Tomas Pinkson joins us again to share his insight on the power of challenge to unlock in your purpose and potential.
He recently faced his own health crisis and had the opportunity to lean into his fears and explore some powerful imagery.
His words on forgiveness, trust and being awake in your practice are an inspiration to any who have walked in the fear of the unknown and dared to believe that healing and recovery are possible.
I am honored to welcome Tom here again. In deep gratitude, xo Lindsay
Q. Welcome back to The Shift Series. I’m so thankful and honored that you’re joining us today.
You’re welcome. Good to be here.
Q. When we spoke last, we talked a lot about gratitude and the transformative power of gratitude. Between then and now, you wrote this incredibly powerful and moving blog that had a lot of reach with the title “Power, Purpose, and Practice.” I was really hoping today to reconnect, to touch in a little to that message and your story of how that piece was born and where you are in your journey around that. I bet there’s gratitude in there still but I also – there was just so much I would love to share with this audience.
To give our readers a little context, in the blog you had found yourself facing a potentially serious health issue, I believe it was a possible lung cancer diagnosis, and you were navigating the internal dialogue initially around what that’s like and what that brought for you. One of the images I have in my mind’s eye is this awareness of life being like the ocean and the waves that come and that you’re – so much healing came for you in that moment through this idea of surfing the waves. That led into a discussion about having purpose and how purpose can be healing and how it is the practice and how we show up each day that I think gets us to that purpose.
I’d love if you would share the experience with this audience. What were you going through and when did that awareness of the wave concept come to you?
Okay, the wave concept is one that I’ve worked with for many, many years, even before I started learning how to surf in my 60s. I loved the sport and I tried it before but never really seriously. It wasn’t until my 60s that I started to learn it. I loved the image of the waves and surfers, and the image of learning how to create a response to a wave of physical motion. We can’t control the ocean, we can’t control the waves that come, or send them back if we don’t like them. Every wave is different, and if we take the time to learn how, we have the ability to create a response to each wave where we can skillfully blend with it and the power of that wave can help us go to where we want to go; in other words, our intention using its power. So I always loved that image and it worked with me internally in my meditation practice and visualization work and then in my 60s I started learning how to do it on a physical plane.
When I got the news that I had these two small nodules in my right lung, and they said, “Well, we want you to come in and have a CAT scan.” First, there was an x-ray and a CAT scan that showed it’s abnormal. They said, “Now we want you to have a” – I forget the name of the scan but it had a dye. It’s like a biopsy and they stick a needle in my lungs and take out some material from these two nodules. Then I had to wait a few days to find out what was going on. I had an image in my mind that – and this was 10 years or so ago – that my dad, the dad who raised me and I consider him my second father – he had been battling cancer for a couple of years and he was in denial of the seriousness of it. At one point, he went into the hospital because of stomach pain. They thought the intestines were twisted up. It was also the surgery when the doctor came and said to me, “He’s riddled with cancer. He’s got about a week to live.” So I was the one who needed to go to him and tell him. So that image, that memory, came up for me. “Gee, I wonder if they’re going to tell me the results of this test that I’m riddled with cancer and I’ve got a week or month or whatever to live.”
So that was the initial wave of fear that came up with the news that there was something abnormal in my lungs here and we’re not sure what it is. All of the myriad and variations of fears, you know – you’re riddled with cancer, you’ll need all kinds of treatments, you’ll be miserable and suffer, and it may not work, and the last portion of your life will be misery and suffering. I imagined not being able to do all the things I love doing, watching my grandkids grow up more — all that stuff.
So those were the waves that were triggered by this news. Then the challenge and the opportunity for listening and I said, “Okay, this is the opportunity to learn how to deepen your practice that when the going gets tough, you get what you practice.” It pushed me deeper into my practice, what’s been my practice all these years which is to learn how to quiet my mind even when life comes crashing down, anxiety, fear, whatever. I dropped down deep, gave myself some quiet and peace and got centered, found that proverbial eye of the storm. I watched my reactive mind, worked with my reactive mind, looked at where I felt attached and looked at what was causing my suffering, what I identified with. I saw how much I identified with my body and ego, and the fear that this body was going to go too soon and, of course, it created distress and fear and grief, and this, that, and the other thing.
