October 14, 2018
Spine surgery two weeks ago has redirected most of my energy toward recovery, leaving me with just enough brain power to pen a few thoughts.
Recovery is defined as return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength. I’ve been having a hard time imagining ‘normal’. Instead of forcing something I can’t quite envision, I’ve been working on putting my attention on things happening outside of what feels like the physical suffering part of recovery.
In my last Seedlings I talked about feeling humbled by all that I receive, with no expectation of a return on investment. Air, water, food, and shelter. Today I can add an abundance of loving attention and tender care from friends and family. I remain grateful and aware of an odd feeling of surprised delight that kindness is all around me, even when I can’t quite feel it. I know it’s there.
One morning earlier this week I woke up feeling a deep, deep sadness. Not sure what triggered it on that particular morning.
Certainly the pain had been worse a few days before. I had been less mobile. That day I could stand on my own with a walker, and could be left alone for hours at a time. Those alone times had given me the opportunity to deeply appreciate the tender care I am receiving. At the same time, they allowed some uncomfortable feelings to surface.
I asked myself what I was feeling, what was this heaviness separate from the physical pain?
In spite of feeling enormous gratitude, it was time to also face the dark side of this physical experience I didn’t really ask for, and don’t currently appreciate as the learning experience it will be. Just like the paradox that our greatest strengths seem to also reflect our greatest weaknesses, so too must darkness walk hand in hand with light.
Literally immediately after I had the thought that I was probably mildly depressed, I received an email from a dear friend. It was a poem that mirrored the feelings I couldn’t quite put into words. Life surprises me with how supportive it is when I’m open to it.
I offer the poem to you in hopes of normalizing the reality of any pain you’re experiencing, and to remind you that there is no light without the dark. And they both need their space.
A Blessing for a Friend on the Arrival of Illness
by John O’Donohue
Now is the time of dark invitation
beyond a frontier that you did not expect.
Abruptly your old life seems distant.
You barely noticed how each day opened
a path through fields never questioned
yet expected deep down to hold treasure.
Now your time on earth becomes full of threat.
Before your eyes your future shrinks.
You lived absorbed in the day to day so continuous
with everything around you that you could forget
you were separate.
Now this dark companion has come between you.
Distances have opened in your eyes.
You feel that against your will
A stranger has married your heart.
Nothing before has made you feel so isolated
When the reverberations of shock subside in you,
may grace come to restore you to balance.
May it shape a new space in your heart
to embrace this illness as a teacher
who has come to open your life to new worlds.
May you find in yourself a courageous hospitality
towards what is difficult, painful and unknown.
May you use this illness as a lantern
to illuminate the new qualities that will emerge in you.
May your fragile harvesting of this slow light help you
release whatever has become false in you.
May you trust this light to clear a path
through all the fog of old unease and anxiety
until you feel a rising within you,
a tranquility profound enough to call the storm to stillness.
May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness,
ask it why it came,
why it chose your friendship,
where it wants to take you,
what it wants you to know,
what quality of space it wants to create in you,
what you need to learn to become more fully yourself,
that your presence may shine in the world.
May you keep faith with your body,
learning to see it as a holy sanctuary
which can bring this night wound
gradually towards the healing and freedom of dawn.
If you’d like to hear John O’Donahue’s oral narration, here it is:
By the way, I’m now walking without the walker!