When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.
Pema Chodron “When Things Fall Apart”
“Life” seems to be putting itself back together again very quickly at the moment. After the strangeness of summer, the strangeness of “normality”. But in this “normal living” the enormity of the changes this summer has wrought in me is becoming ever more apparent.
A mantra ran through my head in those days – be patient, let yourself heal. I wondered at the time if the shock of what happened was what allowed me to reclaim that essential idea – be patient, let yourself heal. It felt really familiar. Yet when I think of the time before the summer I was very far removed from that idea. I did not accept I was ill. The concept of patience had little place in my “busy” life. I was running so fast away from my problems and challenges that I had lost sight of them. My distress, my suffering, it seemed to me then, was just part of my failure to “cope”.
Living with something like MS does bring one very close to the abyss more regularly than might otherwise have been the case. But the human mind is very good at not seeing what it does not wish to see. I had been very good at averting my eyes on the numerous occasions the abyss loomed these last 20 some years of living with MS. This summer however I tumbled over the edge of my abyss. This summer there was no averting the eyes possible, as I plummeted down that black hole. I had to look at the things I was most afraid of, the things that haunted me, the things I was sure I could not deal with. And in that moment, I knew I could. Coping might mean choosing the manner and moment of my death, or allowing the universe to do that for me, or living through (not in spite of) pain, suffering, things falling apart. But coping was possible. This didn’t happen in some easy way, or as a blinding moment of revelation. It did not feel special even, this realisation. It just felt, as Pema Chodron puts it, like a turning and touching something vulnerable.
There is something raw in me now that was not there before, something exposed and vulnerable, like a pulsating living heart exposed on an operating table. Yet it is not uncomfortable, but rather oddly calming and reassuring, this rawness. I’ve been wondering about it especially these last few days as life resumed its fairly hectic pace once again. For what I have realised is that it’s what is keeping me focussed on my mantra “Be patient – let yourself heal”. At all sorts of odd and not so odd moments I feel that rawness sweep over me as I suddenly remember the summer, and feel the ghosts of my fears and distress. I find myself “back there” but back there in a different way. I am no longer afraid to be afraid. I am happy to be raw, to be vulnerable. It reminds me of my strength. It reminds me to care for myself. It reminds me of the inevitability of pain and suffering and the possibility of facing that with calmness. I allow myself to feel vulnerable, to feel scared, but I am no longer swept away by that. I am no longer so distressed that I shut it down.
Inside every one of us, from the moment we are born, is that rawness, like some vulnerable creature. But as we grow up too often we are taught not to see the vulnerable creature inside. To be grown up means not to be vulnerable. To be grown up means to “cope”. So much effort goes into hiding from the vulnerable creature, because it reminds us of the abyss and all the scary things in there we do not want to see.
The rawness I feel now is simply the recognition of my vulnerable creature. She’s not a stranger, she’s always been there, patiently waiting for me to acknowledge her so that together we might begin to heal. Heal not in some simple sense of “make it all better”, rather heal in one of its other definitions – to make whole again. She reminds me gently but firmly “Be patient – let yourself heal”.
Normal life is resuming – by which I principally mean there is more to do each day than there is day to do it in. But my vulnerable creature reminds me to be ok with that, to be gentle on myself for not being superhuman, and to care for myself in a crazy world that would otherwise happily watch me fall apart rather than try to heal itself. I can’t heal the world, but I can heal me. Patiently.