Miracles and Other Expectations
A Breastful Vacation
Certain miracles get a lot of press. Many more happen every day without us even noticing. We miss them by keeping our heads in a cloud of negativity or simply not looking for them. We also become inured to ones we encounter while moving through the familiar environs of our daily routine. Travel provides a lovely opportunity to fire up our awareness. My recent trip to England was transformative.
The day before I left, I had a routine mammogram which revealed “something concerning.” I scheduled the more extensive re-examination for the Monday after my return and flew away only slightly alarmed by the radiologist’s urgency.
In London, I was hosted by my niece, Nora who wears her healing life so comfortably that her company is the balm. I spent a sunny day wandering the city with my friend and quintessential can-do-ster, Gail, whose confidence in herself and me is a strong tonic.
Several attention deficit diversions on various forms of ground transportation brought me to Dorset for a women’s Nei Gong training with Sophie Johnson. Nu Dan is a Taoist practice for female bodies. The training encompassed philosophy, Chi Gong, and alchemical change focused on our collective and individual Dan Tien, uteri, breasts, and hearts.
After arriving at the retreat center, I learned that just down the lane the relics of one Saint Wite were enshrined at the Church of St Candida (as she is also called) and Holy Cross. One favorite account makes her a healer who, even after being slain by Vikings, continued to cure the sick. Her shrine is a place of pilgrimage. I figured an ancient church was worth walking a block for, and a group of us checked it out during lunch. There one can place prayer cards, heads or ailing limbs into the three holes built into the sepulcher. A few of the women with me were moved dramatically by the energy, and spent some time on their knees before the shrine. Being too cool for such things, I took pictures like a proper tourist and perused inscriptions in the rest of the church and picked up a brochure. Before we left, I decided to just lay a hand upon St. Wite’s ancient resting place. I figured, what the hell? and took a minute to think about a couple of loved ones who could use some help.
Long travelogue short, I got safely home where two sonograms and another mammogram revealed no sign of the mass that was very clear on the original pictures. The radiologist, sonographer, doctor who stepped in to see for herself, and I were all very pleased, a little puzzled, and felt no need to further question this revelation. I had deliberately told very few people about the scare, but now felt compelled to tell everyone I knew what had happened. But, as I started to write this piece I found that miracles are hard to talk about.
Just for fun, I googled the shrine and read this: “Saint Gwen Teirbron (French: Blanche; Latin: Alba Trimammis or Candida; possibly English: Wite) was a Breton holy woman and wife of Saint Fragan who supposedly lived in the 5th or 6th century. Her epithet is Welsh for '(of the) three breasts'.”
Huh. She had three breasts. Okay. So, what? Supernumerary nipples and polymastia aren’t totally uncommon. But, it wasn’t Mark Wahlberg or Therese Ventre of Marseilles whose relics I happened to touch right before my breast mass inexplicably vanished. It was those of a female holy woman installed in an ancient cathedral (highly irregular!) which, apart from Westminster Abbey, is the only church in England that boasts an original medieval shrine with relics of a saint. Happy coincidence finding her a block from the retreat center where I’d come to heal the injuries of my inner Eve.
Journeying to work with one female healer and finding another buried nearby was cool, but not surprising. Despite a strong preference for that which can “logically” be defended, I am surprisingly accepting of medically unexplainable realities. Transformative milestones in healing my physical, emotional and spiritual bodies often came from unsought encounters. But, in this case I was looking for that very thing when months earlier, I’d planned my pilgrimage to this training. The only unplanned itinerary items were the scary mammogram and St Wite.
My miracle healers, Nora, Gail, Sophie, and St Wite had all done some heroic healing of their own, as have so many women I know. This confirms the truth, that matter and energy are transmutable, which is the basis of Taoist philosophy and practice. Energy doesn’t disappear, and even when it dissipates, leaks or is misguided, it will transform. With practice, it strengthens, congeals, moves, and becomes easier to share. Lots of cannon urges our understanding transmutation: Nature abhors a vacuum, enlightenment is the process of subtraction, you can’t keep it unless you give it away, form is emptiness, emptiness is form, put that down, you’ll poke your eye out, drop and give me twenty, soldier, etc.
There may be folks who feel a 7000-mile journey to study with a specific teacher is whack. If the heart of the teaching is to turn the light around and study our own intrinsic systems of being, why hold one teacher above others? There are no experts, only learned guides willing to share a greater wisdom. To this, I say, yes, but...
The more I learn and teach, the more I see the vast scope of the practice. I figure I have roughly 30 years left on the planet to delve in and offer it to others. Training at the feet of someone who has glimpsed the possibilities offered by these teachings feels essential to me.
Taoism, Buddhism, Yoga, and other disciplines that awaken body wisdom and govern energy have been around a long time. They have been mastered, manipulated and misrepresented by thousands of teachers who had egos and agendas. It is a rare Sifu who has the skill, generosity and commitment to get out of their own way and transmit clear, loving and firm expectations and foster in each of their students enough patience in their own progress, that they don’t quit five minutes before the miracle. This is so precious, that I wonder why Pfizer hasn’t kidnapped and slapped a patent on each one.
A great teacher helps you access the education offered by every moment. The walks and runs, with overloaded bags through city, village and countryside, to and from trains, planes, taxi’s and glad encounters with strangers, taught me a lot about how my body and mind function in a rigorous strangeness. In many unexpected ways, it was as important a training as the workshop, itself. I was painfully aware of the moments when my attention drifted from the matters that would be most beneficial. Thrown back on myself again and again, pushed to my physical and emotional limits quelled my discomfort with the unfamiliar. This is the core lesson. To find that sweet spot of equanimity in the tides of knowing and not knowing, stillness and movement, comfort and pain, dark and light, confidence and fear, Yin and Yang.
What was the greatest healing factor of this trip? I cannot say. I can’t even say that there wasn’t simply a radiology mistake. Shit happens. But, I do know that I encountered people on buses, trains, taxi’s and planes who assured me that I can connect deeply and be taken care of anywhere there are other beings. So, while the magic of ancient lore might make a slightly more interesting story than the magic of practice and inter-personal connection, I can’t help feeling that each moment of this trip contributed to my clean second mammogram.
Whenever you can, try to travel near and far…and wherever you are, expect a miracle.