Things I’m Learning by Practicing with Injury and Illness, Part I

Jan 29, 2018

As some of you know, I have been experiencing troubling health issues over the past year, rapidly worsening over the past few months. In short — hyper-mobile joints that make dislocations easy and common, chronic pain, and potentially a connective tissue disorder that could have systemic implications. Needless to say, I’ve been on quite a journey!

For the most part I’ve been ‘hanging in there’ —trying to do what I can to get answers, heal and prevent injuries, and live life. But I hit a low point a few weeks ago when I suddenly found myself unable to walk due to hip dysfunction.

Sure, I had occasionally tapped into feelings of despair over the course of this saga especially when pain is acute and injury recurrent! But not being able to walk brought forth all the fear, anxiety, and despair that had been lurking beneath the surface.

Upon reflection, I can say this was good news. Body pain and associated fears can really shrink one’s perspective. It feels like the world is caving in around you. Just as anxiety and obsessing about one particular problem or situation can make one feel trapped and cause quite a bit of suffering.

I shed a lot of tears and expressed all the fears, and most importantly, held all of this with compassion. All of that, as well as having it be seen, held, reflected, and understood by my partner — was actually very healing and releasing. Because all of those difficult feelings were able to be — to be allowed, held, and met — they could eventually dissolve and clear the space for something greater come in.

The day after this outpouring of emotion, my partner and I took a Day of Mindfulness. That’s a day that is spent practicing and giving ourselves lots of space to do only those things we want to do, without chores, multi-tasking, or the use of technology — kind of like a Sabbath. There was a feeling of spaciousness and contentment, and my perspective no longer felt like it was caving in. There really were rainbows after this passing storm!

There’s so much uncertainty in all of this: is this the beginning of a progressive chronic illness, or is it something that can be healed or improved over time? There is no simple explanation, and no simple solution, for what I’m dealing with. We don’t know what the future holds. These are the moments I am so grateful for practice. Practice helps me ask the question: what can I learn from this? It reminds me that this is happening; bemoaning the fact only increases suffering.

Of course I’m going to keep doing all that I can to alleviate the difficulties my body is experiencing. But having a couple of days of depression and despair heightened my determination to not suffer. As the saying goes: “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” It’s the thoughts and emotions we pile on top of a problem that cause suffering.

So out of pure kindness to myself — because it is hard enough to be in pain — I am determined to be happy. My prayer became, “no matter what happens, I want to be able to be happy.” This is what I define as freedom: to be able to be “happy for no reason.” It means I am not bound by external circumstances (even when the “external” is as close as my own body!) to be happy.

To me, happiness never means putting on a fake smile and sweeping negative feelings under the rug. It means being clear and aware of whatever is arising within me - the good, the bad, the ugly. It means making space for all of it, and holding it with much love, understanding, and compassion. That alone increases my joy and freedom tremendously. It also means regularly reflecting on all that is good in my life and in my body — because what I pay attention to is what grows and expands. Gratitude brings me a feeling of wellbeing, of being safe, even of feeling blessed! And those feelings in and of themselves are a blessing.

This is just an introduction to what I’m learning on this journey. I look forward to sharing more with you in future installments. I don’t know what lies ahead for me with regard to my health, but I’m sure there will be many more lessons along the way! Stay tuned for more.

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