Chapter Seventeen: Turning On The Light
(1998 ~ 27 years)
‘Recognise what is before your eyes, and what is hidden will be revealed to you’.
~ THE GOSPEL OF THOMAS
Jia told me before Christmas that he and Liz were having a break. He sought my company during part of this period, hoping to find some answers, promising their problems had nothing to do with me as they had been having troubles for some time over the last few years of their eight year marriage—and they’d been sweethearts since their teens. I’d known Jia since I was 15 when visiting the Palmer’s in Melbourne, so he felt like family to me. Even still I couldn’t believe he wanted to do what my actual family could not and that was help me during the summer heat, knowing I’d need it. His inclination to assist me was heightened because Jia’s mum suffered from MS. Due to an understanding broadened by something so close to home, he said he felt compelled to help me
I couldn’t deny this! To go without meant sitting out the days at home since Mum was often at work. This summer was highlighting my difficulties as never before… Like a commander demanding rest, MS would force me to sit even after using small amounts of energy performing necessities. Shocked by this age-like lack of physical stamina, my lengthy rest seat was in front of a fan circulating hot air that quickly heated our small fi-bro home. Driving to escape was out of bounds, because the heat made driving dangerous as my foot would often slip off the accelerator, and my braking strength wasn’t consistent. Plus, our car was not air-conditioned.
Whether inside or outside the house my condition grew worse throughout these days. I would sit on the veranda for fresh air, because we closed the windows to keep our cats inside the house—off the busy road, which made the house like an inferno. Mum hated leaving. Alternate to existing this way, I’d stay at Louise’s air-conditioned home, but would overtire with my nieces and from too much cleaning. Especially when Louise was out, I’d voluntarily readopt my old cleaning habit.
Therefore, Jia’s suggestion of escaping to the mountains was heaven to me! Camping in temperate conditions was an opportunity I couldn’t ignore, for the sake of my health. I weighed up the consequences of what this decision could and probably would bring from my Melbourne family. Would I really lose them if I put myself first? They hadn’t made contact with me when or since my MS diagnosis, so I felt they didn’t care about me at all. This feeling had existed for sometime: the family conference call in Perth only enhanced it when they didn’t take the time to say hello.
It was easier to see this as rejection, which somehow freed me to embrace the care Jia offered, even if it meant losing them, who didn’t seem to be in my life to lose! So, I thought, so be it. I told myself there was everything to gain from a wonderful friend like Jia coming. The purpose of our time was pure and elevated. Feeling protected by that, I allowed the process to unfold, hoping everything really did happen for a reason. I felt blessed help was coming!
After Jia drove 3500 kilometres across Australia from Perth to Sydney, (a drive he was due to take because he was moving back to Melbourne), we packed up and took half a day driving down to the Snowy Mountains. As we drove further from Sydney’s thick energy weighing me down, I couldn’t believe my luck and inwardly thanked Liz for this time. Jia and I had a natural affinity and we talked enthusiastically about spirituality and healthy living. Jia’s pure living inclination even encouraged me to give up cigarettes, finally.
Once on the Snowy Mountains accustomed to being covered with snow in winter—the same ones on which I skied (albeit poorly) when I was young—we cooked on fires and camped under the stars in two locations for two nights… but not without repercussions.
It was Jia’s birthday on the third day and we went into Jindabyne to call his Mum who he’d told not to lie about his whereabouts—that’s how innocent our mission seemed to us… but not so innocent that we told Liz upfront knowing she’d be upset. So, once she heard that Jia was with me, and thinking the worst, the Palmers had a round table meeting in outrage, deciding to banish me from the family forever. Without knowing this, we also assumed the worst from the Palmers and knew that Jia needed to return to Melbourne immediately, so we packed up the next morning and left, abruptly ending our journey.
Initially I was down because my health had just started improving. The mountain air did me wonders! Those selfish thoughts made me feel bad, especially now everything was out in the open! The fact we had been camping made it worse—camping having been one of Liz’s and Jia’s favourite activities. We went for the dry, clean mountain air, to give my body a chance to escape Sydney’s dripping humidity. Our only solace was that she truly didn’t know my situation, and we hadn’t wilfully hurt her.
Back in Sydney, saying goodbye to Jia was incredibly sad because of the heartache caused. We had moved closer and now didn’t know if we’d ever see each other again. Saying goodbye was heart-wrenching. Jia was returning to his initial plans to take time to himself, his confusion only increased by visiting me. His caring wishes had backfired, and my willingness to receive had placed me a treacherous light… ‘As the compass always points north, a man’s finger will always point at the woman to blame’.
I FELT MISERABLE on my twenty-seventh birthday. Julie and her boyfriend, Glenn put on a BBQ at Louise’s and Ian’s, and friends came. Despite trying to be happy, I wasn’t, my walking nearly ceased in the stifling heat and I realised for the first time that I couldn’t get up from my seat and circulate around the table to talk to all my friends like I used to, or have spontaneous carefree, happy jiggles whenever and wherever I wished. My hidden sadness would have affected those present. My only hope was an escape to meditate in the Blue Mountains. Not knowing when, where, or how, the only thing certain was I desperately needed meditative respite!
Larry, my ex-colleague from State Super, unknowingly responded to my pleas. He rang the next afternoon to say hello, and give me an update on his daughter with MS. I told him mine was worsening, and that everything else was getting out of control as well. Emphasising, ‘I just need to go to the mountains to meditate’. He said his other daughter did vipassana meditation in the Blue Mountains, and was in retreat as we spoke! I loved the sound of that and grew very excited when waiting for him to call back with the number of the centre. After Larry rang, I called the centre and advised them of my condition. On fulfilling all necessary enrolment procedures, they gave me approval, and I was off to the mountains two weeks later. Prayers answered!
