“You must have chaos in you to give birth to a dancing star.” –Frederick Wilhelm Nietzsche

I find it interesting that when I am feeling much confusion and despair, I tend to imagine that running to the medical establishment would provide the certainty that I am yearning for. Having had ambiguous symptoms and a virtually untreatable illness, this behavior has never been fruitful. There seems to be an almost unbearable crescendo of panic that builds during such times of uncertainty. When I developed the courage to face the chaos head on and allow myself to feel the futility of the present circumstances, whatever they might be at the time, I could finally drop into a state of deep listening. There is a certain peace that comes from turning toward the conflict, which reassures me that I am on the right track.

It can be very limiting to view the body as an isolated entity. Much can be learned from observing somatic processes with empathy and curiosity. One of my caregivers described an interesting practice her father initiated within her family of origin when one of the children in her family became ill. The family member demonstrating symptoms was placed in the center of a circle and urged to discern and describe why they were ill. It was unacceptable for the individual to minimize the explanation; that they came in contact with bacteria or a virus did go deeply enough since we are always surrounded by bacteria. The family member was required to describe a scenario that led to the breakdown of the body, which often involved eating too much sugar, telling a lie or having a fight with a sibling. This practice taught the children about having integrity for one’s actions and the power of the body-mind connection.

What an education this form of inquiry could provide. To understand that illnesses don’t just happen to  the body in isolation, but that certain circumstances must be in place for illness to happen. It is important to realize that often the illness is a process that brings the body into balance. It is not the enemy where war needs to be waged. It is also important to know that whatever one’s physical state, the body is desperately trying to heal itself, or to come into balance. Often the body is misunderstood and it is perceived to be betraying oneself. Empathy is the most significant ingredient for healing to occur.

That being said, the last few months have provided much turmoil culminating in my 60th birthday celebration. There was facing the ever accelerating conflict with my primary caregiver and ultimate parting of our ways, there was the succession of visitors during the summer, the hiring and training of new caregivers, and feelings invoked by reaching a milestone of a birthday for which I thought I might never reach. All of these circumstances could engender much joy as well, but my seeming inability to listen to my deeper internal feelings contributed to an apparent emotional overload.

Perhaps all of this activity set the scene for pneumonia to occur in August, after my immune system became compromised by the cumulative level of stress. With the added involvement of my lungs, I would tend to explore whether grief was triggered, since in Chinese medicine the lungs represent areas where grief can collect. Just prior to contact with the bacteria, I had an interaction with my former husband that was greatly disappointing. (A fight with a sibling?) I could say that grief was elicited by the interaction, both in the form of disappointment from the outcome as well as triggering mourning of my former life on the horse farm. Since I did not actively grieve in the moment, I needed to listen deeply for the feelings that I had buried and not released.

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If we practice listening deeply to the subtleties in our bodies, we can become astute students. If we miss the subtle innuendos, they will likely morph into symptoms to get our attention. I have often acknowledged with some regret that I have needed “the sledgehammer approach.” Realizing this, I have made it my Sacred practice to become more sensitive. We can learn to listen deeply and perhaps with Grace we can begin to attend to “the feather approach.”

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