The Woman with the Bullet Next to Her Heart
The following is excerpted from Creative Stress: A Path for Evolving Souls Living Through Personal and Planetary Upheaval.
The story of Frances McAneny
First, her words: "On 17th August 1973, whilst walking to work with a colleague, who was a member of the reserve police force, gunmen opened fire. We were going into our building of work, we were civil servants. I was shot with a sub-machine gun, was taken to hospital, 14 miles away, where I had emergency surgery. The bullet had entered through the top of my left arm, broke ribs, split my lung and lodged between my heart and main artery. Surgery lasted over 6 hours and I had to have 20 pints of blood. I was in Intensive Care Unit where my consultant told my family that he left me 'comfortable to die.' I spent seven weeks in hospital, then discharged and told to get on with my life."
You can imagine trying to pick up your life with a bullet literally lodged next to your heart. The sense of shock, trauma, grief and outrage must have been extremely intense. Nonetheless Frances decided to face all those conflicting emotions and with some trepidation she decided to go to a retreat with Towards Understanding and Healing. One of the women who was heading this work who became a friend and mentor to Frances was Maureen Hetherington, one of the great visionary activists for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Maureen, who is a friend and colleague, was pregnant when her husband Douggie was brutally shot on his first day of work for the Ulster Constabulary. Douggie had to have his arm amputated as a result.
It was not easy for Frances but she opened herself to healing, knowing that the opening would not only stir her wounds but provide fresh challenges. This exemplifies the handshake with stress. Nowadays, Frances is engaged in continued efforts to promote dialogue between Protestants and Catholics. She transformed a catastrophically negative experience -- a bullet which entered her body with the velocity of hatred -- and instead of living a quiet life in private peace and security, she chooses to live in the challenging fires of sectarian peacemaking. For her, the answer to her stress has been to nurture a more meaningful life...to summon up courage, to attempt to change the course of history and to face down oppression and intolerance. When we were together in London Derry a while back, I was stunned by her quiet demeanour and humility. There with the evidence of another's fierce aggression and hatred lodged next to her heart, she still chooses to find her own highest self. Without such creativity and commitment -- without such embodied virtue -- where do you suppose humanity would be headed?
Let's tell each other the stories of those who become our greatest teachers and templates of higher consciousness -- in their stories you will find that they not only shake the hand of stress, they dance with it.
Two Enlightened Vietnam Vets
The first story was told to me by a very spiritually attuned person who had been invited to Fort Bragg for a couple of days to give some lectures on the Middle East. He told me that he had been assigned to a Sergeant who met him at the airport and took him everywhere he needed to go throughout his stay. What struck him almost immediately about his escort was the quality of full attention which he gave to everything from opening a door to the back-and-forth of conversation. He had that unmistakable fullness of presence that one associates with a person who has done a lot of inner work. By the end of their time together my friend was so impressed with how conscious and tuned in this man was, that he asked him if he would be willing to share his spiritual practice. What his escort shared with him was this: in Vietnam, his work was to clear mines. It was a deeply stressful assignment; one in which he had to confront his own fears. Every moment demanded his utmost attention; he could not allow himself to be distracted. Every step he took he had to make a conscious choice. Every step he took he celebrated life. This was his practice: to give his full attention to every moment and to celebrate every step in life. When he left Vietnam he continued every step of his life in gratitude.
His practice is the essence of the Embrace. Perhaps you might want to see how many steps you can take in full awareness and deep gratitude. Tune in, and you'll find that there are more of these invisible saints walking in our midst than you ever suspected.
The second story starts with a young man growing up in rural Oklahoma; his family is a modern-day mix of Native and European ancestry. He is sent to a missionary school where native spirituality is suppressed and where he experiences some molestation. From time to time he finds himself called to the woods to rekindle his deeper memory of his real spiritual inheritance. He knows that the deeper teachings of Christianity can be integrated with authentic ancient teachings which do not separate humans from all other life in nature.
His name is Sequoyah. He is very bright, physically agile, with advanced linguistic and communication skills. He is recruited into Army intelligence -- learning several Asian languages. His role in Vietnam and surrounding areas is military Intel work: which involves being dropped into remote areas and surviving in extremely hostile and adverse conditions. During this period he is given drugs to increase his stamina and help him stay awake for days on end. Not unlike a number of other Vietnam Vets he left Vietnam with a drug problem... a problem which was to lead him to a harsh prison sentence at Leavenworth penitentiary.
Yet it was here in prison that he was finally able to reach deep enough into his own being to make contact with his core self -- his higher self. Prison time became a golden opportunity to focus on his spiritual development, spending time in meditation, doing yoga and exploring the capacities of his own consciousness. It became clear to the authorities that not only was he a model prisoner -- he was a luminous being. And through the right interventions and great good fortune, he was released.
Sequoyah is an advanced spiritual teacher who shares his wisdom, which is an integration of the perennial philosophy and native ways. In his presence you learn what it is to be fully surrendered to the grace of the moment; to have no fixed ideas about how things should or ought to be; and to forgo being judgmental. He shares a prayer which came to him while living with the remarkable Kogi people on a mountain in Colombia. This is a summation of his prayer: Great Thanks, Great Peace, Great Love.
Practice: Great Thanks, Great Peace, Great Love
Breathe in great thanks until you are filled with gratitude. Breathe out great thanks offering thanks to everything in creation. This gratitude allows for peace to arise.
Breathe in great peace until you are filled with peace. Breathe out great peace to resonate with everything in creation. This peace allows for love to arise.
Breathe in great love until you are filled with love. Breathe out great love to everything in creation. This love allows for endless gratitude to arise.
To be in the presence of someone who is not trying to squeeze reality into the time frames, purposes and needs which they have but who is completely comfortable with things as they unfold is to be in the presence of the miraculous nature of reality as it is. Trusting in this unfolding process requires the dissolution of controlling and defensive habits and rather than being an attitude of ‘anything goes' it is one in which deep awareness makes contact with and gives full permission to what is trying to arise. To live in this state is to live a guided life. You are now someone who is consciously cooperating with your own Higher Self. Even when you sense that a scorching wind is what is arising, you cooperate with it and know you will bend as it blows. You are now flexible and transparent; you are able to move with life's expansions and contractions and not blocked by your own hidden agendas which gauge their response on the basis of concealed fine print which lays out the tightly proscribed conditions under which you will be transparent and flexible.
Copyright 2010 by James O'Dea.
Image by striatic, courtesy of Creative Commons license.