“How do you start at the beginning, and not go further back?” — Ludwig Wittgenstein
Yes. How does a story begin? And what is a story but a tale with an (arbitrary?) beginning, middle and end, leaving the storyteller, and perhaps the listener, with a feeling, somehow, of completion? Wholeness. As if something mysterious has been uncovered, revealed. As if the “buzzing, booming confusion” of raw unmitigated experience has been transformed from the usual linear-causal-chain into something more rounded. Where the beginning and end, rather than separating further and further, bend back, seeking to meet. At some point they do; a gestalt snaps into place, stands out from the undifferentiated mass. Lit up, illumined. Showering blessings.
And how do I know this? Because for the past few decades I have spent time communing, with myself and my long herstory, in silence. I seek to under-stand what “happened” to me. I seek to stand under the flow of experience, recognizing how each arc to which I assign meaning drops in yet more clues to feed the central column of the deeply rooting tree of my own life. The fruits of this kind of contemplation, one that spans time and space to recognize patterns, grows more bountiful and multifarious year by year, the flow of time spinning yet more patterns, circles, spirals into meaningful wholes — and which in turn include, morph, overlap, and sometimes even cancel, other, earlier ones.
So, dear reader, please do settle in, for this story will take awhile to tell; it covers a span of decades, and while featuring theme and variations for only one major physical “symptom,” utilizes a number of diverse healing modalities to flesh value into its symbolic interpretation.
All in all, this story illustrates the capacity of this one body/mind/spirit to “work things out” in my own way — without allopathic medicine, without naming or branding what was/is going on within me as this or that, and certainly without the usual surfeit of technological gizmos, tests, pharmaceuticals and scare tactics that pass for “healing” in today’s industrial medical complex.
Yet, as I said above, when does this story begin? Well, let’s take a stab at it.
Like many children, I tended to be “sick” a lot as a kid. Looking back, I think that in part “getting a fever” was my way of “getting attention” from both Mom and Dad in a house full of eight children. Mom would feed me milk toast and allow me to stay in bed with the door closed, listening to “The Shadow Knows;” and Dad, a physician, would come home for lunch and palpate various parts of my body before sticking a needle in my behind. One place however, felt chronically more or less painful, the left groin area. The lymph node there would swell, more or less, depending on how sick I was.
I grew up, a “normal” (saintly) Catholic girl, both terrified of and longing for the pleasures of the body, virginal. Then at 21, I married the man with whom I had sex (once), not because I loved him, but because I might be pregnant and too embarrassed to go to the doctor to find out. C’est la vie! My two wonderful, now middle-aged sons Sean and Colin sprang from that miserable, failed union (Patrick died right after 9/11 and his 60th birthday, of a heart attack).
When I was 26 years old, and newly “feminist,” I started to rebel inside our patriarchal marriage; against his will, I decided to join a large summer commune in the old Idlewild Hotel with the kids in Manomet, Mass, on a cliff above a beach, one hour south of Boston. He could visit on weekends.
This was the Summer of Love in San Francisco, and on the east coast we were also stretching our wings; or, I should say some of us were. I was inside that new, loose milieu — lots of sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll — but still too prudish to partake.
Then came September, and the end of summer. The woman whose siren song had enticed me to go there in the first place invited me to join her for one final weekend, just the two of us. I’ll never forget sitting there with Sylvia, eating our forlorn dinner in the cavernous commercial kitchen that we newly long-haired “hippies” had milled inside of all summer long. As we finished, Sylvia pulled two little packets from her breast pocket. “Mescaline,” she announced, grinning. Aha! It’s time.
The Turning Point
Sylvia took her tab and went down to the beach. I was drawn to the cavernous living room where we had held dance parties every Saturday night with strobe lights to the driving beat of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Put the music on. Began to dance. Started twirling, twirling, round and round the way children do to get all mixed up in the head. Kept on twirling to the beat, on and on until finally awakened from my trance by Sylvia, standing at the door at dawn. I had danced for what, eight hours straight?
On our way home, I noticed that my abdomen hurt. Didn’t feel good. Flu? Went to bed. Stayed there for two days, as fever climbed and abdomen swelled to the size of a six month pregnancy.
