Tag - joyce vissell

When Giving is Receiving

by Barry and Joyce Vissell

A short time ago, Joyce and I fulfilled a thirty-five year old dream of leading a retreat in Assisi, Italy. The experience went way beyond what we could have ever imagined. Early one morning we brought our group of retreat participants to the Basilica de San Francesco, the tomb of Saint Francis. It’s difficult to adequately describe the enormity of the spiritual power here where millions of pilgrims have prayed and meditated in the place where Saint Francis is buried. Likewise, we felt a deeply loving presence at the Basilica de Santa Chiara, the tomb of Francis’ soul-mate, Saint Clare. Especially early in the morning, before the throngs of tourists arrive, the very atmosphere is charged with a heavenly energy most people can feel.

I sat with the group, letting this great power wash through my being. Previous mornings in these sacred places, I had been able to sink into deeper states of meditation than I normally do at home. I felt determined to go even deeper and bask in this holy glow.

Yet try as I may, I felt more and more agitated and restless. I felt like I was fighting against a river, trying to swim upstream. I felt frustrated, then defeated, and finally a little embarrassed. I couldn’t sit there any longer. I had to get up and move around. So I did, and as soon as I was moving I felt better.

Then I looked at the members of our group, each one earnestly striving to receive the blessing of this holy place. My heart welled up with love for each of them, and I knew in that moment what I needed to do. I was being called to bless each of them, to touch each one with love, perhaps even to speak something to each person.

As I approached the first person, I had to push through that inevitable bit of resistance, a reluctance to invade another’s personal space, even the thought that I would be disturbing their spiritual reverie. But the inner prompting won out over my mind’s protests, and I reached out my hands and gently placed them upon the head before me. As I did so, a deep peace swept through me, a confirmation that I was doing the right thing. With each successive person, my heart swelled with love, my hands felt charged with energy, and sometimes comforting words would come out of my mouth.

Was I just giving love? Absolutely not. I was receiving more abundantly than I ever do, even in my deepest meditations. If I was just giving, I would have eventually felt depleted. Yet with each person I felt increasingly more energized.

Saint Francis once went up on a mountain to meditate and pray for guidance. His deep desire was to live in seclusion, absorbed in the ecstasy of communion with God. And he well understood the service in this path of the solitary hermit – the blessings that would radiate out to all beings on the planet. But in a way he didn’t completely trust himself, because his desire for divine union was still desire. So he found one of his closest companions and gave him instructions to have a group of brothers (the Friars Minor) pray for guidance for him. Should he remain in seclusion for the benefit of humanity, or should he take action, traveling the world preaching and healing? Just to make sure, he sent another brother to Clare at San Damiano, because he trusted her wisdom perhaps above all others. The answer came back as one – his path was with people, not alone on a mountain top. From that moment on, Francis traveled extensively, changing lives wherever he went. Even in his lifetime, the brothers who joined him and the sisters who joined Clare numbered in the many thousands. Did he take time to meditate and pray in solitude? Of course. His inward time was vital to him. He took many retreats, but most of his spiritual communion took place at night, while everyone else slept.

On our website (SharedHeart.org), there is an article I wrote called “Miracle on the Mountain” in which I described a life-transforming experience I had on Mount Shasta in northern California in 1977. I went up on the mountain, similar to Saint Francis, to meditate in solitude, to have a spiritual experience by myself. Just like in Assisi, I came to a peaceful state, and then couldn’t sit still any longer. But unlike my experience in Assisi, I got up from my spot, packed up and left, feeling like I had failed. On the way down the mountain, I was able to save a man’s life. Talk about being of service in the world!

In 1973, Joyce and I started traveling, seeking after spiritual teachers. It was an abrupt switch from studying medicine and then psychiatry, to studying the spiritual disciplines of the east and west. But it was still studying. One of Joyce’s relatives made a comment that struck a deep chord in us, even though it hurt at the time: “The two of you are like the Dead Sea. Rivers run into it, but nothing runs out of it, and therefore nothing can live in it. How long are you going to keep learning before you give back?”

Well, we didn’t get the message. We traveled to the French Alps to spend the summer studying with the Sufi teacher, Pir Vilayat Khan. The first day he met us, he took us aside and gave us instructions that changed our lives forever: “You two will teach a class each day on relationships. There are classes here on so many dimensions of spirituality, but nothing on relationships. Without understanding our human relationships, we can’t bring spirituality down to earth.”

“But Pir Vilayat,” we protested, “we came here to learn, not teach.”

