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Elizabeth Reninger

Life In The Real World

By February 13, 2013

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Being in the pause -- I become infinite!
It separates two worlds. I leave the limited world
And enter Boundlessness, through total melting;
The whole being is calm -- a constant sparkle.

~ Ilie Cioara

I recently had an appointment with an ENT M.D. -- a physician specializing in ear, nose and throat disorders. This in a long series of attempts to resolve a mild but persistent vertigo: a rocking/swaying sensation which emerged a number of months ago, in the aftermath of some rather intense kriyas (spontaneous physical movements) following a deep yoga asana practice.  Having moved through the stages of (1) initial concern, and (2) taking it as an interesting challenge, I'm now well into feeling just mostly frustrated, bored and annoyed with the situation, with glimpses, every now and again, of humor-infused acceptance of this rather strange -- and strangely persistent -- condition.

So anyway -- I booked a session with this ENT-doc who, according to his bio, had thirty years of experience, and was also an amateur painter and sculptor, in his spare time. The latter made it likely, I reasoned, that his perceptual capacities (the visual ones, at least) would be well-honed, and the former that, if indeed my symptoms were ear-related, that he would be able to offer a diagnosis and propose an effective treatment. This was the plan .....

On the day of the appointment, there I was, sitting in his examination room, standard western-medical set-up, with an impressively massive otoscope hovering front and center. A nurse comes in to take my blood pressure, which she approvingly announces to be a "wonderful" 116 over 70.

Several minutes later, the doctor himself enters and, after briefly congenial introductions, cuts right to the chase:

"If you had to choose one of the following three categories -- and only one -- within which to place the symptoms that you're experiencing, which would it be (paraphrasing here, as I don't recall his exact words): (1) dizziness with lots of instability; (2) a general sense of disequilibrium; and (3) violent spinning, with nausea and severe headache?"

I liked the fact that he had a clearly-articulated differential diagnosis protocol, whose first level he was now engaging. The problem, however, was that my situation really was not a good match for any of the three -- so I could only respond with:

"Well, it's definitely not #1 or #3, so I guess #2 is the best choice, though here is how what's been happening with me is different ...."

As I began explaining to him verbally the specifics of the vertigo and related symptoms, I also handed him a detailed written account of it all -- including therapies I had already tried, and my own "working hypotheses" -- which I had prepared ahead of time. After glancing briefly at what I had written, and promising to return to it later, he shifted to a position which allowed him to draw the lens of the otoscope into my left ear, to have a look.

At the same time, he began asking a series of questions -- of a definite sociological flavor -- almost as though he were conducting a research interview of some sort -- about my work and education, from whose answers he summarily concluded:

"You're a type-A, and your type-A goal-oriented lifestyle is creating stress in your life, which is creating muscular tension."

At about this point, he also launched into offering what I could only describe as his "philosophy of medicine" -- which included a rather detailed cataloguing of  therapies he considered to be legitimate, and those he felt were basically scams -- and hence a total waste of money.

When he got to acupuncture (for which he offered "mixed reviews") I could feel a kind of emotional clenching within me, and a habitual pull to gear up for an intellectual dual. My formerly "wonderful" blood pressure, I reflected, was almost certainly on the rise! I genuinely liked this man, felt a certain tender affection for him, but in that moment was really wishing he would rein in the extraneous commentary, and stay on task, so to speak.

Rolling his chair around to my right ear, he gazed, once again, through the giant otoscope, for a minute or so, and then declared that there was nothing whatsoever wrong with my ears. And at the same time, began narrating a series of vignettes, from his own life, of his own type-A personality and career-track, and the attendant stresses, and how there was a definite "price to pay" for all of the social and familiar approval -- all of which caused me to think:

"Am I really paying this man $300 per hour to tell me his life-history and philosophy? Certainly it should be my history and not his, that is the focus of this encounter!"

In other words: I was now genuinely annoyed -- could feel that agitated annoyance-energy rising and swelling within me.

At this point, however, something shifted, and -- instead of continuing in the mode of intellectual repartee, and of feeling increasingly dissatisfied with how things were unfolding, casting this man (who I had envisioned as a potential ally) in an adversarial light -- I took a deep breath, and decided to see what would happen if -- just for fun -- I adopted the assumption that the conversation we were now having was, in Reality, not between two people, but rather between Self and Self: that Tao-appearing-as-Elizabeth was in conversation with Tao-appearing-as-the-doctor -- a playful appearance of "two-ness" within what actually was not-two-ness.

