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10. After the MRI

As I suppose you could tell, I was beginning to panic when I wrote the previous chapter.

“Shit! What if I’ve got a new lesion growing on my frontal lobes? That wouldn’t necessarily cause any physical symptoms, but it could show up in declining cognitive function.”

My doctor got me into the MRI this morning. After taking a Valium, (I’m extremely claustrophobic) I spent my time relaxing and meditating as the huge machine whirred and pounded around my head for 45 minutes. No sweat. I’ve been through this four times before.

The first was the worst, of course. I had heard that I would be in a very enclosed place for a long time and I was nervous at the thought. Before going in, I smoked a fat joint, hoping that would relax me and get me through it.

What a mistake! Instead of relaxing me, it put me into a horrible paranoid place. Plus they had forgotten to give me the “emergency” bulb to squeeze if I needed out. I found myself shouting,

“Get me out of here! Help! Please….!”

We wasted a good ten minutes while they calmed me down, and then they gave me the bulb which I clenched to my chest like a magic talisman. Didn’t need to use it, but somehow just knowing it was there made me relax some.

Today’s results showed no new or active lesions. YAY! I’m slowly coming out of my anxiety state and refocusing on the task at hand, to wit, curing this disease.

I called my friend Bob Forte, and we agreed to meet out on West cliff beach. A few days earlier, we had agreed that he would play the role of Shaman to my role of patient. He told me that he had enough experience with ayahuasca that he could at least give it a try. As I mentioned earlier, I really wanted to try to give the experience a chance to work without having to go up a canoe for two days in the jungle.

Bob’s taking his role very seriously. I think I would do the same in his position. He knows/believes that the ayahuasca is capable of healing, but it has to be done just right. I’m reminded of the wicked witch’s line in The Wizard of Oz “These things must be handled
d-e-l-i-c-a-t-l-y, or you spoil the spell…”

It’s also his first chance to put into practice what he has learned over the years in his experiences with psychedelic (entheogenic) shamanism in order to effect a healing. When I thought about it, I realized that his helping me heal could make him feel even better than me. While he’s not quite as old as I am, he’s a pretty old soul. He figured out long ago that helping others always makes one feel better than helping oneself. It’s weird how all these “tired” “hackneyed” truisms are brought into clear relief when dealing with things that really matter.

A week ago, he put me on a preparatory diet that avoids oils, white flour, and salt. For good measure, I also cut out meat and am trying to stick primarily to fresh organic vegetables. He also suggested plantains, but I’ve only got bananas which are similar if not identical. One is also supposed to avoid sex.

I’ll go off the Prozac as well when the time gets closer. I’m afraid of going off it for too long, for obvious reasons. Once back in depression, I’m afraid the only visions I’ll get from the ayahuasca will be fear and more fear. I’m expecting some fear, no matter what. But I’m beginning to get better at handling fear as every day goes by.

So today, Bob wanted to hammer some stuff into me that he thought I needed. The mind needs to be clear of preconceptions, ideas, plans, theories, and pretty much everything else for the ayahuasca doctor to be able to help.

Bob used the Buddhist metaphor of a clear pond of water. When it’s windy, small waves and ripples are kicked up all over the surface and you can’t see what’s at the bottom.

On a quiet, still morning however, one can easily see to the bottom.

“That’s where she is… On the bottom of the pond. You have to clear the choppiness out of your mind first to see her.”

“Her?” I asked him quizzically. “Why ‘her’? I’ve read all sorts of other accounts that involve…”

He cut me off mid-sentence. “Never mind all the other stuff you’ve read. My experience has been with a female presence and that’s what I hope you’ll experience.”

OK by me, I thought. In general I don’t associate femininity with fear. Of course there are always exceptions. The Hindu goddess Kali, for instance. She is generally pictured with blood dripping fangs. In one hand she holds a scimitar. In the other, the severed head of her husband, Shiva. The Hindus revere destruction as they do creativity. Each one requires the other to exist.

Bob focused on my old diet coke habit and my cigarette smoking. “You know both those things are bad, and yet you chose to do them. From the first time I met you 14 years ago, I knew that you were headed for health problems because of your self-destructive behavior.”

I explained to him that as far as the coke went, I figured since they had been selling millions of cans every day for the last twenty years, that even if it wasn’t particularly good for me, there were bigger things I should worry about. Once I found out about the MS I quit drinking it.

When I found out about the MS I also quit cigarettes for about a month. But given the strain and fear I was experienced every day, I decided to start again and at least have some antidote to misery I was in.

