It was around 9:15 PM ET on a cold Tuesday night in January 2015. I had just finished hosting a session for Janice Marturano’s Live Finding the Space to Lead online course. It had gone very well and my wife and I were very pleased with the outcome.
I tried to stand up and noticed that I could not place any weight on my left foot and promptly collapsed back into my chair. It was extremely puzzling as I wasn’t sitting cross-legged or been in a poor posture. Both my feet had been on the floor and I had been upright. I tried again to stand up and failed.
Everything that was going on in my life at that time felt awesome. A couple of years earlier, Congressman Tim Ryan had asked me to launch the Mindful Nation Foundation and I was fully engaged in helping veterans with PTSD, teachers with burnout and children with paying attention. I really felt that I was living out my purpose and my life was meaningful. I was on top of the world. In fact, I even spoke at two events at Wisdom 2.0 in February 2015 hobbling around San Francisco in crutches.
When five blood tests and three MRIs failed to lead to a diagnosis, I wondered if my ailment could be a result of burnout. I reached out in despair to Dr. John E. Sarno for help, my hero and the author of several books including The Mind Body Prescription.
After a couple of requests, Dr. Sarno directed me to a local physician, who happened to be his former patient as well. This doctor, even without seeing me in person, told me to stop doing whatever I was doing. I had now been disabled for 4 months. Given my devotion to making Wichita, a mindful city, I told him that I could not stop what I was doing. Hearing my push back, he responded in a raised voice, “We are beginning to see such symptoms in those whose minds are racing too fast and who are pushing their bodies beyond their limits. It starts with occasional symptoms, followed by disabling symptoms, and then to cancer.”
Hearing this from a hematologist and oncologist got my attention.
This was my wake up call.
When I asked him if I could become his patient, he shared the sad truth, “My health system would not allow me to practice this medicine since there is no money in this.” He told me that if I promised to forget his name, he would point me to a cure from my aliment at the TMS Forum, where he wrote using his pen name, Ace1.
After reading his keys to healing, I came to realize that many of my physical ailments were caused by my excited nervous system. Ever since, as soon as I wake up, I have developed a habit with my generous wife reading a series of insights and affirmations from Ace1 to effectively manage my state of mind.
Later that year, I reached out to my favorite teacher and friend, Tara Brach and explained the reason for my silence for a few months. As soon as I mentioned the details, Tara said, “Krishna, something that you are doing with Mindful Nation is not sitting well with you.” I tried to reassure her that I was feeling great about all the different activities that I was engaged with Mindful Nation and Wichita in Mind, our mindful city project, when she repeated herself calmly, “Krishna, something that you are doing with Mindful Nation is not sitting well with you.”
As though I was hit by a bolt of lightning, it became crystal clear that I had a significant set of issues working in tandem against me. Like I had a prepared list of issues for an “interview” with Tara, I rattled off with extreme clarity and shared the following:
First, when I quit working, I promised my family that I would spend more time with them. Instead, I got consumed with my Mindful Nation work. My children could not understand why I would work for free and not spend time with them.
Second, since I was working pro-bono, there was a tension developing around spending in my household, even though I never asked my family to reduce their standard of living.
Third, witnessing the plight of many of our veterans, who risk their lives serving our country and then do not get the support they deserve upon their return, reinforced an ugly old belief of mine that life is unfair.
Hearing these, Tara so eloquently stated, “That would do it, Krishna.”
I was bummed since I was operating under the belief, “If I take care of the universe, the universe will take care of me.” I couldn’t imagine how I ended up with my ailment, given the amount of service I was offering others.
A few months later, a good friend of mine resolved my confusion when I shared my belief about the universe with him. I was startled with his insightful response, “Krishna, you forgot to include yourself in the universe.” It was a huge “aha” moment for me.
Even though I spoke at length about the importance of self-care for caregivers, I failed to acknowledge the toll my service ethic was taking on my own well-being. I was not practicing what I was preaching.