Finally, my husband consented to take me to the doctor, who put me on the table, gave me a pelvic exam that made me scream in pain. Admitted me immediately to the hospital. Diagnosis? Generalized abdominal peritonitis, caused by IUD that had pierced the wall of the uterus to the left ovary, itself open to the abdomen.
Patrick was not pleased. He would have to forgo the trip to Vermont that we had planned for the weekend. No, take the kids and go! I insisted, relieved not to have him there. Nor did I tell Sylvia, or call my parents. I told no one. This was my time. Finally.
For one entire week, I gave myself up to strangers’ ministrations, receiving intravenous antibiotics, one after another, each one maxing out when my fever climbed again. Every three hours or so, another antibiotic. Belly swollen, tossing and turning, high on Demerol, until the final day when the doctor announced that he had just started the final antibiotic, that he didn’t know what else to do. I blurted out, “Am I going to die?” This was pre-Kubler-Ross, patients didn’t ask questions like that. The doctor looked embarrassed, mumbled something, and backed out of the room.
Thus began what I would call now, the first, and most crucial, crossroads of my lifelong healing journey. For from this moment on, I finally took charge. First of my healing, and then of my life. Though, as you will see, taking charge, initially, came in fits and starts.
The doctor’s refusal to answer my question galvanized me from my opioid stupor. I was furious, no longer obedient. Raising my taped, needled arm to the sky, I thrust up my middle finger. Not only is there no god to worship, there is no god to give the finger to! My god, that biblical, all-seeing, judging god of the Old Testament, was dead.
What happened next still stuns me to recall: suddenly, a voice, huge, booming, a man’s voice — “LIVE OR DIE. IT’S YOUR CHOICE.” Startled, I looked around; where was the voice coming from? It seemed to fill the entire room.
I must have instantly chosen to live. Because it was at that very moment that I realized: if my god is dead then I am FREE! And if I am free then I am the one who is RESPONSIBLE.
Immediately, I fell asleep, and didn’t awaken until the next morning, stomach flat and fever gone. No longer was I a victim, reacting to circumstances, resentful and powerless. From now on, whatever happened was my choice. Earlier the nurse had taken out the catheter. Still shaky, I stood up and walked into the bathroom for the first time in a week. Looked in the mirror, to discover that the planes of my face had changed. No longer the scared little girl, overnight I had transformed into a woman, in charge of her life.
Life Changes, in Fits and Starts
Ever since that momentous 26-year-old crossroads, when I chose not to die, I have known, with every fiber in my being, that the body mirrors the soul, and that physical symptoms, ultimately, are symbols of spiritual crises. The dis-ease that had begun in my second chakra area, where sexuality and creativity reside, and where I had been forever ambivalent about my own mothering, had subsided — for the time being.
Within six months I told my husband to move out. Within another year I had completed a very out-of-the-box dissertation that turned into a political football in the Boston University Philosophy Department, pitting my mentor against the department chairman. I successfully defended the dissertation, This Is Not A Book About Wittgenstein, in a stunning oral examination that attracted professors not just from philosophy, but from sociology, physics and psychology as audience. The session lasted only twenty minutes! All they made me change was the title.
The next day I flew to California, without the children, where I had landed a plum job teaching at a one-year old experimental college, New College of California (1971-2008).
That’s the success story. But it didn’t last. Like many people, my life has been full of ups and downs, as pride and desire for control keep on re-inserting themselves, trying to take over. After one year at New College, I was summarily fired, as “too experimental.” That is a story for another time.
Meanwhile, twice more I had undergone an echo of the original peritonitis crisis: the first time when half-way through writing the dissertation and at a loss for what would come next (the disease process melted me down enough to refocus); and the second, and final time, after I was fired. On that occasion, for the first time, rather than working with the medical profession, I made an appointment with an intuitive healer. This tiny old woman, who lived in a tiny house in Oakland, placed me naked, face up, on an old-fashioned wooden examining table; then, while slowly moving around and placing her fingers inch by inch on the outside edges of my body, she asked me three questions: “What do you hate, what do you fear, and what do you feel guilty about.”
Well, the answers were obvious. I hated my ex-husband, I feared completing my own healing process, and I felt guilty about leaving my children.
The key to healing, I have discovered, is first, to recognize what prevents it. The body wants to heal. The body is biologically is geared to rebalance itself whenever it gets ill at ease, dis-eased.
