t was early morning on June 3rd when Doctor Margaret Trey’s Qantas flight landed at Tom Bradley International Airport in Los Angeles after an extended delay at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport. She hastily glanced at her watch, noting nervously the exceedingly little time she had before her connecting flight to New York departed. Exiting the plane, she passed through immigratioQn, dashed to the conveyor belt, grabbed her luggage, raced through customs, and made it to the correct check-in desk to drop off her luggage, along with scores of other passengers from the two, previously delayed, Australian flights. ‘Ding’, an announcement was made, she was too late. The Qantas flights were airborne, en-route to New York and traveling rapidly towards their destination without many of their, now perspiring, bewildered and stranded passengers.
In an atmosphere where people jostled around in a state of pandemonium, Margaret looked up to see a solitary staff member cowering behind the counter. She was the unintended receptacle for the frustrations of the stranded mob and was attempting to maintain composure in the face of the tidal wave of loud requests. Margaret clung to the counter as though it could take her to New York itself.
Margaret’s attention was suddenly drawn by a blonde woman who spoke with a clear voice and familiar accent.
“Excuse me, when is the next available flight? I have to go to New York,” the woman said.
“Me, too, I’m also heading to New York,” Margaret jumped in.
And with that, they started their first conversation.
The blonde woman was Barbara Schafer, a 50ish women also heading to the same conference in New York. Barbara had flown in from Melbourne and Margaret from Adelaide, on different Qantas flights but landed at almost the same time in Los Angeles. Despite flying in on different aircrafts, the airport staff member said that they could fly to New York together. But there were no available seats to New York that day. Their only available option would arrive at JFK in the middle of the night.
They booked into a hotel and met for dinner in the hotel café. During the meal, Barbara discovered that Margaret was the researcher responsible for the Australian survey on the health and wellness effects of Falun Gong. The online survey, with a total sample size of 590 respondents from 30 countries all over the world, was incredibly completed by Barbara. Margaret thanked Barbara for her contribution.
Dinner conversation was chit-chat mostly but Margaret decided to ask Barbara a question she was extremely curious to learn the answer to. “So, how did you start practicing Falun Gong?”
Listening to her description of her medical conditions triggered a memory for Margaret of the written comments of Respondent 289 (R289) from the Australian survey.
The case of R289 impressed Margaret very much. R289 was the Falun Gong respondent who reported fully recovering from a multitude of serious and complicated medical problems including a fractured skull, spinal fluid leakage, compound fractures in her cheekbones, nose, jawbone, wrists, and right knee, and a host of other health problems.
Margaret had always wondered about R289. As the Australian survey was an anonymous online questionnaire, it was not possible to identify who they were. Hence, it was surreal to find herself face-to-face with a radiant and smiling R289, she was lost for words for the first few seconds. Out of the hundreds of passengers who missed their flight that day, from different itineraries, she and R289 had ended up rubbing shoulders with each other at the airport ticket counter.
Margaret stared at Barbara, looking for some physical signs of her most unfortunate experiences, but she could not. Instead, Barbara beamed at her, in the state of serene health and inner peace. Margaret could not resist jokingly asking Barbara if she was actually R289’s twin sister. Hers was such an unbelievable story.
Her mind raced. The researcher instinct inside herself kicked in. The scrumptious pasta on her plate was forgotten. Bursting with curiosity, Margaret asked Barbara if she could share her story with her. Barbara patiently answered an avalanche of questions from Margaret dispersed between jovial and nostalgic comments. They sat sipping countless cups of hot tea with lemon until the early hours of the morning.
The sounds of voices, cutlery clatter, and the clinking of glasses faded into the background as Margaret gazed transfixed at Barbara, hanging onto her every word.
Barbara was 50, basking in the joys of her artistic career when the accident changed her life completely. Born and bred in Poland she studied fine arts for seven years and eventually left her motherland to settle in Australia. She worked as an art conservator for more than two decades. Like many immigrant Australian families, Barbara’s professional career, fulfilling and challenging as it was, was a fusion of love and arduous dedication.
Often she worked alone, spending long, solitary hours on scaffoldings suspended in mid-air working on the meticulous details of restoring murals and paintings on the ceilings and walls of old and archaic buildings. Some of her most memorable projects included restoring the former ANZ (Australia New Zealand Banking Group) building, or the 19th Century English, Scottish, & Australian Bank building in Melbourne’s busy Collins Street, the Melbourne Parliament House library, and the 120-year-old Bendigo Town Hall. With her experience and artistic techniques, Barbara revived these historic landmarks to their former splendors.
