Jun Q'anil: One Who Walks the Way

“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”
—André Gide

The only thing I knew with certainty was that I needed to leave Los Angeles, not because I was depressed or manic or looking to escape, but because some other part of me was demanding a radical change. I wish I could articulate this better, make it less elusive so it doesn’t sound new-agey or clichéd, but the fact that I couldn’t describe in words what I felt inside was part of the mystery, the pull. I knew only that after a decade of debilitating health problems and intense inward examination, it was time to make a break from my life and devote myself entirely to personal transformation. I left my fiancé, closed my psychotherapy practice and sold everything I owned, not because I wanted to, but because I needed to relinquish all that was familiar in order to face something unknown.

Disentangling from life wasn’t easy—ending a relationship, a career, letting go of possessions—but nothing challenged me like the headaches. These weren’t ordinary headaches; they were headaches that made light and sound and heat intolerable; they made it impossible to think or work or see without a cloudy haze; they required me to sleep a dozen hours a day. When the pain was bad, it was as if I was suffocating. I couldn’t seem to get enough oxygen to my brain. I remember precisely the morning they arrived: November 1, 1991, the day after Halloween. I awoke feeling as though someone had taken a sledgehammer to my skull. When I moved, cerebral fluid seemed to shift from one side of my brain to the other, like a yolk bouncing around the white of an egg. I knew in that sort of murky, dream-like way that I was in trouble, that something was very wrong, that everything was about to change.

Several years and a lot of energy were spent trying to fix the problem. I knew by heart the waiting room décor of all the best doctors in Los Angeles, none of whom could find anything wrong, except to say that I was stressed. I was stressed, they said. I went to bed healthy (though formerly I’d wrestled with an eating disorder, chronic fatigue, anemia, asthma) and awoke the next morning with my head in a meat grinder. Who wouldn’t be stressed? Spinal taps and brain scans revealed that I did not have a tumor, nor was I suffering from an aneurysm; still, I was frantic for an explanation. But even back then some part of me knew that my efforts were futile, that no matter how many tests I had or doctors I visited, there would be no easy answer. This crisis would trigger a lifetime investigation. But first I’d spend a year evaluating the pros and cons of living.

It wasn’t that I wanted to die, or even that I had a plan to do myself in. Rather, I couldn’t imagine enduring a lifetime of pain. It didn’t seem worth it. I remember sitting on my bed one afternoon, head pounding, vision blurry, scheduling doctors’ appointments. I was so sick of telling my story, the history of how it all crept up on me, knowing that I’d be out several thousand dollars with nothing to show for it—no answers, no relief. I wanted to give up, but some deeper force in me kept going.

Eventually, I found a way to manage the headaches, mainly through weekly chiropractic adjustments, and I resumed a semi-normal life, including falling in love, but I carried a profound sadness. I’d examine my reflection in the mirror, look past the image and peer deeply into my eyes. If the eyes were the windows to the soul, my soul was clearly weeping.

I couldn’t help but feel that the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain were all wrapped up into one, that somehow I’d gotten off track and didn’t know how to shift back to center. I struggled to define my relationship with God (I’m Jewish by birth, non-practicing, just neurotic), but didn’t feel connected to my roots, or any roots, and this separation also felt like a void. The most difficult aspect was not having someone to talk to. There were therapists, of course, but most of them just sat staring blankly or tried to twist what had happened into something that didn’t resonate. I gained insight from reading, meditating, and talking with friends, but there came a point when I knew I needed guidance. That’s when a friend gave me the name of a spiritual counselor named Sanda Jasper.

The sign outside Sanda’s Pacific Palisades office read, Osani Holistic Health Care: Acupuncture, Clinical Nutrition, Reiki Therapy and Spiritual Counseling. Red geraniums sprouted from window boxes above neatly trimmed hedges outside the front entrance. Inside, the air was redolent of incense and sage. A statue of the Chinese goddess Kwan Yin and a small water fountain stood in the corner.

A tall, slender woman dressed in gray slacks and a cream cashmere sweater entered the room. “Hello, you must be Jessica,” she said. “I’m Sanda.” She shook my hand and smiled. “I’ll be with you in just a minute.”

Surprisingly, Sanda looked more like a regular person than a Maharishi-style guru. She stood slightly hunched over, as if nursing a sore back, and tried to call very little attention to herself. I observed with interest as she attended to a few odds and ends behind the receptionist’s desk. I might have felt unnerved if it weren’t for her kind eyes and reassuring smile.

Sanda offered me a cup of tea and motioned for me to follow her into a small adjoining room. I sat on one of two cushy chairs and noticed a few plants and a framed photograph of the Dalai Lama. There was also a massage table covered with a sheet, which I’d later learn was used for energy work. Sanda took off her shoes and lit a candle before settling back in her chair. Even before we began speaking, I knew that I’d found my teacher.

What puzzled and excited me most about Sanda was that she seemed to know me before she knew me. I felt seen in a way I’d never known but had always longed for. It was as if she perceived my total being, not just my body or image or persona, and this felt deeply comforting.

“What is your intention in coming to see me?” she asked.

Although the question didn’t surprise me, I was momentarily stunned. What was my intention in coming to see her? How could I explain that I felt haunted by an inner restlessness I couldn’t define, that ever since my engagement I’d been suffering from chronic bladder infections, as if my body had rejected my relationship, or that I had headaches that crept in like monsters in the night? “I feel lost,” I said finally. “Like I’m missing a critical piece of who I am and what my purpose is, grasping for a memory that’s just out of reach. I feel I’m going through the motions, doing what I’ve been

conditioned to do, wasting my life. It’s sad, really. I’m here for some guidance.”

“Okay,” she said. “So that’s your intention, you’d like some guidance to explore what’s happening. It’s important to be able to state your intention; it helps bring awareness to your thoughts, feelings, and actions. When your intention is unconscious, you’re at risk of being controlled by your fears.”

“How do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, when we’re not conscious of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, we tend to be more reactive; we operate out of fear rather than from a place of empowerment. An empowered person is a conscious person, who’s always aware of her intention in every choice and action.”

“Seems like a lot of effort to be aware in each moment,” I said.

“You’re right,” she said. “It takes effort to become conscious. And not only do you need to be conscious of your intention, you also need to know whether your choices and actions are coming from a place of fear or love.”

I tried to take in what Sanda was saying.

“I’m not talking about romantic love,” she went on, “or the kind of fear that arises at the edge of a cliff. I’m referring to the essential quality of love and fear—love as the energy of wholeness, and fear as the energy of lack.”

While I considered myself to be a relatively conscious person, I could think of many areas that were still being

controlled by my unconscious fears. I worried about everything—money, success, achievement. I questioned my ability to be a good partner in a relationship, to be less selfish, less controlling. And I was afraid of the unknown. “I tend to be pretty hard on myself,” I said.

“Yes, I got that sense.” Sanda’s eyes were smiling, but her brows furrowed with genuine concern.

“And I get these headaches.” I reached up to touch my temples. “They make me feel as though my head is in a vise, as if someone wrapped cellophane around my brain. I’ve been to lots of doctors, but none have been helpful, except my chiropractor.”

Sanda sipped her tea and curled her feet up under her like a cat. “Do you know much about the energy body?”
“A little,” I said.

“Surrounding our body is an electromagnetic, or auric field,” she explained, “a transparent field of energy. It is in this field that we register both positive and negative energy, even when our five senses don’t. Being conscious of our energy field is part of being multi-sensory, which means that in any given situation we use our intuitive sense and sensibilities, along with our regular five senses.


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