For the first 10 years of her life, my daughter did not sleep through the night. Parents know how hard the first year of life can be caring for an infant, and what lack of sleep can do to you. Imagine those initial sleepless months being extended into years and intensified. My daughter had symptoms indicating she might have some form of autism, but it wasn’t until many years later that we received any diagnosis. Most nights I would awaken to my daughter screaming in distraught rage. I recall one of the worst nights - after already changing her wet bedding and putting her back to sleep twice: I returned to her room a third time to find her smearing feces upon the walls, wailing at the top of her hoarse voice. Upon seeing me she bellowed only louder and bodily resisted my attempts to move her into the bathroom by holding onto the furniture and clawing at anything she could reach. I had to get her into a bath to clean her off. At one point I lost it and slapped her, insisting she comply and get into the bathtub. Ashamed at striking out, I pulled myself together, spoke gently to my daughter as she cried in the bath, then proceeded to clean up the reeking mess, and made her bed again for the third time.
By day, I was a successful engineering manager at a large medical device company. I was the rock of our family, the perpetual optimist and father who held onto hope that all would workout well for my daughter, her brother, and my marriage. It’s not surprising in hindsight that under all this self-imposed responsibility I had become clinically depressed. Years passed. I tried a progression of antidepressants and therapy. I gained weight. I sought escape in alcohol and porn. I moved through life like a sleep-deprived zombie.
The first turning point for me was joining a men’s group. Within this circle of men, I admitted honestly what was going on in my life, and I received support and feedback from men who I felt genuinely understood me and my situation. It was within this group that I was introduced to the work of David Deida. For one year we worked through his book “The Way of the Superior Man”, meeting every two weeks. It was a tumultuous year, not everyone agreed with this challenging book, and more than once I saw copies fly across the room in anger or spirited discussion. My eyes were opened during that year: instead of seeing myself as a victim of circumstance and the vagaries of women, I saw for the first time how I was attracting and contributing to my problems, particularly those in my marriage and with parenting my children. I learned that the hurt I felt in my heart was only made worse by withdrawing and trying to resist feeling it. My path forward required me to feel everything and keep opening to whatever arose in my life. I learned that feeling intense emotions did not kill me; they would dissolve if I stopped trying to resist and control them. I began to practice accepting things as they were.
The second major turning point, was starting a regular meditation practice. I have been a spiritual seeker since a near death experience I had at the age of five. After that event, I longed for God, and avidly pursued regaining a personal connection with the divine. I prayed, studied, and applied myself devoutly to Catholicism for 25 years, then later I dived into Taoism, a Course in Miracles, and the Unity school of Christianity. However, this whole spiritual path was largely centered in mind and intellect, I was a seeker. The longing I felt for the divine was unquenchable despite prayer and all my efforts. I felt separated by a thick veil from the union I had experienced decades ago during that close encounter with death. Somehow instead of trying to figure things out, or seek connection through my mental efforts, I turned within to the body. Initially I didn’t sit on a cushion or do any formal practice, I simply sat on the couch with our dogs, and watched whatever thoughts arose, released them, and returned to my breath. Emptying my mind, I was able to appreciate the presence of the body, it had been waiting for me. I discovered that the peace I sought for decades at church, in books and workshops, was actually within me. It had been all along. However this place of solace was in my body and in my breath, not in any thought, idea, or fantastic images that I saw in my mind. The body and bare sensation was the vehicle of inner liberation - it held the truth I had been seeking for decades.
With the help of mediation practice, I became stronger and more peaceful. I quit taking antidepressants. I felt I was back on track with my life. I genuinely had found a source of happiness within myself, simply from accepting everything in my life just as it was. I accepted that my daughter had disabilities she would never outgrow or be healed from. My body had led me to this discovery. After taking almost three years off work to be a stay-at-home dad, my daughter was now sleeping through the night, and I finally found a new job as an engineering manager. At this point, when all seemed to be going in my favor, I discovered my wife of 20 years had been having a long affair with a man I knew. My body had known something was wrong - but I hadn’t wanted to listen to it. After a solo weekend retreat camping high in the Rocky Mountains, I was finally able to look within and absorb this disturbing truth. I discovered the phone record evidence the next week, on the day before I was to start work at my new job. The next several months would bring me fully to the edge of my ability to hold my life together.
I confronted my wife about her infidelity. I arranged counselling, we tried to reconcile, but it became apparent this was an unbridgeable rift. I went to work each day presenting a positive face, and applied myself as fully as I could to work. In order to not lash out in anger and possibly hurt anyone I started running, much like Forrest Gump had. I felt into all the pain in my heart and moved it through my breath and my legs as I ran. I was out of shape and overweight, but these real sensations in my body, even some degree of physical pain, felt better than the rampant emotions that swirled and surged within. The running, coupled with hours of meditation and tonglen practice, grounded me, and within a few months I was able to surrender into acceptance and move on with reinventing my life. During all this I had performed well enough at work to get hired full time, and I moved into a new house of my own. My children adapted to the changes, and strangely benefited from seeing how I navigated through that time.
I now look back in wonder and surprising gratitude for that intense period of transformation. There was profound emotional pain, but I had survived it. Instead of ranting about the injustices and trying to push away from myself all the pain that seemingly was being inflicted upon me - I found I could turn toward it and practice opening to all that came up. I became softer and stronger. My heart’s capacity to feel grew. My physical health improved immensely. I lost 30 lbs of weight without dieting. Through tonglen practice I was able to forgive my wife and her lover, and this created space in my life for my beloved new wife Karlene to enter. I learned how to turn within and listen to what my body is communicating to me, and to honor what it needs to thrive. The whole experience anchored into my being the value of meditation practice and trusting the wisdom of my body. Today I teach from this understanding, and offer guidance to others to help find the peace and wisdom within themselves.