Thirteen years ago, on November 11th, 2003, Barbara was working alone in a Macedonian Orthodox Church, decorating and painting the high ceiling. She had only just resumed work after a short lunch break and decided to climb up on a chair placed on the scaffolding, just for a moment, without fastening the safety bars. As she stretched her hand an inch further, she lost her balance and plunged headfirst 23 feet to the ground. The last thing she heard was the cracking sound of her head hitting the concrete.
She had no idea exactly how long she was lying unconscious on the cold church floor. It could have been a few hours because the fall happened shortly after she resumed work at one o’clock. It was past five o’clock when an entire medical team attended to her at the hospital. Barbara woke up in a puddle of blood. She realized she had to seek help immediately and the nearest telephone was in the church office. Somehow, she managed to get up and stumble 22 yards to call for the ambulance. When asked how she managed, Barbara shook her head and said, “I don’t know. I just knew I had to get help.” She continued, “My right knee was bending backward and forward in all directions. I could only walk very slowly, one step at a time.”
Margaret surprisingly asked whether Barbara felt any pain.
Barbara shook her head and added, “I didn’t feel scared either. My mind was calm, like someone who survived a near-death experience. I just focused on one task, getting to the office to call for help.”
Once inside the office, Barbara had to knock the telephone receiver off its cradle and manage with one stiff finger to dial for an ambulance.
“It wasn’t easy. I could feel something moving inside my head,” she said. “Later I found out that my skull was cracked in several places. My nose and sinuses were crushed. My upper jaw was completely broken off in three places. My hands were shattered and the bones were sticking out.”
As she was describing her multiple injuries, the skeptic in Margaret was thinking, ‘how it was possible for her to get up and walk that far to call the ambulance herself’.
When the ambulance arrived, Barbara attempted to walk to the ambulance herself, to the shock of the paramedics, who promptly persuaded her to lie down on the stretcher.
The doctors worked hard to piece Barbara back together but after her first surgery, she still had spinal fluid leaking down sinuses, so, she was readmitted for another surgery. She could still taste the spinal fluid seeping down the back of her throat. In addition, she was in constant and excruciating pain. She would wake up every couple of hours to have cortisone cream applied to her back, arms, and hands. There was no respite from the pain, her life was wretched and despairing.
The doctors told her that she would never fully recover and gave her a 4-page list of possible health problems. The most challenging of these was memory loss.
“Once I went to see my doctor and after coming out of his office, I didn’t know if I came by car or public transport. I didn’t know my phone number. I couldn’t find my keys. After wandering around for half an hour, I found my car. The keys were in the ignition and the motor was still running. The car was almost out of gas,” Barbara confessed.
Her doctor advised her to never leave the house without a notebook to write down her essentials; her name, address, phone number, where she was going, what she was going to do, and when she should return.
By this time in the evening, the hum of voices intermingled with the sounds of people eating had abated, Margaret could hear Barbara saying clearly, “I knew I had to get help. I was destined to live in order to make this crossing, walk the path of Falun Gong.”
“When did you actually begin the practice?” Margaret asked. “Did you read the book first or do the exercises?”
Barbara’s answers continued to confound Margaret.
“I started the exercises first, about seven weeks after the surgeries, I was still covered in bandages like a walking mummy,” responded Barbara with her usual sense of humor. With a smile, Margaret envisaged Barbara swathed with bandages around her head, face, arms, hands, fingers, and knees.
“And what happened then?” Margaret asked.
“To my amazement, I felt good. I couldn’t believe it,” said Barbara, her eyes widening as though still in disbelief. With smiling eyes, both hands lifted in gesticulation, she continued emphatically, “ I wanted to know more about Falun Gong.”
The exercises relieved her chronic pain and encouraged her to keep practicing even though she felt stiff and awkward. At the time, she had no idea how long this good feeling was going to last. Nevertheless, she did not care; it worked and mitigated her pain. Rather than being numbed by painkillers, she diligently ‘performed’ the exercises to the best of her ability, despite being hampered by bandages and a lack of mobility.
Just as her artist’s brush restored the former grandeur of the old and archaic paintings in those historic buildings, Barbara’s health was restored by a “magical book” (Xia, 2014) that facilitated her complete recovery, enlightened her to the true meaning of life, and put her on a new path.
