LISTENING TO THE SILENCES

 

CHAPTER 8 PAGE 2

It would be inappropriate for me to give, and I am sure that you would not want, a recital of all the problems brought by such a wide variety of people, who had variously come from Northern Ireland, the Outer Hebrides, parts of Scotland, as well as from the local village. My week was so full, so very, very full, and full still is my mind of many memories. Right up until the last session, when the contrast could not have been greater, between an ox-like Jock from the Black Watch who had done his back a mischief as he had helped to retrieve a gun from a ditch, and a petite and elegant former ballerina, one, it turned out, with whom I, like many, had fallen in love a number of years before when she had entranced us all, as she had danced and acted through her films. What a finale to an incredible week.

But that wasn't all, for additional things happened during some of the other activities at the Centre; events which in themselves were equally memorable. Each Monday evening a number of people gathered at Westbank for a general group meditation. Formed into a horseshoe we sat, positioned relative to each other by Bruce. He conducted the spoken meditation theme in a way that I had experienced at the earlier course. By my own determination, I did not let myself drift, but there were obviously a number of this group of about twelve or fifteen who were 'away with the fairies'. When the meditation had ended and everyone had returned to the planet, Bruce asked each in turn what, if anything, he or she had experienced. The replies were obviously quite diverse, but my ears pricked up when one lady said that she had been involved with black people in some sort of lion hunt. My ears positively waggled when another lady said that she had been presented in her mind's eye with the head of a North American Indian in full feathered head-dress.

Bruce left me until last in this catechism, when I had to confess that, whereas I had no personal experiences to report, I believed that I was responsible for the lion hunt, for reasons which I explained, and that also the Indian was one of 'mine'. But where, I said, was the representative from China whom by now, I thought, must also be present? "Well," said the lady who had seen the Indian "part way through the meditation the head changed into that of a Chinaman, but I rationalised that this could not be possible, whereupon it had returned to its previous Indian form".

Wednesday noon produced a gathering with a different purpose. Every one of the Centre's many clients, and all the people for whom requests had been sent, were to be made the focus of a combined direction of absent healing. Into the assembled names I had put that of Sandy, my GP friend who was slowly dying from a strange wasting illness (motor neurone disease, as it turned out). Neither I, nor anyone else, expect miracles, but one has to try. Again, there was a led meditation and prayer for each of the named individuals, at which point, for Sandy, I felt intense internal emotion, but no, sadly, no miracle. At times one feels let down when something dramatic does not occur, but I was very much a beginner in this ancient 'craft' of healing, and it was only later, when I became closely involved with the so-called 'gentle approach' to cancer, that I was to learn that there are many different ways in which individuals can be 'healed'.

As on the Monday, at the end, Bruce asked each to relate any experiences. Mine had been obvious to all, and others had been internally involved with thoughts of the many unnecessary deaths resulting from the sinking the previous day of the Argentinean cruiser Belgrano. Nothing of particular note came forward, and I might easily have forgotten the laughing comments of one young woman, who said that she had been presented in her mind with what looked like a peculiar cage of filigree gold, shaped, as best she could describe, like a pumpkin with a handle on the top; though I had to wait until I subsequently arrived home to realise the significance to me of her 'vision'.

After lunch on my final day, I was sped on my way, still in the bright sunshine that had blessed the whole week, by a collection of such memorable people, and with a mind brim full of a vast range of experiences and phenomena. It was not all that far to the Kinross service station, but I pulled into it simply to let myself descend slowly and a little closer to the planet. I don't know what my thoughts would have been had I known then that Westbank would figure even more significantly later in my new and burgeoning life, or that, in spite of the apparent total benevolence of all that I had experienced, there was a trap laid by the 'Auld Enemy' (that's his name in Scotland), in which Nicky innocently figured, and which would not be sprung for another eight years. The context and happening are not truly relevant to my ongoing tale, and so I'll have to leave you speculating on that one (though don't go too wild in your ideas), but the events subsequent to the trap being sprung served to show me, in my naïveté, just how two-faced even the nicest people can be at times. No, entirely unaware of a whole variety of impending developments, I took to the road again, somewhat more focussed than I had been on the first part of my journey. At Carlisle, I staged myself at the home of a cousin and her companion and shared some of my experiences, and then on again, wanting to get home and yet not wanting to. My final diversion was to visit the farmstead of Peter and Tricci, which was very close to my route, and as I walked across the yard, Tricci came out to greet me saying, "Where have you been? You're positively shining!"

