TO SHARE A SILENCE
Eve Sanchez Silver
Medical Research Analyst
Cinta Latina Research
I am at Miraval Spa and I am resistant. Still reeling, abandoned, and over-whelmed by my father's recent death. I have been up and on the move for too many hours and for too long at a stretch. My cell phone is dead. I woke at 4 AM after one and half hours sleep. I sit with a bunch of over-heated bleary eyed travelers, each of us privately suffering in our warm, uncomfortable terminal chairs, encumbered and stupefied by too little sleep and way too much baggage.
Our plane taxis out to be drenched in anti-freeze before take off. Peptobismol-pink globs slide over the windows, a nauseating pink. The petrol smell creeps in through the vents and finishes the job on my queasy innards. The pilot halfheartedly assures us that we are taking off any minute, for half an hour.
This better be good, I grumble. What's all this about anyway and come to think of it, where in the world is this Miraval?
It is in Tucson, Arizona. And I discover Tucson to be a uniformly muddy brown, set against the brilliant blue of its sky. There are many women all around me going to the same place. We are bundled into a van and I try to nap. An eager voice behind me cheerfully declares, "Eve, wake up girl, it's time to bond!" I pull my Dallas-black cowboy hat more securely down over my eyes and ears. Bad guys wear black, I muse darkly. The van pulls out of the airport into the traffic pattern lassoed around it; I am expecting to find a noose at the other end. The music in the van is ambient and limpid. It slid in under my radar and softened up the edges of my internal dissonance. I hadn't really noticed it at all.
We arrive and I am immediately approached by someone willing to lead the way directly to my room, by-passing the usual tour. It is a bit of a walk she says. Humph. It's very pretty.... not gaudy; actually, it is quite beautifully appointed, with raked stone-gardens and winding paths. Hmmm, it's gorgeous, actually... The casitas are all soft white-adobe colored pods without any edges. My eyes flowed over and past them to the distant, surrounding mountains. The sounds of dripping water and waterfalls were everywhere. I stepped within a foot of a dining jack-rabbit, but he only regarded me with indifferent curiosity as I passed on. Ohh...
Miraval was nothing I expected: it was far more. Several pharmaceutical companies, in conjunction with The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Headquaters have sent me here, I complain to myself... but no, it was a well-timed gift, a great and glorious opportunity to learn the alchemic process of turning stone, back into flesh and blood. I am eager now to write my report and to teach what I have learned at Miraval to others serving women in recovery/with breast cancer.
From where I sit now in my hotel room in Boston, I realize that I am changed since Miraval. I am relaxed and I am able to rest again. My circumstances, which included my father's recent death and the subsequent upheaval in my family, remain the same; It is I who am different and better able to deal with those immutable facts of loss and regret.
Miraval is about healing: Life in Balance. It is about letting go of the grumbles and fear that cause one to be dissatisfied with one's lot in life. It is about giving oneself permission to let go, and to say good-bye and finally to move on. It is about making a short time seem longer and taking what you learn with you for the "rests" of your life. It is about releasing one's grip on hopelessness and finding a new rhythm to walk by and about one's renewal of Faith. It is about living fluidly and about quiescence, the acceptance of things one cannot change.
"How well do you know him? 'Not well enough to share a silence with him.' " Martin Buber
Edie Eggers broken but living body was found among the dead Jews, lying in a mass grave at Auschwitz in Germany in 1945. She says it was probably one of our grandfathers who pulled her out. "So you see," says Dr. Edith Eggers, "My entire life is post-mortem."
There were a number of healers invited to attend to us at Miraval. Edie Eggers, is a psychiatrist of world renown and common sense. "Don't cover your garlic with chocolate," she warned us, "It still tastes bad." Edie explained the importance of facing the seemingly insurmountable by learning the secret she had discovered in the death camps: "Flow. You have to learn to flow," said 75 year old Dr. Eggers, recently married to a quiet gentleman with a wise grin, who watched delightedly as his new bride, a former dancer, lithely performed a graceful turn and ended with one lovely limb stretched directly over her head. "You are all familiar with the human instinct to fight or flight," she remarked, "But I learned there was a secret, a third most important behavior for survival, which must be learned: one must learn to flow through the impossible."
