Monday, April 24, 2017

A Trans Bodhisaatva: Representations of Mercy

Because this week is the one-year anniversary of my life-changing surgery, I will share (at the end of this post) an entry dated this day from my online journal, a journal that connected me to family friends and family while I was recovering from a major operation. Just to share the amazing transformation that *time* and yoga and the healing of the body can bring to us. It is very interesting to relive memories, since it was this time of year that my whole world was turning.

Today, I see Spring budding all around me - especially as of yesterday, and I remember that I was in the hospital in New York City for two weeks, unable to see my baby, and unable to see Spring bloom. When I came out of the hospital, it was like I had escaped Vietnam, and everything was green with new hints of pinks, whites, and spring yellows from the transformation that the world had taken on, seemingly without me, while I underwent my own transformative experience indoors on the 15th floor of Memorial Sloan Kettering.

A few days ago, to commemorate my one year anniversary of my total colectomy last April 19, I found myself in Troy for a pleasant stroll on an overcast, cold day. There, in an antique store there, I "met," if you will, a bodhisattva I had never heard of before. The statue was in the corner, elevated on a green pillar, brilliantly colored. I fell in love instantly. I did not know who this person was, nor how significant in all of the Asian world he/she is. But research would prove her significance, and give great meaning to "meeting" her there in an antique store on an unintentionally special day in not-far-away-upcoming-old-industrial collar city NY. My appreciation of the statue led me to read up on her and appreciate her: Quan Yin is a basically bodhisattva who has transcended time and space to ease the suffering of those on earth - all because she heard their cries. Her Chinese name refers to this hearing - real hearing - of the anguished. And her decision to go back to earth instead of walking into the eternal bliss she had earned through her life. This is what makes her a bodhisattva. Her name is Quan Yin.

Quan Yin, as she first appeared to me visually
There are many reasons to admire her and relate to her, now that I know of her life journeys and have had my own recent ones. It was a bit like love at first sight. I did not take her home, but I wanted to (we would all be wise to not bring a first date home lol). The next morning at 4am I was unable to sleep and was so inspired reading about her that I got up to meditate before the sun rose. So many coincidences with my recent experience with grace and mercy: she brings compassion and healing to those who suffer illness and she brings baby boys to women. It is almost as if what she incarnates had already touched me this past year. She is known for her deep compassion for the suffering, and her mercy. When you think of mercy and grace, what comes to mind? The symbol of a woman who gave of herself to help those suffering is one that evokes characteristics that both reassure - and inspire. All over the world, we all have our symbols and our reminders of values like mercy and compassion for the suffering and the sick.

There happens to be an intriguing and informative summary of her in Wikipedia, where a list of her names is given, already giving a taste for how she has impacted the world over the centuries. Her name Guan Yin is from the Chinese, and she is known as these names (which are fun to look at):
Guanyin statue on Putuoshan Island, China

Quán Thế Âm

In shortened form of the name, Guan Yin means One Who Sees and Hears the Cry from the Human World. Her Chinese name signifies, "She who always observes or pays attention to sounds," i.e., she who hears prayers.
Nitin Kumar has written a wonderful article
called Kuan Yin, Compassionate Rebel
The Sanskrit name of this bodhisattva is Avalokiteshvara. Brittanica has an entry on Avalokiteshvara (click here) that is fascinating, featuring many links for your rabbit hole reading, and is worth reading at length.

In a way, Quan Yin or Avalokiteshvara is transgender (or perhaps androgynous or without gender), which is cool and reminds us that suffering and mercy is universal and that the Atman itself transcends gender. Brittanica gives this summary of the transformation from the male to the feminine image, with interesting traces of masculinity still remaining in some representations centuries later in the form of a light moustache. I wonder if I am the first to call Quan Yin or Avalokiteshvara a "Trans Bodhisattva," I mean, hey, it's perfect: she is both transcultural, transtemporal, and transgender.

It could just be a coincidence that I came across this representation of mercy and compassion on the one-year anniversary of my colectomy. Just like the coincidence I found in the kitchen store that I happened to walk into.... and that happened to also (coincidentally) be celebrating their one-year anniversary with a scavenger hunt and a cupcake making ceremony, pictured here->

At any rate, up to you decide how much fun you read into this post. At several moments the past few days, I have wished I took this statue home. This momento would not only be beautiful in my home, it would also be placed near where I practice yoga and I believe it would give me company and a special reminder of the birth of my son which mercifully saved my life, and all the compassion I was shown during my battle for health this time last year. And with this, I leave you with the words written from my hospital bed at MSK, this day just one year ago. Reading these, perhaps you may see why I believe I was shown so much compassion and mercy. And of course, the love for my baby son got me through.

