When I was sick, it was hard to look in the mirror. I couldn’t recognize myself when my skin broke out and changed color. Even now I feel a little residual pain from that experience.
All the spiritual practice and teaching did not prepare me for the experience of losing my health, looks and hair. After teaching at the Cancer Center for a year, I felt closer to understanding what the patients went through. Some patients could hardly move their limbs, others had no hair from chemo and would sometimes cry through class. Many of them had children. I was overwhelmed, especially at the hardships they endured, while still making time to come to yoga. My compassion bubbled over. I could hardly keep it together for a yoga class. Shortly after, I resigned from the Cancer Center to focus on my own healing.
More life lessons I learned from getting sick. A continuation from last week’s post:
1. Suffering is optional. I started noticing a pattern when I was sick. On the days I woke up and saw how horrible my skin was, I was miserable. On the days I noticed improvement in my skin, I was less miserable. My happiness depended on the symptoms I saw that day. Then one day, it hit me: I realized there’s a difference between the symptom and the suffering. Symptoms just are, suffering is optional.
I realized the ego’s role in my sickness and what it created. My ego processed sickness as a negative experience. It said, “There is something wrong with me that I have to get rid of. I won’t be OK until I get rid of it.” After a while, having to “remediate the parasite” and feel like I had to overcome, battle or fix something, felt counter-productive. It wasn’t conducive to a healing mindset. I needed another approach.
When I became more quiet, I could hear the voice of my spirit: “I’m OK. It’s not about getting rid of the symptom. It’s about learning to be present with the symptom. I don’t have to wait to be happy or feel peace until this is over.”
2. Shame is optional and not even real, unless you make it real. When my health and external appearance were stripped from me, it eroded my confidence. Having some unknown “dis-ease” made me feel less than, and unworthy. I felt shame. That’s when I realized I had unconsciously valued myself according to my external self and appearance.
What I’ve often noticed is that when people experience hard times, such as falling ill, or things falling apart in their lives, they often feel shame, as if they did something wrong. That’s how I felt. Here I was touting happiness and health, and I found myself overwhelmed with sickness. Then I realized, shame is optional. It’s not what I have to feel, it’s what I’ve been conditioned to feel. Shame isn’t who I am, it’s what I feel when I forget who I am.
We don’t always know why challenging things happen, but the things that happen to us, don’t define who we are. They are experiences that are part of our journey, perhaps, that our souls signed up for, so that we could learn more about ourselves. It’s what we take away from those experiences that matter most. For me, losing my external appearance made me dig deeper within myself, to find value in myself no matter what. When I was able to find value in myself and my own experience, without letting the experience define me, I experienced greater inner freedom. I was made to discover my true worth.. more of who I really am.
3. Surrendering IS an option: When you can’t see the end in sight for some “condition” you have, and you don’t know why it exists, or how to cure it, the last thing you want to do is surrender. To surrender means that you’ve accepted that you have some disease or condition, and that it could stay with you forever. It means you’ve given over your power to your sickness. This is something I had to overcome. Because at some point, I was exhausted of the worry, fear and struggle. It was too heavy. Not to mention, being stressed really slows down the healing process.
With or without the symptoms or sickness, I needed to find a way to be OK. What does it mean to relinquish control? Could I surrender even, my desire to get well? I could feel how attached I was to being healthy.. and how that was actually making me feel worse. It made me think about what healing really is, and that it may, or may not, include the result of physical health.
One of the things that happened as a result of my condition was unexpected, painful skin rashes that appeared mostly around the core of my body. One day I’d wake up and I’d find a huge painful, red rash. They looked.. horribly disease-ridden. I wondered if I had some kind of auto-immune disorder. In the beginning, it really freaked me out. When would these “random rashes from nowhere” stop?? I tried everything to try and cure it. In the end, it was so bad, I resorted to steroid cream, when most of what I ever use are completely natural products. One day, while I was emotionally upset, I got a message from spirit: “just let it ride out.” It was scary to just “let it be” without treating it with anything. But within a month, the skin rashes disappeared on their own.
I’m glad I didn’t try to keep covering up the symptoms with steroid cream. I felt like something needed to detox from my body. The more I could let go, the more I could allow the healing energy to flow through me and experience moments of calm and peace. Those moments of calm and peace are incredibly valuable, which takes me to the fourth point.
4. It’s Easy to Practice Spirituality when Things are Good, Not so Easy when Things are Bad: For most of my life, I’ve felt very blessed and experienced a lot of synchronicity. But when things went bad that year, AKA didn’t go my way, I was beside myself. None of my spiritual learnings seemed to be helpful during the time I was sick. I was flailing left right and center, and cursing God in the between moments.. at one point, as an act of “rebellion”, I stopped meditating.
Of course, this only punished myself. I realized how much easier it is to follow and teach spiritual practices when you’re feeling good; and how much harder when you’re not. Yet, having new experiences like “getting sick” can be a major spiritual lesson in itself. Our positive experiences are just as valuable as our negative ones.