I have been living with ALS for over 10 years. In that time we have become close friends. I no longer consider this disease to be a life-robbing, horrible thing, but a life-enhancing experience. I am grateful for the new perspectives I have been given. This is not just knowledge that I understand and accept intellectually. These are truths that have become part of my being. I now understand and enjoy my existence more than I thought possible, ALS or not.
|Author Mike Bougher, who also created the digital painting above, “Soma Vineyards.”
One day, many years ago, it occurred to me that an ALS diagnosis was not the end of my life. I realized that if I got a feeding tube and a ventilator, I could live a lot longer, but quality of life would be an issue. I must surrender to that over which I had no control (my body’s deterioration) and begin to build on that which still had great growth potential (my mind and spirituality). I could spiral downward into misery, or use my circumstances as a catalyst for mental and spiritual expansion. I had a choice! The elation that paradigm shift brought became the spark that inspired a profound transformation.
I asked my doctor to fill out and submit the forms for my state’s Blind and Disabled Library, and soon I received my free four-track tape player. Their large catalog of books is available for browsing online, and selections can be mailed to you free, with the click of a mouse.
I gorge on books that satisfy my intellectual curiosities, and others that point me toward spiritual growth. One book seems to dovetail with the next. Recently I have been exploring astrophysics, quantum mechanics, world history, classical music from the Baroque period, the nature of human consciousness, physical anthropology of the Americas, the cultures, music, plights and spirituality of various Native American nations, and Asian music, religions and philosophy.
I also meditate and pray, leading me to the abundant, joy-filled life I enjoy today.
Insights for which I am grateful
We live within a universe that is all one. Everything and everyone is interdependent, made by and from one single source. I feel connected to and kinship with all other people on this planet. I am grateful for the ability to truly understand and be a part of the interdependent nature of our universe.
Because of the kinship I share with all other people, I cultivate compassion and not blame others for their circumstances. I am grateful for the empathy I experience toward all daughters and sons of God.
I have found a way to help ease the suffering of others through the sale of my art. I am grateful to have been shown a purpose for my life — a purpose that feels much more meaningful than my previous self-serving goals.
I have ample time for prayer and meditation. I have time to focus on the meaning of this life, the suffering of others, the true nature of reality, and time to commune with God. I am grateful for the timeless inner peace I experience.
I have a physical form that from the outside appears distorted and out of proportion. I can’t speak audibly or smile, and I drool. I am grateful that I have been placed in circumstances to counteract my large ego. (My biggest spiritual stumbling block.)
I am nearly always present in the moment. This makes me a better listener and keeps me from mourning the past or dreading the future. To truly live life we must experience the present moment without coloring it through thoughts of the past or future. I am grateful for being shown the joy of living in the NOW.
Despite complete paralysis from the neck down, and requiring others to do everything for me (except use the computer), I still retain my dignity. No one can take that away. I am grateful that I have been made to understand that I am not my body or my thoughts. I am the silent space from which all is created.
I am most grateful for my loving wife Jen who has enthusiastically agreed to take this journey with me, and has never faltered in her love or companionship as we travel this path together.
This is only my experience, and I am in no way trying to invalidate or belittle others who are suffering through more negative circumstances. My hope is that in some small way, even one person will begin to realize that suffering is caused by the content of our thoughts, not the situations in which we find ourselves.
A former project control systems designer and project manager for Telstar, Mike Bougher, 44, of Benicia, Calif., was a self-proclaimed workaholic before his ALS diagnosis. In recent years, assistive technology has enabled him to pursue a new passion, digital painting. He created the above image from scratch using his computer and “paint” software. (See ALSN June 2007, “Equipment Corner: A Chat with Digital Painter Michael Bougher” for information about the technology he uses.)
Mike’s recommended reading
The following books are selections I consider key on my spiritual path. I have used my local library to acquire the audio versions, read by the author, wherever possible. The list is in the order that the teachings unfolded for me.
- The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
- Five Classic Meditations by Shinzen Young
- The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler
- Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Change Your Thoughts — Change Your Life by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
- A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
- 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
Although most of these authors come from a Buddhist or Taoist perspective, the practices and philosophies described are spiritually generic, and shouldn’t be in conflict with other religious beliefs. If you do find something objectionable, feel free to disregard it. If you’re interested in our current scientific understanding of reality, I found The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality by Brian Greene very helpful.