And haven't we, survivors of cancer, occasionally managed to do just that? Dr. Eggers taught us that this flowing, like sweet water through salt, is not serendipitous. It is a behavior to be cultivated within us; something to make us stronger when we indeed are weak.
"...my strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Mind, body and spirit in balance, that, is God's design. The spiritual aspects of healing, the physical importance of relaxation and even tips on sexuality and dealing with sexual dysfunction were provided through clear, concise and often humorous lectures. Our instructors remained among us, providing opportunities for private dialogue. Women with lymph edema were carefully and intelligently instructed in the care and importance of movement by Saskia Thiadens, R. N. a specialist in lymph edema. More than once I saw her kneeling by the wheelchair of a woman with the tentative look of hope on her face, as Saskia touched her arm and gently explained how that women's edemic leg might be made more comfortable.
As we dined upon the delectable, well balanced and nutritious cuisine, served by an almost clairvoyant staff, we leisurely discussed at our various and beautifully laid out tables, the most luxurious gift we had received at Miraval: 2 treatments each, at their world famous spa.
There was one low, dark quiet building up above the others around it which completely belied what it contained. There, we received the Royal Treatment: no kidding. There were beauty makeovers: L __, still in treatment and recovering from a bone marrow transplant, returned to us looking as fresh and elegant as a flower; there were specific kinds of massage: P__, the bicycle enthusiast, just done with chemo, had a stiff neck from riding, but someone discovered the renegade rascal in her musculature and she was able to fall into a deep sleep, with her head hanging off to one side of a very comfortable easy chair; one woman had a pedicure, another a manicure, another was taken away to an acupuncturist and returned smiling; everyone was talking about one particularly relaxing treatment, so I just HAD to try it: The Hot Stone Massage...
I entered in: Sounds of water, dripping; low music, low lights, clean, fabulously rich fabrics, soft slippers, unbound, undressed, unusual; Scents in the air: sage, lavender, oil and water; strong hands, gentle, sliding; heat, stones, hot, cool touch, light, deeper, deep. Even her voice is soothing...
To be touched, to be handled and skillfully manipulated in a non-threatening and non-sexual manner was... to learn to live in the moment, to relax completely, to give myself over to rest. Unfortunately, I could not keep my mouth shut. I heard myself saying over and over: Eve! Will you PLEASE just SHUT UP?!? But I was too excited. Next time I will be quiet, next time I will know just to breathe, and exhale and trust the table beneath me to hold me up as I simply melt into it... next time I will know better, I will understand that sometimes it is okay, to share a silence with a stranger.
"...underneath are the everlasting arms..." Deuteronomy 33:27
My own journey through cancer is made possible by Grace, for I am a Christian.
At Miraval I had opportunities to discuss and examine how one is moved from Grace to Grace empowered and upheld by the Devine; for the human, I believe, is essentially spirit. I stand amazed at the power of the Grace of God which has enabled me to survive. I have met many women whose struggles were, oh, so much worse than mine. As a two time survivor of breast cancer with bilateral mastectomies, killer radiation and difficult reconstruction, I realize well: it ain't nothin' compared to the horrors other women have suffered. We spoke quietly together of our various faiths, and had opportunities to share our beliefs and trials. We were free to choose to participate in whatever events we felt were comfortable for us to attend. Spirituality as a major factor of support and recovery has been overlooked by the allopathic community of medicine. It is an essential part of healing, and at Miraval, it was given reign. As a retreat speaker, teacher and student of the Word, I was encouraged to find the higher platform of spirituality at Miraval. There was not, within my hearing, even one argument: people simply moved from group to group and space to space, now at the fireplace, now at the spa, unhampered and freely shared their hearts.
The injured of spirit are often cancer casualties. I am grateful to Miraval for the opportunity to reach out to comfort others, on the open spiritual plane they so graciously provided.
The organizing staff were most accommodating and gracious. The closing ceremony memorable: how strong we, who have approached death, are made by our trials!
I arrived at Miraval hard and tired as a dusty cowboy bandit. I have come away from Miraval feeling whole, helped and refreshed; having helped others to heal,
I feel rested.
And in the Tucson desert, one blued-twilight evening, I let my father go.
(Many thanks to the generous companies who provided the funds for this research reporter to attend Miraval and especially to The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation HQ, for getting me there. 12/5/02-12/08/02)