DHARMA AND THE MODERN WORLD
In early 2009, I was a mess. Due to a lack of mobility and the side-effects of a dozen or so medications, my weight skyrocketed to 126 kilograms (277 pounds). As I struggled to cope with an incurable bladder disease and neurotransmitter disorder, my weight had doubled over the previous two years. My husband had left his career in the military to become my full-time caregiver and we relocated to a remote part of Tasmania, Australia.
I slept with a CPAP mask due to sleep apnea and required a walking stick for balance issues. As a sufferer of severe, three-day cluster migraines, which occurred as often as once every two weeks, my pain levels were high and I constantly felt like a zonked-out zombie. Laid low by chronic fatigue, I always seemed to be in bed or asleep, and for a time, slept 18 out of every 24 hours. I had forgotten what it felt like to be clear-headed.
As a result of my health problems, I have had dozens of operations over the years with my husband always by my hospital bed. As my caregiver, he is so patient and kind, taking care of me and the household without complaint. A fit man and never the type to get sick, it came as a bit of a shock to us both when in 2009 he became very ill with a serious immune system condition. A great number of tests followed, one of which revealed an unrelated, rare and life-threatening tumor – a true lesson of the impermanence of all things.
The tumor had to be removed as quickly as possible and I made the decision that no matter what it took, I would be at his side through whatever lay ahead. Under medical supervision, I began to come off medications, even though it meant my pain levels increased. My doctors warned me that it would be “brutal,” but I persevered, and when things got really tough, I would remind myself that my husband needed me.
I found a great deal of comfort and meaning in the words of Lama Yeshe when he said, “Human beings do have power. We have the power to change our lifestyles, change our attitudes, change our habits.” I challenged myself to walk again, at first simply to and from our front gate. Eventually, I was able to throw away the walking stick and regain mobility. Previously my health issues and medications had prevented me from driving, but now I found I was able to drive short distances.
My husband spent weeks in hospital and I was able to find accommodation two city blocks away. Each day I took the hilly walk to and from the hospital – morning and night – to be with him. A hospital is a wonderful place to learn and practice compassion. After the tumor was removed, my husband then began a lengthy battle with chronic illness. The realization hit me, not only would I now have to care for myself, but my husband too.
The daily walking and reduced medications triggered the start of my weight loss. When I reached the point of needing to lose a further 30 kilograms (66 pounds) to return to a healthy weight range, I decided to seek sponsorship. So that year, instead of “working a day for Rinpoche” I decided to “lose weight for Rinpoche.” It took thirteen and a half months, but I did it. Through the kindness and generosity of others, enough money was raised for approximately 13,500 meals for the monks of Sera Je Monastery. By seeing my weight loss as an act of guru devotion, I found it easy to stay focused. I knew that the Sera Je Food Fund was something close to Rinpoche’s heart.
Looking back, I can see how much the Dharma helped me through the challenges of those years. Buddhism gave me strength and helped me to see obstacles as opportunities to grow. So many people from the FPMT and the Sangha helped and supported me. Lama Zopa Rinpoche wrote to me a beautiful letter with advice on how to view my health issues. I learned to love and accept myself as I worked toward becoming the “healthiest version of me” that I could be. It is my hope that I will now be more able to benefit others, not just my family, but also those who wish to lose weight.
Three years later and I have now lost 67 kilograms (147 pounds, about 8 dress sizes), more than half my body weight, and some of my health issues are now gone. With less medication in my system, my mind is much clearer. I have come to understand the truth of the Buddha’s teaching: “Your body is precious. It is our vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.”
I dedicate my efforts to my precious Guru, Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
Susan Drolkar also launched Half the Woman, dedicated to openly chronicling her weight loss and providing others with the inspiration and tools to lose a significant amount of weight safely and with little expense.Tags: guru devotion, healing, health, illness, susan drolkar