I realized, well, whatever the outcome of my tests, whether it’s nothing or it’s lung cancer, either way it’s an opportunity while I’m in the unknown, the mystery of it, to work in the practice. So that’s what I did. For me, the only way it works with something like this is to face my worst fears. Let me look at the possibilities, the absolute worst fears, whatever they are. If that’s what’s going to happen, what does that bring?
So that was the next step of exploration, working at and working with a lot of that which it brought up for me, which is of course things like sadness that I’ll be leaving this life and the people I love so much and this life itself that I love so much. I had deep sadness, which, as it so often does, brought me into deeper appreciation of each moment and each interaction I was having, thinking, “well, this might be the last time I see this person, the last time I eat chocolate ice cream, last time I walk up this hill.” I’d like to really be present for the experiences of life, squeeze all the juice out of it that I can. The dynamic is kind of an oxymoronic dynamic of “I may be not here, I may be dead” that brings me into a greater sense of presence.
So that process is going on and it also deepens my practice with letting go of – first of all, seeing how attached I am – so seeing my attachment and holding myself with compassion and kindness, I began to say “Tom, it’s time for you shortly to let go of all of this and go through your death experience, it’s an opportunity for you to be here, more deeply work your practice. I am, that’s you, we all are one with the infinite oneness of the universe, spirit, whatever you call it. So the more I would work my practice of catching onto to attachments and untying the strings of those attachments and letting go and remembering and centering more into the essence of what I am, which has existed before the spirit came into my body and will continue to exist in oneness with spirit after my physical body leaves the earth, the more the tension would lessen and I would just feel stronger spiritually.
In the meantime, I’m also working with one of my core life experiences, which is that the things that show up for you don’t show up by accident. The deeper wisdom that lies within my being is somehow using these two nodules in my lung to get my attention. When the phone rings, you pick up the phone and bring your awareness to the voice at the other end. In the same way, I needed to bring my attention down into those nodules and see what information they have when I pick up my internal phone.
So when I went into those nodules and that awareness and picked up the phone to listen – in a reflective, meditative, open, receptive altered state of consciousness – I listen and what I get is seeing how – I don’t know, 6 months before or so – I had been having some problems with a couple people in my life, a troublesome neighbor, and a troublesome person that was causing a lot of upheaval for me and my family’s life. I had closed my heart to these two people. I had closed my heart with reactivity, anger, and judgment about what I saw as what they were doing to me. In doing that, I was creating a situation of tension in my life. What I know is that I am a sacred worthy luminous being, I am love and my love is forgiving, and that truth is what I’m trying to bring to every moment. But with these two people pushing my buttons, feeding anger and reactivity, I was closing my heart. It’s like I had the gas pedal on full – pushed to the floor with my love, which is for giving, but with respect to these two people, I also had a foot on the brakes. I said, “Oh, not them because da-da-da-da-da.”
And I, because I was so stuck in the reactivity I kept doing it for a while, knowing the tension I was creating and I was allowing my energy to go in a direction that was opposite of my life intention. It was creating this negative dynamic. This went on for a while. Consciously, I was witnessing it. I finally got to the place where the tension got so great, I said, “No, I’ve got to go inside here and turn this around. It’s hurtful to me and it’s a violation, it’s the opposition, it’s a contradiction of what I’m saying my value is and how I want to live my life.” So I had to go internally into the story I was telling myself about these two people. I had to untie the knots of that story, not in terms of accepting behavior, because the behavior was disrespectful, but in how I responded to it.
I had to differentiate their behavior from me and open my heart to being, really open my heart to say that underneath, their behavior was coming from their own fear. Underneath their actions was the same thing that was inside of me, a sacred wound. They were acting out their wounds in their life. That opened the door to me seeing the humanity of these people, I was able to reopen of my heart, I was able to start forgiving and I was able feel grateful to them them for showing up exactly the way they should, pushing my reactivity buttons, giving me the opportunity to do this work, to be deeper and stronger in my intention. It’s easy to be grateful to people that you like and are comfortable with. But those people who push our buttons and piss us off or are hurtful to us unjustly and everything else, those are the people that provide the opportunity to strengthen those muscles.
I began to send these people this forgiving energy, and I found more peace and calm. Their behavior towards me didn’t actually change, although ironically one moved away shortly thereafter and soon after the other actually moved away also. What I would say now, instead of turning the other way or leaving my heart closed, I would face them and just send them healing energy and love.
