Post 2 - A Hop, Skip, and a Jump

Hello everyone. I’ve had another intense spell recently, which I gradually seem to be emerging from. This involved almost a week in hospital, a weekend festival, and a visit from an Amazonian shaman. All in the space of 10 days.

This post covers all of this, but is the length of a short story. I’ve split it into chapters, so you can tackle it in more than one bite.

My intention is not to make this into a sob story to gain sympathy. I've encountered a lot of interesting characters, and had some mind blowing experiences. I’ve learned a lot, and would love to share.

As a summary, I launched my blog when on my hospital bed where I was receiving emergency radiotherapy to dodge paralysis. That’s the “Hop” (Chapters 1 to 5).

I also went to a consciousness festival straight after being released. That’s the “Skip” (Chapters 6 to 11).

After that, I had an intense session with my Amazon trained shaman, where we were literally singing for my life. That’s the “Jump” (Chapters 12 to 16).

There were no gaps between any of these events.

Chapter 1

On the evening of Saturday 26th of May, I was relaxing in bed with my dog Satch. Nothing too crazy, just fiddling with my laptop until my cousins arrived. As this was going on, I started to experience sharp pains on the right side of my chest whenever I inhaled. As this didn’t get any easier, I swallowed two opioid painkillers and applied a cannabis salve liberally to my ribs.

I tried to test out my lung capacity by toning various vowel sounds. Each one sounded like it was from a cherished musical instrument that had been vandalised by a vindictive lover. Each attempt also hurt.

I was familiar with the sensation of pain. It was the type that was fine if one doesn’t breathe. However, given that breathing is a useful process for most people, the result was a dance between avoiding pain, and staying alive.

My cousins gladly arrived, and promptly applied an icepack to my ribs. Despite the painkillers, cannabis salve, and ice, my pain was only reduced from an 8 out of 10 to a 6 out of 10 (10 out of 10 being the worst pain imaginable).

At this point, I wasn’t sure if I had another Pulmonary Embolism (PE), and was worried about making it through the night in comfort. The opioids were the strongest tablets in my arsenal, and they didn’t make much of a dent. I couldn’t take any more for another 6 hours, which didn’t sound promising.

My cousins and I made the decision to call a paramedic. Bill (at least I think his name was Bill) arrived, and he was a true gentleman. He was also bloody good at his job. After giving me some intravenous painkillers, and doing a few tests, he recommended I get checked out at my local hospital, the Royal United Hospital (RUH) in Bath.

When the ambulance arrived, I was put into a wheelchair. My dog had planted himself in the middle of all the commotion, and then started to run around anxiously as they were taking me away.

The ambulance crew were again friendly and competent. They got me to the RUH fairly quickly. It was a Saturday evening, which meant I was expecting to jostle with the drunks for a bed. Luckily this wasn’t the case.

Chapter 2

I was put under the care of a fantastic senior French nurse called Vanessa. She was frightfully nice, and we ended up having a good chat, amongst the various test she did on me. It turned out she had lived in San Francisco as well.

I also had a good chance to catch up with my cousin Harkesh. It had been 5 years since we had last saw or spoken to one another. It must have been a shock seeing me in pain after all those years.

As for Harkesh, she’s competent, hardworking, and grounded. However, she’s also very bubbly and a good laugh. Exactly the person you want beside you in A&E.

We spent a few hours catching up on the past 5 years, until it was time for me to be transferred to another ward. The intention was to keep me in overnight, so I could get a CT scan done.

Harkesh went home to rest. It was the middle of the night by now, and there was no point her hanging around.

I was in the Acute Medical Assessment Ward until around lunchtime the next day. After getting my CT scan in the morning, I was visited by the doctors and consultant on duty. They had good news and bad news.

The good news was my previous embolism was stable, and they couldn’t actually detect a reason for my chest pain. The chest pain had subsided significantly, so the problem seemed to have solved itself.

The bad news was the CT scan detected at least 3 new tumours on my spine, growth of my kidney and sternum tumours, as well as the cancer spreading to my liver and ribs.

Of most concern was the tumour on my T3 vertebrate, which is essentially a bone in my spine at mid shoulder blade level. This was a good explanation for my 2 month old shoulder pain, which was proving tricky for my osteopath to fully dislodge.

If left unchecked, the tumour would grow, cutting off nerve function below the mid shoulder level. What this means in practical terms is loss of bladder and bowel function, loss of mobility below the chest, and loss of diaphragm action.

Given I’m on palliative care, I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my days on a ventilator, and nor would it be offered. Hence if it got to that stage, the curtains would be finally drawn. Potentially a fat lady would also sing, but I’m not sure if that’s offered on the NHS.

The plan was to keep me in hospital, and give me several rounds of radiotherapy as soon as possible.

It was a lot to take in, but I felt serene and detached upon hearing the news. I had the mental attitude of this being some kind of engineering problem to be solved, and that we were discussing options and the best way forward.

After another hour or so, I had a short release of tears, and was transferred to the Medical Short Stay Ward.

Chapter 3

My morning medication. It's ll about perspective...

My morning medication. It's ll about perspective...

The Medical Short Stay Ward was familiar territory for me. I’d spent almost a week here in October 2017 recovering from my embolism, and also my inability to eat nor keep my food down.

As I was wheeled into my new bed, I smiled and said hello to several nurses who recognised me. I remember the nurses being kind and friendly from my last visit, and the ward itself was light and airy. I was in a good place.

