True Healing and the "Quick Fix" Open Hearted, Step by Step by Frederick Mills
The temple bell stops, but the sound keeps coming out of the flowers. Basho-Zen poet
During a very wet and muddy day last May, my friend Peter Moore and I were struggling to remove a huge pile of blackberries from his backyard.
We were chatting as we worked, and between the grunting and groaning, I asked if he’d heard about the recent discovery of a promising new cancer medicine. Perhaps because I’m a person diagnosed with cancer, a metaphor emerged while we worked with the weeds. The conversation led to quick-fix cures versus true healing.
I told Peter that, even if a cure for cancer were found, I felt it would only address part of the problem. I said that, to me, cancer is merely a reflection of other, more deep-rooted human and planetary ills, and unless and until we as individuals take responsibility for the larger issues that plague us, some other new dis-ease or illness will emerge to take its place. Esoterically, at least, I’m less interested in receiving a quick-fix than I am in understanding and following the path that will bring me to true healing.
Don’t get me wrong. If a fix for cancer comes along, I’m pretty sure I’d take it, believe me! Yet the deeper part of the question remains: what is this difference between finding a quick-fix, and healing?
Dictionaries have their definitions. However, to me, a fix is a temporary solution to a deeper problem, as compared to healing, which implies a state of being that goes beyond fixing and into the realm of deep compassion and understanding. Things and people can break down, but the human spirit is unbreakable.
Back when I was a police officer for a large southern California city, we were required on occasion to work the communications center. We could always tell when something big was happening because the multi-line phone consoles would all begin to light up at once. Perhaps a plane would go down, or we’d have a major shooting, traffic accident, or medical emergency, whatever. In the midst of getting officers, fire equipment, ambulances, and other support resources on the scene, we’d inevitably receive calls from certain folks who were mad as hell about the power going out, right in the middle of their favorite TV program, or irate because their street was being blocked by our equipment. These people were mad at anything that interrupted their lives and didn’t want to hear any excuses—they wanted their TV, lights and refrigeration back, now, or we’d hear about it! They wanted a quick-fix.
Hey, I can relate. How many times during my life have I been annoyed at the inconveniences life inevitably brings? The favorite restaurant I’d been dreaming about all day is inexplicably closed. I spend my last buck and a half on that longed-for double scoop of ice cream, only to watch helplessly as it retreats from my eager initial power-lick, right off the cone, and onto the floor! The plane I had been counting on to get me home on time is delayed . . . again. My car engine quits just after I spent a couple hundred dollars for a brake job. My cat gets run over only days after I spend a fortune having him repaired from a near fatal cat fight. Or, just when my life seems to be coming together, and my relationship with my wife is better than it’s ever been, I receive a diagnosis of cancer, and a little over a year later find myself divorced and alone.
As I look at world relations, I find the same kind of rollercoaster. The Soviet Union breaks up and I heave a sigh of relief, only to discover that the threat of nuclear holocaust has perhaps gotten worse instead of better. India, a country rich in its evolved spiritual history, kicks off another A-bomb race. Another species hits the endangered list. And, horror of horrors, somebody had to go and tow the mothballed battleship, Missouri, the pride of my home state, to Hawaii. Of course it works the other way on occasion, as well, but how often do I remember the numbers of times I had green lights everywhere I looked? Well...I think you get the drift.
Yet, in the face of these considerations, I ask myself: how can I expect any of these personal or planetary ills to get better? How am I responsible for any of these things? I’ve found myself hoping that a quick-fix will somehow, miraculously emerge, but then I remind myself—a magic “bullet” or quick fix, can’t make it better. The momentous issues that face an interconnected world require something more, and it can begin with me.
I don’t have to be an Einstein to realize this truth: everything really is interconnected. Recent discoveries in quantum physics prove beyond a doubt that everything is connected to everything else—a fact that evolved spiritual beings have been teaching us for at least a few thousand years.
After years of my own naiveté, I can now relate (a little) to the idea that what I do or don’t do has an effect on the rest of my own body, as well as on everyone and everything else. My simple presence on the planet gives testimony to the rest of creation. This kind of thinking used to boggle my mind, and I felt pretty hopeless, yet as I’m able to bring this realization closer to my heart, I find it quite freeing. I see now that I am a reflection of what we as a species are doing collectively, both good and bad, to each other and the planet.
For instance, when I received a diagnosis of prostate cancer some years ago, I asked myself how I may have been an unwitting party to it. How could this happen to me? Then I took a close, honest look at my life—and I saw how I could have developed a depressed immune system. The signs were there all along. I grew up in a dysfunctional family with lots of violence and alcohol. I have a history of prolonged stressful relationships and poor dietary habits. I was exposed to life-threatening stress and violence as a Marine in Vietnam, and as a police officer. I also had exposure to massive amounts of pesticides, both in Vietnam and as a helicopter spray pilot. It all seemed so “normal” as it happened.
On a planetary level, I can see that cutting down a tree may not be a big deal when considered on its own, but what happens when we clearcut a watershed? We affect a plethora of other beings, and greatly disturb the environment which we all rely on to survive. When I expand this understanding to the level of cutting that occurs in our state, or our nation, or all over our world for generations—then I begin to understand the enormity of the problem. There are a thousand such examples.
