I have several dear friends in my life facing life-threatening illness. What does one say in light of devastating news? I know silence is not the answer. I know I can’t fix the problem. I know I’ll probably fumble and stumble with my words because of my inner fear for the same devastating news.
It’s up to me to be truthful. It’s up to me to acknowledge their story could be my story. It’s up to me to manage my fear so my helplessness factor does not take hold. Helplessness leads to immobilization and immobilization leads to isolation and depression. I’m familiar with that journey.
All I know is honesty is my best policy coming from a place of love. True to myself and true to others.
I found comfort and guidance in Mark Nepo’s words and wanted to share them with you.
“During times of deep change, we’re forced to kneel before the silent god of patience; listening—not for direction, but for what feels real and true. Until presence leads to presence. This is how we come to listen to our soul.
"I know from my own evolution that most of what the heart knows enters us like lightning, and is already true somewhere inside, while the rest of us struggles to catch up. I’ve also learned that we’re never drawn into a change we’re not ready for, though the change may be difficult.
"Under the weight of living, I’m thankful for how gifted we are to have hearts that feel. Thankful for the chance to be tender and thorough and possible one more time. And whenever we dare or are forced to lift each other up or ease each other down, we have the glorious chance to find what we’ve lost in our common story. When we can truly behold each other, we slowly become each other. We become love itself. It’s through love’s eyes that we can see that it’s sweetly enough to have come this far.
"So however uncertain tomorrow might seem, I encourage you to withstand the dizziness of freedom and to trust the wisdom that waits in your heart, which knows what it needs to be alive and to stay alive.
"No matter what seems unbearable, the well of feeling in the center of our being will never let us down, just as the fire in the center of the Earth will never go out. As you leave our long conversation and walk back into the sweep of your flowering life, I can only assure you that nothing will keep you from being worn to your beauty, that all will be real, and that everything you touch will gift you something.” -Mark Nepo, What Feels Real and True
And with those words, and an intention for comfort and ease, I offer these words.
"May you use this illness as a lantern to illuminate the new qualities that will emerge in you. May the fragile harvesting of this slow light help you to release whatever has become false in you. May you trust this light to clear a path through all the fog of old unease and anxiety until you feel arising within you a tranquility profound enough to call the storm to stillness. May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness: Ask it why it came? Why it chose your friendship? Where it wants to take you? What it wants you to know? What quality of space it wants to create in you? What you need to learn to become more fully yourself that your presence may shine in the world. May you keep faith with your body, learning to see it as a holy sanctuary which can bring this night-wound gradually towards the healing and freedom of dawn.”
Thank you. I’m overwhelmed by the reading. It’s like each line spoke to me. The one in particular was ‘listen to the wisdom of your illness, why did it come, where does it want to take you.’ Yesterday, the message was that it’s not enough to just say one is in acceptance, it’s about actually doing the work. I’m thinking I’m dealing with my illnesses by avoiding some foods and practicing with my biofeedback device and it will all go away. But I’m not listening to my illness, really listening to where it wants to take me and what it wants me to know. This is like another wake up call for me to really, really go into another deeper level. So thank you.
Thank you. The first thought that came to me is how disconnected I am from my body. I go for physical therapy and she’ll do something and ask me if I feel what my body just did, but I can’t feel it. I’m working towards becoming more in touch with my body and what it has to tell me. Something you read spoke to me. I don’t know I’m sick until someone—an expert, a test—tells me what’s wrong with me. Your reading is making me want to tune in more so that it isn’t a sudden surprise out of the blue, but it’s a noticing, a pondering, a getting to know—befriending my body and asking what do you have to teach me? Thank you.
Shirley says: I’ve never been faced with a life-threatening illness but I’ve faced an incredibly painful illness. It takes courage to go in and feel the body. At first, I didn’t want to because I was crying, screaming, and scared inside. I wanted to ignore my insides. It was easier to be outside my body than in it. But as I have been with myself and felt my feelings and found healthy ways to vent them, I’ve been more able to be in my body. It’s still hard, because it’s hard to feel the feelings inside that are not expressed. That is why I think journaling is so valuable because it gives us an avenue to build trust in ourselves so that we can hear our own thoughts and emotions.
I got juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when I was 22 years old. My way of coping with the pain was to ignore it, to disassociate myself from my pain. If someone asked me if I was in pain, I had to stop and think about it. After living a life like that, noticing my body lately is new. I’ve done yoga all this time. I always thought there’s a connection between stress and pain but in the past, my doctor disagreed. Now they are more aware of that. After years of practicing disassociation, it’s really challenging to say maybe my body is trying to tell me something.