After a while, I heard the relaxed, even tones of a Liverpool (Scouse) accent coming from the bed next to me. All of the Scousers I’ve met are lovely people. That’s not to say all are, those are just the people I’ve met. However, there is a stereotype of Scousers being criminals, and rough around the edges.

The Scouser looked like he was in his mid 40s, with closely cropped hair. Upon taking a closer look at him, he was in handcuffs, and chained to a burly looking prison guard. A second prison guard sat next to him on duty. Despite this scene, he came across as a decent bloke. He was kind to the various guards and nurses who attended to him, and they were kind in return.

I felt compassion for him because he was having trouble keeping his food down. As I mentioned earlier, this was the same issue I had a few months previously, sitting in the bed opposite from him. I can imagine some right wingers complain about the cost of him receiving treatment, with probably some even doubting whether he should be treated at all.

As far as I’m aware, our justice system does not include withdrawing medical treatment, nor inflicting serious episodes of vomiting or epilepsy as a punishment. I don’t want to speculate on what he may have done, but whatever he is in prison for, he has received the appropriate sentence as determined by our judicial system. He’s doing his time for what he did. And at the end of the day, he’s a human being.

After a few days, when he was able to keep some food down, I offered him and his guards some of my high grade Fortnum & Mason shortbread biscuits. I told him I’d been through the same thing previously, and wished him well. By virtue of being separated only by a curtain, he knew all about my medical situation and offered whatever help he could back. Although there was not realistically much he could do about my situation, I was genuinely grateful. If circumstances were different, and I still drank, I’d probably share a pint with him.

There was another gentleman on the ward who was causing some comedy. He looked how Jeremy Corbyn (leader of the second biggest politician part in the UK), would look like if he was sipping stolen cognac in pub cellar, whilst the said pub was being obliterated by heavy artillery shelling. Let’s call him JC.

One of the nurses told me they caught him rummaging around the ward kitchen looking for a bottle of whisky that wasn’t his.

Later that same evening, the smell of tobacco wafted towards me. I presumed was coming through my open window. I was wrong. JC had decided to light a cigarette while sitting in bed! You can’t do that these days, mate.

The next day I was surprised to see the ward doors locked, and only accessible via keycard. A nurse explained that this was because JC went outside for a cigarette, but ended getting lost for almost 2 hours, sparking a small crisis. They obviously didn’t want this happening again, so privileges were withdrawn.

Chapter 4                                                            

Back to my radiotherapy.

While I was meditating in bed, I was visited by an effervescent Oncology Clinical Nurse. I could never remember her name. This was despite me studying her name tag several times, each time promising myself that I’d remember. She had the best sense of humour of any medical staff I’ve come across. She again reiterated the situation with the tumours on my spine, and mapped the course ahead for my treatment.

Me in my hospital jim jams (pygamas)

Me in my hospital jim jams (pygamas)

When I suggested being discharged early, she pressed home how serious the situation was, by mandating that I lie flat until told otherwise. The fear was any further movement could damage the nerves in my spine, and jeopardise my mobility and control of bodily functions. I was allowed 30 degrees of grace to facilitate eating, but I was to do my business in a cardboard urinal. I forgot to ask her about the intricacies of taking a crap.

Fairly soon after that, I was wheeled down for an MRI of my whole spine. This was so they could gain a clearer idea of what was happening with my nerve tissue, and sharpen up their plan for treatment.

I lay motionless in the steel MRI tube. Some people have warned me about claustrophobia, but my years spent in tunnels must have chamfered the edge off. I knew the tube was self supporting, and in no danger of collapse.

As I closed my eyes and lay still for 40 minutes, my half dreams were visited by a black jaguar. It was prowling, probing and moving through different parts of my body with poise and purpose. I didn’t feel fear, just calm curiosity. I envisioned it taking bites and clawing at my tumours. Eventually, I witnessed it fade into the darkness behind my eyelids.

Chapter 5

The Radiology team at the RUH have a unique quality about them. I’m not sure how this is possible, but they all seemed to greet me as an old friend they were genuinely looking forward to seeing. I’m not sure how this is possible, but the warmth from them felt sincere. This was even after being treated by different people from different teams on different days.

My first encounter required getting my first ever tattoo. Nothing as dramatic as The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch.

It was a plain black dot actually. Centred on my chest. I felt like a rebel without a cause.

This was to provide a reference point line up the radiotherapy equipment with the MRI and reference scans. It corresponded with the dots for my T3 tumour. I had a second black dot somewhere on my abdomen for the L2 / L4 tumours thought to be pinching my sciatic nerve. The radiologist made the dot intentionally small, so much so that he initially wasn’t sure if his colleagues would be able to find it. I haven’t been able to find it myself, but then again, I haven’t bothered to look particularly hard either.

When this was done, I was wheeled up to the treatment room in my bed. I exchanged warm greetings and bad jokes with the team, and had my photo taken. I decided to put on an expression that would make me look like an eagerly deranged dog walker. Yes, that would do nicely.

I’m still waiting for the team to send me the pic. If it’s arrived, please take a look at it. If it didn’t arrive, then you’ve just probably spent a moment looking for it, which you will never get back. The puppeteer works his magic.

