Healing and the "Quick Fix"
Open Hearted, Step by Step
By Frederick Mills
The temple bell stops,
but the sound keeps coming out of the
flowers. --Basho-Zen poet
a very wet and muddy day last May, my friend Peter Moore and I were
struggling to remove a huge pile of blackberries from his backyard.
We were chatting as we worked, and between
the grunting and groaning, I asked if he'd heard about the recent discovery
of a promising new cancer medicine. Perhaps because I'm a person diagnosed
with cancer, a metaphor emerged while we worked with the weeds. The
conversation led to quick-fix cures versus true healing.
I told Peter that, even if a cure for
cancer were found, I felt it would only address part of the problem.
I said that, to me, cancer is merely a reflection of other, more deep-rooted
human and planetary ills, and unless and until we as individuals take
responsibility for the larger issues that plague us, some other new
dis-ease or illness will emerge to take its place. Esoterically, at
least, I'm less interested in receiving a quick-fix than I am in understanding
and following the path that will bring me to true healing.
Don't get me wrong. If a fix for cancer
comes along, I'm pretty sure I'd take it, believe me! Yet the deeper
part of the question remains: what is this difference between finding
a quick-fix, and healing?
Dictionaries have their definitions.
However, to me, a fix is a temporary solution to a deeper problem, as
compared to healing, which implies a state of being that goes beyond
fixing and into the realm of deep compassion and understanding. Things
and people can break down, but the human spirit is unbreakable.
Back when I was a police officer for
a large southern California city, we were required on occasion to work
the communications center. We could always tell when something big was
happening because the multi-line phone consoles would all begin to light
up at once. Perhaps a plane would go down, or we'd have a major shooting,
traffic accident, or medical emergency, whatever. In the midst of getting
officers, fire equipment, ambulances, and other support resources on
the scene, we'd inevitably receive calls from certain folks who were
mad as hell about the power going out, right in the middle of their
favorite TV program, or irate because their street was being blocked
by our equipment. These people were mad at anything that interrupted
their lives and didn't want to hear any excuses--they wanted their TV,
lights and refrigeration back, now, or we'd hear about it! They wanted
Hey, I can relate. How many times during
my life have I been annoyed at the inconveniences life inevitably brings?
The favorite restaurant I'd been dreaming about all day is inexplicably
closed. I spend my last buck and a half on that longed-for double scoop
of ice cream, only to watch helplessly as it retreats from my eager
initial power-lick, right off the cone, and onto the floor! The plane
I had been counting on to get me home on time is delayed . . . again.
My car engine quits just after I spent a couple hundred dollars for
a brake job. My cat gets run over only days after I spend a fortune
having him repaired from a near fatal cat fight. Or, just when my life
seems to be coming together, and my relationship with my wife is better
than it's ever been, I receive a diagnosis of cancer, and a little over
a year later find myself divorced and alone.
As I look at world relations, I find
the same kind of rollercoaster. The Soviet Union breaks up and I heave
a sigh of relief, only to discover that the threat of nuclear holocaust
has perhaps gotten worse instead of better. India, a country rich in
its evolved spiritual history, kicks off another A-bomb race. Another
species hits the endangered list. And, horror of horrors, somebody had
to go and tow the mothballed battleship, Missouri, the pride of my home
state, to Hawaii. Of course it works the other way on occasion, as well,
but how often do I remember the numbers of times I had green lights
everywhere I looked? Well...I think you get the drift.
Yet, in the face of these considerations,
I ask myself: how can I expect any of these personal or planetary ills
to get better? How am I responsible for any of these things? I've found
myself hoping that a quick-fix will somehow, miraculously emerge, but
then I remind myself--a magic "bullet" or quick fix, can't
make it better. The momentous issues that face an interconnected world
require something more, and it can begin with me.
I don't have to be an Einstein to realize
this truth: everything really is interconnected. Recent discoveries
in quantum physics prove beyond a doubt that everything is connected
to everything else--a fact that evolved spiritual beings have been teaching
us for at least a few thousand years.
After years of my own naiveté,
I can now relate (a little) to the idea that what I do or don't do has
an effect on the rest of my own body, as well as on everyone and everything
else. My simple presence on the planet gives testimony to the rest of
creation. This kind of thinking used to boggle my mind, and I felt pretty
hopeless, yet as I'm able to bring this realization closer to my heart,
I find it quite freeing. I see now that I am a reflection of what we
as a species are doing collectively, both good and bad, to each other
and the planet.
For instance, when I received a diagnosis
of prostate cancer some years ago, I asked myself how I may have been
an unwitting party to it. How could this happen to me? Then I took a
close, honest look at my life--and I saw how I could have developed
a depressed immune system. The signs were there all along. I grew up
in a dysfunctional family with lots of violence and alcohol. I have
a history of prolonged stressful relationships and poor dietary habits.
I was exposed to life-threatening stress and violence as a Marine in
Vietnam, and as a police officer. I also had exposure to massive amounts
of pesticides, both in Vietnam and as a helicopter spray pilot. It all
seemed so "normal" as it happened.
