By Purnima Coontoor
Purnima Coontoor profiles three bravehearts whose tryst with illness expanded their consciousness, and compelled them to serve others in pain
It’s genetic,” said the allopath. “It’s a vaata dosha,” declared the ayurvedacharya. “Imbalance in body salts,” pronounced the homeopath. “It’s psychosomatic,” opined other healers. “It’s karma,” said spiritualists.
And thus I was stuck with the immune-deficiency disorder called rheumatoid arthritis last May – a severely crippling condition that can wreak pain on all the joints in the body. It crept upon me unawares as a swelling in the ankle, and spread to the entire body until every joint was affected with inflammation – including the jawbone, I was appalled to discover! My motor functions failed to execute even simple jobs, like unscrewing the toothpaste cap, leaving me dependent on others to go about basic chores. I had no time to think or lament though; tackling one moment at a time consumed all my attention and energy. Life slowed down drastically, forcing me to practice awareness. I had to avoid jerky and unconscious movements to avoid pain. Nothing like illness to knock one back from unconscious complacency!
I lay awake night after night, defenses completely down, listening to my aching bones tell an exaggerated story… of every negative thought, word and action that I had ever indulged in during my lifetime. Ashamed, I mentally begged forgiveness from those I had wronged and forgave all those who had wronged me…A cathartic, elevating experience.
As my husband massaged my joints with medicated oil one morning, I said tearfully, “I’m so sorry to put you through this. How can I ever repay this debt?” God forbid that he should fall sick for that sake… but what he said jerked me out of my sense of helplessness: “I’m not serving you, I’m serving myself. What debt are you talking about?”
It’s so simple really. There is no ‘other’… just one Universal Spirit in different manifestations. If the server and the served are one, whom to thank, from whom to expect gratitude? What to covet, what to reject? It’s just me, playing various roles in my own life simultaneously! I experience health in one body, ill-health in another. Every experience of each being on earth is but mine! Now, my task is cut out for me for the rest of my life – if I can treat each and every being as an extension of myself, the purpose of my illness, and life, would be served. If I retain a separate identity I’ll have to come back repeatedly to experience whatever I covet and reject in each lifetime.
I have become almost independent now, thanks to a combination of ayurveda, allopathy, love and compassion; but I still walk with a limp. That’s ok, for I’m walking perfectly well through other people around me.
Three other souls who have undertaken this healing journey of self-discovery talk about their illnesses, their transformation and contribution to society as a consequence.
A cause beyond oneself
When this bubbly, successful, 46-year-old event manager from Mumbai was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, it was the words of her reiki master that became her mantra through her illness, “Devieka, it is going to be a time of great change, the unnecessary will now disappear from your life. Just don’t be afraid.” “Breasts are very special to a woman, I was quite proud of mine. The thought of one of them being operated upon was quite unsettling,” says Devieka Bhojwani. “But then what were they, anyway? Just over-romanticised fat! They had served me well, I had nursed both my children for over a year. If I had to lose one of them, I was not going to get hysterical about it.” As it happened, she had to go through a lumpectomy and not mastectomy, and only chunks of the affected parts were removed. The test results, however, showed malignancy, leaving her thinking about death. “I realised that I wasn’t afraid of dying, a wondrous revelation! I had lived a full, joyous life, had loved and been loved. I was ready for any eventuality, though I knew I wasn’t going to go anywhere, there was so much more I still had to do.”
Devieka was advised two months of radiation therapy for destroying any remaining malignant cells. Through her guide, Dr Deepak Chopra, Devieka knew that intelligence is not only in the brain but in every part of the body. “Through meditation and visualisation work on my body, I imagined all the toxins getting out of my system. I got into a dialogue with my breast. Today, that breast has come back to being absolutely normal. It proves that the body responds if you approach it the right way.”
Devieka was inspired by her radiologist, the then Director of Tata Memorial Hospital, to contribute towards raising awareness among women about cancer. It’s ten years since Devieka has set up the Women’s Cancer Initiative in partnership with the hospital, which has rendered emotional and financial help to women in their hour of need. The foundation has partnered with the Lavasa Women’s Drive, Pinkathon, Elle magazine and fashion events around the country, to emphasise the importance of early detection and to raise funds for the Foundation. Today, it is funding the treatment of nearly 500 women annually.
Devieka took her cancer as a blessing, as it gave her a chance to re-evaluate and take charge of her life, to reach out and help others. She wonders, “Could my cancer have been a manifestation of hanging on to some pain or anger? I don’t know but I have realised that I had to let go of all the negativity. I feel blessed for having had the opportunity to find my strength through adversity, and find a cause beyond myself! My life today is so much richer for it!” concludes Devieka.
