Friday, January 10, 2014

Every illness is a crucible.



No one in his or her right mind likes being sick - why would we? There is no pleasure in it and it can be scary, depending on the severity of whatever we're grappling with. However, it is part of the experience of being human. It always has been, everywhere on earth.

In my society we've developed a ridiculous idea, that we should never get sick. Really? Says who? I understand the wish to never get sick, believe me. What I don't get is the expectation that if we do the right things - whatever they may be, somehow we will never fall prey to a virus or a bacterium. The expectation that we can control health, by any means we think is the right way, is yet another example of our tendency towards hubris. It's absurd.

I'm currently on the mend from a horrible case of H1N1, the notorious swine flu. I was really sick! As it turns out, the symptoms form a classic pattern in Chinese medicine, first written about during the Han Dynasty around 2,200 years ago. Humans have been struggling with the flu for ages!

I have received acupuncture and am drinking a medicinal tea that doesn't even taste that bad. In a few days I will be back to "normal" (whatever that means). One of the things I love about Chinese medicine is that there's always something that can be done to help. In modern medicine, you're supposed to get the flu shot which may or may not protect you. I have three clients who always get the flu jab but came down with H1N1 nevertheless. When they go see the doctor, they are told to stay in bed and drink lots of liquids. (I don't blame modern medicine for having no remedy, by the way.)

Immune response can be intense. The fever, chills, throwing up, coughing and congestion are not caused by the virus, but by our miracle bodies responding to the pathogen. Our symptoms create internal conditions in which the virus can not prevail. It's no wonder being sick is so uncomfortable.

Who knows what else - besides the H1N1 - was flushed out of my body during the nights of high fevers? Here's a link to a post I wrote about the benefits of fevers. Modern medicine is just now beginning to acknowledge what an important role fevers play in human health.

My immune system carries the antibodies now, and through the fight has become stronger and better organized, smarter. The foundation of good immunity I am devoted to cultivating is now more coherent. By fighting off this flu, I have become more adept. A part of the study of martial arts includes sparring. No great martial artist got that way by avoiding the fight. Yes? Good health, in my opinion, involves a good fight every now and then. In fact when I hear people say they never get sick, I always wonder what is festering inside them. It kind of creeps me out.

In addition to the physical benefits of having fought the battle head-on with H1N1, there are emotional and spiritual benefits. During the worst of the sickness I disengaged from what I think of as normal time/space, went to a liminal zone, a place from where many artists have created great works. I was taken out of my routine for awhile. This I see as a good thing.

The following is part of a review of the book The Alchemy of Illness, by Kat Duff, an incredible book.

Illness is a universal experience. There is no privilege that can make us immune to its touch. We are taught to assume health, illnesses being just temporary breakdowns in the well-oiled machinery of the body. But illness has its own geography, its own laws and commandments. Duff, a counselor in private practice in Taos, New Mexico, wrote this book out of her experience with chronic fatigue syndrome, but what she has to say is applicable to every illness and every one of us. For those who are sick, this book offers solace and recognition. For those who care for them either physically or emotionally, it offers inspiration and compassion. Finally, this fresh perspective on healing reveals how every illness is a crucible that tries our mettle, tests our limits, and provides us with an unparalleled opportunity to integrate its lessons into our lives.

In my practice I have seen miraculous changes in people as a result of illness. Illness softens and opens people, or at least, it can. I'm not saying it's great to get sick, not by any means, but there are benefits. Or - there can be benefits, there surely can.

The worst possible scenario is the person who tries to ignore the symptoms so as to carry on with the mundane routines of life. Is going to work every single day really that important? Those people seem to have no compassion whatsoever for the sweet animal of their bodies. It's just mean.

Another sad situation is the person who becomes angry about being sick. I don't understand that response, but I see it frequently. I also hear phrases like, "I don't have time to be sick." Do these people shout at their children that they don't have time to be ill or that they shouldn't be ill? They might. Most folks tuck their kids into bed when they're sick, read them stories, take good care of them. How I wish they would take care of themselves with the same level of kindness.

If you catch the flu this year, please be compassionate. Please take the most loving good care of yourself as you can. Bring everything down a few notches, eat simply, drink a lot of water. If you would like to get better with assistance, see an acupuncturist/herbalist.

Please be gentle with yourselves, ok? Your bodies are doing the best they can!

Shalom.

Before and after acupuncture yesterday. The difference is, as my sister said, like "dusk and dawn."


1 comment:

Linda Roberts said...

I am glad that you are feeling better! When people come to work ill it's maddening. A friend's mother, a biochemist, has the same advice as you.