I was due for 5 doses of radiation, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Monday Tuesday. I didn’t want to do the Tuesday dose as I was double booked with my shaman. I didn’t quite say this to the consultant and oncology nurse. It’s not something you really say in these kinds of situations. However, I did ask for the fractions (radiation doses) to be adjusted. Hence I had the total 90 Grays radiation spread over 4 sessions, instead of having to sit through 5.

Each time I received a dose, it was over and done with fairly quickly. I didn’t seem to have huge initial side effects. They were mainly confined to a dry throat and some tiredness. I was still eating like a horse in hospital, gobbling all the food put in front of me, as well as extra sandwiches and bowls of bran flakes during the day.

I tried to keep up with some of my chanting, meditation, and pranayama (breathwork) practices in hospital. Yet they were nowhere near the amount I was pulling off before hospitalisation. However, I thought to myself that the fact I was still adding some fuel to the fire of my practice, meant I was managing to keep the fire going. Fires can burst into infernos and then equally die back to embers. You can even nurse a tiny ember into a roaring blaze, if you are skilled and know what you’re doing.

The point is keeping the fire going, no matter how small. Relighting the fire, and rebuilding momentum is much easier than starting again from the cold. 

In my final round on the Monday, I was offered some music after some complimentary banter. I asked for some Opera. and a kind radiologist called Ben obliged with Caruso, sung by Pavarotti. A link to this with English subtitles is included here. Some of the lyrics relate poignantly to my situation, although I didn’t quite realise it at the time.

After the final dose, I was wheeled back into the waiting area, where my mom was hanging out. I rang the metal bell to signal an end of a course of my treatment, and I was greeted with smiles and a few claps from my fellow cancer patients in the waiting area.

I felt slightly awkward and undeserving, like I'd received an award I didn't earn. It wasn’t curative treatment, just a delaying tactic. And they had no idea I was on palliative care. I smiled politely, and thanked them, and my mom wheeled me towards the exit.

Chapter 6

Back to the previous Friday.

After collecting a big bag of drugs from the pharmacy, the porter wheeled me to my mom waiting outside in her car. We made the journey back home, in order to pack a few things before heading to Colourfest down in Dorset. The festival was a consciousness festival in the grounds of a stately home. This meant the focus was on healing and expression. In plain English, this meant meditation, yoga, various talks, live bands and workshops. No alcohol or drugs allowed.

Given I was on a platter of painkillers, it probably meant I was the most hammered person at the festival. A title I’ve spent a long time trying to achieve.

As it was in a stately home, we had beds to sleep in each night and a small kitchen to prepare things.

At home, things weren’t sailing plainly. It seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to pack items required for a two night stay. I was frustrated that simple directions weren’t being followed, and extra fuss being spent on items that didn’t matter. My frustration was added to by not being in a state to do everything myself. I’ve been to festivals in three countries, including Burning Man in the Nevada desert, where nothing, not even water, is provided. This should have been a cakewalk.

I was frustrated that despite having rooms, beds, plenty of time to plan and pack, being at Colourfest for only two nights, and spending the past week in hospital getting radiotherapy, I had to give direction to what I thought were basic tasks.

I lost my temper when my mom had unpacked items I’d already packed, and I’d spilled a glass of orange juice on the floor trying to put them back where I originally put them. I shouted a few profanities, threw my painkillers on the floor (which I was going to take with the juice), and stormed upstairs, telling everyone to get their f*cking act together.

After having a shower to calm down, and washing my sandals of spilled orange juice, I went out to the car where they were waiting.

I lay in the back of the car on a futon, as sitting up for the whole car journey was too painful. This meant I couldn’t provide proper navigation, and had to leave it to my family.

We had a mix up in the navigation (which didn’t help my temper), but finally arrived at the festival gates. The organisers kindly let us park up next to cottage we were staying in, and the staff on duty were kind and helpful. They also kindly gave my carers (mom and brother) complimentary tickets.

I needed some time to cool off in my room. I was still pissed off with what had happened, and didn’t want to be around anyone. I’ve handled much worse, many times in the past without losing my temper. However, I must have been pushed close to the edge by my time spent in hospital.

As I was laying down on my bed, I looked at the program of events, still pissed off. Then I remembered I was still alive, still breathing, and still in the fight. Despite what had happened over the past week.

I regrouped with my family, and we went to an evening meditation session in the Healing Field. The route took us past the stately home, alongside huge landscaped trees, and various activity tents. The light was fading as we approached sunset.

We got the to meditation 15 minutes late, but settled down into a peripheral spot. It was easy to sit still and feel the solidness of the earth. I was surprised to feel the anger draining out of me, and into the ground below me. I can’t remember what came first, the supressed laughter, or the tears. I also felt a huge wave of gratitude for my family working so hard to be there for me, and making the festival happen. I also didn’t want some of their last memories of me being angry with them, or thinking that they’d failed me.

My smouldering anger felt insignificant as it was being extinguished. About 15 minutes later, small bells were rung as part of the ritual, which brought in another layer of ease and lightness.

Selfie taken after evening mediation on Friday evening

Selfie taken after evening mediation on Friday evening

I hugged my family, apologised, thanked them, and told them I loved them.

We walked over to the main festival area, and had a bite to eat. I bumped into a couple of friends I’d met on workshops, which lightened my spirit further.

After my mom headed to bed, my brother and I explored a bit further. I bought a piece of dark chocolate from a cacao stand for my mom, and a concentrated shot of cacao for myself. I made a prayer of gratitude, and drank half of it, which reminded me of how bitter and unpalatable unsweetened cacao can be.