Barbara affirmed that her greatest and most miraculous experience with Falun Gong was when she started reading Falun Gong’s main book, Zhuan Falun.
“Two weeks after I started doing the exercises, my friend told me that I had to read the book!”
On the second day of reading Zhuan Falun, Barbara noticed that her eyesight had improved; she could read a little faster. She finished Lecture One and continued with Lecture Two of the book, finding the content so fascinating that she could not put the book down. By the end of the third day, something unusual happened. Barbara felt a surge of energy, like a powerful electric current traveling from her fingers up to her arms.
As she progressed with her reading of the book, Barbara said she found the explanation for her healing experience in ZHUAN FALUN.
Four months after her accident, Barbara was back on the scaffolding doing what she loved. Margaret asked her a difficult question, which Barbara answered with confidence and conviction… “No, I wasn’t afraid of going back and neither did I have a new found fear of heights,” she said.
Her recovery was complete. She embarked on the second phase of her daunting project to restore another room in the Bendigo Town Hall. The restoration work required tedious and laborious hours of work. It was “not a job for the faint-hearted,” said Barbara (Turnbull, 2010, p. 100).
She had to painstakingly strip off different coatings of the old paints, layer by layer to uncover the original colors and patterns. This complex restorative work took her another two years to complete and much of her time was spent on a scaffold suspended in mid-air. Often she had to stand erect to restore the ornate panels and decorative edgings on the ceiling of the hall.
Following their encounter in Los Angeles, Margaret kept in touch with Barbara.
In May 2013, four years after their first meeting, Barbara made her annual trip to New York and they arranged a meeting.
Ten years had passed since her complete recovery from the injuries sustained from that 23 feet fall. Sitting on the bench at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza Park, Barbara was glowing with health. She had flown in from Melbourne the night before and still looked as fresh as a daisy in her yellow Falun Gong T-shirt. Jet-lagged? “No, not a bit,”, replied Barbara.
To Barbara, Falun Gong is the last resort. Barbara said she is eternally grateful for her complete recovery and continued health and wellbeing.
Barbara pointed out several times during their conversation, however, that she had been diligent and never missed a single day of exercise and meditation throughout the past six years.
When the opportunity arises, Barbara said she talks to people about Falun Gong and how the practice has changed her life.
Barbara has been actively participated in Falun Gong activities in Melbourne to share with people the beauty of Falun Gong and her miraculous recovery.
Whenever she could, the Polish-born Australian would travel back to Poland to join in with Falun Gong activities there.
“I think it’s very important for the public to know how good Falun Gong has been for me. I wish all Chinese people in China could practice as freely as I can.”
When getting to know about Falun Gong in 1997, Dr. Margaret Trey was, then, practicing Vipassana meditation instructed by a Myanman monk. By that time, she had been practicing Yoga for nearly 20 years. As a consultant on natural healing while leading a wholesome and diverse life, she immediately felt curious about the practice of Falun Gong when it was introduced to her by her elder brother.
And naturally, both her mental, spiritual and physical health have seen substantial improvement since she took up the practice. It was seemingly something that she had been longing for all the time.
Great chances knocked at her door, when in 2003, the University of South Australia School of Psychology, Social Work, and Social Policy offered the Doctor of Counseling program for the first time. Margaret did not hesitate to apply and was later accepted. In July 2003, she was determined to fulfill the dream of carrying out a study of Falun Gong’s benefits in accordance with the standards of a scientific study. However, it is not easy for her because there has never been any international doctoral thesis on this subject (outside the Chinese border) under the supervision of the Western Academy before.
At the end of 2006, after three years struggling to find an instructor, Dr. John Court, Director of Doctor of Counseling Program , announced that he would take on the role of an instructor, even though he was, then, 70 years old. Later, Dr. Heather Mattner, who was also very interested in yoga and meditation, became Margaret’s 2nd instructor. Thanks to the great help and motivation of these two special instructors, Margaret completed her thesis in 2010.
The book “The Mindful Practice of Falun Gong: Meditation for Health, Wellness, and Beyond” could be considered extraordinary when it comes to provide authentic, convincing evidences of the effect that Falun Gong brings to the mind and body of its practitioners.
(The cover photo: Zhen Shan Ren Art/Adobe Stock-photo illustration by The BL)