How meditation brought me a wondrous cure from the clear light of pure consciousness.
Some years ago, I had every reason to believe my life force was sputtering out faster than a candle in a typhoon.
In October of 2008, I developed a mysterious and debilitating case of anemia that left me in a state of knee-buckling fatigue. It turned my coordination into a slapstick comedy, boggled my mind at work, crippled my 50-year-old running regimen and it forced me to tumble into bed like a bag of soothsayer's bones at five o'clock every evening.
Medicine's only answer was the proverbial battery of tests. By the following May, after countless vials of my blood had been squirted through a set of humming Rube Goldberg machines, my doctors believed they had eliminated all the possible causes but two. The lucky finalists were two of our deadliest cancers. The doctors wanted to drill into my shinbone to find out which one was about to win the super lottery for my life.
Instead, my 25-year-old meditation practice came to the rescue. Quite early one morning, while I was perching in front of my little Buddha altar and focusing on where my breath spirits through my nostrils, a thought floated up and glided by like a fluffy cumulus cloud, bringing me a cure from the clear light of pure consciousness. It suggested a simple, ingenious, and intuitive treatment, which turned out to bring almost immediate relief and led to my full recovery. This is that story.
Find Rest for Your Soul
My background is that I am a professional writer, poet, hiker, naturalist, exercise nut, baseball buff, a Buddhist of no particular school, and a disciple of Henry David Thoreau. I've been meditating daily since 1984, beginning with TM, which I dubbed "Transcendental Medication" because of its peaceful, lulling, stress-reducing effect.
During the period from 1984 to 2004, meditation kept me sane while I led a footloose and foolhardy lifestyle based on a chronic case of wanderlust. Over the years I gradually became a Buddhist, at first practicing what I whimsically called "Buddhist Lite" as I adopted a few of the practices. Later, after I finally settled down in the charming New England college town of Amherst, Massachusetts, I became a serious Buddhist as I studied the works of the Dalai Lama, Lama Surya Das, Thích Nhất Hạnh, poet Gary Snyder, and others. I also frequented a local Zen center.
When I think about my meditation practice, I'm often reminded of the sign I pass on a woodsy trail I hike, which hugs the winding Amethyst Brook in my hometown of Amherst. Some kind-hearted stranger has put up a bench overlooking the brook. Hanging over the bench is a handmade sign, its words burned lovingly into the wood: "Stop here, traveler, and find rest for your soul."
That captivating notion, in fact, tells me all I need to know about meditation. I found rest for my own soul after meditation allowed me to rediscover my own intuition. Meditation lets us hear ourselves think and re-find our own truth. And all for free.
Goodbye Kidneys, Hello Anemia!
A life-or-death situation was triggered in October of 2008, when I discovered that my kidneys were quickly losing their ability to filter my blood. Blood tests showed I had suddenly lost 50 percent of my kidney function. My kidneys were apparently failing, and failing fast! Nobody knew why.
I began to suffer exhausting anemia. For the next six months, my energy, my spirit, my very life, were all sucked dry. Hardly functioning became dysfunctionally hard. My work as a science writer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst threatened to crash and burn. I was transformed from a graceful athlete on the basketball court into a stumblebum. Simple concentration became an exercise in futility.
All the while, through an act of sheer willpower, I somehow continued my Buddhist meditations, my transcendental readings, and a semblance of my daily exercise routine — a lifelong habit of running, swimming, biking, hiking, and b-ball. But face it. I was barely dragging my mass through my daily schedule, and by five o'clock each evening I would fall into bed feeling thoroughly bone-chilled, drained, mightily exhausted.
In response to these alarming symptoms, my kindly GP sent me to a group of kidney specialists in a nearby city. These well-intentioned doctors undertook to diagnose the cause of my kidney dysfunction and sapping anemia by employing all the wonders of medical science. Unfortunately, the results made me wonder if medical science was as dysfunctional as my kidneys.
Unfortunately, I was required to keep numerous appointments at this office because the doctors didn't know what to make of a lifelong athlete in top physical condition that suddenly comes down with kidney disease and incapacitating anemia. Throughout the spring of 2009, I went through a chicken-in-the-barnyard routine as technicians nearly pricked, prodded, and poked me to death looking for hard evidence explaining my woes. But my woes were evidently hardly explainable. Finally, in May of 2009, the nephrologists informed me they wanted to drill into the marrow of my shin, though they wouldn't say exactly why.
