By Verena LaFarge
Early Childhood in a Caribbean Playground
My family settled in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the 1960s. My sisters and I were born 10 years later. My mother raised us to be morally vigilant, spiritually conscientious, and frugal, with an education grounded in traditional values. Her family emigrated to Latin America when she was five, fleeing Europe after World War II.
My parents are well educated with Ivy League degrees. They met in Puerto Rico after my father left the United States Air Force and began his own real estate company. Their early life experiences helped them develop a spiritual understanding of life. My parents are psychically gifted and unknowingly passed many of those abilities down to us.
My sisters and I spent most of our time swimming, sailing the Caribbean islands, playing sports, and spending summers in Europe with our grandmother. We witnessed a time of tremendous development and change.
Compared to my beautiful sisters, I wore thick glasses and my left foot turned inwards. I felt awkward and inadequate, so I decided I would compensate by developing my intellect. Math and science became my refuge. In college, I studied ecology with an emphasis in organic chemistry and math, finishing with a master’s degree in environmental engineering.
Trouble in Paradise
From an outsider’s perspective, I had a good life. Few knew I was plagued by depression, fatigue, and autoimmune dysfunction since very early childhood. Starting in my teens, I regularly endured wretching physical pain. But it was the hollow and gripping existential pain in my soul that was the most difficult to bear. I would ask God to hold me close to him for relief, but I could never get close enough.
In 1992 at age 15, I was slammed with a severe case of mononucleosis. My throat swelled shut. I ignored the tenderness and pain, trying unsuccessfully to force water or tea down my throat to quench my thirst.
At the hospital, doctors feared I would asphyxiate and opted for pharmaceutical drugs to avoid the need for a tracheotomy. The strong drugs damaged my growing body, compromising my health for the rest of my life. I would battle against a weak immune system and insomnia for most of my adult life.
During an acute bout of depression, the same year, I had an out of body experience one night where I traveled to a heavenly realm with compassionate, loving divine beings for three days. It felt like a “coming home” with old friends. I was heartbroken to find myself back in my body the next morning. Earth seemed like purgatory or hell in comparison. I spent the next few years searching for a spiritual practice and teacher that made sense.
In spring of 2000, after college, I came upon a group of Chinese people doing gentle meditative exercises at a park in Atlanta and casually jumped in to try it for a few short minutes. A young girl about my age, angelic and kind, welcomed me and explained this was Falun Gong.
At that time, I was studying a different form of meditation with another teacher. I told her about my brief encounter with Falun Gong. My teacher convinced me to stay with her system of meditation, explaining hers was a “higher level” meditation practice.
I rigorously practiced her meditation system for 14 years and offered generous financial support. But my life only worsened. Family relations became strained, and my health slowly declined, while my career and financial situation stagnated—it felt like I was trapped in a backed-up toilet. I left the group in 2013.
Hitting Rock Bottom and Discovering Falun Dafa:
In 2015 a bug bite at work resulted in an acute infection that led to a Lyme disease diagnosis. My already rapidly declining health went into freefall. By 2018, simple things like eating, thinking, and sleeping became a struggle, and I left my job.
Looking back, I don’t know how I didn’t die of a heart attack with a 5.5 hemoglobin count. I could not keep weight on no matter how much I force-fed myself. My parents watched me deteriorate, slowly coming to the realization that their daughter was dying. My husband was in denial. I was bedridden. Things briefly improved after a tonsillectomy, then later a hysterectomy, but I couldn’t overcome the cognitive impairment, food sensitivities, and chronic fatigue that plagued me. I continued to waste away.
I scrutinized everything, “Gosh, if I’ve tried everything, what have I missed?” I had a serious talk with God, and thought things through, strategically. A part of me had made peace with death. I asked, “God, I’ve really tried and done everything… even things that are really ‘out there’, out of desperation. Is there something I’ve missed that I should look into or do before I die?”
I sat there communing with the Holy Spirit that had accompanied me in every moment of my life, that had walked side by side with me through all my tribulations. Before I properly finished asking God my question, the fleeting memory of briefly practicing Falun Gong exercises in the park in Atlanta flooded into me, clear as day. A brilliant spark from the back of my mind, brought to the forefront. This was no hint. It felt like a divine transmission straight from heaven.
While I had forgotten the name of the Chinese practice, I had absolute and crystal clarity about what it was. I searched online and found the name “Falun Gong” in less than three minutes! I immediately watched all the videos on YouTube and reached out to the local group to learn the meditation exercises. Because of my previous experience with the new age meditation group, I didn’t want to get sucked into another human way of interpreting the divine that required my financial support.
So, I did the exercises for a full year with no interest in reading the philosophy behind it. Within the first three months of practicing the exercises, all acute symptoms normalized. Even my food intolerances quietly faded away. What’s more, nobody asked me for a single penny. I could learn all the exercises and had complete access to all the content online, for free.
After a year I mustered up the courage to begin learning about the philosophy of Falun Dafa. My life changed completely. The chronic depression and cognitive impairment left permanently. The chronic fatigue and Lyme disease symptoms faded away. My organs functioned well, and I felt better than I had when I was a teenager! I had my body, my mind, and my life back after over two decades of sheer hell.
A New Body and a New Life
Five years later, I now feel that my past was a life lived by a different person in a different body.
My family, friends, and neighbors have noticed such a remarkable change in my health and demeanor, that now my sister, husband, friends, and my neighbor have begun to practice Falun Dafa. My husband says it imparts an indescribable solidity and inner congruence. He also says that the book Zhuan Falun employs logic and reason to explain Falun Dafa in such a way that it is the only spiritual practice that makes complete sense to him.
My husband and I resonate with the three principles that represent the core tenets of Falun Dafa’s spiritual and moral philosophy:
- Truthfulness真 (Zhēn)
- Compassion 善 (Shàn)
- Forbearance 忍 (Rěn)
“Forbearance” was a new word for me. At my current level of understanding, it means treating others with kindness in the face of adversity, while maintaining a calm and compassionate demeanor, especially in challenging situations. Of the three principles, it is the most challenging for me.
Today, the Falun Dafa exercises and teachings have become a part of my daily life. I do the exercises for a good hour before I start the workday and before bed. Reading Falun Dafa books has become part of my daily routine.
For anyone looking to try out the practice, I’d like to offer the following advice: After reading Zhuan Falun, your journey has just begun. There are more lectures by Mr. Li Hongzhi to further enrich your understanding. For me, these supplemental lectures open my heart and mind, making me want to study more eagerly. These lectures provide extensive guidance benefiting all of humanity by allowing anyone to spiritually cultivate according to the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance.
These values have shown me the way to becoming a truly good person. I can live a deeply meaningful and spiritually fulfilling life amid a professionally demanding career, while in the fold of a close-knit family and community.
I am so grateful to Falun Dafa. Not only has it saved my life and fully remade my ailing body, but it has also enriched my life well beyond my wildest expectations.