I didn’t want to spill the other half, as it’s regarded as sacred medicine in parts of Latin America where it originates from. Instead, I sauntered over to a statuesque London Plane tree, while my brother visited a musical instrument tent. The tree was almost as wide as I was tall, and towered over me. Its branches hung low, and the canopy spread wide.

I remembered laying underneath this tree 8 years ago, when I was at Gaunts House. On this occasion, my sister was graduating from her yoga teacher training.

I did a short prayer, thanking the tree, the cacao, and the land, and asking to receive any healing or lessons I needed to continue my journey. I respectfully poured the cacao next to the roots, and lay my hands on the trunk. The bark at the base of the tree was covered in a dry moss, which was almost warm to the touch. It felt like the fur of a huge, silent beast. It possessed the simple, clean scent of the forest. I felt myself feeling energised by the contact.

After meeting up with my brother, we headed to bed to retire for the night.

Chapter 7

I had high aspirations to get up at 6am and do one of the morning meditations. Dawn warmed the curtains, and I could hear my mother and brother snore in unison. I decided to be comfortable and stay put.

I did get up after 7am with my mom, and I decided to meditate under the London Plane tree from the night before.

As we approached the tree, it appeared even more majestic in the early light. We settled down into comfortable spots, with my mom carrying a bolster for me to sit on. My mom did her prayers, while I set my timer for 21 minutes.

Tree hugger.jpg

I sat as still as a statue, feeling solidly connected to the earth. Each breath of the tree filtered air gradually became more relaxed. The morning birdsong eased me towards calm.

My timer overran, and I opened my eyes to see my mom looking around. I explained to her that the roots of the tree extend roughly to the same extent as the canopy. Sitting against the trunk meant we were almost encased at the heart of the tree.

I encouraged her to put her hands on it, and then once she did that, to give it a hug. My mom is now a tree hugging hippy, like her son.

Chapter 8

After breakfast, my mom wanted to head to a Satsang. A Satsang typically consists of one or more rounds of meditation, as well as a talk on spiritual subject e.g. how to manage challenges in life, difficult emotions, etc.

We got to the Satsang tent early, and found ourselves a spot. When the Satsang started, I thought it was a bit corny and cheesy. It felt hard to get involved. My mom, however loved it.

I saw her crying and smiling during one of the meditations. She then lay on her back to have a rest, and then started to snore quite loudly. I didn’t care. I just let her carry on. At least she didn’t fart, or shit herself.

In previous years, I would have been embarrassed just to have my mom at a festival, let alone snoring through a workshop. I think we were the only two brown people in there, and were sitting next to one another. I couldn’t pretend she was someone else’s mom, or that we weren’t together. However, I was glad my mom got some of the healing she needed. I’m glad we went.

I had another event I wanted to go to, so we left early. We booked some reflexology and massage sessions for ourselves in the adjacent tents. We were in the healing area, and when in Rome...

I mistook a gentleman called Coin for a proprietor at one of the tents. We exchanged some pleasantries, and he seemed like a nice guy, but I won’t mention too much about him now. He will feature later on in the story.

By this time, my energy began to ebb, and I needed to eat and take more painkillers. We met up with my brother, and had some lunch. My mom went to have some rest, while my brother and I went to a male only talk called The Power of Man. There was an equivalent event for the women in the adjacent tent.

The idea of the men’s talk, funnily enough, was to learn how to step into our masculine power in a balanced and healthy way. The aim was to have a second talk the following day, where the women and men would connect on an equal, and more balanced footing.

The talk started off with the FUCK YOU tree. We weren’t presented with an actual tree to literally, or metaphorically fuck, but the centre pole of the tent worked out nicely. The idea was to shout profanities and release anger at the “tree”, anger based on previous “harmful” interactions with women, that weren’t necessarily addressed or resolved at the time.

40 to 50 men started the task with various degrees of relish. I couldn’t feel that much anger. Maybe because I was tired, maybe because I’d done a lot of work to release anger and reflect on my previous relationships. I did utter the famous words, but there was no volume or passion in them. A lot of gentlemen did get into it though, and the volume was LOUD.

I didn’t know what the women in the adjacent tent were thinking, nor did I know how well was accepted in the various treatment tents (massage, reflexology, etc). A few moments later, the women erupted at their own FUCK YOU tree. Not a good idea to be a man in that tent.

We did various worthwhile exercises. The one that stuck out the most was where the men would wander around the room, until they naturally encountered another man. We had to ask each other a question, which would change every so often. One was based on what we were longing for, or felt we were missing from women. Another question was what we our fears were around women.

I’ve had a lot of time reflect on the past, and my illness has put a lot of things into perspective. What I would have answered when I have diagnosed, just didn’t ring true at the time. I was struggling to come up with anything.

I then bumped into a gentleman called Jonathan, who is approximately my age. After he answered, I briefly explained my health situation to him, and uttered the same reply I’ve provided above. I can’t quite remember what he said to me in response, but it did help me nail down a fear.

The fear is this; if I somehow meet my soulmate, or woman of my dreams during this journey, I’ll be deprived the chance of connecting or forming a relationship I would want vs if I was healthy.