First, to catch us up to speed, there was also this entry from April 22 of last year:

Journal entry by Domenica Newell-Amato — 4/22/2016
Entry 6.
This is like walking a tightrope, as the nurse said. (And to all of our relief, the nurses have improved much these last days). Im told its a fine balance between necessarily lowering narcotics so my bowels dont sleep and mediating the pain.
I had major nausea at 5am, and started gagging and spitting. I could barely talk as I asked nurse to give me cold washcloth, lower the bucket, and not leave me. I also asked, how am i gonna throw up with this big incision? I braced my stomach with a pillow and tried to calm my gag reflux. Can you imagine throwing up with a six inch sutured incision going down your belly... I just couldnt. They gave me antinausea medicine thru epidural so it worked in time. Rough start of day 3.
Yesterday I was smiling, even today some, due to supporters and sisters and friends. I was even able to eat potato broth and oatmeal yesterday - first food in days. But now im back on clear liquids only, and am told walk, walk. Through the pain.
I can walk, but today i couldnt talk and had so much difficulty to breathe. So ive only done two laps. But after I write this and nap a lil, which i hope i dont get caught doing by my surgeon during his round, then i will get up and walk this hallway like the champ i am. Haha.
One step at a time, yes. And when i walk the hallways and feel weak, i think of mon petit Julien smiling and realize that yes, i am closer to seeing him, hearing him laugh and looking into his beautiful eyes. I also think of him wearing the cute nursing scrubs with stethoscope design outfit that my mother got for him to wear when i return home. You all, friends, family, colleagues, have been so wonderful. The support from afar has been so close in my heart. Thank you.

And now this journal entry, from this day at MSK one year ago:

Journal entry by Domenica Newell-Amato — 4/24/2016
hi people!
Since i last wrote, the bottom fell out on me. I had a smile-less day on Friday into Saturday. Out of nowhere, i was sitting and projectile vomited all over green bile. No bucket near. My sister helped me, and later the angel nurse Juanito helped clean up. I vomited again in bed. I was immediately taken off fluids and of course food. Saturday early morning was awful but i dont remember much of it. O wait, now I do. The worst part of it all. O yes. They wanted to stick a tube down my nose and back of throat to take some of liquid out since my stomach wasnt working and bowels were sleeping (due to surgery and to narcotics). The resident doctor who i think is a jack ass put a big tube down my right nostril i was screaming and crying. He pulled it back out and someone said it's too big for her. So he got he got a smaller one and tried left nostril. They had me sip water through straw as they tried to get it down back of my throat. I thought it was going and then he pulled it out and said no no - it had gotten coiled in my mouth. I started crying hysterically from the pain as the doctor said Sorry - and i said What do mean "sorry"! He left and he never came back, for the record. Stupid resident. Before he had started he asked the nurse a question about the tube or something, and I said, Have you done this before? I could tell the male nurse was having a hard time watching this procedure in the middle of the night... It was hard. The next morning i had nothing. Just nothing. I had been so hot, burning up with ice packs and cold washcloths on my forehead and back of neck as i tried to sit upright as the nurse suggested. All morning. I wrote quick message to friends asking for prayers and that was all i could do. By mid- afternoon, the nausea left me after hours and hours... Thank God. Thank God.
I still couldn't drink anything until this afternoon, Sunday, day 6. Im drinking little so as to avoid jumping the gun.
The drains coming out of my body are still producing lots of blood and body fluids from the surgery sites. And because my lungs are waking up, I am coughing which hurts. But thats a good sign. Yesterday evening i had some energy and clocked out with 14 laps of 15th floor where i am, a slow, spread out mile. Thereto i had only done a total of 4 or 7 laps in a day. Today, i have been mostly without nausea. I am very uncomfortable, but thats to be expected. Often i can overlook it. I just feel awful. Today, i started crying for my baby boy who i miss sooooo very much. I miss him so much.
Yesterday i went off narcotics totally, with only liquid tylenol to help pain. They also removed catheter and I am able to pee. Tomorrow or today they may remove the tube in my butt which is draining fluids and irritating.

In my next entry I will post info for a go fund me account, which will help me navigate the path I am on financially. My next operation is in three months - hopefully only 3-5 days in hospital, with family staying in nearby hotel room to help me through again. I will often have to travel to nyc for follow-up procedures. The rest, I cant think too much about. I just want to be able to walk normal again and comfortably care for my Julien. I cry and I pray he doesn't inherit this - with all my heart. I hope for the 1 out of 2 chance that he live a full life, always healthy, nooooo FAP.
When the volunteer deacons come to offer me communion I cry. When I stepped into the rec room where musicians were playing I cried. When i saw a toddler in his daddy's arms who was connected to an IV stand like me i cried and cried. Crying is good, cuz i wasn't able to do that for a couple days. (The last time i cried was when i woke up and my bag was leaking onto my hand. There are more beautiful emotions than that to let tear up my eyes)
I speak the words "my healthy baby!" over my precious Julien daily. I cant wait to do that again soon.
Thank you all for reading. And loving and praying. I am so glad I have my sister Candi with me. She's a real champ, doing so much for me without missing a beat.

On the one-year anniversary of my life-saving colectomy
Wearing a chef's hat, Troy NY, April 19, 2017

What symbols of mercy and compassion speak to you?