The final event that closed this particular sequence materialised when I had collected and sorted my mail. Enclosed with a letter from Marie or Joy, I forget which, was a prayer card issued by the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, and on it was a picture of the statue to Our Lady of Africa, which stands in Algiers, the founding home base of the missionary order of White Fathers and Sisters. Surmounting the head of the statue was a crown - a filigree gold construction, which did, in fact, resemble 'a cage shaped like a pumpkin' while the cross at the top did, actually look like a handle. (On the wall opposite me now as I write is a larger version, painted in blue and gold on brown bark cloth by one of the White Sisters in Africa, and the gold crown with its surmounted cross totally fits that description).

What a range of memories and consequences there are to recall and put in some sort of order and sequence, as each of the strands of my life unwound and wove again one with the other. One of the principal ones, undoubtedly, was that concerned with an understanding of many of the factors involved in my own health and that of other people, which had been made all the more relevant with my direct opening into the field of 'healing'. As my body and mind had cleared themselves of all the residues of my unfortunate sixteen years of being polluted by the drugs that I had taken, I found that, in many ways, I had been going through a process of rebirth and of rediscovery. What was coming back to life, and what I was rediscovering, were normal body functions and reactions that had been suppressed by all the invasive medications, whose prime function had been, after all, to suppress or alter the body's natural functions and reactions via their effect upon the central nervous system. Even now, nearly forty years after my initial encounter with Librium, I am still trying to re-educate my centre of reaction that I would call the solar plexus, which went into a sort of rebound after so many years of being suppressed, and has never truly regained a stable and natural function.

After having been subjected to a sort of medical 'rape' of my mind and body, my one overriding approach to anything to do with my health was that which also governed my burgeoning activities in the home - Do-It-Yourself. My encounter with Richard Mackarness' book, Not All in the Mind, and Sandy's realistic attitude to medical intervention, prompted me to start learning in earnest, and from all sources, and at every juncture. As I encountered anything to do with health, I read and read and asked questions. One learning leap occurred following my hearing of a broadcast of the radio programme 'You and Yours'. The name 'myalgic encephalomyelitis' has thankfully been shortened to M.E. At the time, i.e. 1981, and when also known as the 'Royal Free disease', it was not commonly recognised nor talked about. As the broadcast progressed, I found myself recognising in myself so much of what was being described, sufficiently for me to write to an address given for further information. With the information package came a very detailed and wide-ranging questionnaire, which I duly completed fully and honestly. The answers were assessed by a group of doctors who had volunteered their services, but, inevitably, it was a procedure that took some time. The reply, when it came, said that there was a distinct probability that I could be suffering from M.E., and offered several suggestions about how next to proceed. In the time between sending my questionnaire and receiving the reply, I had decided that whatever the outcome I had no intention of being saddled with any illness, and had moved on, with a determination that I should take as much responsibility for my own well-being as I possibly could.

In spite of this decision of mine to disassociate myself from any personal connection with an illness, it is worth looking briefly at those of my own reactions that I had felt matched the ones that had been used to define M.E. The reason why I do so is that they appear severally or alone in a setting that will emerge shortly. The effects that I thought that I recognised, or with which I identified, were: intermittent difficulty in sleeping; unexplained and unpredictable mood swings, particularly to 'lows' that went as inexplicably as they had arrived; periodic difficulty in achieving coherent thought; physical sensations that were hard to identify or specify, as they incorporated aspects of tingling, twitching, numbness and aches, which were worse in bed and cumulative through the night, and so on.

One positive and fruitful area of study derived from my increasing use of herbs, and was stimulated by a delightful and remarkably informative book Grandmother's Secrets by Jean Palaiseul. Over the years, I have acquired other herbals, but this is always my reference book of first choice. From it, and allied with the information disseminated by the Henry Doubleday Association, I learned of the properties of one herb that, in particular, has become both efficacious and influential in my life. Comfrey, or knit bone, or any of the many other country names by which it is known, has a prolific life in my garden, where it provides the core of my composting activities. But it is the remarkable healing properties that it possesses that have kept it to the fore ever since I learned of them, and it was these that were to have a major influence in my continuing contact with Marie and her dispensary.