Meditation for health
Dilip was diagnosed as a ‘bi-polar’, a condition that made him experience emotions like pleasure and pain to extreme levels. He was mostly angry that society – including his parents – refused to respect the profession that he wanted to pursue, which was music. His best friend’s girl friend left him because he was a musician with no stable income. Dilip started fretting that the same might happen to him as well, which in the course of time, did… a girl spurned his love even before it could bloom! He was angry with a materialistic society that respected name, fame, fortune, beauty, where siblings fought over property issues, but failed to look into a person’s heart.
As he entered his 20s, Dilip took to smoking heavily and was addicted to 30-40 cigarettes a day. His health was naturally affected. He was under medication for chronic indigestion. Finally one day, his deep-seated anger which turned to melancholia, got the better of him, and Dilip consumed 40 sleeping pills in a bid to end it all. “Luckily, nothing happened, and I was treated immediately by my doc,” he says. “What hurt, though, is that my parents never understood what I was going through. The doctor informed my father but he never bothered.”
Encouraged by his doctor, Dilip started behavior therapy at NIMHANS, the premier mental health institution in Bangalore. But it was only after he was introduced to meditation that he made the shift. “It was a stroke of luck meeting Mr Ravi, an Osho sanyasin, through a friend. He counselled me, taught me meditation and gave me books to read. The book, From Medication to Meditation, by Osho helped me a lot.”
It has taken Dilip almost three years to get out of depression and smoking addiction… Now 80 per cent cured, he has started his own music school where he teaches the keyboard, drums and guitar. But meditation is a very important part of Dilip’s routine. “I do the Osho ‘nadabrahma’ meditation for an hour daily. It’s a wonderful way to spend time with myself and my body. Meditation removes negativity and energises me. The breathing takes me over completely. I also like to travel, spend time with nature, and to just sit and breathe!” he says.
Grateful to the new lease of life he got from meditation, Dilip wished to share the same with other troubled souls. “A couple of days ago, I saw a young man suddenly jump from nowhere onto the track as a train was approaching,” he said sadly. “How frustrated he must have been to have taken this extreme step! I strongly feel that everybody needs to meditate. That’s why I let out my music studio free of cost on Sundays and holidays for meditation workshops to be held. I also encourage my students to attend these workshops. I feel happy when I see them benefiting from it,” says this 23-year-old, like a true meditator!
A divine bond
If you think long-time meditators are not afflicted by physical ailments, think again. Ravi has been an Osho sanyasin for over 10 years, which means he has been celebrating life in all its shades. And as he turned 50, he had a chance to celebrate illness – in the form of rheumatoid arthritis. To discover that one is not able to get up from bed one morning can be quite a shocking experience. Like others, Ravi also felt panic rising each day as more and more of his faculties gave way, as allopaths, homeopaths and ayurvedacharyas experimented upon him and succeeded only minimally. But the meditator that he was, Ravi completely surrendered to the situation and ‘flowed with the flow’ as his guru Osho would say.
That’s what probably brought a healer to his doorstep one evening.
As he was limping back home from a massage session, a stranger stopped to enquire about his condition. She said she was on her way to the dargah, and would pray for him. Ravi forgot all about it before he reached home, but was amazed when the lady knocked on his door an hour later, offering him a rose flower as ‘prasad’ from the dargah. This continued for a quite a while – a Mohammaden stranger praying for him of her own accord, and visiting him each day with the ‘prasad’… until Ravi was compelled to invite her in and offer her a cup of coffee on one occasion. As she came in, her eyes alighted on the photograph of Osho and she was visibly excited. “I have read one of his articles, and found the answer to most of my questions in it!” she exclaimed, asking him to tell her more about him.
And so Ravi introduced her to Osho’s teachings and meditation techniques, while she learnt reiki and hypnosis just so as to heal Ravi – indeed a symbiotic relationship! Even as he taught her, Ravi himself discovered more and more of his guru – and chanced upon the book, From Medication to Meditation which totally changed his perspective of health. “All the while the answer was with my guru, but I was destined to meet this lady to discover it through her,” says Ravi, while she firmly believes that his illness was just a reason for her to be introduced to Osho!
Ravi’s experience reiterates the fact that all relationships are give and take – we are all continuously exchanging energies. Ravi’s life has now almost come back to normal but his passion for meditation and healing has increased manifold. He had already resigned from his government job to take up the job of setting up of Osho ashrams in Mysore and Bangalore; now he has opened his doors to souls who need counselling and help in dealing with mental and physical troubles as a seva to his guru. Through him many souls have healed, been inspired and transformed. Asked why, even as meditators, we tend to invite such illnesses, Ravi says, “Maybe we would have strongly wished for some experience, which cannot but come with the baggage of illness. Practising choiceless awareness, an old mantra reiterated by Osho, is the only answer to avoid such unnecessary troubles.”