On a planetary level, I can see that
cutting down a tree may not be a big deal when considered on its own,
but what happens when we clearcut a watershed? We affect a plethora
of other beings, and greatly disturb the environment which we all rely
on to survive. When I expand this understanding to the level of cutting
that occurs in our state, or our nation, or all over our world for generations--then
I begin to understand the enormity of the problem. There are a thousand
Thus I see that I am a reflection of
the human race. What we do to each other is a microcosm of what takes
place in the planetary macrocosm. If I instigate a personal war, or
pollute my personal environment, then so goes the planet.
In a world getting faster by the moment,
I wonder how we'll all manage to keep up, let alone heal up. So many
issues--so many needs. Sometimes it breaks my heart. As I write this,
I'm reminded of a scene I witnessed while standing in a crowd on a street
corner in Kowloon, Hong Kong. I was on R&R leave from Vietnam in
early 1966. It was a chilly and windy overcast afternoon. A sudden gust
of wind caught some papers nearby and I heard a loud rustling sound.
Looking in the direction of the noise to my right I saw a woman huddled
cross-legged on the sidewalk pulling a toddler closer to her with one
arm and opening her other arm wider so as to enfold it around another
four or five year old girl who was struggling to get closer to the warmth
of her mother. At the same time she was desperately attempting to keep
the wind from blowing away the newspapers she had been using as protection
from the chill wind to keep her and her children warm. I was deeply
moved and saddened by the scene. I wanted to protect them, to somehow
make them safe, yet I didn't know how to cross the imagined light-years
of cultural differ-ences that separated me from them. Before I crossed
the street our eyes met, and I pray she understood. Then I headed for
the nearest bar--I was there to forget a war.
In Vietnam I saw a land and people devastated
by years of armed conflict. As a police officer, I was forced to endure
the screams of children as we removed them from the parents that had
tortured, beat, and sexually abused them. For such children, a living
hell was preferable to the unknown.
Minimally in these situations, some kind
of quick fix was being offered. But where is the healing to come from,
when conflicts become generational, and "hurt people, hurt people."
Yet in the midst of these things I see
glimmers of a faint yet certain assurance that someday we'll all forget
the terrible things we've done to each other and the planet, and realize
our deep and abiding connection to one another. There is within each
of us a place of knowing that is so vast we have no words to adequately
describe it. We call it lots of things: the human heart, the universe,
our center, whatever. Inside, we know what it is. We just seem to have
lost touch with it.
Step by Step
So how do we heal something we don't know is broken? Most of us live
our lives on automatic pilot. I ask myself: what can I do to heal it
up? Obviously, I understand that, as one individual, I can't save the
world. I must learn discernment. And, if healing is to occur, I must
learn to take responsibility for the things I can do, open to compassion
for the sometimes scary and hopeless conditions we all find ourselves
in. I must develop trust and courage.
Lately, I've been working on seeing everyone
as Christ or the Buddha. And on my own rickety, open hearted, step-by-step
path toward healing, I've been adding to a "personal healing toolbox"
to help me along. Inside, I have a ten piece socket set called the "Ten
Perfections," or paramitas, that were discovered by a way-skillful
guy named Siddharta. He had some of the same concerns I've been discussing
here, only around twenty-five hundred years ago. As you may know, he
became a Buddha--an "enlightened one."
To me, Buddhism is more a method than
a religion. You can be a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, a Masai warrior,
a Catholic priest, or nun, no matter. Buddhism allows for an ongoing
examination of what's happening, from whatever perspective you're coming
So, here they are, the Ten Perfections
of the Heart, or paramitas, as elucidated by the Buddha. May we develop
our own ways of using them in helping us remember our connection to
Generosity--Practice generosity and gentleness--with self, others,
Virtue--Practice integrity in personal being, and in the world. Our
words become as gold. Care for others before self.
Renunciation--Let go of grasping for people, things, outcomes. Let
go of unmindful physical experiences. Remain open to grace.
Energy--remember to be present. Utilize wise effort. Be a spiritual
warrior--warriors see only challenges. Use life force for beauty. Don't
fear to make a mistake.
Wisdom--Be open to see things as they are, not wishing for what we
want to see. Let go, and be open to new creation. Ride easy with life.
Patience--Know that peace and happiness are found in the moment--there
is only the eternal present. Bear the quality of constancy, rather than
waiting--there's a difference. Meet each being and situation with deep
Graciousness--Tell the truth; speak only what is true. Speak gently
and with kindly intent.
Dedication--Determine to be wakeful, mindful, to see things as they
are. Be compassionate and dedicated to the awakening and healing of
all life in every circumstance and action. Life is led from the heart
and dedicated to awakening.
Loving Kindness--Release fear and any sense of separateness from each
other and the planet. Love with depth. Practice forgiveness of self
and others. Let go of judging. Become open-hearted, step by step.
Equanimity--Be balanced. Care for all life, in all circumstances, from
the place of a peaceful heart. Wish every being well. Learn to rest
in your own true nature. Remember we can only let go into ourselves,
we can't let go for others.
I find the paramitas useful as I tread my way toward healing. Not a
quick-fix in sight, but without a doubt, their practice contains the
power to heal a life, disease or no disease. My wish is that you may
find them useful also.
For me, healing has become a word for
what happens when we all remember who we really are, and where we really
come from. May we all be at ease with each other. May we be blest with
a happy, peaceful life, and a healthy, happy planet.
© 1998 by Frederick Mills, Jr. All rights reserved.