Sometime in 1982-3, she had written describing the even worse economic situation that was enveloping Uganda. In particular, they were desperately short of medicines; could I help? I did the first two things that came to my mind, and through which I believed that I could achieve something. I contacted the Medical Department of my former employers, who most willingly and generously provided a quantity of materials and drugs, which I sent. Secondly, I sent a copy of Grandmother's Secrets; a book by Lawrence Hills called simply Comfrey, and all my available supply of comfrey ointment. This may appear to some as naïve, but many of the ailments being treated in the bush were on the surface of the body, where I believed that the direct healing promoted by comfrey would be effective. Anyway, I did what I could, and invited other agencies to help as well. The ointment duly arrived, on a Friday, and was immediately applied to an ulcer that was on the leg of an old man who had walked for three days to reach the dispensary. Marie wrote that such an ulcer would normally take a fortnight to heal using the standard treatments available to them. However, by the following Monday new pink skin started to appear, and within a very few days the healing was complete. The old man departed joyfully, calling down blessings on Our Lady, while everyone else who was there at the time was most impressed!

After such an auspicious start there had to be a follow up, and that came through the assistance of a remarkable man, Lawrence Hills of the Henry Doubleday Organisation. He could not have been more helpful, for he obtained seeds of comfrey for me to send, and also supplied me with several kilograms of ointment, having himself sent an equivalent amount directly. My contribution went to Uganda courtesy of Marie's sister, who was about to depart for a holiday there and who carried it with her. The ointment was so valued and applied so freely to all manner of skin complaints that it disappeared like the proverbial snow off a dyke, so that when Marie returned to work following her own break, there was not much left. This remainder was applied to a varicose ulcer that had defied all other remedies, and yes, that soon healed as well.

The seeds grew into plants, and when they reached maturity and their form could be seen, the nuns found that there was comfrey growing in their own garden already! But having the plants available led on to other things, for one of the sisters took note of a photograph in the book Comfrey. This pictured a woman who used to buy at her local cattle market, calves that no one else wanted because they were scouring i.e. had diarrhoea. She took them home and fed them milk in which was chopped comfrey, and the property which the herb has of being an internal vulnary, helped heal the calves' guts, and they went on to thrive. You may be aware that one of the prime causes of infant death in tropical regions is dehydration following prolonged diarrhoea, and by feeding the infants in a similar way to that of the calves, many of them recovered and likewise began to thrive. Marie moved on to a different location soon afterwards, and so, eventually, I lost touch with this fascinating development.

However, this was not to be the end of the train of events set in motion by the comfrey saga, far from it. I had asked Marie's sister, Wilma, to take some photographs during her visit, so that I could appreciate more fully the work of the dispensary, and its location. Following her return, Wilma and husband Tony, together with their three daughters, came for a week-end visit, bringing with them a large collection of slides, which were all-encompassing in the way they in which brought the Ugandan bush to life. I, in turn, was invited to visit them in Dundee, which I elected to do in the coming September. I broke my journey with a friend at Livingston, and set off northward again early-ish one morning. I planned my journey so that I could call at Westbank, principally to renew acquaintances. I had hardly crossed the Forth Bridge than I found myself subjected to heavy intrusions and obsessive thoughts as to whether I would have enough petrol to cover the motorway part of my journey. Having learned that the safest course during such disturbances is to stop and take stock, I left the motorway at the first opportunity, bought petrol, and sat awhile to compose myself before continuing north, feeling rather more secure and focussed.

When I arrived at Westbank, I found that the reception arrangements had changed since my previous visit, and that the people whom I had expected to see were no longer there. So I stood composing in my mind what I was going to say to introduce myself to the new secretary. She, meanwhile, was attending to a woman who had just emerged from treatment. Also waiting patiently nearby was a clergyman. The lady having departed, the secretary turned to my neighbour and addressed him "And now, Mr Grieve"… I stepped back and looked at him, and thirty-seven years fell away, to the sea off Corfu, and my friend David standing at the foot of the accommodation ladder of the aircraft carrier, HMS Ocean, down which he had helped me and into the pinnace that was to transport me to the nearby hospital ship. "David, Shepherd, Alan Grieve?" I said, and I treasure to this day his look of mixed surprise and consternation, while I hastened to identify myself. I will not even begin to try to describe the encounter; words just would not do it justice. Patricia, alerted, came out to take in the spectacle, and, when all was reasonably composed again, I went in to assist with David's treatment, which seemed fair, as the last time we had met he had been tending me.


 

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