Sight, Sound and Beyond

Archive for July, 2016

A Prisoner of the Mind


“Are you scared?” a co-worker asked me.  I had just had two biopsies taken from my left breast.

Here is a little background:  I have dense, cystic breasts, and since I was about 30 years old, I have been going for routine ultra sounds to monitor them and make sure there were no suspicious changes.

Two weeks ago, I was told that two of the nodules (small lumps) in my left breast had grown and that I needed to have a biopsy taken from each of them to confirm that they were not cancerous.  I had read that most biopsies come back normal, so I wasn’t too concerned and the doctor didn’t seem too worried either.  However, even if something was wrong, I knew it could be caught early because of the close monitoring.  I go for bilateral ultrasounds on my breasts every six months.

When I was asked if was scared, I answered honestly, “No,” and went into my logical reasoning.  To the average person it would seem a bit strange that I wasn’t scared.  My mother had a biopsy done a few years ago and she was very anxious until the results came back.  Thankfully, they came back benign.

So why the heck was I so calm? The answer lies inside my head.  What I mean by that is that while my body had some things that were in question, it paled in comparison to what routinely goes on inside my mind.  My mind is a bully and likes to hold me hostage with its nagging thoughts and negative energy.  Before the biopsy, my mind was still chatting and being a bit obnoxious.  It wasn’t until a few days ago, that I realized how antagonizing and aggressive my pesky mind can be.

Here is a little more about me that you may not know.  Since my mid teens, I have battled depression and anxiety and wasn’t officially diagnosed until the age of 21 when I suffered a overgenerous breakdown.  Thanks be to God, I am in a much better place now, but my 20s were really rough.  My mind was a real, bad bully, constantly spitting out negative thoughts, which, led to self harm and my contemplation of suicide.  I believed that I was better off dead, so when I say the mind is a bully, I know firsthand.

Now let’s get back to the biopsy.  If I had it my way, I would have gone to the biopsy alone, but because I am not able to drive, and didn’t know exactly when I would get finished, I decided to have my mother be my ride rather than arranging for ParaTransit to take me to and from the appointment.

The night before the biopsy my thoughts were like this:

“I know I am going to be totally awake for this, but man, I wish they could give me a little Valium or something to relax me because I don’t want to be totally conscious.  If I am totally conscious I may cry and I don’t want them to see me cry.”

It is really interesting that I have had had 9 surgeries in my lifetime, one of which saved my life (my appendix burst in ’96).  However, still to this day I am not a fan of needles and watching any kind of medical procedures being done.  I get a little queasy at the sight of blood.

My prayer to God that night went like this:

“Lord, I am putting this in your hands.  Whatever happens, happens, and we will get through it together, but I have one favor to ask: Please help me to remain tough during this thing.  Don’t allow me to get all wimpy.  I really don’t want to cry.  I don’t like to cry in front of people.”

Well, it is a good thing my mother took me to my appointment because when I arrived the next morning for my appointment, the radiology department was at least 30 minutes behind schedule, which meant that I would be leaving my appointment at least 30 minutes later.  Of course I felt bad that she would be staying there at least 30 minutes longer, though.   She sat in the back of the waiting room with my father.  Yes, I forgot to mention that earlier that morning my father was in the vicinity of the area for a doctor appointment.  After his appointment finished, he arrived just as my mother and I entered the radiology department.  I sat toward the front of the waiting room so that I would have no trouble hearing my name being called.  The whole time I was sitting and waiting, my mind was talking a mile a minute.

“I can’t believe both your parents are with you at your age.”

“You should have just went by yourself.  You are 35 years old, not 10.  No one your age would have a parent take them.”

“You shouldn’t have let your parents come.  They have better things that they could be doing.”

“You are such a pain in the ass.”

This went on for a few minutes.  I was trying to prove to my mind that there were people who were my age and older who had at least one parent accompany them to a medical test like a biopsy.  I thought that my 50-year old cousin had his mother take him to and from his colonoscopy and endoscopy appointment, but when I asked my mother, she corrected me and said that it was his wife that took him.  Dang, I was out of luck.  I couldn’t think of anyone else.

Finally, my name was called and I went in.  I cracked a few jokes to lighten up the mood.  When I was asked if I knew how the procedure was going to go, I answered: “Oh yeah, I watched videos on YouTube.”