“Nonsense,” he replied. “You’ll learn best by teaching. You’ll receive most by giving.”

And so we did. With the help of translators, we taught the class to a large group of English, German and French-speaking people.

And our lives did change. Today, my favorite prayer is the prayer of Saint Francis: “Lord make me an instrument of Thy peace.” We ask God every day to simply be of service in this world, to help people wherever we can, to bring divine love into every situation. And this is what fills us with joy.

Please don’t miss out on an opportunity to give love and bless someone’s life: placing your hand on your child’s head and giving your praise, speaking appreciation to your beloved, touching a coworker’s shoulder while you thank him or her for a job well done, hugging a parent and thanking them for their love, or being extra kind to a total stranger. Then notice how much joy this gives you.

Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom and Meant To Be. Even one session with either or both of them (over the phone or in person) can shift your life or relationship. Call 831-684-2130.

Call Toll-Free 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for free newsletter from Barry and Joyce, further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at www.sharedheart.org/ for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.


Lessons from my Recent Near Death Experience

by Barry Vissell

It was Saturday, June 20, 2009, and we had one more week till our daughter Rami’s wedding to her fiancé River. I had no idea that this day would shake my whole world. We worked to get our house and property ready for the anticipated 170 people. Our new refrigerator arrived and I emptied out all the food from the old one. I found a frozen piece of chocolate cake baked by our son months before and couldn’t resist tasting it. It was still delicious.

After the new refrigerator was filled and shelves adjusted, I made myself a cup of green tea, went into the office, and started working on the computer. I had only had a few sips of the tea, when I started feeling light-headed with a very strange “buzzing” in my head. At first I thought I was hypoglycemic, or maybe the green tea somehow had an unusually large amount of caffeine. But the sensation felt very different than anything I had ever experienced. It was not at all unpleasant, just unusual. And it was getting stronger by the minute. The “buzzing” was now spreading throughout my whole body.

I got down on my hands and knees, touching my forehead to the floor, hoping to bring more blood to my brain. Not helpful. It kept getting stronger. I thought, “Maybe I’m down on my hands and knees to pray for help, or to be closer to the earth.” I did indeed pray for help.

Sitting on my chair again, ever the medical doctor, I wondered if I were having a stroke. Not your typical stroke that involves pain or paralysis, but an atypical one that was only affecting my sensations and not my muscles. I even thought about Jill Bolte Taylor’s description of her own stroke in her book, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey.

There was only one thing in the whole world I wanted to do – and that was to find Joyce. I got up off the floor, not at all sure I could stand, let alone walk. I found I needed to will myself to put one foot in front of the other, but my balance seemed OK. I made it to the kitchen, found Joyce, and let her know I needed her help. It has often been difficult for me to ask Joyce for help, to lean on her strength and love, but in this moment it was a “no-brainer.”

She took one look into my eyes and immediately knew something was very wrong. Although my pupils seemed normal, my eye movements were sluggish and my skin was cold and clammy. She helped me lay down on the couch, sitting close to me, and together we tried to piece together what was going on. My thinking faculties seemed fine, even hyper alert. Caffeine overdose was out of the question. Stroke was very unlikely, given the progressive quality of the symptoms. Now my skin was becoming hypersensitive. The blanket Joyce had placed upon me felt like it was filled with lead. Even her hands upon me felt oppressively heavy, a clear warning sign. Normally, there’s nothing I like more than Joyce’s touch.

I kept returning in my mind to the chocolate cake. Poisoning seemed to be what was happening. But really … chocolate cake? In the freezer? Then I wondered if John-Nuri had added something “special” to the recipe … something that could be mind-altering. Our 20 year old son was at a party with his friends and Joyce called his cell phone and left an urgent message.

Even though it had been more than 35 years since our “experimenting” with psychedelics, I knew what I was experiencing was no “bad trip.” There was no mind altering, no euphoria, no hallucinations … just this intense physical sensation that was vibrating or buzzing without pain. And it kept getting stronger!

Joyce was on the phone, trying to reach a doctor friend. On the couch, I had the oddest sensation of starting to go to sleep without being even remotely sleepy. It felt like my body was shutting down internally and I, my real self, my conscious self, was somehow detaching from my body. I was starting to feel profoundly peaceful, more peaceful than I have ever felt. Letting go in that moment would have been blissfully easy, but another part of me understood that this could very well be my body’s way of dying. I felt that, as intense as the poison was, I had a choice of whether to stay or leave. I even thought about Rami and River’s wedding in exactly one week. I needed to be there. Rami needed me to be there to bless her union with River. And I had so much more to give and experience in my own life.

