"WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER...THIS JOURNEY ON EARTH. HELP ME TO EXPLORE JUST WHAT IS GOING ON AND WHY! I DEFINITELY HAVE MY OWN IDEAS! THIS SITE IS DEDICATED TO ALL WHO ARE SEARCHING AND STRUGGLING FOR ANSWERS TO WHAT AND WHY. MAY GOD BLESS AND SURROUND YOU ALL WITH HIS WHITE LIGHT. BUT I NEED EVERYONE'S HELP! WILL YOU JOIN ME?"
Though illness can be scary and unpleasant, there are spiritual gifts to be found in it.
Most people think of illness as inconvenient at best, tragic at worst. We focus on what we are not doing: our normal daily routines, work, outings with friends, being physically active, time with family. Yes, illness is a time-out from our normal lives of health and activity, but it needn't be time 'lost.' Illness can be a fertile time if you can focus your attention away from what you do not have, and focus on what it offers in abundance.
Even if your illness is one from which you may not recover, making it a spiritual practice will imbue your journey with rich rewards. Here are eight ways to turn physical infirmity into a sacred time of life.
Slow Down and Watch
"Healing happens in the slow lane," hospital chaplains tell patients. Think of life like film, 24 individual images moving rapidly in sequence to create the illusion of action. When illness makes you slow down, you have a rare opportunity to view each individual moment of your life on its own, and see how you unconsciously string moments together to create patterns of behavior. This new view gives you the chance to reorder moments into new and healthier patterns of behavior.
For instance, when I was bedridden for 3 months last year with pneumonia, I realized how I had grown used to being able to rush to rescue someone with a problem. I spent my precious energy on others and thus depleted myself, contributing to my illness. Weak from illness, I couldn't rush to anyone's aid and had to rescue myself. It felt healthy and I've since made it my practice to give others a chance to resolve their own issues, and fix my own first.
Spiritual practice is about bowing to and saying 'yes' to the reality of life, even when that reality is illness. During my pneumonia, my daily mantra and spiritual practice was the phrase, "It is what it is." When I came to fully embrace this concept, I felt a deep sense of peace with my situation. I gave into my newfound understanding that my illness was as much a part of God's plan for me as my health. And, I used my energy to heal instead of struggling against my unpleasant reality.
"I believe that fighting or doing battle with any disease creates strong emotional currents that feed and strengthen the condition," says hospital chaplain Brent Davis. "What we resist, persists."
If the truth of your situation is you won't get better, accepting this frees you to make good choices for yourself in these circumstances, and to be honest with loved ones. It also frees your heart to feel God's love.
Let Yourself Be Held
The man lay on the bed in the emergency room, writhed in fear, as doctors worked to save him. I stood by his bed and gently stroked his brow and told him, "Let us hold you now. You are in good hands with the doctors and God. You don't have to struggle so hard here." He calmed down. I stood in the corner and prayed, knowing that God was holding him, and me. This man did survive and I learned about putting my fate in God's hands.
Often we feel we need to be in control of our lives, to constantly hold ourselves up - or what, we'll crumple to the floor? The reality is that much of life is out of our hands. We need to let ourselves be held by others - by the medical staff, by our families, by God. We need to let ourselves be cared for. We need to receive unconditionally and be fully vulnerable.
Keep Your Faith
A serious illness tests our faith. Even when doctors tell us eventually we'll recover, illness can seem to drag on interminably and we sink into despair; our current reality of pain, immobility, and weakness blot out our memory of health. Have faith that you will get well, especially if your doctors tell you so. Practice having faith that "the land of wellness" exists. Believe in your own recovery.
During my pneumonia, I came to imagine myself on a shipwrecked raft at sea. While I couldn't see land (health) I knew that it was out there and believed that I would someday wash up on its shore. As I slowly recovered, I had glimpses of it in the distance and my spirits rose; in my mind I rode the crest of wave towards this far shore. Then my strength waned and I imagined myself in the trough between two big waves, and I could only see water all around me. I kept faith that the waves carried me towards health, even if I couldn't see it. I held fast to my faith, as I would to a raft at sea, until I did indeed eventually wash ashore, stand up on shaky legs and slowly walk back to my life. Hold tight to your faith.
Have a Beginners Mind
"Part of my journey with cancer is giving myself opportunities to be a learner again," says musician Eileen Hadidian. "One of the most powerful ways to experience playing and teaching music without striving towards perfection is to become a beginner again on a new instrument. I let go of abstract expectations of having to achieve a goal by a certain time, and remember why I am taking lessons: for the joy of it."
For Eileen, her journey through cancer has taught her to let go of her attachment to product and outcome - the opposite of what she normally does as a professional musician. Now, she is experiencing the pleasure of music for her own healing.
"The most common things I hear from people with serious or life-threatening illnesses is that it has taught them to live more fully in the present, to savor each day, and appreciate all the little things more," says hospital chaplain Bruce Murphy. "Just going for a simple walk can bring a sense of wonder for someone who has been bedridden."
I remember when I started to recover from illness, I felt a thrill whenever birds flew past me, as I sensed their "alive-ness" as keenly as I felt my own. I felt awed to be part of the web of life.
Be OK with Silence
Silence is the goal of many spiritual retreats and practices, and silence usually exists in abundance during illness. There is the silence at home when the rest of the household is at work and you are alone. There's also the silence of a hospital room (other than the machines beeping and medical staff, of course) between visiting hours.
Surrender to the silence and find what it has to offer. Look for the sacred in it. Rather than fear silence as an empty void, feel God's enveloping embrace in it. Cleanse yourself in the silence and use it to heal. Silence can be a mirror of your heart and soul, reflecting back to you what lies deep within you. If you can fill your heart with acceptance and self-love then the silence can sing to you of the Divine within and around you. Listen as it affirms that you are fine as you are - illness and all - and that you need do nothing but be there, resting and healing.
Find the Positive in Negative Space
If you've studied art, then you know that what makes a painting powerful and effective is not only the objects the painter depicts, but the negative space between those objects. Can you imagine a family portrait without defining spaces between family members?
Your life is also a work of art, and the pauses between the peak actions of your life say a lot about you and help shape your overall being and journey. So instead of feeling concern that you are in a period of down time amidst your otherwise active life, look to how this period of reflection and inactivity can give deeper meaning to the actions that bracket it - and how your illness may, eventually, redefine your activities. Embrace this negative space - it is something, far from nothing.