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Surgery of the Spirit
From emergency appendectomy to profound spiritual journey.
Last Friday morning, I found myself unexpectedly in the emergency room. Hooked up to IV tubes in my veins, I was being prepped for surgery — my first surgery under general anesthesia.
I’d woken up to a dull pain and inflammation in my lower right abdomen that, after two days, still hadn’t gone away.
“I wouldn’t wait,” the telemedicine doctor I called had told me. I needed to go to the emergency room within the next few hours.
I’d felt resistance — can it really be that bad? — and a sense of panic.
But deciding to lean into trust, I’d driven myself to the emergency room. And within 4 hours, I’d been blood tested, CT scanned (my first time!), diagnosed with acute appendicitis, and prepped for surgery to have my inflamed appendix removed.
One moment, I remember being wheeled to the surgery room and thinking, Huh, this room reminds me of Grey’s Anatomy. The next moment, I opened my eyes to my wife next to me and stitches on my abdomen.
Everything went smoothly, and I’m grateful to be on the path to recovery.
But what unfolded in the past few days has truly been a spiritual journey with some beautiful life lessons — three, in particular.
A Foundation of Gratitude Fundamentally Changes the Experience of Life
Looking back, the biggest surprise of this journey so far has been this:
I’ve been feeling a deeply rooted sense of gratitude throughout the entire experience, and it’s profoundly shifting my experience of external events.
Right after my call with the telemedicine doctor, I almost rushed myself out the door. I’m glad I didn’t.
I was feeling a sense of urgency — and part of me knew that I was avoiding the panic and fear underneath.
Instead, I sat myself down for my 30-minute morning meditation practice. I lit my meditation candle and rang my singing bowl three times, just like I did every other morning.
I breathed into the fear, and within moments of hitting the cushion, I’d grounded myself into safety and gratitude. The shift was night and day.
Up through the surgery, I was feeling so grateful —
Grateful that I could talk to a virtual doctor who helpfully suggested that I skip going to urgent care.
Grateful that there were no lines and no waiting at the ER.
Grateful that my appendicitis was caught early before there was significant pain and before it ruptured.
Grateful that my wife dropped what she was doing and showed up in time to see me off for surgery.
The gratitude continued post-surgery —
Grateful that the surgery went smoothly.
Grateful that I could go home afterwards.
Grateful that my appendicitis flared up while I was home rather than while I was traveling.
Grateful that friends and family checked up on me.
The more gratitude I felt, the more I experienced everything as working out perfectly for me.
Intellectually, I’ve known about the importance of gratitude and have experimented with different gratitude practices. But this was my first time truly feeling how powerfully gratitude shifts our experience of life.
When I was living from a vibration of gratitude, I felt a deep sense of trust and being supported by life and the universe.
I felt unfazed in receiving the diagnosis and even after being told by a doctor that they’d be doing surgery within the hour. I felt calm even as the surgeon told me the operation might start before my wife could arrive.
Life felt peaceful and sublime, despite what was happening. I surprised myself by how grounded and calm I felt — and how little I was moving or reacting from fear.
And since coming home, I’ve found myself inspired to do a daily gratitude practice — sometimes through journaling and sometimes verbally with my wife — to help my awareness focus on the abundance in life, rather than the lack.
Compare this to my near-death experience in January, where I’d found myself in a medical clinic nearly dying from dehydration and electrolyte loss after an ayahuasca ceremony.
I’d felt so much terror and panic that I was rude to the people around me — feeling so much frustration that I couldn’t get my needs met. All I could see was everything going wrong — I couldn’t see anything that was going right.
It’d taken days to ground back into gratitude and see the care from the people around me, even if it might not have been in the way I wanted.
Tuning into gratitude completely shifts our experience of life.
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Pain Is A Great Spiritual Teacher
As part of my recovery, the doctor prescribed some Vicodin as a pain killer. (My only association with the narcotic was from the medical TV drama House — excellent show by the way).
While I don’t have a desire to suffer from pain unnecessarily, I also felt hesitant about over-relying on medications or overly numbing myself out from my experience. And so, I’ve been really checking in with myself every time I feel the urge to take something for the pain.
When the pain’s intense, every moment feels like an ongoing meditation. I notice how easy it is for me to fidget or move or snack or take pain meds or want to watch TV as a way to distract and numb myself.
Just this morning, I’d taken out a Vicodin tablet with the intention to numb the pain, but I just sat with it instead — and amazingly, the need to numb went away, as did the focus on the pain.
It’s become painstakingly clear — pun intended — how often that same reactivity shows up when I feel uncomfortable sensations elsewhere in my life. I can see how it leads me to fidget or move or snack or distract myself to numb.
And so, as much as possible, I’ve been in the practice of breathing into my root (my lower core) and into the painful stitches in my belly, rather than avoiding the pain.
Sometimes, there’d be tears and major discomfort. But overall, there’s been a surprising sense of enjoyment and empowerment.
I feel a groundedness and non-reactivity that I haven’t felt for a very long time — possibly ever.
I’m noticing the impulse to react and avoid feeling the pain fully. When I choose to be still instead and to breathe into the experience, I can feel the reactive impulse move through me like an energetic wave washing over my body. And then it’s gone.
I’m noticing myself being less reactive with my partner — partly because it’s more difficult to move — because the sensation of reactivity from an argument to avoid being wrong feels somatically similar to the sensation of reactivity to avoid pain. When I’m able to breathe through it, the wave washes over me, and I can see the fear and hurt beneath her anger.
Slowly but powerfully, I feel myself in the cultivation of stillness in the midst of reactivity — not just in meditation but in the ebbs and flow of the every day.
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We Can Want Without Grasping
And now perhaps the wildest and most awe-inspiring part.
For the past few weeks — and to be perfectly honest, for the past year and a half — I’ve been in deep soul-searching mode.
I’ve been yearning to find a sense of purpose or calling that I could devote my heart and soul to. It’s partly what inspired my experiment to publish every day to help find that in myself.
The fixation and grasping would contract my awareness. I would feel a strong sense of needing to figure things out and get to the other side of the not knowing.
Here’s the kicker: the appendix has historically been viewed as a vestigial organ, serving no currently known purpose. That’s why doctors often recommend its removal when it’s inflamed.
After having my appendix removed, the part of me that felt like it was searching and grasping for his purpose no longer feels active — at all. It’s almost as if that experience has been excised, and that blows my mind.
There’s still a felt sense of devotion to creating my life’s purpose and work — but without the grasping that previously colored it and that would create frenetic activity.
Is it related to the newfound sense of non-reactivity that I’ve tapped into? Quite possibly. Because what is grasping but an avoidance of the uncomfortable sensation of not knowing?
I don’t fully comprehend how this transformation happened, yet.
But what’s left is a sense of peace and acceptance of the present moment.
I’ve been moving so much more slowly — by necessity — and feel myself wandering and taking in and enjoying more of what’s around me.
I feel a deeper trust that what I’m devoting myself to in life is unfolding, at the right pace and at the right time.
And ultimately, that's actually how I want to be living in devotion to life.
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