Today I listened to a pod cast from a gentleman who is a meditation teacher, practising Buddhists and a recovering drug addict. I had noticed his name Noah Levine but it didn’t mean anything to me. His voice was calm his words were reasonable but I didn’t have any resonance with him until he said who his father was. He had talked in abstract terms but his father being a meditator of long-standing, and when he was in jail he received a phone call from his father who suggested that he take up meditation again. When he said his father’s name Stephen Levine it triggered a cascade of thoughts in my mind.
I was 34 when I was introduced to Stephen Levine’s teachings. It was 1984, my mother had just been diagnosed with terminal, small-cell carcinoma of the lung, I had two beautiful sons, I was nursing in a very supportive environment, I was meditating regularly, and all was well in my world – untill that diagnosis. My mother was living in Western Australia in Perth, and I was living in Melbourne, raising two sons with my extremely supportive husband, enjoying my career, contributing to society. Now I was in turmoil. As we had made the decision to returned to Tasmania to raise our children in what we considered a more supportive climate and environment it seemed there were three choices for me to make now.
Choice one: leave my job, relocate my family to Western Australia, so that I could nurse my mother when the end stage of her disease arrived which was at an unknowable point in the future.
Choice two: sell our house in Victoria, relocate to Perth for the unknowable period of time.
Choice three: take a leave of absence from my job, go to Perth with my sons, have my husband also take a leave of absence from his job and join me later.
Two things happened which changed my life. There was a gentle soul, a young woman who lived next door to us. We had a common bond through books. I had shared with her my mother’s diagnosis and my dilemma. One day she came to me with great trepidation saying “I am not sure if this book is appropriate and please forgive me if it isn’t, but I do think you might get great benefit from it”. I took the book and started reading. I had already been introduced to the ideas of Elizabeth Kubler Ross et al but always found her work just slightly harsh. I started to read Stephen Levine’s “meetings at the edge”. I found that I absolutely could not put it down. I already had an emerging understanding of the mind-body connection way before anyone wrote anything about it. It was a completely uninformed, intuitive understanding of that connection.
One quote from the book captivated my imagination which was; “I see you are busy dying I will come back later”, Stephen writes of capturing the conversation of Ram Dass who was doing his hospital visits with the hospice patients. The other thing that captured my imagination was the 8 to 10 case studies that he recorded two of which have stuck in my mind over these last 30 years. There were two families who had lost their daughters to murder. One family had created a memorial to their daughter, turning her bedroom into a sacred site. They still live daily with the pain of her untimely death, and the violence of it. The other family had chosen to forgive the perpetrator. Their daughter had also died prematurely, violently, at the same age as the previous family. There was no commentary about whether the first case or the second case was the “correct” way to grieve and mourn - it was merely captured, recorded as a way to do it.
The second thing that happened which changed my life on this occasion was my longtime girlfriend’s mother who lived a street away from my mother. Mary had done some nursing training and was working in an aged care facility. I’d called Mary up the moment Mum had been diagnosed and asked her to let me know when I should come over.
About 4 to 6 weeks later Mary called me saying “it’s time to come home hen – she can’t manage on her own now”. So we put into action option three. For better or worse this was it. At that stage I had my two sons with me, no car, but lots of caring neighbours. On one of my sorties into the city, I have been “picked up” by someone at my local train station. They asked if I would like to come and meditate with them. I’ve always been a very intuitive person and I realise that this was going to be a very important thing to start as I believed it would help me get through the days and maybe months of my mother’s illness.
So I look to Stephen Levine as one of my teachers. Someone who gave me options, someone who lit the way. I was able to travel through the experience of my mother’s illness, and her death with something approaching equanimity. I had stuff to do, I did it. I was there, and I was present. The coming together of these three events was part of that journey. Because I was meditating, because I was doing what needed to be done, because I had my loving and supportive family with me I did okay.