I no longer have an athletic physique, have lost 70lbs of muscle, and can now fit both hands around each thigh. She would probably have to call me an ambulance for me, if we tried to make love! I would have the fear of not having children with her, nor growing old enough to see them being born or grow up. The fear of not being able to do thoughtful things for her, surprise her with treats, give during lovemaking, or travel the world with her.

I was grateful to Jonathan for his help, and went on my way. Feeling into this as I write this, it’s hard to feel terror or fear, however I do feel slightly uncomfortable about the prospect. Then I think, it’s hard enough for most of us to connect with such a person, so given my situation, it’s probably not anything to worry about too much.

Chapter 9

The workshop concluded, and my brother and I left the tent. I sat beneath a mature oak tree, while my brother parted to collect me some water. Jonathan joined me on the grass afterwards, and it turned out we had a lot in common. After exchanging contact details, we parted company.

My brother was replaced by my mom, and the idea was to go to another Satsang in the adjacent tent (the one where the women previously had their own workshop). This one was held by a Californian lady called Prajna. I very much like Prajna, and have been to one of her residential workshops in the past. I spotted a cohort of friends I’d made from the same workshop, to the left of the stage.

It started with a meditation, which I enjoyed to start with, but found progressively more difficult to focus. This was because I skimped on my pain medication by virtue of leaving it in my room, and assumed I’d be fine soldiering on. It turned out I wasn’t, but I decided to reinforce my failure nonetheless.

Various people were invited by Prajna to come to the front, and share any issues or problems they were having. The idea was to help them work through their problems, and by doing this, it would also help the audience. This is because many of us have or will experience similar problems to one another, albeit in varying contexts.

Mom & Prajna.jpg

After a few people had shared, my mom put her hand up and made it to the front. I was slightly apprehensive about what she was going to say, but had no intention of stopping her.

I won’t share exactly what she said, as what happens in Satsang, stays in Satsang. However, she did warm the heart of the crowd with what she shared, and explained a bit about my situation, and how she was handling it. Despite being close to tears, she did offer messages of strength to the crowd, and mentioned that she had been through similar circumstances to many of the speakers. Once she was finished, she gave a few strangers big hugs, and sat down beside me.

The last person to come to the front was Coin – the man I spoke to in the morning at one of the healing tents. It turned out his wife is in a similar situation with Brain Cancer. She was poised in a wheelchair a few metres behind where I was sat.

He asked whether it was right to be angry and still try to fight her disease, or whether he should come into a place of acceptance. He found he was doing the latter for over 5 years when his wife was more mobile. However, it had become more difficult as time progressed, and he was oscillating between the two.

I honestly couldn’t remember Prajna’s reply at this point. It sounds bad, but I was in considerable pain. I was trying to stand, stretch and move around to gain some relief. I had actually wanted to leave even before I knew my mom was going to take to the stage, but something told me it was important to hang on until the end.

I was impressed that he had the courage to come to the front, and even more astounded there was a couple in front of me who were going through very similar circumstances. She was even undergoing chemotherapy, which is a testament to her strength and courage that she made it to the festival, and Coin’s strength for supporting her.

Coin and I chatted afterwards. We discussed the topic of what the point of any of it was, and whether it was worth it. I said I truly didn’t know. However, I did say we can make something of what has happened to us. If we can spread our messages, and what we’ve learned, it can be a shield to the next people along the line. I for one, treat it as taking one for the team.

If it doesn’t seem like there is a point to it, or whether it means anything now, then make it mean something. Share your story with whoever will listen.

There will be times where we feel anger, sorrow, and despair. However, there are good moments as well. None of us have the fortune of being billionaires, having superpowers, movie star looks, and being universally liked – all rolled into one.

Yet we make the best of what we have, and can find a lot of happiness in there. This is despite any sorrow or suffering we do face. Every day may not be good, but there is good in every day.

I gave him the details of my blog, and email, then hobbled off back to my room in pain. The walking became more difficult towards the end, to the point where me leg felt like it was going to detach at the hip and knee. I each empty bench I passed looked extremely inviting. Though I knew if I sat down, there would be no getting back up again.

The last 20m were agony, but I kept on pressing ahead, finally collapsing onto my bed. I hit the pain as hard as I could by taking 4 different types of painkillers. I asked my mom and sister to get me some Puerto Rican food after they had eaten. I spent the next 25 minutes mantra chanting, using my time to heal my dry throat caused by the radiation. As cheesy as it sounds, perhaps you could call it singing for my life.

Chapter 10

The next day, I had a morning meditation planned with my sister, but I decided sleep was a more appetising proposition. I felt drained.

After breakfast, my mom and I headed to the healing area for our sessions. I hooked my mom up with some impromptu cranial work, while I waited for my reflexology session. The morning air was calm, as I gazed towards a pair of oak trees at the centre of the field. Funnily enough, I was sitting in the same chair Coin was, when I met him the previous day.

Most of the day was uneventful and relaxing. It consisted of eating good food and having various healing sessions. I spent a lot of time laying underneath majestic trees on my air mattress. The weather was fine, and I serenely watched cloud formations pass by while comfortably laying shaded on my back.

At lunch, I was sipping an alcohol free cocktail, and watched a group of singing pixies strolling towards a group of children. They were releasing bubbles of all different sizes, which reflected magnificently off the midday sun. The colours and moving shapes were so intensely beautiful, it almost felt like I was hallucinating.

