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Lions Roar : March 2015
of training we can develop a healthy relationship with death. But for me—with my mortality coming at me that suddenly—I don’t think there was anything I could feel other than attach- ment to my life. I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live. When did you get your official diagnosis? I had to go the next morning to Doctors Without Borders, which is a large facility on the outskirts of Monrovia. They were expecting me. They took me to a tent, sat me down on a cot, and took my blood. Six hours later they walked in wearing their full protective gear and said that I’d tested positive for Ebola. It was a moment of immense clarity. There was no thought. There was no discursiveness. It was a very vivid moment that was beyond concept. My situation had dramatically changed. One of my worst nightmares had come true and there was no getting around it. Did you do Buddhist practice at that point? I’m sure that the effect of being a practitioner kept me grounded but I didn’t have the psychological space to actually practice. Not in that moment. There was too much I had to do. I had to make phone calls. I had to begin preparing myself mentally. My practice came into play much more later, when I was very sick. There’s no frame of reference for me to describe how sick I was. In retrospect, it was manageable. If someone had told me, “You’re going to live, there’s nothing for you to worry about,” how sick I was would have been workable. But the fact that I was so afraid about whether or not I was going to live was the hardest part of it. That was actually worse than the symptoms. When the potential of my death came up, it produced sadness and attachment, pain and terror. I knew I had to do something practice-wise, because it was important to conserve my energy for the healing process. At first, I tried to be very aware of my body and surroundings, but I found that to be a bad plan because my body was in so much pain and my environment was so difficult that heightening my awareness made it harder for me to settle in. So at some point I stopped and I started to visualize Vajrasattva [a Vajrayana deity that embodies purity and cleansing]. That was the main practice that I did every few hours. I would visual- ize Vajrasattva above me and I would do the Vajrasattva mantra. Vajrasattva has a healing and calming effect. I found that visual- ization to be reassuring. It helped me balance my energy. Your case received a lot of international attention. I was touched and overwhelmed by the love I received from people whom I hadn’t seen in years, and in some cases, whom I’d never met. The love that I received from my Buddhist community, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues was really special. It made me appreciate how wonderful people are. You don’t get to see just how beautiful other human beings are until something happens to open your eyes to their kindness. Are you likely to have any lingering side effects? No. I don’t think so. I think physically I’m fine. Emotionally, it’s been a little delicate. I’ve been through a lot of trauma, but I feel pretty strong physically, psychologically, and spiritually right now. What was it like when you finally got to be with your family and partner again? Exquisitely joyful. I was worried that I was going to have to leave my partner and my family behind. It wasn’t fear of my Left: Mukpo shakes hands with Dr. Craig Piquette after being released from the Nebraska Medical Center. “The medical staff that cared for me was something special,” he says. “I am phenomenally fortunate.” Right: Ebola free, Mukpo is reunited with his partner, Helen Finlay, and his father, Dr. Mitchell Levy. He says it was “exquisitely joyful” to be with his loved ones again. ➢ page 80 PHOTOSBYTAYLORWILSON,COURTESYOFNEBRASKAMEDICALCENTER SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2015 50