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Healing into wholeness and happiness — with the help of Freddy the fox

A few years ago, a major depression, or spiritual crisis, swept into my life like a tsunami one evening as I was watching ABC news on TV with JoAnn. There was no warning that I could see. I was in excellent health, happily married, and living a full and happy life -- or so I thought - when I felt a sudden pounding in my chest. I decided to lie down, and found myself prostrated on my bed for nearly three hours with a major anxiety attack.

Soon after that memorable evening my weight began to drop steadily. Within a few months I was in such poor and fragile state that I was not sure I would survive. I seemed to be on a downward slide that nothing could interrupt. I looked frantically for answers to my plight, as thoughts of suicide surfaced in my mind.

My therapist believed deeply buried memories of childhood experiences in the Blitz were at the root of my plight. As things grew more and more serious, he called me one evening to try and cheer me up. "The planet needs you," he said, imploring me not to give up, and I was moved by the emotion and care I heard in his voice.

In the midst of this dark period in my life, perhaps the darkest period I have ever known, an interesting event occurred. It was a little thing, on the surface. I looked out our living room window one morning - a beautiful spring day, with the blue Colorado sunshine filling the sky from one end to the other -- and saw a young fox walk casually across our front lawn. He was utterly at ease, utterly at peace with his life, and one of the most gorgeous creatures I had ever seen, with a long, elegant tail that streamed behind him like a flag blowing in the wind.

When he was less than ten feet from me, Freddy, as I called him, decided that a rest was in order. He proceeded to stretch out deliciously on his belly beside the weeping cherry tree, pushing his rear legs out flat behind him as far as they would go, and then, with a grin of pure satisfaction, slowly and deliberately lowering his chin onto his front paws and closing his eyes.

When I looked out later in the day, Freddy was gone. I thought I would never see him again. But I was wrong.

Freddy stayed with us for three weeks, sleeping beneath a lilac bush in our backyard, perfectly at home in a growing city of more than 50,000 people, surrounded by pick-ups and cars, children and dogs. It seemed to me he exemplified trust in every moment -- whether curling up contentedly beneath the lilac bush for a snooze, or walking casually and effortlessly along the top of the half-inch thick wooden fence in our backyard, calmly ignoring the agitated yaps of a neighbor's dogs.

Perhaps it was mere chance Freddy came to visit when he did, though I'm not entirely sure of that. What I do know is that he helped light a flame of hope in my heart, because starting from the time he came to visit, I began to get better.  I emerged from the whole terrifying experience stronger and healthier than before I got sick. I threw away my medications. I began working out at the gym, and putting on muscle. I discovered how to smile again, and how to laugh. 

But that wasn't all. It was as if a divine surgeon had been at work, removing some deeply buried blocks or limitations, because as unexpectedly as the illness had arrived, the most beautiful stillness began to blossom within me.
I began to experience an entirely new sense of peace and well-being. I realized I didn't need to search for anything in the external world anymore -- not truth, not freedom, not understanding, not even happiness -- because all these things were already present within me.

My primary care doctor wanted to know how I did it -- how I got better. I told him I didn't really know. I didn't want to tell him about Freddy, for some reason.

Wendell Berry (www.wendellberrybooks.com) the well-known poet, who lives on a farm in Kentucky, is an American treasure and a beautiful example of true spiritual values in action. I particularly love his poem, The Peace of Wild Things, and take the liberty of reproducing it here.

"When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
and I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free".

How thankful I am for the gift of Nature. Most of all, though, I am thankful for the beautiful truth that is at the core of us all, and that will bring us through the tribulations of our lives if we trust it and follow its wisdom and love wherever it leads. Do you have any thoughts or stories about healing and trust you'd like to share?  If so, please do write.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

David Banner June 2, 2009 at 6:40 am

I carry this Wendell Berry poem in my wallet! It speaks to me so deeply. For a year after we moved to southwestern Wisconsin, we lived on a 17 acre “hobby farm” and I was SO happy just walking the land, feeling the natural world around me….I finally understood what Thomas Moore meant when he talked about “care of the soul.”

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Christopher Foster June 5, 2009 at 11:58 am

That’s a nifty idea, carrying a favorite poem in your wallet so you can look at it when you want to. It reminds me of when I was a young fellow and bought a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I carried it with me in my jacket pocket for two years. I was searching for direction and meaning — the book was my constant companion and just about saved my life.

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