Recently my 90 year old Mother broke her hip and is spending some weeks in a rehab hospital. My Dad, a juvenile diabetic since the age of 7, takes insulin 4 times/day but is blind and has early Alzheimers. During Mom’s recovery, I had the privilege of looking after him for 10 days.
Over the past years, my Dad has gone from being a vital, athletic, intellectual, independent adult to having quite a small window of self-determination – and yet his attitude continues to be positive and accepting. A voracious reader and avid historian, he can no longer even see to dial a phone but despite such limitations, he is ever cheerful. Well-known and loved within their retirement community, people continually came up to say hello and privately tell me how much he inspires them. Stripped away of so much that he once held dear, he nevertheless continues to live his life as fully as he is able, without complaint.
Life brings us a mixed plate. Sometimes sickness is healed, limitations reversed (as in my miraculous new hips) or a lover comes back. But there will be times we have no choice, something will never “get better,” someone we needed will never return. To move forward ourselves, we must eventually lay down our grief, anger or resentment and look for a way to integrate a perceived loss. When there will be no storybook ending, negotiating that journey becomes the truer line between “dis-ease” and “health.”
Early in my homeopathy training, our wonderful teacher, Murray Feldman, shared a story from his practice. A woman came to him in an advanced stage of cancer, wondering if homeopathy could help. Murray frankly told her he doubted a cure would be possible, but homeopathic treatment could hopefully keep her more comfortable and present through the rest of her time and so they worked together as she moved towards her transition. Shortly before she died, she wrote Murray a note thanking him for his help, that through this time she had connected with all those she cared about. As she approached the end of her life, all she felt was love.
A deep cure is not necessarily of the physical.
A verse in the Tao te Ching says:
What is a good man, but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man, but a good man’s job?
Our circumstances may be judged outwardly as “bad” or “good” but how we walk the journey is more the point. How we find a way to integrate our losses so that their tender place within becomes the avenue to greater freedom. And how we don’t cling to the moments of our “good fortune” but simply appreciate with whole heart.
Good things surely feel good but life will strip us down, “bad stuff” will happen. Our immediate response (grief, anger, despair) momentarily helps us cope but eventually outlives its usefulness. Staying stuck in one response compounds the loss as it eventually colors the lens through which we experience all of life. Only when we can integrate our losses through their pain can we eventually move beyond the limitations of fear, resentment and anger into the fuller expression of the joy and love underlying us all.
As long as we are ruled by the losses – or even ruled by the fears of such perceived losses – our world is limited. Finding our way to freedom despite and even through the realities of our physical world is the underlying journey of life.
She who is centered in the Tao
Can go where she pleases without danger.
She perceives the universal harmony,
Even amidst great pain
Because she has found peace in her heart.
(Tao te Ching, Stephen Mitchell translation, Chapter 35)
We can all use some assistance in our journeys from time to time. If finding peace isn’t coming easily, reach for support.