At this time, a family issue rose in my immediate family about our living situation that had me at the centre, due to my strong but reluctant need to speak up when necessary, making me look like the vindicator, as words were inevitably turned against me. The outcome was positive, but uncovered a problem that had brewed within me for a long time… an issue of respect and silencing my voice on matters I needed to make a stand about, especially concerning my own wellbeing and living circumstances because what Julie and Glenn had suggested involved Mum and me living in what Mum and I considered unsatisfactory conditions for a short but indefinite time on buying a three-storey house! Before I left for the retreat, we briefly spoke about this on the phone, saying we would discuss it on my return. A discussion never needed!
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Sharee came along to help Mum on the trip to vipassana, as Mum feared driving the unfamiliar return route. The temperature increased as we drove west, climbing higher when we took a premature turn through Penrith. We were meant to do this as I saw Penrith Nepean Hospital for the first time—the hospital where I was born. As we drove by, I called out the window, ‘I’m about to be reborn’. I had no idea just how much!
My vision of a sanctuary seemed shattered when we arrived at the meditation grounds. The set up suited the bushland, but I needed to take only a few steps down the gravel path to anticipate what I was in for. I held tightly onto Mum and Sharee’s forearms and lifted, slid, and dragged my legs along, with my head tilted in the air, and gravel flying. On reaching solid ground we were further disheartened to discover the girl’s section was not the dining room immediately before us, but through to the other side of the large building.
Finally, we reached the female’s room, where the heat became even worse for me without the big entrance doorways as in the male’s room, and with the sun belting through large, closed windows. Heat-hampered messages from my brain to hand made it near impossible to write final enrolment details. Sharee took over my pen, while Mum got refreshments and spoke with the woman in charge, named Yonit. Yonit was the manager of this particular course, assigned care duties for the female students. Reassuring to say the least!
After registration, she took us to my room; a special needs room designated for me with shower and toilet to make life easier when in the room, but its location was another dilemma. We followed Yonit, and negotiated our steps to the open terrace, down a ramp, across a footbridge, up a path, and along another dirt track. After many stumbles, I fell! My legs would not lift or budge any further, causing the fall. Trying to swallow tears, I looked up at Mum thinking, I can’t stay here! By this time, another woman named Pat was also directing us, and I looked towards her expecting she would affirm this; instead, she encouraged me, ‘It’s just up here, you’ve nearly made it!’ They were gracious words, but on seeing where they pointed—up a dirt hill another 50 yards away, I just wanted to stay down and die. Somehow, my body made it up there and into the room, which was wisely the first one.
Mum set about attempting to make the empty room homely and manageable for me. All the while, the three of us secretly wondered how I was ever to manage in such a place. The room was great, but the distance to the food hall was greater—approximately 150 metres—worsened by uneven landscape to tackle in between. Even so, I was mainly concerned about the closeness of the meditation hall, because more than ever and more than food, I needed to sit with eyes closed, body still, in effort to find help for my failing body. A desperate predicament!
Once set, Mum and Sharee had to leave for the long drive home. Saying goodbye was very, very difficult and worse for Mum. We all were in tears… frightened ones. Was it humanly possible to remain at the retreat in my present condition? It felt like I was in a mental home for eleven days, except my situation was worse. More than ever, I was experiencing the drawback of being physically impaired, and felt stuck, confined! Although I was free to move about, the food hall seemed out of question to me. My only hope lay in the nearness of the meditation hall; and wherever it was, there was an open, uneven slope to navigate before finding it.
We cried and cried. Mum asked if I wanted to go home. But I was here for a good reason, and needed to trust the process. Trudging back to the car seemed more impossible than staying at that moment, as well. Fatigue enhanced all my fears. I felt utterly overwhelmed after such exertion in the heat of the day! Eleven days, ten nights, seemed such a long time…!
We moved outside the room to say goodbye. After finally dragging ourselves away from each other, we waved until out of sight. Then the aloneness started seeping in. I went and laid on my bed to wallow in woe.
Then suddenly, Sharee stood in the doorway with my forgotten water bottle in her hands, happily interrupting this state. She was a vision of mercy and the last thing I expected… We cuddled, and she said repeatedly, ‘You’re so very brave, Suzie Q, so brave!’ I went out again to wave her off, and this time my re-entry into the room didn’t seem so bad …
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Throughout the next 21 pages of this chapter:
Experience liberation at vipassana on every level. Wishing the world May All Beings Be Happy.
One month later, return to another ten-day meditation retreat.
And, three days following attend another retreat.
‘Standing in the Sunshine’ and alternative treatments.
Readings: children on a large scale and, ‘you’re going to write girl, oh yes you are, you’re going to write.’
Move back to the Central Coast ~ childhood homeland.
Drive myself around on healing adventures.
Receive news from Cory that Liz is in love… and he tells me that he was also with Liz a few times before I visited Liz and Jia in Perth. News that makes me so happy, confirming, ‘Nothing happens on the outside that hasn’t already happened on the inside’.
Begin performing AGNIHOTRA—‘The Ancient Science of Healing’, a technique practised in the Vedic times.
Visit Fire Temple ~ Homa (fire) farm in the Hunter Valley—mantras and full-moon, sunrise and sunset fires.
Read Autobiography of a Yogi ~ seek further spiritual insight.