For many years, I had a condition known as Raynaud’s phenomenon, where the fingers and toes when exposed to cold will turn completely white, numb and in short succession, very painful. It had progressed to the point where, over the last two years, even in the peak of summer, reaching into a freezer at a grocery store would immediately result in vasoconstriction (contraction of the blood vessels due to spasm). While it occurs commonly with autoimmune disease, Raynaud’s can occur in isolation with no inciting cause, as it was in my case. It had progressed to the point where I considered taking medications for it. This past winter and in the middle of the polar vortex that chilled the Midwest (as well as other regions), I rushed out of the house one morning forgetting my gloves. It was a day I needed to get gas in the car in subzero temperatures. Dreading it, I stood by the pump, waiting for the tank to fill. The numbness began immediately. But instead of squirming around as usual, I stood quietly as my being became completely still. From this standpoint of total stillness, I observed the sensation without labeling/rejecting/attaching coloring but simply noticed it all with innocent curiosity. The stories of the mind associated with the pain also came and went. Within minutes, the sensation changed, turning into warmth and gradually faded. Gas filled, I got in the car and drove away without the usual drama of “need to thaw my fingers” that could normally go on for about 30 minutes. It immediately became clear that with every episode, the sensation (pain) was the reality of the moment while the emotional response to it (suffering) was baggage added to it.
That day, I began to ask in samyama, “show me where this comes from”. Two days later, an image appeared out of nowhere while deep in meditation – it was of me standing at a bus-stop on a very cold day with no gloves, nearly 17 years ago. That was the time I had arrived in the US and was living in a small and quaint Northeastern town. Extenuating circumstances had led me there, where I was renting the attic of a kind couple, working three jobs and managing with just enough money for one strategically thought out meal per day (and certainly not for warm clothes). Until then, I had not known temperate cold weather, or the experience of utter, total despair and loneliness, with my beloved family and friends thousands of miles away. Every evening was spent sitting alone in the attic, thinking incredulously about how I had gotten here, from being a star student, high-school valedictorian and role model. Every morning, I waited for the unreliable bus service, sometimes for two hours, with no gloves and fear of frostbite. By the end of that year, the tears had dried and fortunes had shifted; but it became clear now that the pain had never been released.
Thus, the memory that held the belief of Raynaud’s in place was shown when asked. The memory was colored by the pain of loneliness, the sense of having failed, and the blow of utter and total despair. As the scene came up, it was suddenly clear that it was nothing but a memory that existed no “where”. It was inherently empty. The only thing arising in the present moment was merely a thought about the past. Yet, it had been carried as a deep belief and.. a very real disease.
A week later, I walked a long way to my car in the biting cold, got in and then realized I had forgotten my gloves again. I looked at my fingers – they were cold, but not numb or white or painful. The rest of the winter was spent in awe at this magic of experiencing cold without Raynaud’s.
How much does pain and suffering arise from deeply held beliefs? Is healing as simple as letting go of such beliefs? My humbling experience would indicate that suffering is unnecessary, created by our own selves with circular thinking revolving around the “me”. We continuously seek to push away or resist any sensation that is labeled as pain or unpleasant, and desperately seek what we label to be pleasant. It is this never-ending and exhausting business of labeling, seeking and resisting that creates suffering around all of our experiences. However, as soon as we begin to allow things to just be, the circular thinking around the “me” dissolves. Seen in a spirit of innocent curiosity, it becomes clear that all sensations arise, stay for a while and fade. Stories of why something “should” or “should not” be as it is create suffering and prolongation of the inciting sensation.
Such is the power of surrender.
Miraculous healing? Yes. Impossible? No.