Mindfulness and Chronic Health Conditions
By Catherine Sherlock – Yoga From The Inside
One of the key teachings of mindfulness is accepting everything as it is. This can be easier said than done! Especially when living with a health condition that undermines the way we had expected or wanted our life to be.
When life answers back like this, letting us know that something other than expected, or hoped for, is in store for us, it can be tough. It’s as if some other force has taken the reigns and we are left only to respond in the best way we can, and make the best of it.
The serenity prayer comes to mind:
God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can, and
The wisdom to know the difference.
It’s like we’re really not in charge. Whereas once we were striding ahead leading the way in our lives, suddenly we are reduced to much smaller, less bold movements within the constraints of our health condition. I believe these experiences herald the way for us to discover a much more refined response to what I’m calling the ‘dance of life’. It’s as if life has grabbed our attention. When we recognise that we’re not in control; all that bravado, self-righteousness, and I-know-ness begins to diminish. Transformation is at work.
The irony is that it is times like these when we question whether there is a God. How could a merciful God allow this to happen? The irony is of course, that this is our wake-up call to realise that we’re not God! We’re not in control. All our efforts to redirect the course, to get our lives back to the track we had decided on, may lead to disappointment.
To surrender to the unwanted thing, the malady, is our least favourite move. But, when life is leading the dance, what else is there to do? It feels like failing, like dying. We’re called to find flow, balance with what life presents. Still doing whatever we can to support ourselves and those around us, but in a big way, surrendering to the lead of life. To welcome life like a dance move that has swept us off our feet may be our most harmonious move. To seek out the gift, the blessing when life has taken the lead.
Your conflicts, all the difficult things, the problematic situations in your life are not chance or haphazard. They are actually yours. They are specifically yours, designed specifically for you by a part of you that loves you more than anything else. The part of you that loves you more than anything else has created roadblocks to lead you to yourself. You are not going in the right direction unless there is something pricking you in the side, telling you, “Look here! This way!” That part of you loves you so much that it doesn’t want you to lose the chance. It will go to extreme measures to wake you up, it will make you suffer greatly if you don’t listen. What else can it do? That is its purpose – A.H. Almaas
It’s as if something is knocking at our door letting us know that we’re not who we thought we were. Awakening us to join with something much vaster. An invitation to step into the ocean of existence, of which we are a tiny, but important, part. Our illusion of control is diminished and there is little left to do, other than surrender, join the flow and jump into the stream of the ‘other than hoped for or expected’.
Trust, is a big word. Trusting the unknown, the unexpected is not something that we are really trained to do. Rather, we are taught that we can, or should, be able to make whatever we want happen. And, that there is something wrong with us if we can’t! This dominant view can cause us to experience feelings of shame or failure when we’re meeting the challenges of life and are unable to overcome them. As if being unwell is some sort of personal failure.
And yet, in surrender and acceptance lies such freedom, such liberation. Throwing ourselves on the ocean of life, softening our resistance to it, and knowing that it is leading us home. Abandoning ourselves to the intelligence of life, trusting its cycles and seasons. Knowing we are so much more than the fragile individual psyche that we defend at all costs.
It’s hard to reconcile suffering. ‘Only resistance causes pain’ were the words I learned from Eileen Caddy (founder of Findhorn in Scotland) in my twenties. They’ve served me well and I’ve been called to remember them many times in my life. Another perspective is that ‘pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’. I’m not sure who said that, but the words belong to us all as human beings navigating the human condition. When life gently or violently tugs us in a new direction there’s lots of dying involved; to dreams, to plans, to a future that may never be realised, to the ending of many things.
When suffering arrives, always unbidden, what else can we do but meet it, feel the disappointment, the loss, the tragedy and let it whisper its message. The mind rails, it shouldn’t be this way, it’s wrong. A relentless struggle ensues as we try to find peace with what life has dealt us that we didn’t ask for. We thrash about, arguing with reality, shaking our fist at the sky, asking why, why why?
And life’s response is just steady, unyielding. Things are as they are and our attempts to change them may be futile. Accepting what is, is indeed a practice. A practice that we can only hope to get better at, taking less time to arrive at the point of surrender. Surrender without giving up. Surrender to what life is presenting us with so that we can return to quiet, to the absence of struggle, to simply responding. To find that part within us that simply knows and trusts that everything is as it should be and ‘no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should’.
It’s a dance, a conversation. Our own ideas, visions, dreams, the way we imagine they will unfold, meeting life’s response. An ongoing process of responding to the next thing, reassessing, redirecting. Our volition meeting those unnamable, unpredictable forces in life. Recognising the limits of our control, constantly responding, letting go of the illusion of control and flowing with the currents of life. Whatever our experience is, our best response is always to bring it to love, as Herman Hesse reminds us.
“You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, a single power, a single salvation… and that is called loving. Well, then, love your suffering. Do not resist it, do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts, nothing else.” —Herman Hesse