Making Friends With Your Illness
Whether it is a sign of the times we live in, or maybe age catching up with some of us, these days there seems to be a lot of people we know who are dealing with illness. Deb often accompanies our dear friend Liz while she has chemo: “I am continually touched and impressed by the fellow cancer patients receiving hours of what Liz calls the ‘healing elixir,’ by their cheerfulness and friendship to one another.”
As illness is such a part of being alive, and as resistance creates tension and denial, it is important that we make friends with whatever our circumstances may be. Acceptance creates room for growth, change and even healing.
As Liz says, “As a cancer patient, I can honestly say that cancer is definitely a drag. However, it has also brought many blessings. Instantly I had to start listening to my world, I discovered a sense of space and newness, and LOVE–so much love. Trungpa Rinpoche, my teacher, said that you just have to lean into whatever is happening. He called the experience of living with illness one taste; that whether you get well or not, all conditions have the same one taste.”
Making friends with illness is not easy. Diane has MS, and there are many times she wishes her legs would work better than they do. But she has also realized that fighting them, stressing out, or wishing they were different achieves nothing, while loving them as they are makes the experience one of continual learning and discovery.
Making friends with our reality is also a way of making friends with ourselves. There will always be times when life in the body gets overwhelming or when we argue with reality, but being a friend means being able to accept what is and move on. “Healing can occur even when curing doesn’t,” said Bill Moyers in USA Today. “It is an acceptance of the unavoidable, a grace in living that escapes us if we are simply passive in the face of trouble.”
There is an important distinction between curing and healing. To cure is to fix a particular part. Western medicine is particularly good at doing this, offering drugs and surgery so that disease, illness or physical problems can be suppressed, eliminated or removed. It plays a vital role in alleviating suffering; it is superb at saving lives and applying both curative and palliative aid. This is invaluable.
However, the World Health Organization defines health as complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, which implies a more total state of wellness beyond simply being cured of a symptom or illness. It suggests there is a place of inner healing, where we can be completely at peace whether we are physically well or not.
The word remission is used to describe a period of recovery, when an illness or disease diminishes. A patient is described as being in remission when their symptoms abate. Yet the word can also be read as “re-mission”, to re-find or become reconnected with our purpose or a deeper meaning in life.
Remission also has another, lesser-known meaning, which is forgiveness. This implies that it can occur through forgiving ourselves by accepting our behavior and releasing any guilt, or through accepting and forgiving another and letting go of blame. The power of such forgiveness is enormous.
How do you deal with illness? Can you make friends with it? Do comment below.