Both biopsies went fairly quickly and the doctor told me what she was doing as she was doing it.  I had a local anesthetic so I couldn’t feel any pain just pressure, but I looked away and kept my eyes closed the entire time.  “I don’t want to see anything,” I had told her before she got started.  The fact that I knew what was happening made me a little queasy.  Surprisingly, my mind was relatively quiet.  Sure it was thinking things like, “Is it done yet?” or “I am hungry,” but I had no annoying thoughts.

Last Friday, I received a phone call from the doctor with great news: both biopsies came back benign!

The moral of this story is to not tell you my biopsy experience, but to give you a glimpse of the mind and its influence.  In life we deal with both physical pain and emotional pain.  For whatever reason, I find emotional pain and problems that stem from the mind to be more difficult to deal with.  In many ways, it is easier to heal a physical wound than it is heal an emotional wound.  It is also difficult to overcome the bad habits of the mind.  My mind has an awful habit of putting me down and comparing me to other people.  As a result. I feel pretty badly about myself.

While I was sitting in that waiting room, I should have been thinking: “Wow, look how lucky and blessed I am!  Both my parent are here to support me while I get my biopsies.”  Instead my mind was spitting out all kind of negative thoughts and making me feel bad when I should have been thanking my lucky stars.  My parents were there for me and I was not able to see this reality for what it was because I had allowed that reality to become distorted.  This is what happens when you become a prisoner of the mind.  One is not able to see oneself and life very clearly.  That’s why when I pray I always ask God the following:

Help me to see myself as You see me, not as society sees me.

The mind is heavily influenced by our society and in case you have not noticed, our society is not in alignment with God.

The mind is very intelligent but that doesn’t mean it is right.  It is like the devil because it tells lies and convinces you of a reality that is completely false.  I believe that the devil and demonic forces influence the mind.  The mind breeds doubt and doubt is the enemy.

Sitting in that waiting room, my mind had convinced me that I was a loser, a wimp and a pain in the ass.  I had allowed it to bully me for a good 30 minutes, and I had allowed it to influence my opinion of myself.  I constantly have to remind myself that I am not my mind.  I am a soul, a spirit,  that was created by God.  For the reasons mentioned above, the mind can be very dangerous because it can destroy a soul if one allows it.  And now a quote from the ancient Chinese philosopher and writer, Lao Tzu:

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”


Animals in Heaven, One Catholic’s Perspective

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St. Francis Preaching to the Birds – Gioto di Bondone (c.1267-1337)

“We were taught that animals don’t go to heaven because they don’t have souls, ” my mother once told me.  She and my father had attended at 12 years of Catholic School.  My father also continued on to attend a Catholic College.  Then there is me who attended Public School and attended regular college, so what do I know right?

As a Roman Catholic, one of the things I struggle with the question of whether or not animals are included in God’s plan of salvation.  In other words, do they go to heaven or do they cease to exist all together after physical death?  I have received mixed answers from various sources.  Some people have told me that animals do not have souls because they lack free will.  Some, like St Thomas Aquinas, have mentioned that while animals do have souls, their souls are not immortal.  Therefore, when they die, their souls die as well.  Then there are a couple priests who have told me that, yes, animals do go to heaven because God is Love and thus He would never destroy that which He creates.

The thought of animals, especially my two avian companions, ceasing to exist after physical death is an upsetting thought for me.  I don’t know why I am so sensitive about it.  I am probably the only Catholic who prays for animals.  Animals have been a great service to us, providing us with transportation, clothing and food.  I pray for them all because like us, they are God’s creatures too.  Whenever I learn of an an animal companion who has passed away, I pray he or she has been reunited with God in Heaven.

One friend once said something like, “Oh I understand why you feel this way.  It’s okay to love your birds.  After all, you don’t have children.”  Perhaps, if I were married with children, I might sing a different tune about animals right?  Nah, I doubt it.

Another friend of mine said: “Well, you believe that your birds go to Heaven because you can’t stand the thought of never seeing them again after they die.”  I have to admit, she was partially right, but my ideas are not purely based on emotional attachment.

