FEATURE - April 2019
The Stream Inside of Me
by Maria Hunt, Ph.D.
I’m a clinical psychologist who has practiced mindfulness since graduate school, thanks to my Zen-focused mentor Dr. Donald Glad. I make a game of catching myself engaging in unwise reactions and experiment with crafting healthier responses. Buddhist psychology has been so significant to me that I had to laugh when I learned, in hindsight, there was a vital lesson I had missed for 40 years.
April 5, 2016 was an auspicious day. My husband was fly-fishing following a total hip replacement, and I was hiking after a four-month hiatus. All was going well as I sat in contemplation at the headwaters of the Arkansas River. I allowed myself to be absorbed in the moment, memorizing its sights, sounds and feel so I could return to it in times of stress.
Over the course of the morning, we relocated to different spots. At the last site, Ralph warned, “Be careful when you step out. There’s a washout.”
Because the river had a steeper incline where we were, I decided to stay in the vehicle to act as a lifeguard. I thought Ralph’s muscles might be tired, and the 12-foot bank troubled me. When I saw him suddenly drop to a sitting position, I stood on the bumper to get a better view. Then, when he lowered his head, I stepped down... not to land on solid ground.
It was all over in seconds. I slid on my back until stopped by a boulder. The pain was instantaneous, extreme and penetrating. This is what registered in my consciousness:
Waves of throbbing pain and nausea.
You should have looked where you were going. Now what? Did you break your ankle?
I want it to be sprained.
That won’t make it sprained.
But it has to be sprained. [I believe I actually rolled my eyes in response to this statement.]
I am breathing fast and shallow. Can I slow it down? [I slow my breathing to avoid hyperventilating and quickly stop. I have more energy and am better able to tolerate pain when breathing rapidly.] Interesting.
You’re breathing like Leonardo DiCaprio in Revenant.
I pull up my leg to look at my ankle. Floppy, bulging, a funny color. Yes, it’s broken.
Now you’ve done it! How do you plan to fix it?
I realize my phone is in our vehicle. I figure there’s no sense in calling out because Ralph won’t hear above the water’s roar.
Don’t make an assumption. Yell.
“I need help. My ankle is broken” I shout three times. I sense my mouth form the words and my throat project them. River sounds linger when I quit.
Do it again! Yell.
I twist my head to see how far I need to climb to reach the top. The movement causes my lame leg to drop into a crevice. Not a good idea. I experiment with finding the best way to position myself. All movement hurts.
I can’t bear this!
You “can’t bear it”? Like you have a choice! Of course, you want it to be different, but you have a very broken ankle and you’ll feel pain until it’s fixed. Accept it and get up that bank. NOW.
Ground level is further than I can see. I don’t have whatever it takes to move, so I make time to recall my morning’s “Peaceful Stream” interlude.
Feeling proud of yourself? [I sense another self-directed smirk.]
I breathe a little slower and intentionally toggle between experiencing and witnessing. I wonder if I feel the slightest shift in intensity for a micro-moment, or if I’m fooling myself.
I can’t believe you’re experimenting at a time like this!
I need to get to the truck and have no one to help me, so here I go. No time to waste.
This is not good comes to mind as I hoist and drag my body using my good leg, arms and hips.
You might reach the surface, but how are you going to get inside the truck? You’re not good at math. [Yes, that stray thought came to mind AND I happen to be pretty good at math.]
My inner chatter was chaotic, frightening and unrelenting when, as if coming from elsewhere, I heard a calm voice say, “The stream is inside of you.”
Unbidden, a scene came to mind of a social gathering I’d participated in a year earlier. It involved my teacher, Br. Chu Chan-Huy, and others I barely knew but felt an affinity to. Without mental manipulation on my part, he left the context of my memory to join me in my current situation.
“I’m breathing with you,” he said, facing me. “I’m breathing with you,” he stated periodically, as if the most natural thing in the world.
I’m not sure why, but I looked to my right to see if someone could assess my sanity, and there was my BFF, Dr. Amie Jew, sitting by me unperturbed. Just like her, she smiled at me with her eyes. When I heard “The stream is inside of you” again, she nodded in agreement.
Am I hallucinating?! I didn’t wait for an answer.
It was hard work, but we butt-climbed the slope together, Chu, Amie and me. I stopped to rest, change my breathing patterns, and BE with my companions, but we made it to the truck. [Now, my rational mind knows that my friends were not physically present, but I’d fail a lie detector test if I said they were not with me.]
An hour passed between my injury and admission to the hospital, yet while my pain was unyielding, I can’t say that I suffered. I felt connected to something bigger, and that “something bigger” gave me a boost.
You see, though he died in 1979, I think Don Glad returned that day to help me experience Oneness, the stream inside all of us, our source of warmth, strength, wisdom and inner peace. Ever present, it beckons and I’m here to testify: Its influence is extra-ordinary.
Maria Hunt, Ph.D. is Director of MeWe Mindfulness LLC, which is based in Nederland, CO. She is currently working on a book, Wander Woman ~ Life Guardian with Regina Adams, inspired by this experience. She teaches at MeWe Mindfulness and Mindful Momentum in Kansas City. www.mewemindfulness.com