I recently had the honor of interviewing Dr. Terry Gordon, a retired cardiologist and author who has learned to use suffering as a catalyst for positive change and a path to a greater understanding of life.
Gordon led the effort to get automated external defibrillators in schools throughout Ohio.
Fifteen lives have been saved as a direct result of this initiative, and the American Heart Association named him National Physician of the Year in 2002 for those efforts.
Gordon recently spoke at the Center for Mindful Living. He was a friend of world-renowned author and speaker on spiritual growth and development Dr. Wayne Dyer, and recently published his own book called "No Storm Lasts Forever."
I talked with Gordon for almost an hour, and the experience has clung to my soul.
His ability to open his mind and heart to achieve a higher understanding and contentment with life—and not only life but the worst parts of it—is divine.
"Beauty in the breakdown"
Life tested Gordon when his son Tyler had a car crash that left him paralyzed.
When Gordon got the call that every parent worries might come, but prays never will, about his son's crash, he frantically got on a plane to be with him.
Gordon was in a window seat "like a caged cat," talking to God, saying he couldn't handle the situation.
At that moment, it felt like a tornado of pure darkness—loud, chaotic and insurmountable, he said.
There is a tendency for young adults to be focused on career, Gordon said. And he did the same thing. He doesn't mean to diminish doing good work, because that's important.
"Unfortunately, it keeps you from doing what you really need to be doing, and that is searching," he said. "The most important reason we are here is for transformation and enlightenment."
"I can't tell you I heard the voice of God, but I heard the words from within, 'Yes, you can ...' And God shared the most profound thing I've ever thought of in my life—treat this as if it was something you had chosen."
Initially, he didn't understand. Why would he choose this for his family, for his son, for anyone?
But the point is about mindset.
"If you change that paradigm of thought [and believe] that everything is purposeful, everything is chosen, then there are no accidents, no mistakes," he said.
Those words altered the way he looks at adversity.
And although Tyler struggles physically and the accident has strained his family, the experience has been "beautiful."
"When I share that with people, they always raise an eyebrow," Gordon said. "But here's why I say it's a beautiful experience: I've seen my son grow in ways I never thought he could; I've seen me grow in ways I never imagined I would."
"Open to everything, attached to nothing"
Gordon's journey to learning contentment and his pull toward meditation started before he realized it, when he was a busy, skeptical doctor.
He had a patient with a heart condition who took a look at Gordon and offered unsolicited advice.
The patient told him, "Whoa ... You're killing yourself. You've got this marvelous energy about you, but it's fractured—and you better do something about it," Gordon said.
Just before walking into the patient's room, Gordon had done what he always did. He quickly looked over the patient's chart (he was seeing countless patients for 17 hours a day), took a deep breath and put on a "façade of calmness."
But despite the pretense, Gordon's mind was always racing. He was a happy person, but he had never been at peace, he said.
Eventually, Gordon had a conversation with that patient, who practiced meditation.
Gordon spoke about our two selves—the physical and spiritual. The physical is the body and ego—the part that dies. The spiritual part is the authentic self that isn't going to die. It's the higher consciousness, he said.
Through his practice of meditation, which helps clear the mind of ego and thoughts that keep us grounded in the physical world and often in the negativity of life, he's been able to get to a higher place of awareness where he's a passive observer, he said.
There's no judgment, no interference, only passive observation.
He watches himself, his family.
"I think what's going to happen is one of these days I'm going to be in this place of higher awareness as I watch myself die," he said.
"[He] was like Mount Vesuvius; he started gurgling all this exciting stuff about his spiritual journey," Gordon said. "We spent four hours talking, and he asked me to be open to everything and attached to nothing."
That didn't mean Gordon was immediately sold, but that's when he started to open his mind, he said.
He began to be receptive, and people started to come into his life coincidentally, or so he first thought.
Gordon also read Dyer's book "Real Magic" and tried to call him to thank him for his wisdom, but they didn't connect.
Not then, anyway.
A couple of years later, Gordon and his wife were on a trip to Hawaii. His wife had the shingles—a bummer, to say the least.
"One morning, I got up and tried to meditate and just couldn't get into it," Gordon said. "I tried to run and was just feeling depressed. I was walking back to our room sort of kicking the sand and feeling sorry for myself, and guess who I bumped into on the beach?"
It was Wayne Dyer.
The duo became friends. Gordon spoke at a couple of Dyer's conferences, and Dyer wrote the foreword for Gordon's book.
As I talked with Gordon, I had a feeling that I've experienced occasionally throughout my life and have written about.
It's a sense I think I've always been able to access, although never on cue, but it's become more attainable through meditation.
It's the feeling that I am in the exact place I'm supposed to be, having the precise experience I should be having.
The next story Gordon told me cemented that feeling.
"Everything is in perfect order."
In 2009, Gordon's daughter came to his office, and he could tell something was upsetting her.
She told him she had always thought that when she got older, she'd assume more control over her life and life would get easier.
I have frequently had this same thought (and wrote it here recently).
He told me he thought for a moment and knew what he was about to say would be important.
Gordon told his daughter that he thinks that's how life is supposed to be.
"If we are to grow, if we are to mature, to progress on this spiritual path, we have to face greater and greater obstacles," he said. "Only by overcoming those obstacles do we grow. And I shared with her that everything is in perfect order."
Listening to this kind, brilliant stranger relay the advice he gave to his daughter, who is about my age, I knew that everything is indeed in perfect order.
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