Just notice, for example, how the body heals a cut on your finger! How long it takes — five to seven days — and the various steps along the way. First gushing blood, split skin. Then swelling, redness and pain. With proper care (for me, that means flooding with hydrogen peroxide), each day’s new bandage will show changes. Less and less swelling, redness and pain, the skin beginning to congeal to the flesh beneath, on and on. I’m always utterly astonished and grateful to recognize the mysterious wisdom in my body’s natural healing processes.
Plus, I realize more and more as the years wear on, that my body also has its own, very individual, healing modalities. So that “going to a doctor for a diagnosis,” (and treatment), except for a broken bone, is the last thing I would ever do! I do not want to be branded, crammed into a class of “patients” who “have” this or that dis-ease. Nor do I want their tortuous or poisonous remedies. Instead, I go my own way, and always, I ask myself, what is going on here — multidimensionally: body, mind and soul — and how can I best work with it.
Low Level Pain in Groin Area
Though I didn’t ever manifest peritonitis again, and though I now understood the symbolism and emotional resonance of my physical symptoms, even after my session with the intuitive healer I was left with a persistent low level pain in the left groin area, much like the pain I’d felt as a kid with the swollen lymph node. Except that it wasn’t swollen. Plus, over the years, several massage therapists remarked that there seemed to be a lot of scar tissue inside the abdomen. Well, no wonder! Three bouts of peritonitis had taken its toll.
Now let’s move forward into the late ‘70s and ‘80s, when like many others, I was “new age,” working as a professional astrologer in Jackson Wyoming, and seeing life in terms of many lives, not just this one. That persistent low level pain in the groin I began to associate with perhaps a sword, that had thrust through the body right there in another lifetime. Since the pain emanated from such an intimate area, I mentioned it to no one.
Then, sometime in the late ‘80s, I went to a massage therapist who told me that she could sense an entity attached to me, in the left groin area. (I had not told her about the pain). Janet worked manually and mentally to detach it; “feels like a little snake,” she muttered as her fingers probed the area. Finally, she was able to coax the little invisible creature from the groin into the upper thigh, and then, with vigorous motion of both hands she brushed it out of the thigh, instructing me to vividly imagine the little snake entity going to where it would feel good, the bank of the nearby Snake River.
And you know what? As strange as her “remedy” seemed at the time, it worked! Never again did I feel that persistent pain in the groin. After all those years and decades, that private pain, that secret vulnerability, had vanished.
Okay, now here comes the really interesting part. In fact I consider all the rest of this story, except for the loud sonorous voice that turned my life around in the hospital at 26, as mere prelude:
A Full Moon Threshold
A year or two later, in November, I noticed that the upcoming Full Moon in Scorpio would fall exactly opposite my 23° natal Taurus Moon (Moon governs motherhood, childhood, memories, vulnerabilities, the subconscious); curious, I wondered what that might portend. Meanwhile, one location in the left groin area had begun to swell, grow into what I imagined as a sort of internal volcano. It’s a large boil, said my herbalist friend Clarissa. Boils are ruled by Scorpio: stuff from the depths coming up for release. Yes, exactly as the transit Moon in Scorpio opposed my natal Moon, the old buried, denied, boiling rage from past wounds, wounded feelings, disturbed motherhood, rose to the surface and, over a three or four day period, gradually discharged; first the pus of infection, then, in the end, a small greyish mass that made me wonder. What is this?
I decided to send it off to an old lover of mine, a pathologist whom I hadn’t been in touch with for years. Readily agreeing to receive my little package, he analyzed it in his lab and told me he was amazed: he had expected the mass to be a tiny cancerous tumor, but instead it was, get ready for it . . . scar tissue!
Scar tissue. Instantly, intuitively I knew what that meant. The old adhesions from two decades prior had dissolved and found a way out, somehow carving a channel from the abdomen to the left groin. Lodging as a mass under the skin there, and swelling with infection at the Full Moon, it had finally discharged.
Every Seven Years
Now here’s the even more amazing part of this strange healing tale. Every seven years since then (1/4 cycle of Saturn) the little sac under the skin in the left groin (which, when full, is about 3/4 inch long and 1/8 inch wide) again gets so compacted it needs to discharge. At this point, I’m so used to this part of my body serving as the exit point for old scar tissue that I can just stand in the shower, run hot water over it until it warms up enough to productively squeeze. And then I do just that, squeezing as if it were a gigantic black head (and the head is indeed black); and each time it releases what it has been holding, a tiny dark greyish mass. Not since the first time has there been any pus: no infection. It no longer needs to swell with pus to get my attention.
