It is hard to explain. Like many difficult things in life, people can’t relate to this unless they have been through it themselves. But having your life completely fall apart could turn out to be one of the greatest things that ever happened to you.
I remember the first time I saw a pregnant friend after I had gone through my own excruciating childbirth experience. I realized then why all the mothers had said the same thing to me when I was pregnant; “You’ll be fine.” Nobody told me that I would have to dig deeper than I ever knew was possible, that it would shatter my body, that my husband would glaze over and retreat into himself and that I would have to do it on my own. “You’ll be fine” actually meant “We can’t explain this rite of passage to you. You have to live it and you probably won’t die from it.” I told my pregnant friend “It’ll be harder than you think, but you’ll get through it.”
The spiritual opportunity of becoming a parent is obvious: you start to devote your life to something other than yourself and that makes you a better human being in innumerable ways.
Short term illness of all sorts has the temporary effect of making you appreciate everything and everyone in your life. But what about long term illness? What about illness that holds you down for years that does not seem to have a clear etiology? What about illness that borrows its framework of understanding from the future in a way that doesn’t touch your doctors in this time and place? Illness that doesn’t offer itself to the current human mind, and so swallows your former self in a tide of judgement, facile, incorrect assumptions and apathy?
Long term physical pain forces a human being to find–or at least look for– an inner place of peace. In this looking, there is sometimes an awareness that arises that peace is found in silence. Peace is found when your mind stops. When it starts again, as minds always do, it can become obvious that the machinations of the mind work like a psychic blender, whipping thoughts and physical pain into your own personal hell.
When you are sick and your physical body is malfunctioning, your mind reflects this. It is, after all, nothing more than a house of mirrors. The angry, inflamed, stuttering mayhem in your cells and muscles is of course reflected by the mirrors of your mind. It can be a challenge to be around.
But just like a parent can see through a child’s tantrum and see a sweet, gentle soul who is hungry and over-tired, it is possible to see that you are not your illness.
This is the opportunity.
Not only are you not your illness, but you are not your thoughts. You weren’t the house you lived in for 30 years that almost killed you. You weren’t the job you lost or the friend to those people who abandoned you or the citizen of that place you had to leave.
There are a great many things that shatter lives to smithereens: natural disasters, death, lawsuits, injuries, accidents… and illnesses. All of them offer you an opportunity to notice that your story is not who you are. Your story is just a story.
After your story comes to an end, you may find yourself still breathing, blinking, sensing… for a blessed moment, your mind may STFU. In that blessed, quiet, short moment of no-mind, you may get a fleeting glimpse of who you really are.
You might find an ongoing choice in the rolling present moment to A) continue to surrender to this deeper truth of peace that you had always been searching for in your previous era, or B) scratch and claw and fight to regain your standing, your reputation, your profession and get well in order to restore your avatar in the world.
But wait… did that constant hungry effort to manipulate reality into conforming to your list-of-shoulds really ever do it for you? “Should” is the most painful word in the English language.
Yes, of course, you want to be out of pain. But tell me this: Were you ever absorbed in a book or project and, without thinking about it, realize that you are in the bathroom, peeing? Your body just meets its own need while you are otherwise occupied? That’s a clue.
Have you ever had a moment of insight? Do you know what it feels like to have an intuitive knowing? A revelation of truth or creativity that emerges through you, fully formed? Have you ever felt you were about to die? Have you ever played a sport and experienced that moment where time seems to slow down and you look down and marvel at what your body is doing in slow-motion even though you know, intellectually, that every thing is moving really fast?
Notice that in all these moments, not only is your mind not helpful, if it does become active, it would ruin things.
That’s a clue.
Your mind is not who you are. Your mind is not all that helpful, even. Your mind does not like this fact.
We live in a mind-deified culture. If you worship at the alter of the Western mind, your mind will be empowered to make you suffer. And make no mistake, some minds will burn the whole fucking democratic republic to the ground rather than get demoted.
The greatest opportunity of being sick is to clearly see how the mind works and then…
Fire Your Mind.
Your healing will start for real the day you surrender to the greater intelligence of nature itself. When life is allowed to live through you, as you, without your mind interjecting, solutions come to you on their own. Surrender. Fall. Dissolve.
This is not to say your pain will stop. But you may notice that when you remove your resistance to pain, it physically diminishes. That’s another clue.
Your mind has decades, even millennia, of momentum. It is rare for it to stop all at once, although that does happen sometimes. (Eckhart Tolle, Robert Adams, Ramana Maharshi, Anandamayi Ma.)
But you can switch your allegiance right now– away from the small, shitty, petty, upset, insane human mind, and towards the peaceful, open, loving awareness that is the essential nature of your being when the mind is quiet.
If you succeed in doing that even once for a split second, that’s enough. It happens again and you notice it more and more. Eventually, the peace becomes stable and ever-available. It is then possible that you could look back on the cataclysm that your life became and see it as the best thing that ever happened to you.