“I made the decision that even though smoking might seriously damage me in the future, I needed the comfort it gave me NOW. After all, we have to get through now before we get to worry about the future.”

He wasn’t satisfied and accused me of “rationalization”. How can I deny that when defending an addiction? “OK, so maybe all this is just an addict’s excuses. All I can tell you is that I feel I need cigarettes now, and will not give them up. Maybe after the ayahuasca visions….

Bob then told me about a girlfriend of his who was an extreme nicotine addict and tossed them after one ayahuasca trip. Great! Maybe it will do the same for me.

Bob then began playing psychoanalyst. “Let’s pretend for a minute that I’m some high paid shrink on the 20th floor of some building in Manhattan…”

“Are you out of your mind?! Why in god’s name would you want to imagine that? LOOK for christsake…”

I waved my hand at the verdant spring vegetation exploding around us from all sides, the perfect clear blue sky, the Pacific Ocean crashing on the rocks below.

Bob laughed and beat a quick retreat, “Alright, let’s just say that I’m a psychoanalyst sitting with you right here. I would begin digging around in your past searching for causes for your self destructive behavior, beginning with your father.”

“That would be a waste of time,” I told him. I’ve already sorted all those issues out long ago, both on my own and with psychedelic input.” And I really have. All the childhood resentments that had carried over even into my 30s were long a thing of the past. I truly love both my parents without reservations, warts and all.

“Yes, he said, but you can’t deny that whatever problems, neuroses, self destructive behavior must have originated somewhere in your past?”

I thought about this for a minute and then I answered, “Bob, one of the most useful things I’ve learned from Buddhism is that blaming the past for your present situation is an illusion. There is no past. There is only now. It’s the NOW that affects the past, such as it is. Think about forgiving someone who has hurt you. When you do that, you change the meaning of the past.

What is the past, when you come right down to it? All it is is your memories of ‘presents’ gone by. While your memories may affect choices you make, you are free to ignore them and start anew. Think of it like this; the present is like a ship slicing through the water. The past is like the wake it leaves behind it.”

I explained that I had left the past behind me where it belonged. That included all supposed injuries inflicted on me, whether by my parents or anyone else.

Bob liked my ship analogy. I could tell he was still unsure about me, though. He suggested that maybe I should take some meditation lessons. I told him that I had been using meditation ever since suffering from panic attacks at the early, undiagnosed phase of MS. I had picked up a book with a title something like, “Meditation for Skeptics Who Believe Nothing”. That title described me to a “T” so I bought the book and gave it a try.

People who don’t know better think that meditation is some sort of spiritual experience where you connect somehow with “the which than which there is no whicher”. If you meditate looking for that, you’ll get nowhere and quit. What meditation is is a method to quiet your mind so that you can actually experience reality as it is. Not what you project, hope, fear, whatever. What really IS.

There are a number of techniques for accomplishing this “still the mind” goal. The one I was taught both by our marriage counselor and by the little book above was simply to count your breathing. Up till four, then start over. If you lose track of where you are, just start over. When you find thoughts intruding, don’t worry about it. Just start counting again. That’s all there is to it, believe it or not…

I found that when I did it, it always calmed me down. Sometimes I would actually even feel refreshed afterwards.

But Bob thinks I could use some more techniques. He says you can accomplish more that way. OK, sure. I’ll go where he tells me. My only problem with meditating is that sometimes I just can’t relax and get bored as hell. Maybe that’s why I’ve always avoided group meditation. “Yikes! What if I get trapped for an hour of endless boredom?” But truthfully, that has rarely, if ever happened. I actually had a pretty good time back in the pounding MRI, now that I think of it.

I know that I am ready for the ayahuasca. I’ve been working towards it for well over a month. I’ve already detailed my work with Nitrous, which I’m done with now. I know that my mind is open to accept whatever comes down the pike. I also know that I won’t get anywhere if I go into the experience expecting and demanding a cure.

No. I will do my best to be joyous and receptive to whatever happens. And Bob will be there with me. And he really loves me.

It might even have a better chance of working than with an Amazonian shaman who doesn’t know me and doesn’t speak English.

Maybe that’s just another wish-fulfilling rationalization on my part to avoid going to the jungle. But I don’t think so. I’m a great believer in the power of friendship.

Besides, as I told Bob today, I’ve made up my mind. If we make no headway here, I will go with him to the jungle. If it gives me a relapse, so be it. I have to try to cure this MS. And if I can’t, maybe I can find a way to true peace anyway.

Uh, oh…. As I mentioned earlier, “hope springing eternal” has gotten me into trouble time after time again.

But when you come right down to it, what else is there?

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April 18, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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