I called out to Joyce. She came right over and sat close to me. I asked her to keep me engaged, to help me stay awake … to anchor me to my body. We talked about going to the emergency room, but it never seemed quite right. I really wanted to stay at home, surrounded by love and quiet. Some moments I wondered if I was dying, so intense was the experience. Other moments I felt I had the conscious decision to live or die.

My body started to shake and Joyce found more blankets to put on me. I couldn’t tell if I was cold or hot. I just wasn’t that connected to my body.

Joyce asked me to stand up. She may as well have asked me to climb Mt. Everest. It wasn’t that I felt weak, or even sick. The difficulty was simply being in my body.

Somehow I made it to my feet. Then she took my arm and asked me to walk with her. With great effort, I placed one foot in front of the other. She guided me outside onto our deck, to a chair in the warm sun. Joyce knows how much I love the sun, but it didn’t feel good and, after just a few minutes, she helped me return to the couch.

John-Nuri arrived home and breathlessly entered the room. He assured us there was nothing unusual in the cake, and I knew he was speaking the truth. I looked up into his loving brown eyes and asked him if he felt I was dying. In that moment, he felt more like a compassionate father than a son. I felt a great need for his love, and complete trust in his intuition and healing ability. He looked deeply into my eyes before assuring me I was not dying.

I felt bathed in the love of my wife and my son. I received an inner assurance that I would live. I just needed to now ride out the rest of the process. I needed to let my body do its miraculous job of detoxifying and eliminating whatever I had ingested.

It was then that I finally remembered something else I had tasted during my busyness in the kitchen. It was my home grown Kombucha. Widely revered for its immune strengthening properties, it looks like a mushroom but is really a symbiotic relationship between bacteria and yeast that is grown in a solution of sugar and black tea. The “mushroom” had been growing for several months, and I remembered sampling the solution about an hour before my symptoms started. It tasted normal. Luckily I only poured myself about two ounces of the drink. Had I poured myself a full glass, you would probably not be reading this article right now.

My medical friend later told me, after much research and several calls to Poison Control, that my Kombucha culture somehow became contaminated. Some stray organism invaded the mixture, reproduced itself, and secreted a neurotoxin that poisoned me. There have been other cases of poisoning with home grown Kombucha, including one reported death.

Hours later, upon returning from a trip, our daughters, Mira and Rami, and our soon-to-be son, River, arrived and added their love to the mix. It was unbelievably sweet to be surrounded by so much good energy.

I feel so different as a result of this near death experience. I have never felt so grateful to be alive. Today marks 10 days after the poisoning. I received IV treatment to support and flush out my overburdened liver. Within 24 hours I was 90 percent clear of symptoms, and after 3 days back to normal except for an occasional episode of nausea and lightheadedness. The wedding was a blessed event with love filling every moment.

I notice I take more time to give and receive love with friends and family. Being so close to death really forces me to appreciate life, to slow down and notice all the beauty around me, to be a better human being.

I am so aware of the fragility of our bodies. Two ounces of a drink placed me on the brink of a precipice. A few seconds are all that are needed to destroy a human body in a car accident. How much have I taken life for granted. I realize that every minute of life is precious. Every day holds the opportunity for more growth and love.

After officiating at the wedding ceremony, Joyce and I became separated while we were greeting friends and family. Joyce noticed the time. It was exactly one week since she sat on the couch helping me to stay in my body. Overcome with gratitude that I was alive, she ran to find me, and invited me to be alone with her for a moment. With the noise of celebrating in the background, Joyce and I held tightly to each other and gave thanks for more time to be together on earth, and to keep giving our gifts of love to the world.

Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following longer events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell: Jul 19-24, 2009-Breitenbush Hot Springs Summer Renewal in Oregon; Nov-Apr-Personal Mentorship/Coaching Program; Jan 31-Feb 7, 2010-Hawaii “Couples in Paradise” Retreat.

Joyce and Barry Vissell, a nurse and medical doctor couple since 1964 whose medicine is now love, are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom and Meant To Be.

Call TOLL-FREE 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for free newsletter from Barry and Joyce, further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at www.sharedheart.org/ for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.


