Monday, June 14, 2010

Hospital Experience #11: Yvonne - Healing Music Part 1

This is the eleventh in a series of posts on a recent experience at Ochsner Hospital - having a cardiac catheter ablation procedure to correct a heart arrhythmia. These posts describe and reflect on various aspects of the hospital experience. This eleventh post is the first of two posts in which I will reflect on the gift given me by Yvonne, a life-long friend and a pianist living in Colorado.

Throughout this hospital experience, Yvonne has supported me in many ways, including thinking of me and praying for me, contacting me before the procedure to express her love and concern, listening deeply to me, and most especially keeping vigil during the procedure. Yvonne kept vigil for me in a unique way: throughout the entire morning of my procedure, she played and sang healing music for me.

Yvonne has done this healing music for many people. She has done it for people who simply wanted the experience, for people undergoing illness or surgery or grief or trauma, and for people in the process of dying. She has done it for those who are physically present in the room with her and for those who are physically elsewhere.

Here is my understanding of the healing music Yvonne does. What I understand is that Yvonne sits at the piano and quiets her spirit, sets her intention to connect deeply with the spirit of the one for whom she is playing and singing, and begins to play. As she plays, early on, she feels herself slip into a place of connectedness. She then allows herself to be led to the pieces and songs she is to play and sing.

Yvonne says that, when she plays and sings in this way, she is very aware that something is being done through her rather than that she is doing something. She experiences herself as a channel through which gifts of the spirit world flow to others. These gifts do not originate with her. In fact, Yvonne is often in awe of what a healing music session evokes for those for whom she plays and sings. People often share this with Yvonne in the days or weeks after a session, but Yvonne herself leaves it entirely up to them whether or not to share, as they wish.

Some years ago, I experienced this healing music with Yvonne in person - that is, while physically present in the room with her. When I experienced this in person, the music had a deeply calming effect. It was in the evening at my home, so I went to bed right after the healing music session and slept very soundly. The calming effect lasted noticeably into the next day.

On the morning of my cardiac catheter ablation, Yvonne again did this healing music for me. Yvonne is not a morning person and she lives in the Mountain Time Zone (an hour earlier than the Central Time Zone where I am located in New Orleans), but she got up early enough to begin playing and singing at 7 a.m. MDT, and she did not stop until approximately 11 a.m. MDT when she received the phone call that the procedure was over and I was fine. Yvonne was with me in this special way the whole time.

POSTSCRIPT: I am writing this postscript after completing this post. I originally intended to write one post on Yvonne's gift of healing music. That was before I realized where this writing would take me. The writing has taken me to such a surprising insight that I have decided to end this post with that important insight. This post, then, will reflect on the gifts of comfort, presence, and healing that I received through Yvonne's playing and singing for me. My next post will continue my reflections on Yvonne's gift.

Here are some of the benefits I received from Yvonne's gift of healing music during my hospital experience.

COMFORT. This comfort was tangible for me. I truly felt comfort in knowing that my friend was with me throughout the time of my medical procedure. Yvonne devoted the entire morning to me in an intense and concentrated way. She wasn't thinking of me while also going about her daily tasks. She wasn't waiting to hear news of how the procedure went while reading a book. She concentrated her whole attention exclusively on me for four hours. This is hugely comforting.

PRESENCE. Yvonne was present with me. Although she was physically in Colorado while I was physically in New Orleans, she was more present than she would have been if she had been sitting physically right outside the procedure room waiting for news of the outcome while reading the newspaper, chatting on a cell phone, or eating a snack. In fact, the ONLY way in which Yvonne was not present was physically. She was present with me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

We get so caught up in the physical that, if someone isn't physically in the same location as we are, we experience them as not there, as absent. Yet physical presence is the most shallow way of being present. Unless other ways of being present are also involved, physical presence alone is useless. To use a drastic example, if an individual is physically having sex with his or her spouse while mentally and emotionally doing so with someone else, many people would consider this an act of infidelity even though the individual may never have approached that other person physically at all.

Mental presence, emotional presence, and spiritual presence are REAL ways of being present. I know that this is true, even though if remains intangible for me. That is, I didn't actually feel Yvonne's presence as she was playing and singing healing music for me. I simply knew that she was doing this, that she was truly present with me in this deep way - and this knowledge comforted me.

