Lately, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why I became sick. Was it that candy bar I splurged on? Was it that week I skipped my workouts? Is it because I’ve been dissatisfied with my career? Why would I–a healthy young woman who meditates, exercises, and eats organic foods–succumb to a rare and often asymptomatic disease.
I have been desperately grasping for an answer, hoping to make sense of the senseless and direct the blame towards something.
My infectious disease doctor keeps reiterating that I did nothing wrong. “One of my clients,” she told me, “was a professional baseball player, and he was on the bench for over a year. You can bet he was healthy and active. Cocci doesn’t discriminate.”
“Whatever is rejected from the self, appears in the world as an event.” ― C.G. Jung
As much as I want to believe I was just unlucky, I feel as if that answer is too simple. If it’s true that everything happens for a reason, perhaps this illness is a manifested response to past action or meant to prompt a lesson I’ve yet to learn.
A fellow blogger has been reigniting my interest in Carl Jung and his concept of the unlived life. We are all deserving of full and happy lives, yet we often build walls around that which we are unwilling to face. This, in turn, keeps us small and prevents us from reaching our full potential. This unlived life is a weight on our shoulders–a burden that each of us must carry until we reach the point where we can face, accept, and overcome those repressed, ugly, and fearful parts of ourselves that we’ve walled off for so long.
I’m not certain what, if anything, I rejected within myself to bring disease into my life. Generally speaking, I have everything I could ever wish for–food, water, shelter, companionship, security, and self-acceptance. Across all facets of my life, I feel content.
“Suffering is our call to attention, our call to investigate the truth of our beliefs.” ― Tara Brach
Regardless of whether the infection and its spread is the results of self-rejection or bad luck, I am recognizing the experience as a call to listen to my body. Though I have always cared for my body with the gentle firmness of a mother, in retrospect I wonder whether I have simply been going through the motions without honestly checking in with each muscle, organ, and cell.
I continued running despite my legs continually giving out and pushed my sore body when it took a full week to recover from lifting. Even when lying down for the final mediation in yoga, checking in with each body part resembled going through a checklist. Yep, all my toes are still there.
Over the last five months, I’ve been trying to have an honest conversation with my body in its suffering. I create space and ask my physical body where the pain is coming from, as well as what I can do it alleviate it. Though the answers have not come easily, what I have realized is that I’ve been suppressing feelings of physical discomfort for years now.
On our last several hikes, my boyfriend’s endurance has outlasted mine even through I was the one who worked out daily. I was a bit envious, not inquisitive. Health and fitness are an important part of my life, so what does it say about me if I lose strength or fall ill?
I suspect that my body has been pleading for relief for years, and I have ignored it to preserve my vision of who I think I should be–fit, healthy, and happy. What a painful thing to admit to oneself: my body asked for help, and I failed to listen.
“The only sadnesses that are dangerous and unhealthy are the ones that we carry around in public in order to drown them out with the noise; like diseases that are treated superficially and foolishly, they just withdraw and after a short interval break out again all the more terribly; and gather inside us and are life, are life that is unlived, rejected, lost, life that we can die of.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke
My recent journaling and mediation keeps leading me back to the idea of coming back to my body. Our bodies already know how to do everything–make art, dance, sing, make love, and tell stories. We are equipped with all the wisdom we will ever need, and it’s available to us right here and right now. However, when we disconnect from the aliveness of our body, we enter a trance that prevents us from living fully.
When we cut off our minds from our bodies, our perceptions are shaped by distorted fragments of reality. The aliveness–that knowing how to sing, dance, and feel love–is a part of our bodies, and it becomes inaccessible when we dissociate our thoughts from our physical reality. This divorce can cause a tremendous amount of suffering.
The new-found understanding that my body has been struggling to battle an intrusive disease across the last four years paired with the sobering realization that I have been sweeping the symptoms under the rug for the same duration has forced me to more closely examine my mind-body relationship, which I previously though was infallible. The rug has been violently pulled out from under me, and I’m now forced to face everything that was hidden underneath.
“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” ― Abraham H. Maslow
Our bodies are like a wilderness, filled with mystery, intrigue, and danger. Just as the most challenging hikes lead to some of the best views, we must commit ourselves to the exploration of our own psyche. Preparing for a long and strenuous hike requires hard work and discipline, as does reentering the wilderness of our bodies.
It is so easy to return to the safety of our comfort zone, to say “no,” and to walk away. It is much harder to face our fears, to listen intently to our bodies, and to chose to grow even in the most infertile soil.
Reconnecting the mind to the body first requires the intention to be present and to stay with your body. We start by simply noticing our aliveness, paying attention to sensations (even when the make us uneasy), and holding the intention to stay in that place. With time, we may learn to shine the light of awareness on the parts of the psyche we’re not open to, gradually opening up the doors to future growth and possibility.
“Here is a calm so deep, grasses cease waving. Everything in wild nature fits into us, as if truly part and parent to us. The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substances of our bodies, making them glide and sing. The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls. And every bird song, wind song, and tremendous storm song of the rocks, in the heart of the mountains is our song, our very own, and sings our love.” ― John Muir
I still struggle to identify as sick, when my entire life has been committed to making choices to support my health and longevity. Perhaps this is the lesson I’m meant to learn: I am not the sum of my choices, nor am I invincible.
I have begun to view my disease as a messenger carrying good news, as disturbing as that news can be at times. Pain and suffering are tugging on my shirt sleeve, maternally asking me to take care of myself. The infection inhabiting my physical body has guided me back to the tender places within myself, a places where I can–and need to–hold myself with compassion. It has told me to alter my diet, get more sleep, stop exercising when it hurts, and to breathe more consciously. Pain has nudged me to investigate my suffering and to nourish whatever I may discover with loving-kindness.
Slowly but surely, I am beginning to accept the pain in my body and personify it as a young child with a scraped knee. My body is home to my soul, so it should to be treated with the same compassion as person who can’t quite articulate what hurts. Perhaps, we deserve to approach our personal ailments with that same gentle inquisitiveness.
“Each patient carries his own doctor inside him.” ― Norman Cousins
Whether the illness I’m experiencing is the result of unresolved emotional issues or simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time, it has taught me the importance of tapping back into my body.
Perhaps we all have slivers of unlived life waiting to be uncovered and experienced fully. The good news is this: wisdom and insight are always available to us, and each wandering into the wilderness will lead us further along our path back to wholeness and wellness.