Do You Need a Miracle?

by Joyce and Barry Vissell

Have you ever heard someone say in despair, “It will take a miracle to help this situation?” This phrase has come to be used in a pessimistic way almost like a death sentence for a situation. Many times we have heard in our counseling sessions people with no hope saying words such as, “The relationship with my husband/wife is so bad, it’ll take a miracle for us to come back together.” Or a parent who has lost all trust, “Only a miracle can bring my child back from their addiction.” The different situations are many, but the theme is the same, the person feels hopeless and has lost trust. But it is possible to change this phrase to one of hope and optimism. It takes trust and a willingness to open your heart to the possibility that love can heal. Barry and I witness miracles occurring in people’s lives and relationships every day. Our job is to get them to a place of trust and hope.

Recently we experienced the power of a miracle in a person’s life. Our dear friend of 35 years, Nancy Grace, was hit by a speeding car while walking her dog. Her head and entire left side was damaged and she was rushed by helicopter to a trauma center in San Jose. She was given very little chance of survival. She was placed on a breathing machine and was in a coma. No one except her two daughters and mother were allowed to see her. After ten days she was allowed a few visitors. Barry and I and two of her friends were her first visitors. As a doctor and nurse, we were well aware of the danger signs. The nurse in charge of Nancy showed us her two eyes with a flash light. Each one was fixed and dilated, no response whatsoever to light. This compassionate nurse looked at us directly saying, “You know from your training that this is not a good sign.” Indeed we knew that if Nancy survived she could have extensive brain damage. Then the nurse continued, “I have worked here for a long time. I have learned that miracles happen. All of your love and prayers can bring about that miracle.”

Nancy has many friends and all of us focused on a miracle in her life. Even when things looked really bad, like when the coma continued for three months, we continued to pray for and visualize a miracle. She was surrounded by love, trust and hope. None of us accepted the doctor’s grim diagnosis. We continued to see her walking, laughing and giving her love. Today, eight months later, she is able to live by herself, has her full long term memory back, is walking with some assistance, laughs more than any one I know, and continues to give love and hope to whomever she meets. She still has a long way to go in her healing, but the miracle is definitely happening.

The miracle with Nancy was a big miracle, as she was brought back from the brink of death or permanent brain damage. We also witness smaller miracles that occur in people’s lives all the time. The important thing is to have hope and trust in the ability of love to bring healing. A husband and wife came to see us in very bad shape in their marriage. The only reason they weren’t calling the lawyers right away for a divorce is that they had two small children. The husband remarked in despair, “I guess the only thing that will help is a miracle at this point.”

We said, “Well why not ask for a miracle?” We had them commit to sitting and praying together every single day for a miracle in their relationship. At the end of the prayer they were to each say one positive thing to the other. This simple exercise only took ten minutes a day, and yet it opened their hearts to one another, and they could begin to do the serious work of healing their relationship.

We know parents whose twenty three year old child was seriously addicted to drugs. He had been in and out of rehab and had even spent a year in jail, after which he immediately went back to the streets and drugs. The parents came to us in despair, saying, “We have tried all we can do. I guess he just needs a miracle.” As they spoke there was no hope in their voices or hearts. We had them sit together and pray for a miracle for their son. Then after the prayer they were to each share with the other something they love about their son and the joy they will feel when their son is in recovery from his addiction. We wanted them to make the possibility of a miracle real in their lives. The parents did this every day for a full year. For six months nothing happened with their son, but the parents felt more peaceful and could sleep once again. They felt they were doing something very important for their son. After six months there were small signs of change. Their son started calling once in a while. Then he would come over just to see them, rather than ask for money. Then he started talking about needing help. After a year he voluntarily entered into a treatment program and for the first time began to take it seriously. I believe that the parents love and trust in a miracle drew out the best in their son.

The possibility of a miracle is real and can happen to you in your relationship, life situation or health. It is important to never give up and realize that a miracle can come in many different ways.  A friend of ours was diagnosed with aggressive terminal brain cancer. It took his life in just three months. His wife, two daughters and friends all prayed for a miracle. His cancer was not cured, but there was a beautiful healing that took place within that family, that allowed his wife and children to go on with their lives in strength. To make the possibility of a miracle real it is important to open your heart and trust in love to bring about change and healing.

Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following longer events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell:  Nov-AprPersonal Mentorship/Transformation Program; Feb 1-8, 2009Hawaii “Couples in Paradise”  Retreat; Jul 19-24, 2009Breitenbush Hot Springs Summer Renewal  in Oregon.

Joyce and Barry Vissell, a nurse and medical doctor couple since 1964 whose medicine is now love, are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom and Meant To Be.

Call toll free: 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for free newsletter from Barry and Joyce, further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at www.sharedheart.org/ for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.