Spirituality and My Cystic Fibrosis

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Brian Callanan
Mt. Agung at twilight

I was halfway around the world in Bali, staying in a remote resort in the mountains, with a cold that had gone to my chest and without electricity for my therapy vest. I was nervous the sickness would progress into a lung infection, and I would need to be flown home in an emergency.  

In 2003, I participated in a graduate course on 'Spiritual Development From a Trans-Cultural Perspective' learning how a culture's sense of spiritual awareness and connection affected community, learning, and well-being physically and mentally.  In Bali, the practice of meditation toward a state of trance, and even spiritual possession was a common element of daily life. Physical pain could even be managed purely through meditation and redirection of the body's energy. After an eight week course studying such cultural elements of the Balinese, the class traveled 24-hours to the little remote island in Indonesia.  

Bali dancers

The week prior to departure, I developed a head cold, that migrated into chest congestion just days before the trip. With oral antibiotics in tow, I made a calculated risk to continue with the journey and do my best to combat the chronic congestion as aggressively as possible. The challenge however, as I mentioned above, is that the retreat we were staying at did not have electrical capacity to power my bulky therapy vest machine (the older version that was not so portable either). So I was forced to travel without it.  

Without having a cold and elevated chest congestion, this would have been less scary to me. But now the pressure was really on. Our first couple of days in the capitol of Denpasar, I realized an enormous amount of air pollution from unregulated exhaust fumes and somewhat stagnant air. This did not help my situation. Finally, exiting the city on day three, and heading for the remote retreat 'Nirarta' in the mountains, I would find my road to not only recovery, but to actually understanding healing (emotionally, socially and physically).

Bali children

I would wake up in the early morning to go running on dirt roads through the mountains that would be too hot later in the day. I remember having one child start running with me, and then another until there were about 20 kids running with me all yelling "Hello! Hello!" because that was all they knew. I felt a bit like I was in a Nike commercial!!

Saraswati bed

But the running was not enough. While we were practicing a lot of mediation and self reflection, I wished I had the skill of the Balinese to focus my inner energy in a way that would help with the congestion. It wasn't getting better, but it wasn't getting worse. After a run on the second day, I felt completely exhausted and needed to lie down and instantly passed out. I had a very realistic dream that was very life changing. The dream went a little something like this:

Nyoman in the middle

Our Balinese translator, Nyoman, walked into the room where I was sleeping and sat next to the bed I was currently sleeping in and said, 'Ah, Brian. You've come sick.' I responded somewhat shamefully, 'Yes, I have.' He asked, 'What is it that you need to do?' I responded, 'I don't really know. I have been running and nebulizing, and everything I can do in this situation.' Nyoman replied, 'Maybe you need help?' And I responded, 'Hmmm.' 

Then my eyes popped open, and in that short interaction, a little over an hour had passed, and I was late to our group gathering for reflection. I ran to the room where we would come together with an interesting mix of confusion and clarity, but feeling as though this dream meant something.  

Side note: The Saraswati bungalow I was staying in and just napped in, had an interesting story about the roof which had become known as the 'Dream Roof'.  The Balinese renowned architect who had designed it in his head, was suddenly killed in a motorcycle accident only about a month into construction. It took about six months, and three to four other architects to give up on the complexity of the design, before the last hired architect came to meditate in the incomplete structure. He realized that he would need to eat, sleep and live in this incomplete structure in order to correctly complete it. That night and for the next several months that he worked on finishing the roof, the original architect would visit him in his dreams with guidance and instruction of how to finish the roof that he had envisioned and started. The Saraswati bungalow has been known since then to insight very powerful and meaningful dreams for all sorts of people from all over the world.

Saraswati roof   Saraswati roof   Saraswati roof   Saraswati roof

Meeting Room

Back in our meeting, when it came my turn to share on what self reflections or realizations I had been having, I shared the dream I just had, and that I had a strange feeling about it that was very strong, but unclear. Well, the group heard Nyoman say in my description of the dream, ‘Maybe you need help?’ and that I did not understand what that really meant. After our group session, four or five people approached me and said that if I needed help with chest therapy or anything else, that they would gladly learn and help me. For the following two weeks, my roommate Rob, would compassionately help me in providing my chest physical therapy twice each day. His assistance helped me complete the trip without need for hospitalization. 

Brian cycling


Brian Callanan is currently 40-years-old, and was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at birth.  He is the Founder and Executive Director of the CFLF, and practices an active lifestyle primarily through swimming and cycling on and off road, but also enjoys snowboarding, hiking, sailing and rock-climbing. You may email him directly at brian@cflf.org.


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