only this breath

This is an oxalis, a plant I bought for my father when he returned home from the hospital after his first round with cancer.  Mum planted it in the pot which she placed in the garden.  It flourished under her care and when we had to move her things out of the house, I took it home.  Here, it disappeared into the earth despite all my ministrations.  Once in a while it would send out a leaf or two.  Sometimes even a flower would bloom tentatively.  Then, as if the environment was too strange or too demanding, it would go to earth like a wounded animal.  I tried everything: water, no water; inside, outside; fertilizer, no fertilizer.  Finally I gave up and, unable to toss the earth from my parent’s home, simply left it alone in the pot.  Sometimes, it sends out a leaf and there is no rationale to explain its cycles.

I learned quickly that living well with Fibromyalgia meant living with a deep not knowing.  There were days when my body functioned well and days when it didn’t.  At first, I tried to find the transitions and derive the Theory of Getting Better from it.  I was convinced that there had to be a cipher which would unlock the secret to the random patterns of disease and recovery.  But like the oxalis, nothing seemed to fall into a recognizable pattern.  Except one.

Each time I felt well (relative as that was), I did more.  The piles of laundry, cleaning, reports got attacked.  The hours not spent at the gym got logged in.  And the next day I collapsed for longer than I had been diseased before the wellness struck.  Now, I pride myself on not being a Bear of Too Little Brain but it seems I might be at least a Bear of Some Lacking Brain.  It took me some time to figure out that my acquisitive approach to recovery was causing the crashes.  In parallel to this roller coaster of disease and recovery, I was becoming more attuned to the real lessons of meditation practice.  As I sat with each moment, I noticed that when I stopped struggling with the Grand Question of Why Did “This” Happen, I was able to feel the drivenness in my gut.  Breath after breath, it surfaced in my awareness that I was creating the conditions of an unpredictable, unreliable life.

In and of itself, the capacity to push past and through things is not necessarily bad or wrong.  It’s what gets us from point A to B, from cave to city, from microbe to medical miracles.  This drivenness, however, was a skill gone wild in my life.  Like an attribute cancer, it was creating more dis-ease than ease.  Conceptually, I was cultivating a sense of entitlement to things, activities and ways of being in my life.  That entitlement fueled the greed for something other than what I had and sustained my craving for I used to have.  Believing it was my right to feel better than I did, I pushed constantly and hard every chance I got.  On the functional days, two things happened: I took it as a sign that I was on the mend and wanted the next day and every day thereafter to be, not the same, but a steady climb to full recovery.  Or, it became a promissory note that I could buy back what I used to own.  What was really happening was different.  In my drivenness, I was moving so fast to some fantasy endpoint that I was blasting past the moments of wellness that visited me.

Greed to re-acquire what I thought was lost and to have more of what I tasted too occasionally played a powerful role in sustaining my dis-ease and what I had to learn was that it had no impact on my disease.  In other words, whatever lifestyle I managed to acquire – rich, poor, illustrious, ignoble – I would still contain the misfiring neurons, the wonky pain receptors, the uncertainty from moment to moment, breath to breath.  This was the life I now owned.  This was the life I embodied in the very truest sense of the word.  I was up to me to decide how to meet it on its own terms.

Tomorrow: Living the wellness ethic

9 thoughts on “only this breath

  1. Yes, this is a beautiful and deeply touching post for me too. Find myself reaching for the tissue… I resonate so much… And for me it has also been about “hiding” this “mysterious” illness from my family of origin, pretending to be strong, not wanting to be vulnerable, not wanting them to know my ups and downs,(because I don’t want my mother calling daily to see if I’m better!), not wanting to let them in, because they don’t understand why I don’t “get better” because I seem to be okay for long periods of time(months)and then wham I’m non-functioning for long periods as well. It even fools me into thinking “recovery” is possible…

    Thank you for sharing your experience. It is very helpful to hear your wonderful insights from a “spiritual” perspective. Deep Heart Bows! C

  2. I also know the mind that seizes on “better” and tries to take advantage of it – which I now experience as a kind of distortion of experience.

    It’s not that “better” isn’t real and that it shouldn’t be used in some way – it’s just that I quickly engage in the clinging behavior that just as quickly smothers better. Thus, the distortion.

    There’s an interesting article on pain and how we transform it into suffering – and how not to do that – in the current Buddhadharma magazine, unfortunately not (yet) available online.

  3. Thank you, nice series this week. My wife has had juvenile RA for 45 years and I have had a chance to see that pattern at work, thank god for meditation.
    I was also struck by how this process has a counterpart in how we can get caught up in our “spiritual” practice, and its specialness, and our deep desire to get better spiritually, especially now that we have found “it”. Much of your insight pertains to our wanting and insisting on progress along the Way.
    Best wishes to you.

  4. you know, I am just thinking that you seem like a Bear of Ordinary Brain to me – and that, if anything, you have more insight than most!

    I like your blog, thankyou for sharing!!

  5. I had chronic fatigue many years ago when people were first realizing what it was. I so get this “using up of life force” on the days when some energy mysteriously returns. It is a kind of attachment to life as it was, life as we imagine it should be and it is so hard to let go of. I know of the greed to get better, the sadness when recovery in the time frame I want does not materialize.

    And I watched my body force me to slow down, to appreciate small things. It is a real spiritual experience that’s for sure! And one laced with a portion of suffering in my case. It takes a long time to learn some things! Thanks for this lovely, honest post.

  6. I hope you’re feeing better these days. I had something like cronic fatigue for years, and couldn’t imagine how I would make it to 60. It only started to improve after I found a good practitioner of traditional Korean medicine. (A really huge thing for me was cutting out dairy and low-quality oils and processed foods. Those were really screwing up my system.)

    The plant in the picture is called “Love grass” in Korean! Try a pot where the edge is about even with the soil. They do really well in windows with some sun, and then just ignore it until the soil’s dry.

  7. Hello All! Sorry for the delay in responding. Had to deliver a late night talk and got caught in my delusions about it!

    Christine, that secrecy gets us every time! It such a powerful disregard of our True Nature – which is sometimes the Nature of Pain.

    Barry,Yes! That distortion about “more ‘good’ is better” is the velcro mind. We keep working on ‘good enough’ and hopefully one day it will manifest!

    Hi Helmut! Good to read you again. Spiritual greed is powerful. I was just finishing Hakuin’s autobiography and his descriptions about post-satori experiences. I resonated with his comments about the arrogance and grasping (not that I’ve had a satori experience to be a post-satori fool).

    BookBird! How goes it DownUnder? Thank you for your support. I’m actually more an Eeyore type than a W-t-P and that might make for a great series of posts.

    ZDS, wow! CF can be a powerful teacher. Did you find your creativity helped you out of it?

    Sunim, I transplanted the Korean Love Grass this morning! Thanks for tip and I’m so glad you got better. Enjoy Seattle!

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