Why I tell this story now
I tell this story now because another seven years have gone by and the mass has been steadily building for the past few months; I have been very aware that it needs discharge soon. This awareness, of the body’s ever so subtle changing states, is by now second nature. My psyche is so attuned to the material form in which my mind and soul reside that it’s easy for me to recognize imbalances and other changes in their initial stages. As a result, I no longer have to “get sick.” I can simply do what I need to re-balance.
Meanwhile, over the past few days, I’ve noticed that once again (this has happened two other times in the past ten years) I have four or five angry red bumps erupting on various places of skin. Not bites. They don’t itch, they burn. Burn! Heat escaping. Much like heat in the atmosphere right now, escaping through fire in the west and warmth in the ocean through hurricane winds; our bodies are part of this earth and her atmosphere, and they too, reflect what is going on with the elemental imbalances of fire, earth, air, and water that are showing themselves with record-shattering ferocity.
Meanwhile, I also wondered, given the red eruptions, and the swollen left groin mass, hmmm, is there a current astrological signature for what’s going on with my skin, both the tiny boils and the mass in the left groin? Yes! First of all, for this entire year transit Saturn (which rules the skin) has been sitting on my 21° Sagittarian Ascendant, where I meet the world. So that sets up the background. Saturn can signify chronic conditions. Scar tissue is also ruled by Saturn. Furthermore, and here’s where the precise timing comes in, over the past few days, transit Mars, after moving over the 29° Leo eclipse point, is moving through 0-2° Virgo, exactly squaring (90°) my natal Mars opposition to Uranus in the 6th and 12th houses of health and disease. Mars signifies fiery heat; moving through Virgo, a healing sign, it is asking to heal via the square between Mars and Uranus. A sudden healing, since that is what Uranus requires.
Then, the final alert: two nights ago I had a dream in which the little sac in my groin was huge (much bigger than in waking life) and full of stuff that I scooped out. The dream woke me up. Okay, it’s time.
All day Friday I knew that I needed to attend to the task of “scooping out the stuff.” So that evening I finally did it, took a shower, determined to squeeze the “tumorous” mass, the decades’ old scar tissue, more of which had once again accumulated under the skin in the left groin area. First showering for a long time with water as hot as I could stand to warm the area up, just as seven years earlier, and seven years before that, I then applied two fingers in a squeezing motion to the head of the mass, hoping to dislodge what was in there. And within a few minutes I could feel the head begin to bulge. Yes! It’s going to release! Which it did. I show it to you inside a rubber band for scale. At first it looked a bit bigger. Now it is dried out.
I know. GROSS!
So how’s that for a strange, long, convoluted, highly individualized and obviously, very very personal healing story, eh? The story of what I continue to do to both rebalance and heal my nearly 75-year-old body of an ancient vulnerability that I came in with as an infant, and got triggered in various ways over the years. Utilizing intuitive healers, visualization, dreams, astrology, and my own common sense, I continue to watch (and help!) the internal adhesions from the three bouts of peritonitis from ages 26 to 30 gradually remove themselves, every seven years swelling that little sac in the left groin to the bursting point, pressing for release.
For me, the key in this process of self-healing, is to turn fear into fascination, and then utilize whatever (usually non-allopathic) healing modes present themselves. These will be diverse, and even multidimensional. The body is a wonderful material form, one stunning manifestation of earth’s energy that mingles with and utilizes the other elements of fire and water and air. As the world begins to rebalance on the macro scale, so do we, as individuals, need to learn to rebalance on the micro scale. Our bodies are antennas for earth, her listening devices. How we do, she does. Let us be mindful, and aware, and attuned to the most subtle physical signs, not just as symptoms, but as signals, symbols. For each of us, our own unique nature finds its own often quirky and surprising ways to rebalance; I SENSE WE CAN TRUST THE LARGER NATURE TO DO THE SAME. No matter what all the climate “doomers” and “terminal illness” diagnoses try to tell us, it’s never too late. It’s always just on time, should we choose to remain present to the mystery and miracle of the unfolding moment.