When the airline lost my suitcase on a recent trip to visit my son in Peru, I was desperate to get it back. After hours of frantic conversations on the phone, frustration, and eventual resignation, I walked into town to buy the basics: a shirt, a pair of pants, shoes, and some mascara.
My son was studying to be a shaman two hours outside of Iquitos in the jungles of Peru, and I was there to bring him home. I had also felt called to the mountains to do some spiritual journeying myself. I'd always dreamed of going to Peru, and when I traveled there 21 years ago, I didn't have the wonderful experience I expected. So it was time to return and explore all that I'd missed the first time around. But I have to admit that I was worried about my son and what I would find when I saw him -- we'd been out of touch for months.
But when I met up with him and our shaman guide, somehow the suitcase and my worry became less important. I was humbled by the altitude that kept me breathless, even though I thought I was in great shape, and by the Incan architecture that has withstood the test of time. I was humbled by the knowledge and peace of our wise shaman guide, who led us through a four-hour shaman ritual on the side of Machu Picchu. During this time of peace and quiet, surrounded by the spiritual history of past civilization, I welcomed the opportunity to step away from the person who was frantically searching for her suitcase, who was so caught up in the drama of her life.
On the way down the mountain, I ran into a group of outspoken, obnoxious men that I'd actually seen already saving seats on the bus ride up. As I walked slowly down, they asked condescendingly, "What's the matter? You need some help?" I certainly wasn't looking for help and was moving slowly because of the powerful experience I'd had on the mountain. This was an interesting test for me to see if I could stay in a place of peace in the context of an emotional disruption. "No, thank you," I said, calmly, and I continued my peaceful hike down.
Though they were clearly trying to get a rise out of me, I was able to tune the men out, and it seemed particularly disruptive after I'd been in such a peaceful place. As I hiked down slowly, trying to ignore them, they called to me and asked what was wrong with me and did I need help. The frustration that had arisen after losing my suitcase surged again, only this time toward this group of men. I decided to tune them out and to hold on to the peace I'd gathered from our shaman ritual.
I made a deliberate choice to avoid the emotional drama and to simply detach. I was reminded that our reactions to this very drama is in our lives is what often leads us to dis-ease in our bodies. Fear, worry, anger, grief, shame -- these emotions can not only dictate how we act but change the physiology of our bodies. If you've ever read any of Bruce Lipton or Candice Pert's work, you know this already. But it is interesting how we need to be reminded over and over again to surrender.
Letting go was a liberating feeling. Days later when I got salmonella poisoning and was sick in bed with a fever, I just kept trying to stand back and say, "This is life, this is the way it is right now and though I helped to create my situation, I don't have to let it control me." Life is about sitting back and "watching the movie." You don't have to be intimately invested in every situation that comes up. You have the power to tune in and tune out.
So instead of being held prisoner by the challenges in life, what happens when we watch from a distance? Our bodies relax and we are more equipped to explore possibilities.
In all of this, the lesson for me, a person who has dedicated her life to health, is in letting go. Letting go of the worry, the control, the anger, the emotion that we often bury deep inside our bodies, and watching life like you might watch a movie. By this I don't mean you have to have an outer body experience every time things get hard, but find a quiet space and simply observe instead of immediately reacting. You certainly have to participate in your life by making decisions, being productive, and being present for the beauty, but removing the drama can make it all happen with less stress and less burden on the body.
When I returned from Peru and was seeing patients at my clinic, I felt very different from before I left. It was much easier to connect with the women sitting next to me. I was better able to meet them where they were without judgment or preconceived notions and without the perception of control. As a women's health care practitioner, I was reminded that I am here as a guide, a midwife, a partner. I don't have all the answers. But if I can let go of the reins, we can work together and find a great many of them.
By the way, when my suitcase was delivered to my hotel at 2 a.m. four days into my trip, I didn't need it.
For more by Marcelle Pick, OB-GYN, NP, click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.