Thus I see that I am a reflection of the human race. What we do to each other is a microcosm of what takes place in the planetary macrocosm. If I instigate a personal war, or pollute my personal environment, then so goes the planet.
In a world getting faster by the moment, I wonder how we’ll all manage to keep up, let alone heal up. So many issues—so many needs. Sometimes it breaks my heart. As I write this, I’m reminded of a scene I witnessed while standing in a crowd on a street corner in Kowloon, Hong Kong. I was on R&R leave from Vietnam in early 1966. It was a chilly and windy overcast afternoon. A sudden gust of wind caught some papers nearby and I heard a loud rustling sound. Looking in the direction of the noise to my right I saw a woman huddled cross-legged on the sidewalk pulling a toddler closer to her with one arm and opening her other arm wider so as to enfold it around another four or five year old girl who was struggling to get closer to the warmth of her mother. At the same time she was desperately attempting to keep the wind from blowing away the newspapers she had been using as protec-tion from the chill wind to keep her and her children warm. I was deeply moved and saddened by the scene. I wanted to protect them, to somehow make them safe, yet I didn’t know how to cross the imagined light-years of cultural differ-ences that separated me from them. Before I crossed the street our eyes met, and I pray she understood. Then I headed for the nearest bar—I was there to forget a war.
In Vietnam I saw a land and people devastated by years of armed conflict. As a police officer, I was forced to endure the screams of children as we removed them from the parents that had tortured, beat, and sexually abused them. For such children, a living hell was preferable to the unknown.
Minimally in these situations, some kind of quick fix was being offered. But where is the healing to come from, when conflicts become generational, and “hurt people, hurt people.”
Yet in the midst of these things I see glimmers of a faint yet certain assurance that someday we’ll all forget the terrible things we’ve done to each other and the planet, and realize our deep and abiding connection to one another. There is within each of us a place of knowing that is so vast we have no words to adequately describe it. We call it lots of things: the human heart, the universe, our center, whatever. Inside, we know what it is. We just seem to have lost touch with it.
Step by Step So how do we heal something we don’t know is broken? Most of us live our lives on automatic pilot. I ask myself: what can I do to heal it up? Obviously, I understand that, as one individual, I can’t save the world. I must learn discernment. And, if healing is to occur, I must learn to take responsibility for the things I can do, open to compassion for the sometimes scary and hopeless conditions we all find ourselves in. I must develop trust and courage.
Lately, I’ve been working on seeing everyone as Christ or the Buddha. And on my own rickety, open hearted, step-by-step path toward healing, I’ve been adding to a “personal healing toolbox” to help me along. Inside, I have a ten piece socket set called the “Ten Perfections,” or paramitas, that were discovered by a way-skillful guy named Siddharta. He had some of the same concerns I’ve been discussing here, only around twenty-five hundred years ago. As you may know, he became a Buddha—an “enlightened one.”
To me, Buddhism is more a method than a religion. You can be a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, a Masai warrior, a Catholic priest, or nun, no matter. Buddhism allows for an ongoing examination of what’s happening, from whatever perspective you’re coming from.
So, here they are, the Ten Perfections of the Heart, or paramitas, as elucidated by the Buddha. May we develop our own ways of using them in helping us remember our connection to one another.
Generosity—Practice generosity and gentleness—with self, others, and planet.
Virtue—Practice integrity in personal being, and in the world. Our words become as gold. Care for others before self.
Renunciation—Let go of grasping for people, things, outcomes. Let go of unmindful physical experiences. Remain open to grace.
Energy—remember to be present. Utilize wise effort. Be a spiritual warrior— warriors see only challenges. Use life force for beauty. Don’t fear to make a mistake.
Wisdom—Be open to see things as they are, not wishing for what we want to see. Let go, and be open to new creation. Ride easy with life.
Patience—Know that peace and happiness are found in the moment— there is only the eternal present. Bear the quality of constancy, rather than waiting—there’s a difference. Meet each being and situation with deep respect.
Graciousness—Tell the truth; speak only what is true. Speak gently and with kindly intent.
Dedication—Determine to be wakeful, mindful, to see things as they are. Be compassionate and dedicated to the awakening and healing of all life in every circumstance and action. Life is led from the heart and dedicated to awakening.
Loving Kindness—Release fear and any sense of separateness from each other and the planet. Love with depth. Practice forgiveness of self and others. Let go of judging. Become open-hearted, step by step.
Equanimity—Be balanced. Care for all life, in all circumstances, from the place of a peaceful heart. Wish every being well. Learn to rest in your own true nature. Remember we can only let go into ourselves, we can’t let go for others.
A Blessing I find the paramitas useful as I tread my way toward healing. Not a quick-fix in sight, but without a doubt, their practice contains the power to heal a life, disease or no disease. My wish is that you may find them useful also.
For me, healing has become a word for what happens when we all remember who we really are, and where we really come from. May we all be at ease with each other. May we be blest with a happy, peaceful life, and a healthy, happy planet.
Fred Mills is a frequent contributing author to Alternatives Magazine. He served as a Marine Sergeant in Vietnam, and is also a veteran police officer from southern California. A recipient of numerous awards and honors from the Marine Corps, the U.S. Congress, the California State Legislature, and the American Legion, Fred has recently moved to Mosier, Oregon in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge where he will be working on his first book, and bird watching. Fred welcomes your email.