I once owned a magnificent home in the Noordhoek Valley, outside of Cape Town, South Africa. It was a large, sprawling home on one and a half acres of land, perched on the hillside overlooking miles and miles of white sandy beaches and excellent surf, riding waves being a huge part of my lifestyle. After impulsively selling it, I was left with a deep regret and sense of futility, shame, loss, and self reproach that no amount of cognitive rationalizing could shift. Until, I saw it differently. This is my story of the illusion of gain and loss that exists in the relative world and how a simple shift from a local to a cosmological point of view, changed everything.
I went to medical school at the University of Cape Town from the years 1977 – 1981. For most of those years I lived up in the mountains around the Noordhoek valley- on the outskirts of Cape Town. I used to hitch hike into medical school and when not studying, I would surf on the beach breaks surrounding the idyllic valley. I lived in an abandoned church with a cross embedded on the main wall. I looked after my dogs, my chickens and my pet goat, Big Lil. My one dog Zana was not quite trainable: He fought with all the other dogs and ran away on a regular basis. He often came down with tick bite fever, lying on the floor with a white tongue and panting in the search for more air. I would take him to the vet, he received injections and recovered within a few days. I loved his presence and would take him to the university with me. He would sit in my car, I would roll down the window and he would jump in and out as he needed. At lunch, I would come down and sit with him and we would look out over the hospital graveyard and just be together.
I loved being in Noordhoek with my chickens, my dog and the shower at the bottom of the garden. I would stay up late at night, and huddled over my gas lantern, would read and write long poetic pieces emulating my heroes Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. I wanted to pull down the curtain on my daily life and sing in exaltation to the life of poetry I was not living. I would drink wine and in a half-altered state, write to women I had met who eluded me and taunted me with their beauty and unattainability, sirens beckoning from the gloom. I would also reluctantly study for my medical school exams, wishing all the while to answer only to the ecstatic poetic voices I heard in my head.
The Noordhoek valley held us all together in its big mystery. Hippies, artists, farmers, schizophrenics, cows, surfers, dogs and medical students – we all circled each other and looked to each other for support during our more vulnerable moments.
My view from my small cottage swept over the Noordhoek beach and valley. To the right and perched on the cliff, right above the surf, was a long sprawling ranch type home belonging to a reclusive gay misanthrope. As a student, I visited his home once. A friend of mine rented a room in his home. It was spectacular with its incredible view of a seven-mile beach, and the Slangkop Lighthouse in the distance. In the evening the sun dropped past the horizon and the whole valley lit up in smoky splendour. I could not imagine living in such a spectacular home. It was beyond my student dreams.
Events being what they were, I graduated from medical school, left the Noordhoek valley and moved to Canada. I adjusted to life on the Canadian prairies with vast plains of wheat fields and grain silos. I learned the art and craft of family medicine, taking it all quite seriously. I accumulated a little money and uneasily adjusted to the father and husband archetypes. I dreamt of the sea every night and longed for the day when I could move back to South Africa
One winter, a number of years after leaving the Noordhoek valley for Canada, I visited Cape Town and went surfing off the Noordhoek beach. I passed the driveway to the ranch type home and noticed a cardboard sign hammered into a tree with one nail. It said “Auction- tomorrow morning 9.00am.” I had nothing to lose and thought it worthwhile to show up. The auction took about three minutes. I found myself bidding at a ridiculously low figure of R 80,000 rand (an equivalent of $ 20,000). I expected the price to reach R300,000. Another person bid R90,000 and I went to R100, 000. I heard the auctioneer announce: “The home is sold to the surfer gentleman over there.” I signed the papers and went into the back garden to contemplate my unexpected fate. This was quite surreal. I had not planned this at all.
The home was large and sprawling over one and a half acres, perched on a hillside overlooking this vast expanse of clean white sand. My favourite surf spot was visible from every room in the house. I would wake up in the morning and scan the swells, tuned into the wind directions and the nuances of the changing seasons. Behind the house were these huge obelisk- like granite rocks. I would sit on these rocks for hours on end, listening to the noises, dog barks, and children’s voices from the valley below. In the dusk and dawn moments of the changing light, I would vibrate at this slow harmonic, still not believing my luck. I wanted to be buried on this land. I wanted generations of my family to know this ground.
In the first five years, I never lived in the house. My good friend Bobby took up residence, and my family and I would visit once a year to host these large Christmas gathering of the blood lines. We would celebrate life and each other. Every morning I would wake up and walk around the property, pulling out wayward weeds and watering its endless gardens. When it was hot at night, I would cool off in the swimming pool and delight in the comforts of the still night. I could not believe my luck and how good it made me feel.