Yvonne does have a more tangible sense of non-physical presence. She told me that, as soon as she sat down at the piano to play and sing for me on the morning of my medical procedure, she could feel my presence right there beside her. She said, "It was as though you were right there in the room with me." I would say that it was more than that. I was right there in the Colorado piano room with Yvonne, and Yvonne was right there in the New Orleans procedure room with me - or perhaps we were right there with each other in a way that has nothing to do with space.

HEALING. The healing music played and sung by Yvonne healed me at a deep level, whether or not I am conscious of it. Actually, I am not conscious of the healing that went on and probably continues to go on as a result of Yvonne's gift. But I know that healing happened and is probably still happening - I know this because it is clear to me that concentrated energy has an effect. Yvonne was intensely concentrating her energy upon me for four hours. Something happened as a result, whether on not I am aware of it.

I might wonder - since Yvonne was playing and singing healing music for me - why I clashed with Nurse Dreadful and why I panicked in the procedure room. Shouldn't the healing music have produced calm? Not necessarily. I can think of at least two reasons why not.

First, I realize now that there is something I could have done and didn't do. In the weeks and days leading up to my procedure, I thought about the gift Yvonne was going to give me and felt comforted. However, on the morning of the procedure itself, I was so focused on getting through the procedure intact that I did not take time to align myself consciously with the healing music, to open myself consciously to receive this gift. I think I could have received more if I had done this.

Second, while feeling calm throughout hospital day would have been a gift that I would love to have received, I believe that the gift I actually needed to receive was far different. It is the gift of insight. The Nurse Dreadful clash and the procedure room panic have led to very useful insights about myself, as my blog posts show.

Also - and I am realizing this with amazement just this moment - I value the insights more than I value calmness. To find myself saying that I value insights more than calmness is HUGE! My life stance thus far has been very different. I have often expressed it like this: "I don't want to grow and become a better person - I just want to avoid pain and discomfort," and "I'd rather not learn the lessons life teaches because they are too painful - it's not worth it." But now, in this hospital experience, I am able to see that it IS worth it. Somehow, I am able to say, "It is worth it to have clashed with Nurse Dreadful and to have panicked in the procedure room because of the insights I have gained from those uncomfortable experiences."

Come to think of it, I don't think I have ever said this about any uncomfortable experience before! Before, I would have said: "No, it was too painful to reach those insights - it wasn't worth it." But this time, it IS worth it.

As I write this, I am becoming aware of just how great a shift this is in my thinking. My writing is also solidifying the shift, making it more concrete and real to me, so that I can choose to work with it in the future and make it a conscious part of my life.

I am also noticing something else about this. It is not quite true to say, "The discomfort of the clash and the panic is worth it because the discomfort is outweighed by the valuable insights." It is more than that. It is that the joy of the insights retro-actively infuses the clash and the panic. The pain of then is absorbed into the joy of now. It is not a question of weighing painful incidents against valuable insights and finding that the insights have greater weight. No. It is that the painful incidents get absorbed into the joy and value of the insights. I mean - the pain is transformed. The pain doesn't cause suffering any more - it causes joy.

I have NEVER experienced this before. All the pain in my life has caused me suffering. I have weighed the pain against the joy and decided that the small amount of joy simply isn't worth enduring the large amount of pain. Conclusion: Life isn't worth it. Resultant life stance: My life goal has been to get from here to the grave as safely and painlessly as possible. I have often said, "If it is true that we actually choose to come to earth, I must have chosen to do so in a moment of utter cosmic insanity." I have often imagined the day when a doctor will tell me, "You have just x amount of time to live," and with what relief I will exclaim, "Finally, finally, I am getting out of here - it will be over!"

But now I have had an experience that opens a whole new way to approach life. I have actually experienced being able to say, "This painful event is worth it because of the insights I have gained. Indeed, the value of the insights infuses the pain. The pain has lost its quality of suffering and has become part of the joy."

I would like to reach a place where I can also say, "This entire life is worth it," and "The pain of this life no longer causes me suffering but joy." For the first time, I glimpse this as a very real possibility.

I began this section saying that I knew that Yvonne's playing and singing had effected and was effecting healing in me even though I was not consciously aware of the healing. I am ending this section aware of a tremendous area of healing.

THIS is the healing I have received from Yvonne's gift of music - to have actually experienced the fact that pain can be transformed from suffering to joy and to know that life can truly be worth it.

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