To all my fellow health warriors out there: What we can learn from acceptance?
I wrote myself a letter that started with three simple words… I am sick.
And rather than tremble in fear or burst into tears, for the first time in a long time, I felt relief.
I desperately wanted to resist this fact. To ignore that my body has been crying for deep healing for years. I am a maverick of health and wellness, surely there is something in my toolbox that will make this all go away and make it go away fast. But atlas, that has not happened.
I have resisted what is happening all to the detriment of my body. Downplaying the symptoms with endless positivity so not to burden those around me with what I am really going through. Not asking for the help I need because that somehow makes me a victim to my illness. And when the going got tough and when I felt utterly overwhelmed by my illness, rather than compassionately care for myself, I’ve instead shamed myself for not being able to “stay positive” and “be strong.”
I’ll let you into a common thread in my head: “How can you possibly be upset when there are millions of other people suffering with seemingly more horrendous conditions than yours? You should be grateful.” Harsh.
When did the practice of gratitude turn into a weapon? When did I start discounting my own experience because worse experiences exist? Don’t get me wrong, there is a balance here. Contrast is an essential component to perspective, allowing us to view our experience with clarity. And gratitude is helpful to gain perspective and perhaps an essential component to healing many of our deepest wounds. But gratitude for our experience and compassion for our experience are not mutually exclusive.
So here is my proclamation… I am sick.
But I didn’t share these three words to tell you a fact. What I really want to share is what accepting these three words has opened up for me.
1. The freedom to feel
Finally acknowledging that I am sick has been liberating in many ways. It’s allowed me to accept my experience as it is. To look at it through the lens of curiosity. Sickness is just another temporary state. One that we can approach with mindfulness to investigate. Being sick does not preclude me from also being at peace, wildly happy, in love, and filled with gratitude. I am not bound by the trappings of what we usually associate sickness to be. I am still human and get to experience the full spectrum, and sickness is just one ray on my very colorful prism.
2. The ability to put myself first
Accepting my sickness has empowered me to set boundaries on my energy. Essentially, putting my mask on first and taking the pressure off to continue to show up to the demands of my life with the physical vigor and mental vitality of my old self. In the weeks I’ve committed to deep healing, I’ve said no to social gatherings, new reiki clients, sexy sounding opportunity to be featured in an online magazine, volunteer commitments, and the like. At first, I wanted to mourn my losses, but rather I reveled in the power I felt showing up for myself.
Acknowledging that I am sick and setting boundaries on my energy output has created space in my life. I am slowly filling this space with more journaling, writing, reading, and long walks where I actually stop to smell the flowers. I am meditating daily. I stand at the edge of the ocean often. I am deepening my studies of mindfulness, of yogic philosophy, and of energy healing. Sickness does not have to mean stagnancy.
4. A happy inner world
I’ve learned that my energy is better spent directed inwards. I don’t believe we are ever just healing the physical body. When we are doing healing of any sort, we are healing holistically, which includes the mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies as well. In energy practices, it is thought that physical disease is first manifested in the energetic body. An inward focus has been instrumental to managing the distress my physical illness has put on me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I am happy to report that this distress is also a temporary ray of the spectrum. This inward focus has added meaning and a newfound sense of connection to a journey that can oftentimes feel confusing and lonely.
5. A lesson in surrender
Accepting my “new normal” that comes along with being sick has only deepened my practice of letting go and surrender. In the same moment I accepted I was sick, I had to let go. Not knowing when I will be better has been an ultimate surrender. But our most challenging experiences are often our most rewarding. I see the fruits of letting go and surrendering all the time. The inevitable heartaches of life that would once leave me ruminating for days are now moments I glide through with grace.
6. A new depth to my own heart
And finally, accepting my experience has put me in touch with bodhichitta, which is known as “Awakened Heart” in Buddhism. Bodhichitta can be compared to the rawness of a broken heart. It is the tenderness and vulnerability that exists in us all. One way to experience bodhicitta is through kinship with the suffering of others or feeling their pain as your own — what we may also call compassion. This inability to continue to regard the pain of others from a distance is the discovery of our own softness, the discovery of bodhichitta. Acceptance of my own pain has opened me to the pain of others. It has made me a better partner. It has made me a better friend. It has made me a better healer. We think that protecting ourselves from suffering (our own or others) is being kind to ourselves. In truth, the shield we amass only makes us more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated. And thus, we experience ourselves as separate from the whole. According to a quote from the sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, “You take it all in. You let the pain of the world touch your heart and you turn it into compassion.”
My sickness — which can often feel isolating — has more meaning than meets the eye. It is a journey of deep healing for the whole.
7. I can see clearly now
Accepting our experience as it is cultivates clarity. In turn, this clarity provides a new lens with which to approach our experience. I don’t have to identify with being sick or let my sickness define me. But I don’t need to resist it either. Perhaps it’s best to look at it with equanimity. Being sick, just like every other state, is neither good nor bad. I realize this is not easy to accept, as there are so many suffering. But why make a friend or enemy of what is already happening?
I am sick. This is radical acceptance of my experience and endless compassion as I experience it.