A friend of mine was a business tycoon before becoming the victim of a terrible fire. One night while sleeping in his motorhome, propane gas leaked and filled the vehicle. Once ignited, his body was burned and forcefully ejected. Upon arriving to the scene, rescue workers found him dead. Against all odds, they revived him.
My friend remembers watching the ensuing drama from a calm vantage point above his body. He remembers an all-enveloping peace surround him. This peace extended beyond words or comprehension. This peace transformed his very being. We spoke at length about his near-death experience and the profound changes it inspired. Today, material gain is no longer his primary goal in life. Relationships, connection, and service stand as center points of focus
“It all boils down to choosing between love and fear,” he told me.
This choice is particularly stark when we stand at the doorways of birth and death.
There is no love like a mother’s love. While the hard work of labor can evoke fear, love sustains. Love encourages. As a doula, I know that love is stronger than fear. I watch women bravely move through the challenges of labor when they focus on the love felt for their precious little ones. Particularly while working with laboring women who have survived sexual abuse, I stand in awe at the transformative power of love. We can choose to focus on love. Through this choice, fear is transformed. Through this choice, healing comes.
While we can’t change the scars we carry from the accidents and traumas of life, we can change our perception. We can choose to live with a love that brings healing to wounded places.
Consider the work of Dr. Joan Borysenko, well known for her contributions to the field of mind-body studies. In a weekend workshop at The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Borysenko describes her own healing from the chronic headaches, backaches, and panic attacks she experienced while on “the rat race of overachieving”. She mentions how integrative practices like yoga and Tai Chi helped her see the vital connection between the negative movies she was running through her mind and her physical stress.
Borysenko draws a Vin Diagram showing three interconnecting circles to symbolize a person’s state of ease or disease. One circle represents biology/genetics. Another circle stands for a person’s environment. The third circle symbolizes the power of a person’s will and the impact of chosen behavior. These three circles interlock and interact. For Borysenko, all three rest in “a sacred mystery.”
My friend profoundly encountered sacred mystery. His life was out of balance before his accident and deeply transformed because of it. “Even though my body was burned, love revived and healed me,” he told me. A peaceful calm took the sting out of his fear of death. Today, he chooses to focus on the memory of this peace when fear arises. He chooses to remember this event as he moves through this life.
As a doula, I’ve worked with birthing women who have suffered sexual abuse. While they face challenging obstacles in childbirth, love can guide them in their journey to motherhood. I’ve witnessed first hand the transforming energy of love as a woman faces her fear and chooses to embrace the new life emerging from her body. These examples remind me of the power found in Borysenko’s third circle symbolizing our ability to choose.
No matter what one is given, agency sets a person free to experience the transformative power of love.
Austrian psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor Victor Frankl’s wrote, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
It all boils down to choosing between love and fear.