So I felt I had already done my work and was thankful for it. So when these nodes showed up several months later, I went in and picked up the phone and listened to what they were about, what I got was that they were residue of the work I’d done. Like when you get up in the morning, check the hearth and see the flame is gone but the coals were still warm. The nodes that I was dialoging with, I saw that they were just the residue of the work. The work had already been done. I was fine – okay spiritually and that’s what those nodules represented.
I was aware, you know, I could die of course. I had to be wary of spiritual arrogance. Intuitively, it felt like I was right but there was also like, “Well, it’s a coyote universe we know from earlier experience.” So I had to stay open to that. Stay open to the mystery. but in the meantime I felt, intuitively, that I was good. A couple days later I got the results from the tests that said I wasn’t sick. “You’re fine.” We still don’t know what it is but you’re fine and we want you to come in in 3 or 4 months and take the tests again just to check up and see if they’re the same.” Ironically, just this morning I went in at 7:00 a.m. for a CAT scan and a couple of hours ago I just got the results and the nodules have gotten smaller.
So that’s the story of – that when the going gets tough, we get what we practice and why it’s so important to have a practice or else when the going gets tough and our reactivity gets triggered, the waves just smash us. We have to learn how to surf with the waves.
Q. Absolutely. I love that story so much, Tom. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.
Q. I want to ask one more piece which is about the purpose piece and I see this increasingly with people that come to me through Chronic Wellness Tools, people dealing with chronic illness or Lyme disease. We can almost universally get to this place where some piece of their soul purpose is not being expressed. I kind of get the same image in my mind as this phone that you’re talking about, like the phone is ringing and they haven’t quite picked it up but it’s on that soul purpose level. You touched in on it in your story just now, I think, if I’m hearing you correctly in the way that you said that you know your soul purpose is to shine light and be the luminous being that you are and see that in others – the situation that may have caused these residual nodules was you not staying aligned with your soul purpose. How do you see this soul purpose piece coming into play for people and how can they access that if it’s perhaps what’s holding them back?
TP: I think the general purpose that we all have as human beings is – it’s not just saying I am a sacred, worthy, luminous being, I am love and my love is for giving – but you are sacred, worthy and we are all through grace – not through anything we do just through grace – sacred, worthy, luminous beings and the essence of our being is love and what’s the love for? It’s for healing. It’s to be an open channel for it to and through our own bodies, beings, and out into the world. So I think that’s you might say a general purpose for all humanity, to wake up to the truth of our being and our purpose in being here. We are love and our love is for giving. That’s a general purpose you might say with the diversity of our individuality within our human body and personality, then we all have a unique way of expressing – finding and expressing that light, love, and creativity. It’s the essence of our being.
Indigenous people around the world, usually at the time of adolescence, had rites of passage or vision quests to help young people find their purpose, the understanding was that we are created by the universe – or whatever term or image you have for the creative power of the universe — and this gives some protection and establishes that we’re not here by accident, and we’re not alone or unsupported. Each of us is gifted with different strengths and sensitivities and awareness and potentials. There’s a wonderful saying that spirit gifts to us our potential, and our gift back is to do what we can to develop that potential to the highest degree. So the vision quest was to help that young person get in touch with and open up to spirit to get that guidance from them and guide their sense of purpose, their sense of mission and vision of why they were here and an understanding of and relationship to a power greater than themselves within their ego by which to live that vision. It’s one thing to have a sense of your purpose but it’s another thing to live it, especially in our daily lives and especially like in the situation I described when our buttons are pushed as life will do to us.
When we have gone out on their vision quest or it has come to us in some other way as a sense of our own vision and purpose, then the rest of our life is an opportunity to walk on a path of heart to completion — right up to the last breath of our lives to be able to do the best we can to stay in alignment and honor that vision and purpose. When the challenges do come along, we can create a relationship in metaphorical ways to those challenges that help grow us, help move us deeper into and along the path of fulfilling our purpose. When the end comes, whenever that is for us, we’ll be able to look back on our lives with a feeling of satisfaction and completeness that “yeah, I showed up and gave it my best shot. It wasn’t perfect, of course. I dropped the ball thousands of times, but when I did I had to learn from it and then apply that and keep going forward right up to my last breath, to do the best I could to honor my purpose.” Without that, without making the effort to find our mission and purpose in life, then we’re at the mercy of whatever the strongest waves and reactivity buttons are that are pushed by the challenges.
