Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

When It Rains It Pours…

There are times when you come across a song, a book, or a quote that is so inspiring and thought-provoking that you have to share it with the world.  I’m a big fan of Thomas Merton.  I got hooked after reading, “The Seven Storey Mountain”.  I found his life experience to be intriguing and his words not only wise, but insightful.  I’ve read other books by Merton and I get a weekly reflection from The Merton Institute, www.mertoninstitute.org.

I’m not the type who can usually sit and meditate.  I’m a fidgety person and my mind races.  I’m also not always the most patient person on the planet.  I’m better at a walking meditation or an art inspired meditation because if my hands or feet are busy with something repetitive it allows my mind to be at peace.  Then I got yesterday’s reflection and I have to share it with you….

“The rain I am in is not like the rain of cities.  It fills the woods with an immense and confused sound.  It covers the flat roof of the cabin and its porch with insistent rhythms.  And I listen, because it reminds me again and again that the whole world runs by rhythms I have not yet learned to recognize, rhythm that are not those of the engineer.”  (From Thomas Merton, Raids on Unspeakable, New York:New Directions, 1966, p. 9)

The reflection caught me off guard.  I was probably hurrying through the reflection (see I’m not the most patient) but it caught me and I had to slow down, read it again and again.  As I sat with it I thought about the rain and the rhythm.  For those of us facing a chronic or other life-altering illness we become very attune to rhythms.  If you sit quiet enough you can hear or feel the rhythms of the body such as your heartbeat or your pulse.  You can listen to the rhythm of your breath, that often makes me calmer.

The world for those with health challenges is full of rhythms.  Time can have a rhythm, routines are a rhythm, and your thoughts may be rhythmic.  You may notice the rhythms at the doctor’s office or the lab where you go for tests.  You may recognize the rhythm of an infusion machine or dialysis machine.  If you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or some forms of Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome the world is filled with rhythms both internally and externally.

I believe it may take the rain falling on the roof to remind of us the rhythms of life.  The rhythms of life become familiar and that makes the rhythm or the routine a bit easier to handle.  It’s familiar so it’s not necessarily working against us; but providing a stability in some cases and that can be helpful.  If you aren’t tuned into the rhythms of your world; the next time it rains just sit in a chair and experience the rhythm of the rain.  See how the rhythms of the rain falling make you feel, what memories they bring up, or the comfort it may bring.

I’d love to hear about the rhythms in your life, after all when we put all our rhythms together we make a beautiful symphony!

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Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

True or False Self?

We all have many roles that we take on in our daily lives.  Each role taps into a specific part of our being and requires us to present to the world in specific ways, the ways people expect us to act.  The problem is that when you get into putting on a persona for the world how authentic are you?  Is it a chore to take on the role and play it to the hilt?  What would it mean to let everything go and just be you?

I know that following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness the world only gives you two choices of patient roles.  You either are expected to a be a total invalid, helpless and dependent or you’re expected to show a stiff upper life and be the stoic individual who is unphased by anything that is happening to you.  Is the world of health challenges really black and white? 

Thomas Merton, one of the great spiritual minds of the twentieth century talked about the “false self” and the “true self”.  The ” false self” is who we present to the world based on everyone’s expectations.  It’s the self that we think we be liked by others and appeals to the masses.  The “true self” is the person you are before God.  Bill Hybels, a noted author, wrote a book called, Who You Are When No One’s Looking.  We all have those moments where the only relationship is between you and a supreme being (however you define that for yourself).  Those are the moments of the greatest truth, the least pretense, and the most connected to self and others.

Ask yourself what you need to do to present your “true self” to the world.  What would happen to your relationships if others saw the “true self”.  Then ask yourself, “Why are we so afraid to allow others to see us in our most vulnerable and most honest state…the state that God hopes we hold on to tightly.

It’s your choice how you walk in the world, but the “false self” can be exhausting and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather conserve my energy for health and healing.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Thomas Merton and Suffering

When I stumbled upon the works of Thomas Merton I was amazed at how prolific he was as well as the impact he could have with such a short life.  His is one of the best auto-biographies because it doesn’t follow the time line you would assume from a man considered to be one of the world’s greatest theologians and mystics.

I’m particularly interested in different religions views on suffering because it seems to be part of the process for those facing a health challenge.  The suffering isn’t necessarily physical, although it often is, but emotional and spiritual suffering have to be taken into account when discussing the role suffering plays in our lives.

Merton said, “Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you tryo to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt.”  That’s a powerful quote and one that seems counter-intuitive to logic.

How could suffering increase the more you try to avoid it?  I’ve been sitting with this for a while and then I just felt this deep sense of sadness.  Suffering increases as you try to avoid it because the avoidance is and of itself suffering.  There is a struggle that gets put into play the moment you try and keep what you think is suffering at arms length.  I know the idea of embracing struggle seems absurd, but by bring it in close you take the wind out of its sails making the situation more manageable.

No one wants to suffer, especially when facing a health challenge.  We each suffer in our own way and that journey of embracing suffering is highly personal.  How will you decrease your level of suffering?  What if you simply redefined what it means to suffer?  How would you face your health challenge differently if the focus were on wellness and healing instead of what you perceive to be the obstacles to wellness.

Bringing your suffering in close allows you to acknowledge how heroic you are on your journey to wellness.  Give yourself every advantage and leave the suffering to the martyrs who believe that suffering pays a dividend…we know better!

Posted in art and healing, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, creativity and health, living with chronic illness

The Mind Connecting with the Body

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?