My second teacher is equally as famous as Stephen Levine. In fact I know that this person also holds Stephen Levine and Ram Dass as inspirations in their life. That teacher was Steve Biddulph.I first met Steve and his wife Shaaron about one month after we moved into the property we currently live on. Steve, Shaaron and Roh lived right across the road from us. In fact this little hamlet that we live in had a well-meaning gossip who we called Radio Th…. The story in our little hamlet was all mixed up as had both families had moved into the area at the same time. Our children were similar ages, and I was pregnant with our third child.
Steve and Sharon hosted regular meditation evenings and I started meditating again with all three of my children, including my daughter who was at that stage a mere six weeks old. I then started counselling training with Steve, and Shaaron. I knew there was more going on under the surface with people than my nursing training had thus far equipped me to understand. I had seen time and time and time again some clients/patients having an illness, recovering, going on to lead a full life. Yet again others were still in their PJ’s two weeks after discharge. They were not equipped to get back into life. And some of them went into serious decline and death. What was this mysterious thing that enabled someone to transcend illness and others to succumb to illness. I’d figured that was something to do with the mind but hadn’t quite put it all together. The counselling training gave me a framework to understand decisions we make about being present in our own lives, as being witnesses to events that have happened to us, and then deciding, with assistance sometimes, be different to do different.
Fast forward to 2003.
I’d been nursing for 20+ years. I’d worked with some very difficult people
including people who were detoxing from drugs and alcohol. I’d worked in the
community, I’d worked in hospitals, I'd worked in Palliative Care, and worked in private clinics.
I still had my belief
about the power of meditation in healing processes. I was working in a private
psychiatric clinic and became more and more alarmed as I saw the contagion
of hysteria rippling through the patient population. Seems like nothing we did
led to permanent recovery. The same faces appeared and reappeared over a period
of years. I saw relatively functional people become more and more dependent on
medication. Some exhibiting side-effects of those medications. I was getting to
the end of my use by date. I was in massive conflict with myself about the
ethics of remaining in this working environment. My duties included dispensing
medication to people who were becoming more and more dependent, more and more
hysterical, less and less able to resume their lives upon discharge.
One day I overheard a
young psychology intern talking to his supervisor and my supervisor about
perhaps doing some mindfulness training with some of the clients/patients.
Neither of the supervisors could see how it could be integrated into the
current program. I popped my head around the corner and said “he could try that
in my day-patient program”.
I then started with a
rather arrogant view, that I already knew how to meditate, but this would be a
really good thing to do for the patients. So Bruno Cayoun started teaching
mindfulness meditation to my Monday day-patient clients. I was not
participating I was a mere observer. I already knew how to meditate and I didn’t
need to do this. I had my mantra and I used it regularly (certainly not daily).
But then I noticed the change in the participants. It was subtle but it was
apparent. They were training with Bruno on Monday, and they had a tape that
they used for homework. I realised that in a short period of time, when I was
due to take the program back over, they would be on a different page to me. Not
wanting to be exposed as an intermittent meditator I embarked on the program
myself. I can truly say that this is when I started to discover who I truly
was. Who I was at the core of my being. Who I was when I wasn’t arrogantly
protecting my knowledge. The program was the nascent in MiCBT. Bruno went on to
get his Ph.D., set up the institute and start teaching MiCBT to other health
professionals. In our bumbling sort of way, we gathered data, we interpreted
the data, developed tools and ripped a little hole in the curtain. Now the sun
and the moon can shine through that little crack and more and more people are
learning about equanimity, refraction time, backed up by daily meditation
Whilst I don’t
personally know Stephen Levine, I regard him as one of my teachers. To be
present when someone is in their winding down processes, ready to go through
the curtain – that is a privilege and a huge responsibility.
Sharon is one of my
best friends. I treasure our relationship, and she has brought great love and
trust as a gift to me. Steve is a tireless humanitarian, dedicated to raising
children to their highest vibration, again embodying love and compassion. I
regard Steve as a friend.
Dr. Bruno Cayoun is
also a friend. A tireless, dedicated teacher of the eightfold Path oh and
counselling too. I know Bruno meditates daily, still after all these many
years. What he teaches is based on his personal practice and centuries of
precedent knowledge and wisdom.
I think all for of
you. This little homily is dedicated to Stephen, Steve, Shaaron, Bruno I salute