindness and gratitude. I am practicing living in the moment. I look for the beauty in my surroundings. I look for the things that close my heart and work to understand what I need to do to open it back up again. I still meditate a little almost every day, and I continue to work at honoring my feelings and speaking up for myself. I try to leave breathing space so that I can let my days unfold themselves, reminding myself to value this quieter time of my path and be grateful for it all.
ReferencesBoorstein, S., & LeBell, S. (1996). Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist. San Francisco: Harper/SanFrancisco.
Kamenetz, R. (1997). Stalking Elijah: Adventures With Today’s Jewish Mystical Masters. New York: Harper/SanFrancisco
Myss, C. (1996). Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Simon, D.C. (1998). The Wisdom of Healing. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Weiss, B. (1988). Many Lives, Many Masters. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Yogananda, P. (1981). Autobiography of a Yogi (12th ed.). Los Angeles: Self-Realization.
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