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Some thoughts on the passing of Don Riso

September 5, 2012

I’ve written here before about how I’m in the process of training to be an Enneagram teacher. My training started two years ago, with a three-day course at the Enneagram Institute in Stone Ridge, NY. There I got to meet Don Riso, half of the Riso-Hudson team that wrote the fabulous book The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

I was very interested to meet Don and talk to him, not just to discuss the Enneagram, but because we had another very big thing in common.

We both had heavy metal poisoning.

Don had been quite public about the fact that he suffered from arsenic poisoning. It started in 2007 when he was traveling in China and ate some contaminated fish. As is common with large, one-off heavy metal exposures, the arsenic attacked his peripheral nervous system and he suffered from neuropathy that turned to paralysis. He was hospitalized and almost died. What saved him was round-the-clock chelation treatment, and he made it through, even regaining some of his mobility.

When I met him, what struck me most was his serenity in the face of this horrible ordeal. Me? I’m angry at mercury. It’s my enemy and I want to fight back. Don was in a much more peaceful place. He talked about what it was like to almost die. How he surrendered to the process and just accepted it, and even had moments of joy while his life was hanging by a thread.

During that training, Don taught us for part of the time, and though he was having a hard time getting around, it was clear that his mind was clear as a bell. I really enjoyed spending time with him, hearing his quiet and gentle observations that were sharp as a tack.

I saw him as someone I could learn from on so many levels–yes as a teacher, but also as a person. We are both Enneagram Type Fours, both writers. Talking to him over lunch about writing, I felt like I was getting a free master class on how to really go about being a non-fiction writer in the smartest and most fabulous way possible. I was looking forward to coming back to Stone Ridge this October for Part II of my training and talking to him about it some more.

It really bothered me, what one student randomly said during that class. He was looking at Don struggling to get out of his chair, and he said, Well, I guess he won’t be with us for much longer.

I held my tongue, but I wanted to snap back that he should shut the hell up, because a) saying something like that was extremely rude, and b) he didn’t know a damn thing about heavy metal poisoning, it didn’t kill people, it just left them injured and in pain for decades.

But I guess I was understandably in denial about the gravity of Don’s condition. He passed away last week, dying in the end of metastasized cancer.

Here’s what Andy Cutler has to say about Arsenic in Hair Test Interpretation:

Arsenic is a well known carcinogen. Having had cancer or being at risk for it is a good reason to check for it and other heavy metals. (Pg 92)

I know that a lot of people will look at Don dying of cancer at the age of 66 as one of those random tragedies that happen all the time for no reason.

I take it a bit more personally.

I devote quite a bit of my time to fighting the good fight against heavy metal poisoning, and goddamn it, my teacher, one of the writers I admire most in the world got taken from me by arsenic.

This gentle and sensitive man died because he ate the wrong piece of fish.

What the hell are we doing in this world? Really? Letting corporations run wild, filling up the ocean with toxins of all kinds, burning through every ounce of coal on this Earth to make more, more, more electricity, releasing all kinds of toxins into the air that settle on the sea and make their way into all of us in the end.

I mean is it really necessary? Does every man, woman and child on the planet need to have an iPad, a smartphone and high-speed internet access every nanosecond of their lives? Is all of that worth it, when the price we have to pay is autism, cancer, misery and people like Don Riso dying before I got a chance to hear everything he had to teach me?

Yes, I’m angry.

You bet I’m angry. From what I hear about his death, I don’t even think Don was angry when he died. He was smarter than me, he accepted that this is just how things are.

Most of the time, I accept it too. I know that people die in their millions in every era for senseless reasons at the hands of those in power. This is just how it goes now, at the beginning of the 21st century. This is how the weak are sacrificed these days.

Oh, but I don’t want it to be like this. Can we turn back the clock, take all the evils in the world and stuff them back in Pandora’s box? If I throw away my smartphone, can I have Don Riso back?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Peter A permalink
    September 6, 2012 1:47 pm

    You learned a helluva lot, from Don or someone, before Don died. You write with power and grace. Keep it up.

  2. September 15, 2012 7:42 pm

    Sorry to hear Áine. Seems like another good one lost.

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