I’ve started reading the works of Thomas Merton, Trappist monk , writer and peace and civil rights activist. I finished “The Seven Storey Mountain” and now I’m reading “The Intimate Merton”. Why am I reading these spiritual works? I’m fascinated at the conversations we’ve been having about the mind and the body. If you read the works of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross you begin to see themes that have continued to be asked over time.
I got two pages into the book and read the following quote; “Merton became a monk by writing about becoming a monk”. I read that and stopped what I was doing, put the book down and began considering the huge implications of that statement. After I read that phrase I began thinking about the process of “becoming”. How do we get from point A to point B in our physical, emotional and spiritual lives? I know that making cause and effect connections creates a calm within and I treasure that feeling.
My next step in the process was to begin the process of generalization. If Merton felt that he became a monk by writing about becoming a monk, what can you do or become by writing about it. If you began writing about your fears could you have them dissolve? If you wrote about health and wellness can you slow down or reverse illness? If you write about becoming less encumbered can you live a stress free life? Writing about the particular is one thing. Staying with the process long enough to see results is where the rubber meets the road. We live in a world that thrives and demands instant gratification. Last week I wrote a post about emotional and spiritual dialysis. I invited a client to engage in this process. After two days she e-mailed me to say I’m not detoxed yet from the negative feelings. I was amazed and amused to think that anyone can or would be willing to believe that two written entries will eradicate years of negative energy flowing through their veins.
What would happen if at the top of the page you wrote the same question every day? Do you have the perseverance and the courage to stick with one question long enough to get to the “real stuff”? Are you willing to go an inch wide and a mile deep? Do you have desire to rid yourself of the questions and concerns that keep you bogged down? If the goal is health and wellness, can you hang out in the question and truly explore what lies beneath?
As usual I’m reading a few books at the same time trying to quench my thirst for wisdom or at least knowledge. Those who have overcome difficult times often refer to “the dark night of the soul”. It has become a euphemism and is not, at least according to experts, what those who coined the idea intended when they shared their thoughts. St. John of the Cross is the person we can credit with the phrase “dark night of the soul”. However, he didn’t intend for it to mean sitting on a bathroom floor, crying for hours and feeling an internal sense of desperation as described by Elizabeth Gilbert in “Eat, Pray, Love”. Instead he truly looked at “the dark night of the soul” as viewing something obscure, difficult to see but not devastating to life.
Once I read about St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross I wanted to view a modern interpretation of “dark night of the soul” and found a book by Gerald May by that title. One line caught my attention, “Liberation, whether experienced pleasurably or painfully, always involves relinquishment, some kind of loss” (p. 70). I’ve argued this point for years. I believe that our path of grieving begins the moment we’re born and leave the warmth, protection and isolation of the womb. Throughout our lives we will continue to suffer loss and it becomes cumulative over our lifetimes.
When diagnosed with an illness loss is a key ingredient in life’s recipe. I don’t care how minuscule the loss, there is a change from how life was lived before the diagnosis. Maybe it won’t have a huge impact on your life, but it will have an impact. The shift may be conscious or unconscious but it will be made. It’s crucial that we honor our losses. When we honor the changes we’re able to live without pretending. The hope is that it shifts your priorities. I think a lot about Tim McGraw’s song “Live like you were dying”. Imagine if we were really able to understand the meaning of the song. What if we truly lived each day as if it were a precious gift and not simply as something to get through.
Honoring a loss is liberating because it releases the binding power of the diagnosis. It creates opportunities, and for some it creates community. Have you ever been to a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure? Thousands of women, men and children congregate to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer research and services.
The question becomes what will it take or how will you liberate yourself? What does liberation in the face of illness mean to you? What will you do with that liberation?
Over the past couple of days I’ve noticed that the patience seems to be the topic of the week. As we approach the midnight hour signaling the beginning of 2009 it’s not unusual for people to reflect on the past year and make their famous “resolutions”. I know many parents ask for patience with their children. Employees hope that their bosses will develop patience. How many people you know, who are diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, are asking for patience?
The idea of patience for those facing health challenges crossed my path as I began reading about the life of St. Teresa of Avila, translated by Mirabai Starr. Teresa of Avila (prior to sainthood) was a young nun at the monastery when she was helping care for a nun who had an abdominal obstruction. What she took away from the experience was the amazing patience the ailing nun had developed while coping with intense pain. Teresa of Avila shares that she asked, in prayer, for an illness that would help her attain that ultimate level of patience. Teresa of Avila did develop a terrible illness and fought valiantly to overcome her health issues.
I’m not saying that any of you would ever hope, wish or pray for an illness to learn patience. I’m torn between totally understanding it and thinking it’s the wildest and craziest thing I’ve ever heard. I guess the real question is that once the health challenge is present what will you walk away learning about yourself? What qualities will your develop and nurture that you didn’t realize were a part of your being and how will that reflect on your daily life and your relationships?
I’m focusing on patience here, but it could be any particular aspect of your character. You get to decide what is surfacing for you. What’s working you? What’s that thing that keeps popping up and trying to get your attention? What will it take for you to give “it” your attention? Why are you keeping “it” at arms length? The truth isn’t something to be afraid of, it’s a part of you and “it” wants you to experience the intimacy.
We all have lots of lessons to learn in life and the hope is that by increasing our wellness quotient, we’ll have plenty of time to make that happen.