I have had to slow down recently for health reasons. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Everything and everyone around me still whirls at a 21st century tempo and my body heals at a 16th century pace. Slowly. Step by step. Day by day.
I am having a timeout, initiated by my body. Just as we give children a timeout to let them self-calm and reflect on their behavior, so the universe is doing for me. Sometimes these timeouts are welcome, other times not so much.
This period to recover feels more like a time to uncover. I uncover my impatience, my difficulty in accepting help, my resistance to asking for assistance, my fear of facing my own mortality. My inner 2-year-old is stamping her feet and saying “no, No, NO!” My inner adult sits her down to remind her how lucky she is that she is mending so well. Here I am, vacillating between gratitude and attitude!
I also notice my old co-dependent coping skills coming back for a family reunion. If I have no wants, surely you will take care of me. If I just focus on you, I won’t have to share with you what it is I want. I remember my early days in Al-Anon. If I can solve your problems, I won’t have to be aware of my own. Or I won’t have to solve my own. Or surely you will never leave me, will you?
I go to my wisdom people for insight.
Brené Brown is a great resource when I fight vulnerability. Vulnerability is not weakness. I feel vulnerable because I am. My body is compromised. I am regaining strength, but my wound is tender. It hurts when touched. It needs to be protected. How much do I share with others how I feel going through this experience? I feel scared. I feel alone. I feel restless, anxious, insecure. I feel vulnerable.
Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. I am uncertain about what my physical recovery will look like. I am uncertain about how the presenting problem might recur. I am uncertain about how life will look, feel, be, knowing what I know now. It is like having confidence in your home until torrential rains flood it. My certitude that my house is on high enough ground is washed away. Even after I add drainage, patch cracks, redo the gutters, I know that it could happen again. I know my body’s weakness in a new way. I see risks I was blind to before. In letting others into the state of my health, I expose my emotions. When people ask, How are you? I am much more apt to tell the truth. Scared, sad, but also alive in a new way.
Another wisdom source is poetry. I am particularly drawn to a lovely poem by Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet, entitled The Guest House. It so fits how I feel in this in-between place.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house,
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
For some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes,
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
I am my own guest house. Every morning I do have a new arrival, some new awareness that opens me. Viewing a beautiful sunrise exposes how fleeting life is. Seeing my child hurting reminds me how deeply I love. Hearing fear in a dear friend’s voice rouses how afraid I am. Accepting help, gifts of food, and encouragement from friends prompts a humble sense of interdependence. Remembering my carelessness with others’ vulnerabilities stirs my guilt and grief. Without my usual busy distractions, I sit with these messy feelings. I reluctantly welcome them as I interrogate each for what it comes to teach.
My third wisdom source is Franciscan priest Richard Rohr, who describes our sacred wounds. We are all wounded. My most recent wound is visible, but we each carry wounds not so readily apparent. The challenge is to move into and through the wound when the temptation is to distance, avoid and deny. Rohr says, “If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become cynical, negative, or bitter.” Don’t we all know people like that? Sometimes it’s me.
My wounds don’t disappear because I pretend they aren’t there. Recognizing my pain, my vulnerability, my hurt, I give it room to heal. I don’t let people carelessly bump it. I keep it safe and protected until I know it is ready for daylight. I see in its sacredness the lesson it has to teach me.
If I ignore my wound, it might scab over but it will not heal. When I protect it without an honest assessment, it is like covering a deep cut to avoid seeing it until it eventually festers. Now I need to lance it, examine it and excavate the rot. Only then can true healing begin.
Again from Richard Rohr, “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it — usually to those closest to us: our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and, invariably, the most vulnerable, our children.” Caring for our wounds, recognizing our vulnerabilities, honoring the healing process is a spiritual journey. A journey that leads to a much freer future.
My recovery is like a giant PAUSE button. Pause to slow down. Pause to pay attention. Pause to consider how I am going to do this given my physical body’s limitations. Pause to be grateful. Pause to think this through again. When I don’t pause I move right into old ways of doing things. This sacred wound’s blessing is an opportunity to do things differently, intentionally – step by step, day by day.
Mary Lou Logsdon, leads retreats and provides spiritual companioning in the Twin Cities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.