As the children were frolicking, I caught the eye of one of the pixies – we had connected during the men’s workshop the previous day. I gave him a grin and a wave, and he resumed the bubble magic.

Later in the afternoon, we came across the only ice cream stand. The ice cream was made from fresh ingredients in front of the customer, being placed on an ice cold plate to form. The product is called “rolled ice cream”. Whilst this sounds wholesome and romantic, I didn’t regard this as the smartest idea from a business or customer satisfaction point of view. Each customer probably spent almost 10 minutes having their order batched up, in addition to their wait of over half an hour. If they were serving readymade organic ice cream made from high quality and ethical ingredients, they could have reduced this down to 1 or 2 minutes per customer.

The Sycamore tree I sat beneath, while watching my brother queue for mediocre ice cream.

The Sycamore tree I sat beneath, while watching my brother queue for mediocre ice cream.

As I watched my brother from the shade of a sycamore tree, I felt like asking him to call it off. I wanted ice cream, but didn’t want to make him suffer for it. However, the longer he waited, the more it seemed cruel to call him off and cement the waste of time. My brother persisted.

After around 45 minutes of being in the queue and waiting for the ice cream, my brother came back with the goods. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it tasted distinctly average.

Chapter 11

We were due to leave later in the afternoon, but we had a crystal bowl and gong bath pencilled in. This was given by a heart centred lady called Ammaprema. It was set up in the spacious library of the stately home. The bookshelves extended up to high ceilings, and were lined with old, weathered tomes.

My sister reserved a prime spot in front of the crystal singing bowls, and I lay my inflatable mattress on the solid timber floor. I was flanked by my brother and sister. Sofas were arranged around the perimeter, and my mom was nestled into one. She was wedged beside a friend she had made earlier on in the festival, dancing together to Punjabi music.

When the session began, I was quickly swept into the dream realm. Apparently I was snoring. Once it ramped down, we were invited to sing a song called “Hallelujah”. This is significantly different to the pop version that many are used to, but I would argue, much more brilliant. I was moved enough by it to shed some tears. These ran down my face, and left wet patches on my mattress. If I was laying with my head on the opposite end, it would have looked like I’d pissed myself.

Regardless of the potentially embarrassing incident, I felt lighter, happier, and more centred.

After the session ended, Ammaprema asked me if I wanted a short personal session with her instruments. I gladly accepted. I sat myself down on one of the sofas, and was subjected to various crystal bowls, chimes, a crystal harp, and other tools of sound.

I felt somewhat light headed, but also clear and even more rooted and centred. With my eyes closed, I had an image and a strong feeling of myself being a divine light. A flame burning fiercely, although silent and still.

It felt like the image that Krishna (and incarnation of Lord Vishnu in Hundu / Vedic scriptures) revealed to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, when Arjuna asks the God to reveal himself in his full glory. My weak physical body felt separate, and almost inconsequential, like an old pair of clothes that could be tossed away in the laundry basket. The flame of my spirit however, felt strong.

I’m not egotistical enough to claim that I’m a living God. At least any more than any of us are. I just felt I had a glimpse in that moment of my pure spirit. Spirit which we all possess in each of us. I don’t really know beyond that. I’d just be regurgitating what I’ve read elsewhere to fill in the gaps. This is just what I can share about my experience, whether it was an unfiltered glimpse into another realm, or a load of nonsense conjured up by my mind.

I had a lovely chat and gave my thanks to Ammaprema, and headed to my final healing session. My family then packed up the car while I lay in bed, and we said goodbye to the festival.

Chapter 12

I woke up the next morning, hearing my dog Satch scrambling excitedly across the hallway. I made it to the stairs and called him up. We hadn’t seen each other for 9 days. As many of you know, this is almost an eternity if you love your dog, and your dog loves you.

Me and Satch shortly after being reunited. Our smiles are suspiciously similar...

Me and Satch shortly after being reunited. Our smiles are suspiciously similar...

Satch accepted a big hug, and a few kisses to the side of his head. He in return was whining excitedly, and trying to lick my face. He was so worked up, that his licks were catching me slightly with his teeth. I didn’t care though. It was good to have him back.

I had my final radiotherapy session at the RUH, which I mentioned towards the start of the blog post. This was the one with Pavarotti and the bell ringing. Once this was done, I went home and had a nap. I was expecting my Amazon trained shaman to arrive later in the evening. We had some serious work to do the next day…

 

 

 

Chapter 13

The shaman in question is a fellow called Richard Down. The word shaman makes me cringe slightly when I hear it. The reason being is that shaman is the name that nomadic people in Siberia have given to their medicine men / women. As far as I know, it has no traditional root or use in any language or culture outside of Siberia. Hence, I prefer the blanket terms Curandero or Curandera (female practitioner).

Richard has invested a considerable amount of time being trained by the Shipibo people in the Peruvian Amazon, within the Ucayali River basin.

It should be noted that while Richard has drunk various sacred plant medicine brews in the Amazon, he does not do so in the UK, nor does he make or offer this to people. You may be wondering “how does he heal then?”. This will be explained shortly.

On the subject of shamanism, a fair few of you might suspect I’m talking complete bullshit. Indeed, when talking about shamanism, the word “bullshit” usually isn’t far from the minds, or tongues of most westerners. As I explain more about the Shipibo tradition, you can decide for yourself.

