As I was thinking about recording today’s podcast, I had something entirely different that I was going to share with you, and then life with all its ups and downs brought some sickness for me today. I’ve had an off and on kind of bug all week, and I was going to put off this podcast, but then I thought, ‘no, let’s just go with what is.’ So I wanted to talk today about what my sickness taught me, and that is that if I really want to have a peaceful relationship with life, I need to make room in my heart for things like sickness, things that I don’t want to have.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like being sick and it’s not so much the physical pain that I dislike about being sick. What’s harder for me, and this is just my own experience, is the emotional pain that comes up. For whatever reason, whenever I get sick, it brings up this real tender vulnerability. It’s almost like with being sick my filters are gone.
I have really, really, really vivid, intense dreams, dreams that are often really disturbing and painful. It’s like my psyche just kind of opens up, and all the unprocessed stuff in my life just kind of comes out. I feel kind of separate and alone. I feel really lonely. It’s just a really tough emotional space for me that goes beyond just the physical discomfort, whether I’ve got a sore throat or a stomachache or whatever is going on.
So in being sick this week, I’ve just kind of observed myself and noticed this emotional pain that I’ve been experiencing, and the hardest part hasn’t been the emotional pain itself, it’s been my fight against it. I had a week last week where there were a lot of real breakthroughs for me, and I felt a lot of peace in my life, and I was riding at the crest of one of those waves. It was time of a real high.
So then this week watching myself ebb and go the bottom of this wave in an experience that wasn’t quite as blissful, an experience that wasn’t a high of connection, but rather this place of vulnerability and pain. I noticed how much I was clinging and how much I really wanted to go back to how I was feeling last week.
I wanted to be doing my yoga, and I wanted to be feeling really great, and instead I’m sleeping, and I’m having these intense, vivid, painful dreams, and I’m not going to yoga, and I’m not really doing these things that make me feel really connected and alive. So it’s just not really a joyful ride right now. That’s what the true message for me in being sick was: Can I drop this fight against reality itself, and can I just accept I’m not feeling well and accept how I am feeling, and even open my heart to the vulnerability I’m feeling that I don’t want to feel?
So throughout my day I noticed that I started telling myself when I stop and pause and become aware that there’s this fight going on. I offer a couple different phrases to myself that I found particularly helpful that you might find helpful in your own life when you’re facing things that you don’t want to include inside your circle of compassion and acceptance.
So one of those phrases is from Father Thomas Keating, who is a contemplative monk, and he teaches something called centering prayer. I love how Thomas Keating puts it. It’s a little bow where you just say, “Ah, this, too.” So it’s this reminder of, well, I can accept the vulnerability and emotional pain I’m experiencing right now, and the physical discomfort, I can include that. I can say, “Ah, this, too.” I really love that, because it’s a bowing to life as it is, and it’s a gentle reminder for me that there are some things that are out of control.
I live in a human body, and it is going to get sick at times. At some point, it will die. I’m going to feel the full myriad of the human experience. I’m going to feel joy and pain. I’m going to feel happiness and sorrow. I’m going to feel all those different possibilities.
In the same way that if we look outside and we see that the weather encompasses lots of different permutations. It can be sunny. It can be cloudy. It can be snowing. It can be raining. It can be windy. It can be calm. It can be hot. It can be cold. It can be rainy, and 10,000 different kinds of rain. It can be downpouring. It can be flooding. It can be drizzling. It can be hailing. In the same way that life flows in all those different ways around us, our own lives, they all flow, as well, in many,
many different ways.
The hitch, for many of us, is that while we don’t feel like we should be able to control the weather outside, there are often a lot of “shoulds” about how we should control our own internal weather.I should control how I’m feeling, whether it’s physically, emotionally, spiritually. Or instead, if we look at life not as something to control, but something that is flowing through us, then that subtle bow and that opening to, oh, this is how it is right now, the “this, too” that Father Thomas Keating talks about.
We can bow to the fact that there is something much bigger than our small little minds or our human selves at work here. That in turn, in my experience, brings a peace, because I recognize that I’m held a bigger wave and a bigger ocean than just my small experience. So in this moment, yes, I may not be feeling well, but I am being held by something greater. It’s not my human self that’s controlling that, and so I can let go. I can let go, and I can ride the wave and not look at it as proof that I’m somehow doing life bad or wrong.
The other phrase I love to use and I notice that I’m resisting, a part of my experience, is to just do that gentle bow and name it. I love Dr. Brene Brown’s way of describing that, of that, “Oh, this, too.” In her latest book, “Daring Greatly,” she talks about when she’s feeling super vulnerable, she’ll actually just tell herself, “Vulnerability, vulnerability, vulnerability.”
I love this phrase, to just honor that, yes, we have these tender, tender human hearts. So myself, I can also just say, “Oh, vulnerability,” or I can name it, “Oh, loneliness,” “Sadness,” “Fear,” “Grief,” “Anxiety,” whatever it is, just that naming it and naming it not as an, “Oh, you’re my enemy, go away,” but just naming it with a real compassionate, loving touch, like,
“Oh, there you are fear. Oh, I see you. I see you.” So vulnerability, vulnerability, yes.
Again what this does, when we connect with whatever it is we’re experiencing in this moment, rather than feeling separate and alone in our pain or our discomfort, we find that we can rest in our greater connectedness, to know that every human being feels vulnerable. Everyone knows what it feels like to feel lonely. Everyone knows what it feels like to be in pain. Everyone knows what it feels to feel sorrow.
So rather than becoming something that we feel isolated or separate, we find that, no, this human connectedness is the soil we all share, so rather than feeling alone in our pain and our discomfort, we come home. We come home, and we rest in this greater belonging.