Joe Havixbeck’s Dramatic Journey of Courage & Wellness
By Arlene Kroeker Vancouver, B.C.
On a sunny winter’s day in a Vancouver park, Joe noticed a woman out walking her dogs and asked her how she was. “I’ve been better,” she answered. She shared that she had been in a car accident. He asked her how she was dealing with the pain mentally and physically. She began to cry. He offered a hug. She accepted. He told her that tears were part of healing. He told her about Bodhi Meditation and invited her to try it. She told Joe that she was so grateful for his gift of love. She felt as though she was always the giver and received nothing in return. The night before, she had asked the Universe for a sign. Joe was that sign. He promised to keep in touch. In the Bodhi way, Joe saw himself reflected in her, believing “I am you and you are me.”
When Joe first walked into the Bodhi Center in July 2013, his feet didn’t leave the floor as he shuffled his tall body through the door. Both his feet, his right knee and his right side were swollen, his ankles wouldn’t bend and his left shoulder was frozen. His muscles were wasting away – his biceps and the muscle between his shoulder blades were nonexistent. Digestive disorders left him anemic and pale. For the first few days of meditation, he sat on a chair in the back of the room, afraid that if he sat on a pillow he wouldn’t be able to stand up. At lunch he sat in his truck, reluctant to eat the food provided by the center in case it triggered his food intolerances.
The pain had begun in his shoulder four years earlier. Two years later, he felt pain in the center of his back between his shoulder blades. He visited his chiropractor. Crack, crack. No relief. He tried acupuncture and massage. No relief. A few months later he developed plantar fasciitis and bursitis in his left heel. He walked on his toes. He wore steel-toed boots to the construction site and the pain was unbearable. His unbalanced gait put pressure on his spine and it began to curve. Discomfort settled in his right foot due to the imbalance in his posture. A bursa developed on his right hip and added to the overall pain. Sleep deprived. In and out of the truck was painful. Lifting his infant son was difficult.
During this time, Joe met with doctors. No one had a diagnosis. No one could help him. He was exhausted and disappointed. After an allergy test in 2011, Joe eliminated gluten, eggs, dairy and some fruit from his diet. This did give him some digestive relief, but he was still in pain. He tried a course of treatments called prolo therapy on his heel which helped the bursitis. He took medication so he could walk. Joe underwent several MRIs on different parts of his body, but still had no diagnosis or remedy. “You have inflammation,” the doctors said, prescribing a daily dose of1000 milligrams of naproxen for the pain. For Joe, the medication was a tool he used to get physical relief (walking and climbing stairs were impossible without the meds) and mental acuity.
Out of options and frustrated, Joe found it difficult to get off the couch. Garbage detail and dog duty were monumental tasks. His wife Michelle and his parents Joe Sr. and Nancy watched him spiral downwards. He lost weight and lost his zest for life. He was angry, frustrated and confused and asked himself, “Why me?” Joe had always been a compassionate person, a giver, but in his state of ill health, he could no longer give. His mother Nancy would travel 400 kilometers to stay with him for weeks at a time, taking him to doctor appointments and caring for him.
Finally, one rheumatologist diagnosed ankylosing spondylitis arthritis, a type of chronic arthritis, and told Joe that his only option was to keep taking medication. Joe didn’t accept the diagnosis or the proposed treatment of more painkillers. He believed in a natural, spiritual way of healing.
Joe’s life changed when his wife, Michelle, handed him a flyer for a Bodhi 8.5-Day Health & Happiness Retreat. Joe shuffled into the retreat open-minded and hopeful. At the beginning of the retreat, he had a sliver of hope that perhaps he would be one of the miracle people – healed. At first, he could only stand for 30 minutes of meditation, exasperated by the throbbing pain in his feet, but he persevered. By the fourth day, Joe moved from a chair to a pillow. Confidence replaced his fear and he joined others at lunch, eating the center’s food and sharing stories with others. By the end of the retreat, Joe noticed that he was walking faster than he had in a long time. After the retreat, his feet were still swollen and had noticeable bruising along the sides and soles. A Bodhi practitioner explained to him that this was the body’s way of releasing blockages. The bursa on his hip began to disappear, the swelling of his body diminished, and emotionally he became stronger and calmer. The retreat, he says, saved him.
He shared his excitement about his Bodhi ex–perience with his parents. Joe Sr. and Nancy, both retired, were skeptical. They decided to investigate and drove the 400 kilometers to a one-day retreat. Their fears alleviated, they joined Joe in October’s 8.5-day retreat.
Joe’s Mother Nancy
Nancy, a former nurse, suffered from neck pain, the result of three accidents in quick succession. Severe foraminal narrowing of C5, 6 and 7 made her feel like a meat hook had gripped her neck and hoisted her up. She found no relief with traditional or alternative medicine. During the retreat, one of the volunteers gave her a healing. Afterwards, the grip of the meat hook was gone. She sensed spaciousness in the back of her head. Her physiotherapist asked her what she had done, as her body was more flexible. “Bodhi,” said Nancy, and left a magazine behind.
Joe Sr. suffers Meniere’s disease, inner ear damage, and he has lost 50 percent of his hearing in his right ear. He attributes the hearing loss to his work as an RCMP officer – firing at the gun range, high-pitched sirens and radios. He suffered whiplash in a car accident and could no longer turn his head without his neck locking. He would hold his head in his hands to turn it back. He also had pain in his lower back and knees. He was in pain mentally, physically and spiritually. After the retreat, his symptoms all improved. He can turn his neck without pain and without help.
Joe began the practice of Bagua, a walking meditation, practicing every morning for 10 days. His knees and feet responded favorably. He practiced the humbling act of prostration and his shoulder began to loosen. On the last day of the retreat, Michelle and his son Logan joined him. He lifted Logan over his head.
Seven months after his first retreat, Joe says he is that miracle person. It just took time. His feet are back to normal, as is his shoulder. Muscles are coming back. He can walk without medication or pain. He can play with his son (who copies his prostrations). He walks the dog, carries groceries and takes care of the home. His body is returning to its normal state, but a much improved state. “The Bodhi way is such a useful, calm, healthy and happy way to live.” Joe uses construction as a metaphor for his understanding of the technique: Bodhi is the foundation, the footing, of a happy life.
The family returned to an 8.5-day retreat in January 2014. During meditation, Joe Sr. visualized a lotus in his heart. As he did so, he saw the color of the lotus and saw a light shining down on him. When the chanting began, he wept. With much joy. A family of givers, in service to others – Joe Sr. as a police officer, Nancy as a nurse in healthcare, Michelle as a teacher, and Joe as a compassionate soul – now feel the balance of giving and receiving. “We now fill our cup up with the energy we need,” says Nancy. “We are on a new path with Bodhi Meditation.”