In 1981, if you had stopped Dr. William Thomas on the street and asked him for a brief summary of stomach ulcers – the Harvard-trained physician would probably have (1) described the anatomy and physiology of the stomach and small intestine, (2) elucidated the likely causative agent of ulcers in the stomach and duodenum and (3) presented treatment protocols. (For the purposes of this discussion, it should be noted that in 1981, stress, diet and dysfunctional HCL acid receptors were thought to be the primary causative agents).
A year later, in 1982, Barry Marshall, a fellow physician, would discover and describe an unshakeable relationship between the ulcers and the screw-like bacterium Heliobacter Pylori.
Doctor Marshall was ridiculed, mocked and derided – his colleagues would not even publish the original study for five years.
Then, in 1994, with overwhelming evidence now supporting Dr. Marshal’s conclusion, the National Institutes of Health convened a consensus panel that issued guidelines for the management of ulcer disease, taking H. pylori into account.
Let’s shift temporal gears for a moment . . .
In 1972 I read the book – Be Here Now by Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) – from cover to cover, standing in a book store in Middletown, New York. For me, the most seminal concept the book offered was a simple one: Beginners mind is free and uncluttered mind.
I bought the book, made a couple of phone calls, and a week later was on a plane to California for a two-week workshop entitled Selling Water by the River. My host for the two week class was Shasta Abbey, a Soto Zen Buddhist monastery in the Serene Reflection Tradition.
As it turned out, my stay was not weeks – but years. And what did I learn during those years as a monk? I learned to ask the following question of myself every morning as I sat in the meditation hall
WHAT IF NEARLY EVERYTHING I THINK I KNOW ABOUT MYSELF IS WRONG?
As my training deepened, this question was the single most important one I asked of myself as a monk. Ultimately, there was no way to avoid it. If we are to discover who we truly are, during this Great Age of Disruption, we must all stand toe-to-toe with our demons – imagined or real. Saint John of the Cross and the Dark Night of the Soul; Jesus of Nazareth in the desert; Shakyamuni Buddha in zazen under the Bodhi Tree; David standing against Goliath; Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. arm-in-arm in Selma.
And the day will come when we find and muster the courage within each of us to accept the challenges and rewards of growing old. And during those great days – even as we are born, live, grow old and die as Nature intended – we will discover who we truly are.