Thank you. You gave us one more tool for our toolbox. I’ve had trigger fingers but it’s been getting better. In these last two weeks, both my index fingers have been getting stuck. I ought to have a dialogue with my index fingers to ask them what are they trying to tell me—the rigidity, the stuckness. Why all of a sudden is everything stuck? It’s another tool, a dialogue with my body. Thank you.
Your reading really struck home for me this morning. I’m recovering from a medical problem that could have easily killed me because I wasn’t listening to my body in the right way. I really need to do that. As you were reading, I was thinking about the litany of doctors and specialists on my calendar over the next several weeks, and I’m waiting for them to tell me this is better, that’s better, instead of checking in with my own body to know for myself what’s better. The reading really struck me and awakened me to the fact that I have to start listening to my body and believing it when it tells me something isn’t quite right.
Believing is the operating word for me. I didn’t believe me. My early experiences taught me to trust no one including myself. I think there is value as I build trust in myself that I listen to myself more. It’s incredible the wisdom we all have. It’s such a blessing to share it and it’s helpful to others to validate it because we hear it.
I have such fear over my family member being so ill and not being able to find the right help for him and the fear of my own health. I also think it’s important to listen to our bodies but I also have this sadness and wish—we have a medical model of Western medicine that triggers my fear. I believe there are other cultures in the world that view health differently, like honoring our body’s messages, and supporting natural modalities to balance the dis-ease in our bodies. But that’s not going to change overnight in this country.
Shirley says: I think it’s important to also remember the energy we put into our body is the utmost number one, not what’s out there that could help or affect our body. I think it’s important to remember our own inner power and awareness.
And food is medicine. If I get diarrhea, I eat macaroons and it helps me with that problem. No need for extracted chemicals in medicine bottles. There’s so many remedies like that (for example at The People’s Pharmacy) that can replace pills. My body can heal itself with food. The Guardian article about the gut microbiome is so important because it shows how our systemic health depends on what we eat.
Shirley says: And the question is where do we put our power? Our awareness and ability to focus in on ourselves to listen to what our bodies are saying is my number one step in taking care of myself. It lowers my power when I worry about going to a doctor. For me, Western medicine has its place but they don’t hold the values I hold. What are my values as I choose to work together with Western medicine? What kind of research can I do, keeping fear out of it and staying centered in my presence? That’s my first go-to in being with my body.
When I get a splitting headache, I would have a vague perception that I know what to do about it but I just can’t think of it. It seems to me one of the critical things is working to get our mind and body in alignment so that they are pointing in the same direction and reinforcing each other rather than being at cross-purposes. That’s why the mind-body connection is so powerful. If nothing else, mind-body alignment reduces resistance to healing paths.
It’s reminding me of Hildegard of Bingen and the work she did hundreds of years ago. Her work and writing were all in the name of alignment of the body, mind, and spirit.
I love the idea of alignment. There are so many pressure points on our bodies. If I have a headache, there are pressure points to make the headache go away. If I have a cramp in my foot, there is a pressure point on my upper lip that makes the cramp go away. There are ways that we can work with our body’s energy instead of being helpless victims to our state.
It isn’t only food that we put into our bodies, it’s our feelings. It’s what we tell ourselves about whatever’s going on. I think that’s important to understand and acknowledge. There’s real power in listening to our thoughts and feelings.
My experience with my body has been just assuming it will take me where I want to go. I’ve had minor pains but I haven’t had anything that stayed around until I injured my Achilles tendon. That’s been a process because the answer has been to do nothing and rest which isn’t easy for me. My son-in-law has been working with my tendon and I can’t believe how in tuned he was and how the lightness of his touch working the tendon could actually heal it. He wasn’t really doing anything, according to me because I am so out of touch with my body. He’d tell me to move a muscle a certain way and I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. I now have increased my awareness in my body.
Thank you all for joining us today on this journey. It is an uncomfortable topic to talk about. Having the first-hand experience of living through my daughter’s terminal illness, I know the pain when someone is overcome by fear and not able to say anything. It hurts a lot. When I can find the courage to be with someone who is facing a deep change in their life, it is an incredible gift. I’m committed to walking through my own discomfort to be present with those facing deep change. I wish you all a gentle day. Have the awareness and the alignment to listen to your body because so much is going on with every step you take, every eye blink, every swallow, everything—it’s an incredible gift that our body gives us. The true way to accept your body is to be its friend. Thank you.