Well, one thing led to another and back in Canada, I went through a divorce and my family split up. I attempted to put my life together as a single person but the anxiety and stress got the better of me. My wife was a divorce lawyer and I was no match for her. I fell apart. My psychiatrist said, either we admit you to hospital or you go back to SA for a break. One day, after a year of trying to start again, I put my pen down on my desk at work (I was running the most successful integrative medical clinic in the city at the time and had a long waiting list of people wanting to move beyond the drug and surgery solution to their issues). My resolve was final. I booked a flight and flew back to my Noordhoek home the next day.
Walking up the driveway to my home, I felt the burden of the divorce lift. I sat for days in the lounge with the vast windows looking over the endless beach and waves, and I knew this is where I could put my life back together again. It was an incredible experience, allowing the sea and the waves to enter into my motionless life. Instead of returning to Calgary after three weeks, as I was supposed to, I let my staff, ex-wife and children know that I was never coming back. I walked away from it all. It was a reckless, irresponsible thing to do, but I couldn’t bare the thought of facing all of the stress again. My physiology had given in, my mind had followed. I was home with the earth, the sea and the sky. My ego was crushed but my sense of soul was returning. I walked away from my practice, my loyal and devoted staff, my incredible patients, my kids, my debts, and my life as I knew it. Within weeks the healing power of the view from the front lounge over the vast expanse of beach, had moved me past my shrunken self.
I need the sea because it teaches me
I don’t know if I learn music or awareness
If it’s a single wave or its vast existence,
or only its harsh voice or its shining one,
a suggestion of fishes and ships.
The fact is that until I fall asleep,
In some magnetic way I move in
The university of the waves. (Pablo Neruda, “Absence and Presence”)
I don’t know what it was, but my bones seemed to rearrange themselves and my mind woke up to itself. I sensed a self returning.
Within weeks I had recovered sufficiently to be open to a new love. She walked up the same driveway, I had walked years ago, to interview for a house-sitting job I had advertised. I was smitten. It was love at first sight. But she was twenty years younger than me, and I felt out of my depth. Nonetheless, we became engaged and lived out our destiny within the colourful walls of the house. We spoke of past loves, talked over wine, shared pasta in garlic sauce and planned our fate. At times, friends would visit. We would stand on the porch and hold each other lightly, not quite sure of how best to reckon with the fragile night air, always the sea wind on our faces and the moon on the roof.
After two years, at her insistence, we moved back to Canada. I wanted to sort out the mess I had left behind and see my children; she wanted to travel and see the world. After two years of being surrounded by this magnificent home and sparing in love with this mystery being, we packed up and left the home, securing renters for the time being.
Back in Canada, she became homesick and longed for her youthful lifestyle. I struggled to meet her needs but it was no use. After one year, I drove her to the airport and we said our goodbyes. I had never felt so inconsolable. But it was done and we slipped away from each other, for good. There is no greater despondent feeling knowing that you are revisiting old behaviors and old circumstances, just in a recycled form. I struggled to find a way to be in the world again.
By then I was having trouble with the renters who never paid their bills. The garden was overrun with weeds; the wood was rotting on the window frames; and, the rental agency was unreliable. I could not find anyone to help me get through this tough patch. Trying to manage the problems from Canada without an intermediary was proving insurmountable.
It was at this time that a Shaman trickster came to live in my basement. I met him at a country fair, sitting surrounded by his tarot cards. He convinced me of his ability to help me heal my broken heart. It was decided one night that I could not realize my destiny if I held onto the past and I needed to release my attachments to South Africa and the home. That meant selling. It seemed like a good idea especially since I was so stressed from trying to manage the affairs from a long distance. The house went on sale and received R1.4 million for sale, a profit of more than ten times what I paid for it. I took the money and in the year 2000, invested in the tech boom. It only lasted a further two weeks. I bought Intel, Microsoft, Cisco – the whole disastrous package. Within six months my home and the money received had disappeared. My fiancé and I had split, my home sold, and I had lost the money. I had no idea what to do with my life. I just knew that I did not feel very well.
I revisited that dark place that was becoming familiar. There seemed no way I could reinvent myself and recreate some of the joy and meaning that the home and the relationship had given me. I was deeply depressed and feeling hopeless.
There is no space wider than that of grief
There is no universe like that which bleeds (Pablo Neruda, “Absence and Presence”)
I plunged into therapy, visited as many healers as I could, went on a trip to Mexico with Deepak Chopra and his group, visited gurus in India, sat in Ramana Maharishi’s cave on Mt. Arunachala and felt the aloneness and silence, consulted with psychics and clairvoyants, and sat quietly in the suburbs, where I collapsed in on myself with no sense of recovery. I could not contemplate a life without love. I rationalized that associating with the famous and visiting with Saints who knew, that I would see past the folly of the emotional self and glimpse the unseeing seer beyond. It was not to be. I remained distraught and empty.
