Oh no! You feel a tickle at the back of your throat and your nose is starting to feel stuffy. You know what this means.
There’s no room in your life for a cold or flu. It’s not in your plan for the month. Even so, you are forced to take to bed.
The placard bearers
Then the ‘If Only’ Brigade comes marching into your room, each bearing a placard:
If only you hadn’t done xyz . . .
If only you were more resilient, like so and so . . .
If only you hadn’t pushed yourself so hard . . .
If only you were more enlightened . . .
then you wouldn’t have got sick.
The Worry Brigade might jump in as well, with:
How will you manage xyz. . .?
What about that appointment, the lunch date, the job that must be done . . . ?
How will you take care of yourself, you’ve got no-one to help . . . ?
What about the loss of income . . . ?
This is a catastrophe!
And how about the ‘Poor Me’ Brigade, with:
It always happens to you . . .
You’re the only one who . . .
This is misery!
Relax. You’ve done nothing wrong.
Getting sick is part of life.
Being vulnerable is part of life.
The cold or flu could be your body’s way of taking a rest. In winter, bats, bumblebees, bears and hedgehogs hibernate until conditions are more favourable. Snails do a temporary shut-up-shop by aestivating: climbing to a high place and sealing the wall of their shell with mucus. Humans get the flu.
Sickness removes you from the activity of your life and asks something new of you. It takes you by the scruff of the neck, shakes you out of Doing and drops you into Being.
A snail tale
You may have heard the story of American woman Elisabeth Tova Bailey. Elisabeth was a fit, active 34 year old, enjoying a holiday in Europe, when she contracted a rare and virulent virus that attacked her nervous system. The virus left her incapacitated and bed–ridden, unable even to sit up. After months in and out of hospital she was moved to a white-walled apartment, where the windows were too far away for her to see the outside world. Life felt so bleak it was hardly worth living.
Then a friend brought an inspired gift: a terracotta pot of soil and wild violets from Elisabeth’s favourite forest. Tucked under the violets was a snail that the friend had found gliding along the forest path.
Watching the snail during her sleepless nights brought comfort, interest and a sense of companionship for the immobilised woman. She and the snail shared the same pace and rhythm, and through close observation as only a very still person could manage, she discovered many secrets of the snail’s existence. She learned that even a snail, removed from its natural world and confined to a small space in a barren room, had a life of interest and beauty. Eventually she recovered enough to research and write her beautiful book ‘The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.’
Three levels of rest
When sickness slows your life down to a snail’s pace and the berating Brigades stalk in and make you miserable, try seeing your illness as an opportunity for true rest on three levels:
- Rest your body. Surrender. Totally. Be compassionate and accept what is. If you have a little energy, pamper yourself with sweet fragrance, uplifting music, simple food and your favourite remedies.
- Rest your mind. Let go of news bulletins and the cares of the world. Find gentle companionship in easy reading and kind thoughts. My friend reads Jane Austen when she is sick. I like poetry. Elisabeth Tova Bailey is pretty good too.
- Rest your spirit. True rest comes from acceptance and self love. Breathe a deep sigh and know that this too will pass. Healing is happening. Be tender and gentle and allow renewal to take place.
I had planned to write about rest even before I got the flu. Being sick has enabled me to sleep and dream, to gather my theme at a snail’s pace, to nurture my body and write this newsletter by hand in small, slow pieces.
Whether you are well or unwell right now, you too can enfold yourself in compassion and give yourself to the deep rest that comes when you lovingly accept what you can’t change.
Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.
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