In 1987 Martyn Jackson was diagnosed with a lesion on his brain. A fellow student told me that Martyn received a call at his school.  The call was from his 27 year old son telling Martyn that he (son) had melanoma cancer.  Martyn hung up the phone and screamed “Why couldn’t it be me!”  Shortly after that Martyn was diagnosed with the illness.  This portion of the interview he speaks about the experience.

Shelley Piser: do you want to talk about what is happening now with you health wise?

Martyn Jackson: I feel good on my own if people would allow me to be, but they are so protective to a point that I can’t extend myself. I’ve written to guruji and mentioned to him what was happening and he said “take it very easy, very easily. Don’t overdo it but he selected a few asanas that I should do.

SP: He said to do Pranayama mostly

MJ: The viloma pranayama, the step breathing. Don’t do anything for about 3 months.

SP: What sort of personal changes that the whole experience brought to you?

MJ: I have become much softer. I have become much more tolerant to people because I’ve been at a level now, where I understand what life is all about. I feel like it has almost been like an enlightenment. I went into an area where I wasn’t allowed to go before. Like the doors opened up and I was in a huge arena and you see the beauty and light and the wowness of doing something and pursuing something. It was because of my family that I choose to pull myself out of this and say, “Right, I must spend more time on this earth.”

SP: Which family?

MJ: My two children. It was for them that I said, “right, kick it, I must pull myself out, and I am not ready to go to the other side yet.” It is all life. I don’t look at death as the end. I don’t look at death as interpreted as in the dictionary or the Christians. I look at death as just another level of living and that is what I think it is. I feel now that taking life slowly for the twelve months from the operation until like in 12-15 months, I will be fully recovered.

SP: What sort of lessons do you feel have come from the experience?

MJ: The lessons that I think that I have learned that I must take more care of myself. I must be more aware of myself because I just through my whole life into teaching and to helping people. And just go to whatever depth I feel yoga wants to take me. I don’t care about myself at all, but I feel free, I feel beautiful, I feel I understand people better, got a hold of some of my own hang-ups and life is more clarified for me now. Seemingly, you know, I feel that I understand a lot more; I can see a lot more clearly, I’ve got a lot more clarity in what I’m doing.

SP: Did you go through a near death experience?

MJ: Oh yes, absolutely. I choose to. It was like I was low flying on a highway, and the lifeline was in the center and I was flying there and I was being drawn to the left, drawn to the right, to the left and all of the sudden visions of my children came. Because David has been very sick and I thought that I’ve got to stay around to help him and pull him out, you see. And the same with my daughter.

SP: Do you think that that is what brought you down?

MJ: What brought me down was I was teaching, I have always taught long hours, I’ve always worked very hard, I am a workaholic basically. The worst thing I’ve ever done was form a company and take on other teachers because it took a lot away from my own practice just looking after these, just guiding them. Getting complaints from pupils about the teachers not being attentive enough. And when you get 14 teachers, that’s a responsibility, which I didn’t want. I thought that if you’ve got the caliber of a yoga teacher, that intelligence, that awareness, that devotion, that you want to serve because it is a kind of service, you know if people come to you, they come to you because they trust you and that they want you to teach them something to help them, and that you should do. But only if you feel worthy, if you feel that you are ready to serve. When I heard about my son’s sickness, I took it very lightly at first, and then I went home to see him, I went back to NZ to see him. And then I saw him. To see your boy when you last saw him, that he was a very healthy lad, very healthy like a beach comber, very healthy, brown tan, lovely you know, big man, 6’ 1/2 about 14 stone in weight, solid, intelligent, didn’t smoke, drink or anything. I thought he was a real, well, being a father I suppose you look at a son that way.

But, I couldn’t recognize him, he had deteriorated so much. And that is when I said, “If you are the God of love and his creator, then why did you select my son?” Why?

SP: What do you feel now?

MJ: What do I feel now? Well I have come to understand that life is different; life is not formulated that way. But at the moment he is holding his own, but he is still a very sick person. And  when I walk around Sydney and I see the derelicts that don’t want to live, and yet they are still allowed to live, and they seem to keep going. With him, there he is lying on his bed and he can hardly move.

SP. How did this affect your own yoga practice?

MJ: How it effected my practice was, I just threw in the sponge, and I didn’t want to live anymore. So, I took on more and more work and ate and drank less and then I got to the stage when I just collapsed and I was found on the floor. And the next thing that I knew I was being carted off to Hospital in a canvas stretcher. I was being prodded tested, needles here, x-rays there and scans there. It wasn’t called a brain tumor; it was a lesion on the left side. They said that they would like to operate because it could be worse then what it showed on the scan. So I said, “Go ahead.”  It was at that stage where the doctor warned me that he said, “you know that there are no operations without risks” and I said, “I understand, I said, “living is a risk.” He just laughed.

They started the operation and realized that they couldn’t get anywhere, because it was a very small space to work and it started to bleed and when it started to bleed they were frightened of me being paralyzed. So they called in a therapist who was massaging me and keeping me breathing and aware the whole time and I woke up in the recovery and I was in the recovery for 48 hours. I did experience paralysis in the left side. I went to move and I couldn’t move. It was only through the therapist that was with me giving me that encouragement just making me planter-flex, dorsa-flex and do all kinds of things with my left side Even now when I am walking, especially if I tire myself too much, I have a job to balance.

SP: As far as your own illness is concerned, what do you feel that yoga has taught you in relationship to the reasons why? I mean obviously because you were a yogi you didn’t feel you would ever have an illness like this.

MJ: No, I swore I never would. But it’s because of circumstances that, like I said in the beginning that I’d neglected my devotional practice. I was practicing but practicing physically and it wasn’t penetrating any depth. So I thought I would be doing well just because I was a very healthy person and there would be times when you’d be tired and lethargic and you’d go into a head and shoulderstand and you’d revive and you still were not treating the soul. And gradually I’d want to cut down the intake of food I got a little weaker and a little weaker and took on more and more people and that was the wrong. I think the sickness had to have happened to let me know, “Hey you are breaking away from that yoga philosophy.” And I’m not upset about it at all. I feel it is gotten me on the path, the true path of what I think yoga really is.

©shelley piser 2009

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