As I entered into this more experimental, spacious and accepting mode -- letting go, at least provisionally, of my own personal agendas -- I could feel my entire body relax, and the emotional "edge" dissolve almost completely. No longer burdened by my own ideas of what "should be happening," I dropped into a space in which I could somehow simply enjoy seeing what actually was happening, and feel genuinely curious -- in the manner of wondering what the flower-bud will look like, as it blossoms -- about what will happen next.

As I adopted this new attitude, part of me assumed, and somehow expected, that this shift from "my side" would also have some effect upon him, perhaps defusing the intensity of his philosophy-of-medicine and personal-vignette monologues. If anything, however, it seemed to rev him up even more: a noticeable increase in the speed and volume of his speech (almost as though he were grasping for something which was no longer there).

Returning at least momentarily to the actual practice of medicine, my doctor-friend pushed his chair back, returned the otoscope to its resting-place, turned to me and declared:

"Now, I'm going to give you my diagnosis, and write a prescription for you -- suggest a medication -- but, because this is Boulder, you almost certainly will not fill the prescription, will not take the medicine."

What a strange thing to say, I thought -- though now was doubly curious about what diagnosis, and what medication, he was going to suggest. But, first wanted to know (while he was actually in the mode of offering bone fide medical advice):

"Do you see any evidence that might suggest a sub-acute inner ear or sinus infection, that might be remedied by a round of antibiotics?"

His immediate answer -- "No" -- flowed right into yet another personal story, this time about his wife-of-forty-years, and how her being stressed out about this-or-that resulted directly in a physical malady. After which he revealed his diagnosis -- stress-induced dizziness (or something of the like) -- and suggested that I take a sedative/muscle-relaxant, to see if that might not at least relieve the symptoms, for a while.

We then moved from the treatment room to his office, where he instructed me in the use of a biofeedback device -- which made low tones when my muscles were relaxed, and high tones when I clenched my jaw or scrunched my forehead -- and handed me a stack of photocopied articles describing the deleterious effects of stress, to read while he completed the intake on his next patient.

At which point I am thinking: "Well, if this isn't preaching to the choir, I don't know what is!" (viz. extolling the virtues of relaxation techniques to someone who has been practicing yoga and meditation for decades)

But then, once again, just became really curious, thinking: "Ok -- It's clear that this interaction is not about my vertigo .... so I wonder: what IS it about?"

I noticed, hanging on the wall behind his desk, a very beautiful Picasso-like painting, semi-abstract, in vibrant pastels.

Several minutes later the doctor returned, launching immediately into another rather frenzied cataloguing of all the ways that stress, anxiety and fear can have negative impacts upon our physical health.  We were now both standing, facing one another. Seeing him continue to spin out on this theme, without pause, no chance to get a word in slantwise, eventually I just interrupted, with:

"Well, you know, the root cause of all fear, all stress, and all anxiety, is the fear of death.  And until we've really faced that fear, and gone into it deeply enough to discover that who we are essentially is not this physical body -- until then, all other attempts to remedy fears and anxieties are no more than band-aid measures."

Even as those words were flowing from my lips, I couldn't quite believe that I was saying them:  I almost never say things like that, and definitely not to complete strangers. But there they were, haven just been spoken, hovering in the air between us. And somehow they had created a pause -- an infinitely long and delicious five seconds or so -- during which there was just silence, and a slight moistening of the doctor's eyes.

And I wondered:  what's going to happen next?

The doctor, noticeably softened, came back into speech with the words: "You know, we would have a really good time having a conversation, over a glass of beer .... And by the way: this is the first time, since you arrived here, that the skin and muscles of your forehead are completely smooth and relaxed."

Then, with a gesture toward the painting hanging above his desk, I said: "That's a really beautiful painting."

"A patient of mine, who is a professional painter, and needed surgery but couldn't afford to pay for it, created that for me, in exchange -- using as a model an original Picasso, from a museum in Spain."

At which point I had the thought -- though not quite the gumption to actually suggest it -- that perhaps we could consider our exchange today also to be a fair trade?

So, having made no apparent progress toward resolving the vertigo, though with an increased appreciation for the utter strangeness and tender perfection of "life in the real world," I rode my bicycle home.

***

Give all your respect to the moment -- meet it with humbleness,
Through it, wonders open into the Infinite world.

~ Ilie Cioara

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