After illness seizes us, health can fade into the recesses of the mind like a distant memory. Luckily, that is not the end of the story. Although it may be hiding in a corner like a frightened child, but if we look, healing is there. The journey is to find healing, coax her out of hiding, and create a space for her to grow and thrive.
In our culture, we are trained to take the easy way out. Give us a pill, a shot, or a surgery – something to fix illness so that we can carry on with the status quo. We aren’t interested in a journey of healing. We are busy. Things were just fine before illness, thank you very much. We are not taught how to open ourselves up to what illness can teach us.
Admittedly, we did not ask for this journey. But, like it or not, illness is what many of us face. We can choose to engage in the healing process and take responsibility for our wellness, or we can submit to illness. There need not be judgment, for neither path is “right.” There is, however, a choice. Owning the healing journey shifts us out of the mindset of victimhood. Yes, awful things happen to good people. True, illness isn’t “fair.” Of course, we do not deserve to have an illness. All this is true, but it is irrelevant. Seeking blame and focusing on unfairness can obstruct the momentum we need to carry us forward on the journey. When we choose to embark on a healing journey, we become empowered and invite the possibility of healing.
Once we are willing to engage in the healing process, there is a powerful question we must ask ourselves: what can be learned from our illness?
Through illness, I have learned more than I could have ever imagined possible when my health was intact. Lesson number one was to release my need to control. Prior to illness, I lived with the illusion that I could control the world around me. I was used to getting what I wanted in life through hard work and sheer willpower. Then illness struck and I could not control what was happening to my body. A short time after I developed autoimmune disease, my then four-year-old son lost his hearing. All my efforts to stop his hearing loss were like grasping into thin air. I took him to medical experts; he had all the right tests; I did everything I knew how to do and more. Despite this, I could not control what was happening to him.
Trying to control what was happening, to both my son and myself, was like trying to swim upstream in a rapidly moving river. Finally, exhausted and overrun, I realized that fighting was not getting me anywhere. I had to let the river take me where I needed to go. I needed to stop wasting all of my energy fighting the current. It was not about giving-up. Rather, it was about shifting my way of being away from the space of trying to control, and enter a new space. I made a decision. If I could not control, I would learn to create instead.
Creating healing is an active and incredibly dynamic process. Similar to the way an artist creates a work of art, we must learn to create a space of healing. A painter who wants to create a painting needs certain tools, things like: a canvas, a palate, paints, and a brush. Similarly, there are tools we can use to facilitate healing.
Here are some of my favorite tools of healing:
- Physical support – When creating health, we need to support ourselves at the physical level. Natural healthy foods, clean water, a non-toxic environment, movement of our bodies in the form of some type of exercise, and a connection to the natural world are all foundations of health. These things are the soil from which healing can grow.
- Openness – Already knowing everything prevents us from discovering all there is still to learn. We must challenge ourselves to be open to possibility.
- Mindfulness – The potential for healing is in every moment of every day. Taking the time to be mindful of the thoughts we are thinking, and the emotions we are feeling, will support the evolving healing process. This may mean becoming aware of, and undoing, chronic patterns of thought that are inhibiting our ability to heal.
- Patience – Just as an acorn doesn’t instantly become an oak tree, healing too has a gestation period. Trust that it is a continually unfolding process.
- Acceptance – We must find a way to actively engage in the healing process while remaining unattached to a particular health outcome. This may include acceptance of our present conditions, letting go of worry about the future, and forgiveness of pains from the past. When we fight what is, the body activates the stress, fight-or-flight, response. This is a physiologic process that shifts the biochemistry in the body away from healing by releasing stress hormones and causing inflammation. By learning acceptance, we release resistance, and the biochemistry that goes along with it. Without resistance, the body can enter into a more restful, healing state.
- Joy – This can come in innumerable forms: laughter, peace, kindness, gratitude, serenity, love, awe, a feeling of abundance, fun, excitement, enthusiasm. Joy connects us to our sense of aliveness. Find joy, be with it, learn to create it, and stretch it out into the moments that make up the day.
- Meditation – The practice of meditation clears the mind of distracting chatter and helps to ground you smack dab in your center.
Each of these tools, and more, can be used on a healing journey. We must put them in action and let them flow into our lives. Just like the artist must pick up a brush, dip it in paint, and put the brush to canvas in order to create a work of art, we too must we willing to create healing. It does not matter if the first brush strokes are unsteady. It does not matter if paint drips all over the floor. It does not matter if the art we make becomes a “masterpiece.” It does not even matter if we decide to throw the brush out the window and use our fingers. We can let go of the details and the need to control, and instead step into the creative process itself.
When we are willing to step into that space of creativity, what we find is that we are, in fact, the artists creating our lives. And though we cannot control life, we can rejoice in a feeling of aliveness. And we can create a state of being that is conducive for greater wellness to flourish.