William Jackson PsyD Co-Founder of Authentic Self
10 years ago I was sitting in the jungles of Burma in a wooden hut focusing on my breath. It was the rainy season of 2008 and, little did I know, cyclone Nargis— the worst natural disaster in the recorded history of Myanmar—was on its way toward the coast.
I had no phone, radio, or tv to let me know that a “Category 4 Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm” was heading my way. I had never been through a rainy season in South Asia and I thought the wind and torrential downpours were normal. I kept focusing on my breath as I heard a river of water rushing under my hut. I briefly thought, "Well, at least this hut is on stilts— I always wondered why it had stilts."
The rain was so loud on the tin roof I remember chanting at full volume and not being able to hear myself. I thought, "Wow, I can't believe this happens every year." When the wind finally started knocking down trees and the wooden shutters blew off of my kuti I thought, "Hmm maybe this is not normal."
138,000 people died as a result of that storm. Over the next few days the water systems in the nearby town and monastery’s grounds where I was staying overflowed, resulting in contamination of the water systems. I was begging for my food at the time, so I had no control over the quality of food I received. Whether due to the food or that I did not notice the crack in the clay filter of the fountain where I received my water— I soon became ill. I assumed that like most typical tropical illnesses, it would run its course and I would get better. I had tremendous faith that meditation would and could heal all. At the time my practice was at its peak. I would sit for 2, 3 or 4 hours at a time, for 10 to 14 hours per day. I was a professional meditator.
The unfortunate reality is that meditation cannot heal all. I had neglected my body, prioritizing my meditation practice above exercise and nutrition—and because of that my meditation started to falter. I realized that the mind and body are one system— it never been more present and real for me. I watched as my cognition changed drastically, becoming more fearful and desperate as the bacteria continued to spread in my gut. Soon I had pain throughout my body, and I realized at that point I had to leave my hut and search for help. Within a day or two, I found a doctor who said to me, "we can give you intravenous antibiotics now or fly you back to Germany but I am not sure you will make it. What would you like to do?" Ha! I had already passed out several times earlier that day while writing a note about my death to friends and family. I opted for the antibiotics.
As my health started to return again, I came to terms with the fact that the diet, the environment and the support system that I loved in Burma were too harsh for me to develop my life skill of meditation. When I finally returned to the states, I entered another retreat where there was healthy food, regular yoga, a less rigorous meditation schedule and loving friends. I flourished as a person and my meditation followed—even though I was practicing much less.
I learned many valuable lessons from this event. I gained a physical experience, beyond mere knowledge, of the mind-body connection. I realized I needed to take care of my body if I wanted to take care of my mind. Burma is beautiful, and the teachings essential to my progress, but I should have listened more to my body and found an environment and support system suitable to my personal needs. Life is a process of trial and error, but once I became tuned into my body, it became my guide. This has been the most fulfilling endeavor of my life, and has created a deep trust in myself to find what I need in this world. I realized I wanted to help others do the same, using my approach of meditation, nutrition, exercise, community and self-care—so they too can flourish. This is why we developed Authentic Self— to begin to grow a community of people nourishing their own inner voice of truth—while providing the tools and support necessary for your success. Join us at our upcoming workshops in your area and begin the journey.