How Science and Nonduality Helped My Recovery from Brain Injury

How Science and Nonduality Helped My Recovery from Brain Injury

By Tom Bunzel

I was extremely fortunate and attended several years of SAND in San Jose as writer for Collective Evolution and was able to learn so much from the talks of Jac O’Keefe, Rupert Spira, Peter Russell, Scott Kiloby and so many others.

Then in January 2018 my world changed forever one night when I was trying to kill a flu bug with a method I head learned in Mexico as a trip director in my twenties; but I took one shot of tequila too many and woke up on my tile kitchen floor next to a puddle of blood.

My former girlfriend urged me to see a neurologist, reminding me of a celebrity whose concussion had led to her untimely death.  Brain scans revealed an area of blood near my brain and we waited six weeks for it to abate. I had a subdural hematoma.

After another MRI a neurosurgeon I had seen (“just in case”) called and asked me, “Have you had seizures and headaches yet?”  I had not but after being fortunate enough to get a second opinion I had a craniotomy in March 2018.

I was told by a few who seemed familiar with such procedures that I would be “ok” in six to eight weeks.  And the neurosurgeon pronounced me blood free and clean after a post-op MRI. But I was suffering from massive fatigue and acute anxiety.

I found a Traumatic Brain Injury group on Facebook and my research was frightening; while many people did recover from concussions post-concussion syndrome with my symptoms could go on for years.

I was desperate to get better.  My neurosurgeon had told me about the gut-brain connection and I spent a small fortune on supplements and probiotics looking for a magic pill.  I altered my diet and ate avocados for breakfast but the fatigue and anxiety continued.

I spent the hot Las Vegas summer mostly resting; socializing was a tremendous strain and even speaking on the phone exhausted me.  With help of a few friends but mostly alone I made sure I had groceries and took care of some business.

In the fall I was still suffering.  My friends urged patience which was never my strong suit and I kept looking for “answers”; I came across a book, The Ghost in My Brain by Dr, Clark Elliot that got me to a vision therapist who found that my eyes weren’t working quite right.

With echoes of my computer writer past I realized “garbage in, garbage out” and did some work with her and got some new glasses to correct my vision.  I started improving slightly as Christmas rolled around.

My biggest problem besides the fatigue and anxiety was abdominal pain that seemed stress related and happened most mornings.  None of the probiotics helped. CBD hemp oil helped to some extent, but I had stomach and intestinal pain daily.

My close friend reminded me that I had been through a lot of trauma, and I realized that I had been down this road before.  My parents were holocaust survivors and I had gone through a dark night of the soul until my reading of Eckhart Tolle and some body work made me aware of the trauma I had inherited and allowed me to focus on the sensations in my body and eventually heal.

I now realized that much of this trauma had probably been reawakened through my surgery and other recent experiences – and the politics in Washington DC brought up many additional fears.

At around this time I listened to the audio book of Super Brain by Deepak Chopra and Dr. Rudy Tanzi (SAND speaker and a neuroscientist specializing in Alzheimer's) and my hopes were augmented by their belief in the power of the brain to heal, and specifically neuroplasticity.

The authors differentiate between the brain and the mind. According to the authors only the mind has intention and will - to them the brain is a repository of conditioned beliefs and habits and memories.

Neuroplasticity can heal injured portions of the brain and is triggered by novel and new experiences which create "new grooves" and memories. But the impetus to "do" innovative things rests in the mind and a main premise of the book is that one ought to learn to use the mind to control the brain rather than the other way around.

Chopra and Tanzi refer to the very repetitive experience of “what if’ negative thinking as an example of the brain’s conditioned negativity, that becomes so prevalent and troubling during depression and anxiety; I recognized my own tendency toward anxiety when I thought I might run out of cat food or received a phone call that required me to deal with professionals – doctors, mechanics, etc.

In Chopra and Tanzi’s view the grooves in the brain that are conditioned need to be noticed and identified; but through calm and meditation, along with trying new experiences, a higher mind or faculty can develop.  The authors consider the “mind” a higher non-material aspect of our functioning that can be developed as a “Super Brain.”

I believe that what these authors call the brain is what some like Eckhart Tolle refer to as the “mind” or the Ego and what Chopra and Tanzi consider the Self is a nonlocal higher frequency of intelligence that others call Life, Source, Consciousness or even God.

I had attempted to use meditation and mindfulness in my healing but had to end my practice when I noticed that I was forcing myself to meditate – the opposite of how it might be helpful.

Now I began to realize that I could begin to really notice the tendencies in my conditioned mind and how they were causing my anxiety and fatigue.  I also began to experiment with trying new things and going out even when it was uncomfortable and difficult, and then resting as needed.

I experimented with getting back into tennis in a rotation in my senior community with guys my age (70) and older.  It was painful to remember how I ‘used to” play and it brought up a lot of grief and emotion as I yearned to be normal again.

But a psychologist/friend reminded me of the practice that Scott Kiloby and Jeff Foster describe, to not try to overcome these bodily sensations of grief and other emotions, but rather instead begin to allow, welcome and love them.

One of my biggest difficulties early on had been accepting the fatigue and resting; I was conditioned to work and achieve and the initial boredom I experienced was stupefying until I embraced Scott Kiloby and Jeff Foster’s idea of deep rest and welcomed the escape into silence.

Reading more Eckhart Tolle made me acutely aware of how much resistance I had had to the need to rest and to the entire experience.  On TV while listening to Soundscapes I saw Deepak Chopra’s definition of happiness as “a series of happenings that are not resisted.”

I also began to finally accept that I might never be the person I used to be or thought I should be – in Eckhart Tolle’s words I had to “die before I died” to my old self and recognize that the future could not be “controlled” and was unknowable. I began to open myself up to that.

In difficult moments I reminded myself that “this is just what is” and accepted it the best way I could.

When I felt isolated and lonely I noticed those feeling in my body as Jeff Foster describes the practice, and again tried to treat these feelings as children with love, and instead of fixating on them, allowed them to energetically pass through my body.

I also began to notice that I was improving and on good days especially began a practice of speaking to myself out loud about my gratitude for feeling better and hope for the future.

In my birthday month in May I received much love from my friends and went out for three dinners, which was generally very difficult, but I found now that by opening to the emotions I was “almost normal” on these occasions.

Currently we are in the midst of another hot Vegas summer and I continue to see improvement.  I was very touched by Maurizio’s email in which he told me that I would always have a community I could return to.

I do not know what the future holds, obviously, but I am so grateful to have had the exposure to the scientific and philosophical thinkers at SAND that has enabled me to see the progress to this point.

I was going to wait until “this was over and I was ok” to write about it to give others more hope but a big part of my progress has come with the recognition that there is no finish line, it’s all just a process in this huge mystery we call Life.

I wanted to share some of my experience with SAND people, and also make others with TBI (traumatic brain injury) aware of methodologies and teachings they might find helpful.

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