Q. What can we offer to people who don’t have, I don’t know, a rite of passage or a vision quest at their disposal?
Everything starts with intention. Everything in life starts with intention, so if the person wants to find their mission and purpose, wants to discover that, wants to get in touch with that, then I help them explore what their beliefs are, what they believe in that’s larger than themselves, larger than their ego, whatever that might be. Whatever that is for that particular person, then let’s explore how you can cultivate a relationship with that and open the doorway to receive from that larger power or presence or whatever it is for you, the guidance about why it’s given you this life, why it sustains your life and the particular gifts you got. That leads to working more clearly, and reflecting on your intention, coming back to your intention, and exploring practices that can help – I’d say, activate or empower your receptivity, your sensitivity, your awareness, your consciousness. Practices that entail looking at the ways that you’re living your life and maybe the ways that aren’t healthy, that dim and diminish your awareness and consciousness. What are the ways and practices that work for you, your integrity, and your values that can help you strengthen your receptivity muscle. So it’s an ongoing process and if it’s important enough, then you start your day with it.
Q. I love that. It ties right into what we were talking about before and I feel like it completes this really important triad between gratitude, practice, and purpose and how those, as they become part of your daily way to walk in the world, unlock these layers of healing and, in your case, this beautiful story also helped you look at a potential healing crisis in a new way and set yourself free from it. I just want to thank you, Tom, so much for joining us again on The Shift Series and giving us a really beautiful message to share. I look forward to doing it again and I just want to extend gratitude from all of us to you.
Well, thank you. This might be, speaking to you, a way is for you that works is through gratitude and opening our hearts genuinely thankful and standing source, whatever it is for you. Thank you, Lindsay, for you, your beautiful smile and energy and the work you’re doing in the world. All blessings to you and those you hold dear in your heart.
What is your philosophy on healing or overcoming health challenges?
Exploring what is needed to restore balance and harmony with all levels of person’s multi-dimensional being with “all their relations” using symptoms and health challenges as “vehicles of information and opportunity” in this pursuit.
How have you used adversity in your life to fuel your commitment to balance and wellness?
As a wake-up call to greater consciousness, spiritual growth and learning how to more skillfully access and use the inherent transformation wisdom power that lives within us all.
How do you stay healthy, resilient and vibrant?
Regular health practices that work mind, body, heart and spirit; meditation, yoga stretching, prayer and ceremony, yearly vision quests, hiking, T’ai Chi and chi kung, gym 3 times per week, healthy nutrition.
What tips do you recommend for your clients dealing with / healing from illness?
Follow the 5 keys to fruitful aging that i talk about in my book on Fruitful Aging –
1. REVISION – Your mortality to create an ally relationship that empowers living.
2. RECLAIM & REPAIR – Wisdom of your life through a “Harvesting Review Process” that taps into the power of love to heal wounded relationships.
3. REALIZE (and Re-Vitalize)– The Vision and Purpose of your Heart Path Mission & Live Your Legacy.
4. REAWAKEN – Creativity and courage to generate meaningful self-expression and service in the world.
5. REALIZE –Your highest potential by growing your spiritual maturity and intelligence.
If there was only one thing a person could find the energy and resources to make a priority what would it be?
Create a gratitude practice with whatever your sense of the creative power of the universe is which is the ultimate source of whatever it is that you are thankful for.
Tom Pinkson, Ph. D., serves as a bridge builder, translating indigenous wisdom to bring forth the intelligence and creativity of Spiritual Awakening, Emotional Well Being, Healing, and Living In Sustainable Balance with Mother Earth and the Circle of Life. He is a psychologist, author, ceremonial retreat and vision-fast leader, sacred storyteller, musician and spiritual guide. Tom completed an 11 year apprenticeship with Huichol shamans in Mexico. He helped start the first at-home Hospice program in the United States. For 32 years he worked with terminally ill children and families at the Center for Attitudinal Healing in California successfully integrating the wisdom teachings of the Huichol and other medicine teachers into the world of the practicing psychologist. Tom is founder of Wakan, a nonprofit organization committed to restoring the sacred in daily life and Recognition Rites Honoring Elders Program based on his latest book, Fruitful Aging the Gold in the Golden Years. He lives in Northern California with his wife Andrea of 44 years enjoying his grown children and their families.