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Making peace with the Mystery- Lessons from Surgery

Life is mysterious, insecure, and unpredictable. These words hung in the air as my friend and workshop leader Paul Dunion presented during a workshop. The reality of these words clash with my efforts to have control, security and predictability over life and my desire to live a spiritual life. Coming to terms with the mutual exclusiveness between these two beliefs is a constant companion on my personal journey.

Moonrise on river
Mysteries of Life's Journey

I recently underwent shoulder replacement surgery which brought this to the forefront. I have been an athlete my entire life, specifically playing hockey from third grade up until 2 days before surgery. The game has been a significant part of my life, offering; camaraderie, fun, team, competition, and identity. In my pre-op meeting with my surgeon, I asked about playing again once I rehabbed the joint, to which he said, “I strongly advise you not to play again.” The thought I would never again play the game I loved and lose all that the game offered me, landed hard. With all the transitions I’ve been through recently, I was angry that life was taking away one of my last identities- I’m a hockey player! Yet as Carl Rogers, one of the fathers of modern psychotherapy said, “When you find yourself in a role, break it.”

As I processed this with my mentor, lamenting this potential lose, I told him what hockey meant to me. A place to compete against others and myself, the joy of making plays that made my teammates better- I received the over passing award in high school, the camaraderie with my teammates, and putting the biscuit in the basket! My mentor, as he is want to do, reframed my perspective by saying, “You will always be a hockey player, however, now you will be passing knowledge, wisdom, and insights rather than pucks. You will continue to challenge yourself to bring your best, although not in the physical domain, and there will be tremendous camaraderie as you build community with the men and organizations you work with. This is another initiation of life, bringing me closer to my true self, if I bring openness and a willingness to explore the lessons offered.

Letting go and letting in have often been difficult for me, stemming from my wanting to be in control, I resist change. One of the fundamental tenants of Buddhism is, all suffering is caused by our attachments. I find myself highly attached to the identities that provide me a sense of purpose, importance, and significance. To what roles are you attached? Who are you without that role?

This surgery has required not only letting go but letting in. Since I live alone and recuperation required that someone be present for the first few days to care for me, I had to ask for help, which was easy because I clearly needed it. Friends and family came from all over to stay with me, fix meals, take me to appointments, and keep me company. I noticed however towards the end of the first week of recovery, I was okay, I didn’t really need help, yet the truth was I did. To be vulnerable to ask for help and let others support me was both a challenge and a gift. I had to drop the internal voices; be a man, I can do this myself, deny what I need, which allowed me to receive the love and support that was readily available.

This morning I watched a video by author, Michael Singer who posed the question, what do you really want? He teased out that although most people will reactively list things like; house, relationship, nice car, security… yet when guided to their truth the answers shifted to; joy, openness, love, meaning. These states are internal, rather than external, revealing the power we hold in creating our experience as opposed to being at the effect of life’s circumstances. Very powerful and intimidating to be this responsible. How I approach this rehab and how I move forward with the changes it brings is a metaphor of my life. Life will always find a way to initiate us whether by scalpel or loss or ritual ceremony, how life is met, makes all the difference. One of my favorite inspirational quotes hangs on the bunk house door, “Life is a daring adventure, or nothing.” Helen Keler

Who am I without the role identifiers; teacher, husband, father, home owner, hockey player? What is my calling now? To what do I serve? Where do I get my significance?

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