The Garden of Eden

In the bible, there are examples of God’s love for animals.  In the book of Genesis, God created everything: time, space, land and sea, vegetation, birds, sea creatures, land animals and human beings.  God created everything and everything was good.  Why was it good?  Everything was good because God created it.  It was not something that to be earned.  Prior to the fall of our parents, Adam and Eve, everyone lived in perfect communion with God.  You could say that all living creatures were in a perfect state of grace where there was no separation between God and them.  It is quite beautiful to think about, but this paradise didn’t last long.  After the fall of our parents,  the world became cursed and evil began to spread.  Thus we human beings became separated from God.

I imagine Heaven to be an extension of the Garden of Eden, which was meant to be an eternal paradise for God to live among all creation in perfect harmony.   If this is how it was in the beginning, why would God not want to include all creation in His kingdom yet to come?  The book of Revelations tells us that there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth.  Surely at the very least, our non human brethren would be included in the New Earth.  Wouldn’t you think?

Noah’s Ark

Everyone is familiar with the story of Noah, the guy that was chosen by God to build an ark or large boat for his family and himself to escape the great flood that God was going to send in response to humanity’s wickedness.  Because of Noah’s righteousness, He and his family would be spared.  Oh and wait, quite a few others were spared as well.  Who else came along for the ride in Noah’s ark?  Animals of course.  Remember that?  God told Noah to gather two of every kind.  This is quite interesting don’t you think?  God can create anything out of nothing.  I mean that’s how the earth came about right?  He could have easily told Noah to forget about the animals and just gather his family.  I mean after the flood ended, God could just recreate new animals right?  Why would God include the animals to be part of Noah’s ark?

This story illustrate God’s mercy and saving power for not just human beings but for all creation.  God is a lover of all creation.  His love is inclusive, not exclusive.

Someone once told me that animals reflect the innocence of God.  Sure, they don’t have a free will as we human beings do, but animals have something that we as human beings lack: the ability to live in the present moment.  Animals don’t fret about the future or get stuck in the past the way we do.  They live completely in the present moment and to continuously live in the present moment is to truly be in the presence of God.

St. Francis of Assisi

Why did St Francis address animals as his brothers and sisters?  Why did he treat them with such respect?  St. Francis viewed animals as part of God’s family.  He said of animals:

“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission — to be of service to them wherever they require it.”

It is his love and respect for animals that makes him one of my favorite saints.

I had Sunny and Nikki blessed the day prior to the feast of St Francis to confirm their membership of God’s Family.  I got a lot of laughs from people but it felt like the right thing to do.   To learn more about Sunny and Nikki’s blessing read “To Bless or Not to Bless”

Why Do I Want Sunny and NIkki to Go to Heaven?

When you love someone, even a small bird whose head is smaller than your eyeball, you want only the best for him or her.  Many cannot understand what it means to love a small creature like a small parrot.  It is really not that much different from loving a human being.  Sure they do not have our intelligence, but they have the integrity, innocence and curiosity of young children.  Living with Sunny and Nikki is like living with two permanent two-year-old children!

Sunny and Nikki will both be 13 years old next year, and I love them more now than I did when I first adopted them.   I often include them in some of my spiritual practices, which include reading passages from the bible.  This probably sounds ridiculous to many, but in Chapter 16, verse 15 in Mark’s Gospel Jesus did say:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news] to the whole creation.”

Well, the last I checked, the whole of creation included birds.

Anyway, I digress from the question at hand.  Why do I want Sunny and Nikki to go to Heaven?  I want the best for them, and what could be better than to be in eternal and perfect communion with God?

My wish for the girls going to heaven does not primarily stem from my wish for them to be with me, but rather to be well taken care of by God and be included in His plan of salvation.  I have had dreams about what it will be like after I die.  The dream is set in the future, and I do get to heaven.  In the dreams I do see those who have gone before me: family, friends and the animals I have known and loved.  For a short moment I see the girls.  All my loved ones are there, but they are not the main focus.  My main focus is being with God, the source of all Good and who is Love.  I believe that when we go to Heaven it will be exactly like attending Mass.  We will be in attendance as one family, which includes the angels, saints, and our non human brethren, but our focus will be on the one who has created us.  He is the reason that we love in the first place.

At the end of the musical, Les Misérables, a memorable line is sung:

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

To love anyone, including something as small as bird is to know the love of God.  Like animals, we human beings are creatures.  We are all of God’s creatures and compared to His infinite power and love, we are but a speck of dust, but like I love two little birds, God loves all his creatures both great and small.

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