"Just routine," one of them explained. But the image of someone mining my bone marrow with a sharp instrument sounded far from routine to me. So a few days later I made an appointment with my own GP, who had always been both forthcoming and sensitive with me. When I asked him about this bone marrow procedure, he stared at the report sent by the nephrologists for a few long moments, then looked me in the eye.
"Apparently they've dismissed everything but two possible causes for your fatigue, Charlie." I could see him cloud over behind his glasses. "Bone marrow cancer or leukemia."
I sucked in my breath. "Fine," I said. "They want to drill into my bone to see which disease is about to get me first. Should I choose the lady or the tiger?"
"Personally," my doctor added, "I don't believe you have any kind of cancer."
Neither did I. Instinctively, I knew better. There had to be a better answer than losing my life spark like some junkyard clunker with its distributor cap stripped. So I politely cancelled all my remaining appointments with the nephrologists, swore never to report to their waiting room again, and took matters into my own hands.
When a Voice Comes out of Nowhere
Then, a few weeks later, while doing my morning breath-counting meditation, I experienced a startling revelation. My inner voice spoke to me like a religious locution delivering a sacred message.
I use a meditation bench because of an old basketball knee injury. I'd been seated on my kneeler for about 20 minutes with my shins tucked underneath. Suddenly a thought more powerful than a burning bush flared up from my concentration. I realized I could neither let it go nor ignore it. It told me for no apparent reason to take massive doses of vitamin B-12 to cure my seemingly life-threatening anemia.
Wow! At first, the idea sounded absurd. I was already taking more than the daily recommended allowance of B-12 supplements, and all my blood tests indicated that my body had a perfectly ample supply of the vitamin. The possibility of a B-12 deficit had never even come up in any of my doctor's visits. The very suggestion seemed irrational. So I set aside this impertinent thought for the rest of my meditation.
But afterwards my mind wouldn't let me drop the notion of B-12 as a remedy. It kept gushering up. I remembered the time when I was a 17-year-old, high school quarter-miler, and a long season had left me anemic and sorely fatigued. To treat my rundown condition, my family doctor had administered a concentrated shot of vitamin B-12. The very next day, I was running on an all-star team competing at West Point Military Academy, and I made what track coaches call a "pop"! I suddenly cut 1.5 seconds off my personal record, a huge chunk of time in a quarter-mile sprint.
That's precisely what I needed today, nearly 50 years later: a pop big enough to save my life. As the B-12 brainstorm kept resurfacing, I also recalled what a 90-year-old Trappist monk named Brother Bob had once told me about receiving his vocation. He thought he heard a voice in a lonely redwood forest tell him to give away everything he owned and become a monk.
"When a voice comes out of nowhere and tells you what to do," as Brother Bob concluded, "you'd be a damned fool not to listen!"
And so I did.
The Cosmic Tumblers Click into Place
I don't really understand or believe in religious miracles, but I do believe in the power of meditation to awaken our intuitive nature. And so, listening to my inner voice, I began to consume mass quantities of vitamin B-12 each morning. The recommended daily dosage of B-12 is 2.4 mcg, and I began taking 4,000 mcg per day under the tongue.
I felt the results at once. Within hours, these mega-doses began to ease my symptoms. I felt a little better every day. I had more energy while running, the acid test for my anemia. I regained my vigor. I could focus again. In a few weeks, I was not only still conscious by five o'clock in the afternoon, but wide awake. I began to regain my coordination on the basketball court. By the fall of 2009, I was feeling quite up to snuff again.
Mind you, I don't recommend this treatment for anyone else, nor do I know for sure why it worked for me. But large doses of B-12 did the trick. Maybe I have some form of pernicious anemia that makes it hard for my body to absorb the normal amounts of B-12, or maybe I simply need a lot more B-12 because of all the exercise I do. Who knows?
Certainly not my doctors. Since the medical community couldn't even diagnose my condition properly in the first place, it came as no surprise when doctors couldn't explain why B-12 worked for me. But I look at it as saving my life. I firmly believe that the whirlpool of anemia I was trapped in would have left my life hardly worth living if it had continued to spiral downward for several more weeks.
Since then and during my past four years of robust health, my doctor has admitted that the timing and results of my B-12 intervention are evidence that it improved my anemic condition. But I still don't think he's convinced. The only evidence I really need is that I'm happy, healthy, and thriving. I firmly believe it's all because of what I learned from one moment of perfect wisdom bubbling up from meditation.
Charles Creekmore is a widely published poet and freelance writer and the author of Zen and the Art of Diabetes Maintenance. His e-book, Back to Walden, is posted complete and free of charge at backtowalden.com. Creekmore has written for the New York Times Syndicate, Psychology Today, AARP and many other periodicals.