As far as I know, there are three main levels, or types of Curandero in the Shipibo tradition. The first is an Onaya. They typically employ various plant medicines, including Ayahuasca (pronounced eye-a-was-ka). If used correctly, and with respect, it is purported to have phenomenal healing effects. The use of plant medicines is deeply intertwined with indigenous religious beliefs. Nevertheless, given that Ayahuasca is also a psychedelic, it means it has been made illegal in many countries around the world.

An Onaya, or Ayahuasca Curandero will typically serve the brew, sing healing songs called icaros, blow smoke from burning herbs, and perform cleansings. They may also utilise other healing plants which may or may not have sense altering effects.

Another type is a Yubut. They specialise in the removal of poison darts, or “virotes”, which can be sent by other “dark” Curanderos, or disagreeable spirits. I don’t wish to discuss too much of this here. Despite this sounding like fantasy, or complete nonsense to the western mind, it is taken seriously in traditional indigenous communities, and is considered to be skilled and advanced work.

The final type is the Muraya. They are considered to have achieved a high level of skill. The Muraya has undergone considerable and demanding training, including dieting with strong medicinal plants (which are easily capable of killing or driving them insane, if they are not administered correctly). The effect of this means that they can either work with or without using medicinal brews, or Ayahuasca to bring about healing. I’ve been told that true Murayas are hard to find, or don’t exist whatsoever. However, Richard is the closest thing I (or most people) will find to a Muraya, if he isn’t one already.

Richard’s principal tool is his singing voice. This is an important part of an Onaya’s arsenal. Yet given that a Muraya doesn’t necessarily rely on plant medicines, they have to be even more on top of their game when it comes to their vocal skill than an Onaya. Richard has a fantastic voice, and is skilled at using it.

Taking a pause from what I’ve just written, I wouldn’t be surprised if you are extremely sceptical about what I’ve written so far.

If I was introduced to this from a random blogger with cancer, I might be as well. However, note that I’m also an engineer, who’s designed literally billions of dollars worth of infrastructure over 10 years, and in three countries. Some of my work has won industry awards, and I’ve written published technical papers.

If I designed my tunnels based on what a dreadlocked, LSD munching hippy has told me, they no doubt would have collapsed and crushed people under steel and concrete.

I do however, believe in the power of vibration and frequency to heal (and also to hurt). Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism have mantra chanting as one of their core practices, and other religions such have Christianity have choirs and other forms of singing as a central part.

There is an evolving branch of science called Cymatics. This involves placing sugar or sand on a vibrating plate, and then using a tone generator to run various frequencies through them. This causes the grains to align, and form geometric shapes. As the frequency run through the plate increases, the patterns become more complex.

If you’d like a visual example, please have a look at this youtube link by clicking here. I understand you can even purchase kits if you wanted to try this at home with your kids.

This second video shows another experiment that forces water into sine waves while it's still flowing, please click here to view. Note that our body is 45-65% water (based on age, gender, and other factors). If sound is having this effect on water, how could it be affecting our physical form?

On the flipside, there have been many different ways that sound has been weaponised. This article provides some further reading and examples, which I prefer not to delve into here. Please click here to view.

I acknowledge our scientific knowledge is limited on these matters. However, this doesn’t mean that these phenomena aren’t true. In the 16th Century, it was scientific FACT that the Sun was at the centre of the universe. Just ask Copernicus. How much more will we know in another 500 years?

Chapter 14

The day started with a good breakfast, and the intention to hold silence. We wanted to stay focused on the task at hand, by keeping idle talk to a minimum. The task would consist largely of blasting me with different healing songs (known as icaros), as well as periods of guided meditation, and having seated breaks in the shade of the front garden.

My sister had prepared the living room the night before by airing it out, burning incense, and playing relaxing music. She had also laid out various mats, bolsters, and cushions on the floor to make us comfortable.

Richard added his own layer of Shipibo Mantas (artwork based on Ayahuasca visions), tree resins, rattles, and other shamanic paraphernalia. He was wearing his full Shipibo outfit, lovingly made for him by the family of his Maestro. It was covered in various patterns that represent different plants he has taken and dieted with during his training. They are also said to help him call for the aid, and strength of these plants during his work.

This made me smile inside. He once told me that he never saw his Shipibo Maestro or entourage wear these clothes themselves. They insisted he put them on, but were all making jokes and laughing hysterically at him when he did.

Feeling dejected, he wanted to take them off, but they vehemently insisted that he wear them. Weeks of hard work had gone into making them. When he asked why none of them were wearing these clothes, their explanation was that he wasn’t as good a healer as any of them.

Therefore, he’d need all the help he could get!

As I looked at him in his full regalia, it was apparent I also needed all the help I could get.

Chapter 15

Due to my extreme fatigue, I’m writing this almost three weeks after the event. Hence I’m a little hazy on some of the details.

The process started with some verbal sharing. Expressing gratitude, and making clear our intentions for the day ahead.

Richard lit a coal, and placed some menthol crystals upon it. As they sublimed into vapour, they poured into my nostrils and filled my sinuses. My airways were swept open. I felt invigorated and charged by the scent.

The first icaro sung was a song of extraction. This was to broadly remove any remnants of what no longer serves me. My sister and I were encouraged to sing our own improvised wordless sounds, or Sonidos, to support Richard, and layer up the sounds. We had done this in a previous workshop with Richard, so we knew the drill.