One day, I came across a seminar flyer on my desk. I attended and was slowly exposed to the work of John Demartini. I went to Houston, met him and studied further. His work follows one central principle from which many other insights arise. There is a divine, hidden order, and everything that occurs in your life serves a purpose. This is a Platonic concept, discussed and written about by Emerson, and Leibniz, and recently resurrected by James Hillman, John Demartini and others. Your biography is dictated by your Daemon, your Soul, so to speak, and you are called from above, by your Daemon, to live the life you are destined to fulfill. Every event in your biography serves that intent if you train your mind to integrate the law. The other insight that I gained was that nothing was missing from your life. Whatever you think you have lost is present in a new form that you just have not seen or appreciated. The significance of Demartini’s work is that he is the only cognitively applicable system that integrates the shadow without going through a long analysis. It is also the most direct method of seeing the Buddha Mind, your original face.
Demartini himself had systematically set out to examine many different branches of knowledge and in so doing, discover some of the universal laws underlying the commonality of them all. I studied psychology, biology, astronomy, finances, health and healing under him and received a vast education in many different branches of knowledge. In so doing, I relaxed my attachment to my ex-fiancé and my ex-wife and moved on with my life. I placed myself with the impermanence of a changing universe, contemplated my insignificance against the drama of black holes and supernovas, and discovered the evidence for the insignificance of my ego self, against the backdrop of the infinite – somewhat overwhelming. What a relief!
I began a successful practice and found renewed vigor and a sense of purpose in integrative medical practice. I felt resurrected and enlivened and connected once again to something other than my misery. I finally came to live in the world, without shame or despair. And my loves were present in so many new forms, companions, patients, cats, and the waitress at the bistro on the corner. I was missing nothing.
Except, one issue kept nagging at me. I could not see the benefits and movement of selling my home. I still regretted the decision and longed to return and undo what appeared to be a most foolish and rash decision. No matter how hard I tried, I kept coming up with the ongoing thought as to what a ridiculous, impulsive decision to have made. It was a terrible heaviness that I carried around on this issue. My heart had rested in the indigenous gardens, and the bedrooms, where I had laid, haunted me with their views of the beaches and the beckoning sea.
So, drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
The seas lamenting in my consciousness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
And gather it up in a perpetual cup
So that, wherever those in prison may be,
Wherever they suffer the sentence of autumn,
I may be present with an errant wave,
I may move in and out of windows,
And hearing me, eyes may lift themselves,
Asking “How can I reach the sea?”
And I will pass to them, saying nothing,
The starry echoes of the wave,
A breaking up of foam and quicksand,
A rustling of salt withdrawing itself,
The gray cry of seabirds on the coast.
So, through me, freedom and the sea
Will call in answer to the shrouded heart (Pablo Neruda, “Absence and Presence”)
I needed to resolve my longing. I attended a seminar and worked on the issue. I was asked: “What is it about the home that you miss so much?” I thought about if for some time and then proceeded to describe the view from the living room with the lighthouse in the distance, the waves, the solitariness and the fragrance of the wide, open, oceanic spaces. I was then asked: “What is the form of your new view?” I thought for a moment and then fell into a deep, transcendent expanse of awareness. I knew that I had replaced a geographical view with a cosmological one. I needed to leave behind the physical place so I could be exposed to the cosmology that had become my life’s work. The entire integration of my medical training, my eastern religious and Ayurvedic exposure, my study of integrative medicine and psychological principles, my immersion in depth psychology and discovery of the basic laws of the universe, would not have been possible if I had stayed in my home, looking out over the pristine Noordhoek beaches. In that moment of realization, my yearning stopped and my mind, as I had known it, fell apart. This moment has often been described as a satori, or non-local reality, or Buddha Mind.
At that moment, all clinging, all sense of loss, all doubt about my actions entirely disappeared and was replaced by a deep sense of ecstatic awareness at the perfect unfolding of my life’s journey. When I was asked about the drawbacks of the old view and the benefits of the new view, I instantly realized the hidden order in my perceived sense of loss. At that moment, all striving disappeared and all need to influence the outcome of any further experience disappeared. I saw the order and was graced.
The prison of the forests
Opened a green door,
Letting in the wave in all its thunder,
And, with the shock of the sea, my life widened out into space (Pablo Neruda, “The First Sea”)
Dr. Bruce Hoffman, MSc, MBChB, FAARM, IFMCP is a Calgary-based Integrative and Functional medicine practitioner. He is the medical director at the Hoffman Centre for Integrative Medicine and The Brain Centre of Alberta specializing in complex medical conditions. He was born in South Africa and obtained his medical degree from the University of Cape Town. He is a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner (IFM), is board certified with a fellowship in anti-aging (hormones) and regenerative medicine (A4M), a certified Shoemaker Mold Treatment Protocol Practitioner (CIRS) and ILADS trained in the treatment of Lyme disease and co-infections. He is the co-author of a recent paper published by Dr. Afrin’s group: Diagnosis of mast cell activation syndrome: a global “consensus-2”. Read more about Dr. Bruce Hoffman.