Chakra Vowels.jpg

As Richard launched into the traditional Shipibo verses, I soon joined in with my Vedic mantras. These are essentially the base vowel sounds found in human language. Each sound, or mantra is said to correspond with a different part of the body via the chakra system. A brief overview is shown in the drawing to the left.

I wouldn’t recommend trying them on the bus during your morning commute, unless you’re comfortable attracting a few stares. For me at least, they make me feel better afterwards.

Then we were joined by my sister.

Our voices resonated, drifted apart, and meshed back together, in a seemingly random, yet coherent symphony. My throat was a dryer and hoarser due to the radiotherapy I had less than 24 hours prior. I felt like I was underperforming, but I did my best nonetheless.

After this round concluded, I felt calm but had to lie down on my back. My physical body was no longer a totem of strength.

A pause was taken for re-centring. I took the opportunity to sit out on the lawn, feeling the cool support from the earth beneath me. My sister made us hot drinks, and I foraged for some shortbread and macadamia nut biscuits.

The next round was the song of infusion. As I lay on the floor, Richard gently took hold of my feet, while my sister took hold of my head. I felt like a AA battery being slotted into a charger.

Another pinch of menthol was sublimed on a glowing coal. Richard’s instruction was to breathe out, then gently in if it became overpowering, and to keep the eyes firmly shut!

We commenced our second round of singing. Again, I noticed my voice being underpowered, but nevertheless joined our three person choir. After a short time, I fell asleep, snoring and subject to sporadic muscle twitches. Richard and my sister persisted. I dreamt vivid dreams that fled from memory, and woke up more refreshed.

It was a good time to stop for lunch and painkillers.

After this interlude, my sister had to leave, but Richard and I continued the work. This consisted of a guided meditation, whereby the mind allows thoughts to arise and dissolve. This is without manipulation, nor judgment. The intention is to keep on allowing the mind to empty until nothing remains. I again laid down for this meditation, but this made it decidedly more difficult.

Initially, I was in a state of being fully and calmly alert, easily able to describe my psyche when prompted. As time progressed, I drifted towards the frontier where the real world and the dream world graze one another.

Richard and I sitting on the grass to re-centre, during one of our breaks

Richard and I sitting on the grass to re-centre, during one of our breaks

Dreams started to seem like reality, as some of them involved me talking to Richard in familiar surroundings to my home. However, these were distorted by the magic mirror of my subconscious. I was struggling to grope my way through.

Even Richard said the experience felt trippy, and I was starting to pull him over the event horizon.

The exercise was followed by more song, which I slipped unconscious for. However, I was distinctly aware of vivid visions, which again have faded from my memory. We probably spent 3 hours after lunch on these exercises, but of course time melted beyond perception of this.

It was finally over. Richard and I spent some further time out on the grass to conclude the day’s proceedings. I felt a lot lighter, happier, and had a stronger sense of well being than when I started. I’m not entirely sure what we accomplished, but it felt like whatever it was, it was a step in the right direction

Chapter 16

During the next few days, I noticed powerful emotions in my dreams. I can’t recall all of them. However, during one of dreams I had that night, I remember experiencing extreme anger towards my brother. We’ve been getting on really well for many years, and he’s been a warrior in the battle to keep me going. He’s been very compassionate, loving, and has been bending over backwards to accommodate me.

The dream sprouted from a few instances in childhood where I was angry at him for taking something of mine while I was using it, and not giving it back. It’s funny how long we can hold onto things for.

Another one involved me again being angry and fighting against an injustice. I recall this one well, but the plot is so distorted that I don’t think it would be productive to mention the details.

A particularly striking one revolved around me being at my old place of work, which simultaneously had the feel of both a hospital and a school. I was trying to pick up some books or papers I’d dropped on the floor, but I was in crutches and couldn’t do it. A lady came to help me, and I started to sob violently. I woke up soon after, expecting to have shed tears. However, my face was dry.

A poignant one involved me entering an office at night, which had motel-like side bedrooms. I was rummaging through a child’s backpack left in one of the rooms. I opened a package full of goji berries and cashew nuts, which looked like it was gift wrapped. I handed the backpack in to a passing security guard, feeling blanketed by a heavy sense of shame and guilt. Again, I was on the verge of tears. Although the security guard had a bushy grey moustache, he was very concerned about me.

He reached into his pocket, and produced a coin. It felt very dense and heavy in my hand. He then said the words “gloop and drop”. He told me to “let your worries and sadness fall off you, like the rain would fall off the coin. The coin remains solid and unmoved”. I woke soon after at 2:22am, and saw Mars in the night sky, glistening red. It was a vivid and direct message, and I spent a few moments writing it down.

I can’t definitively say what the effect or purpose of the dreams were, but I believe they helped me shift some deeper, stuck emotions - like the defragmentation function on a computer. Emotions my conscious mind probably hasn’t been able to process.

I haven’t had dreams filled with such powerful emotion for many months, if not years. Let alone having a succession of many of them in a short period of time.

Epilogue

So that was an intense 10 days. Thank you for persevering with my prose.

I spent the following three weeks sleeping throughout most of my days and nights. I’m not sure how I did it, but I’m here and breathing. However, I don’t expect I could have done it without the massive support network I have, from my family, NHS staff, and different healers.

Thank you to everyone who’s been sending me lovely messages during this time. I haven’t responded to many of you, as I’ve been either going through the above, or inching my way through fatigue. However, I really do value each and every kind message I receive. Thank you.