A reflection on suffering, pain, and what gets us through...
"What are you going to do about your joy thing?" asked my mom as she was folding laundry. I was laying on my bed, eyes partially open, staring at the white ceiling.
Me: "My joy thing?....OH My joy tip."
Mom: "Yeah...I mean, what joy are you going to write about?" she asked with an inflection in her voice that the joy might be kinda hard to find right now.
Me: "Hmmm...I don't know. Maybe I won't have anything to write about. Maybe I'll send out some links to old tips. Maybe I'll skip this week..."
I get why she sees it that way. There were many moments when I was staring at that white ceiling of my apartment kinda there and kinda not, kinda wishing the time would tick away and trying to find the beauty in the strange simplicity of well...pain. Suffering. Where's the joy in that?
Friday while I was teaching my restorative plus Dharma Yoga class (a favorite way to end the week) I started getting a scratchy throat. At first I thought...hmmm...I guess the incense are getting to me. Then I thought...water. I need to drink more water. Then I thought...hmmm...no...definitely feels like I'm getting sick. My secret weapon whenever I feel sick is to take elderberry syrup with the first onset of feeling sick. So I figured no sweat...when I get home I'll take some syrup, get a good night's rest and be good to go. By the time I got home, my throat felt pretty horrible. The next morning I felt like I was hit by a truck. Everything ached. My head throbbed. My lungs felt heavy and breathing was shallow. It felt like everything in my body was falling apart. Ok I thought, just rest today, and you'll be good by tomorrow. Enter Sunday. A day I wake up feeling the most ill I've felt in years. Something deep inside of me said you had better get to a doctor asap no matter what you have to do. Thankfully an urgent care center is right across the street so I got dressed and walked across the street. The result, a pretty nasty upper and lower respiratory infection.
I'll never forget the doctor's face when the doctor opened the door and saw me laying on the table a bit dazed and confused while waiting for him. Have you traveled overseas recently? He asked me. Uh...I know that's never a good question as someone who traveled a lot overseas. We'd better take some blood and cultures. Meanwhile my mind starts wandering and worrying that now I've come down with some crazy super bug and have to be quarantined! (Thankful spoiler alert...that didn't happen).
I called my parents when I got home from the clinic as my part of my Sunday ritual. Upon hearing my voice on the other end of the line I could sense fear and intense concern in their voices. My mom has this magic ability to see straight through me to the center of my soul sometimes. It's why we have an awesome connection and it also drives me crazy because I can never stealthy be upset about anything or sick. As I struggled to talk on the other side of the line with my voice fading quickly and my light dim from feeling so weak, they decided they'd jump in the car and drive down from New Jersey just in case. In case I ended up in the hospital. In case I couldn't get up and around because I was so weak. In case I struggled to breathe and needed help. In case of anything...just because.
First off, getting sick, no matter how many times it's happened in my lifetime, is always a humbling experience. Growing up I spent my fair share in doctor's offices and hospitals for surgeries and medical conditions. And even though I'm a quasi veteran, I still find it a humbling experience when I get sick and the Universe puts me in a "follow versus lead" scenario to embrace support, help, and assistance.
With humility, as I was laying in my bed for hours on end, I was thinking how powerful love is regardless of suffering, pain, agony, and fear. How it cuts through everything. As my parents shared the remarkable love at the center of their souls with me over two days, it had the power to carry me through the discomfort of not breathing well, swallowing, speaking, moving, feverish chills and sweats, and horrible body and muscle pains.
I've been thinking a lot lately about how people can misunderstand optimism. Misunderstand it as a way of washing over life and not fully living it. I agree that this can happen. What I'm interested in is something different. I read something from Danielle La Porte recently that captured the difference where she spoke about "conscious optimism versus pseudo-spiritual optimism." This dichotomy of course brought a smile to my face because I think it captures it so well. The practice of conscious optimism is an invitation to not ignore the challenging stuff in life. The tough stuff. The suffering. The pain. Whether it's your own or what you're witnessing in the greater world. To not turn away from our shadowy self. From our dark deep soil. The courageous invitation is to stand two feet in it. Feel it. And as we feel it, as we experience it, we choose optimism anyways. Whether it's your own life, or as an activist feeling the pain for the people and the cause that burns deep in your soul. When we consciously choose optimism, we jump start our way towards inspired action.
The last several days I've been feeling the pain in my body. Feeling the physical and emotional exhaustion of illness. Feeling impatience as I wanted to speak, but my voice could barely make a sound, drowned out by the other sounds in my apartment and the street noise below. Feeling moments of boredom when I wanted to do something like read my favorite new book and couldn't even muster energy to do that. Feeling desire to meditate and no energy to sit up straight or keep my eyes open. Feeling gratitude for having the rest of the health I did have regardless of my illness. Lots of feelings, lots of pain, moments of suffering. Underneath it all, I choose to be consciously optimistic. Trusting that there are lessons in the mud of it all. Because there always is for me. And then inspired action, by deciding I had a joy tip after all because there was some joy in the last several days and it was all fueled by love.
What helps me consciously choose optimism in my life even in the middle of experiencing pain? Love. Love shared by family. Love shared by friends. Love shared by strangers. Love shared by myself to myself. This time my love sharing looked like this:
Love to myself: You need to get to a doctor...big time. Changes clothes and gets out the door right when clinic opens. Posts message to Facebook asking friends and family for prayers and healing vibes. (I know every ounce counts).
Love from family: Parents selflessly driving down to care for me. Calls and texts and Facebook messages from family members checking in on me to see how I'm doing and sending prayers.
Love from friends: Facebook messages. E-mails. Text messages. Phone calls. Offers for help with groceries, picking up prescriptions, prayers, distance Reiki healing...
Love from strangers: The doctor who with so much care treated me at the urgent care clinic on Sunday and again on Tuesday. The pharmacists who speedily filled my prescriptions on Sunday when they saw how horribly I felt and told me to get well soon. The girl at the front desk who asked my family how I was doing when they arrived at my building on day 2
Love from Odi: My African Grey parrot who was absolutely devoted to watching over me and would not leave my side for one second. Even if I went to the restroom, she insisted in following me to make sure I was ok, cared for, and knew she was with me.
I think all of us underestimate the power of Love. Hear me out, because I believe this whole heartedly. After I've been totally down for the count for four days and still fighting to come back, I'm not sure where I'd be without Love. I'm not sure I'd be as inspired to find the joy in it all right now as I'm still feeling pretty wretched. I'm not sure I'd see the last four days with some glimmer in my eye and some warmth in my heart. I might just see it as another heavy obstacle I'm making it through that yes, will have lessons, but not warmth...fondness. Fondness? Strangely...yes.
Love absolutely changes everything. It is the game changer in life. In everything. It creates radical reconciliation between waring parties in international conflict. It creates hope in an otherwise hopeless situation. And let's face it, it's all we ever REALLY want to feel. Love. Loved. Loving.
So, I thought, what if this week's Joy Tip Wednesday was the simple, profound, life changing practice, of sharing your love? Sharing your love a little more. Acknowledging when you do it. And also, acknowledging when you receive it. Because I bet a couple things. You may give more than you realize. And when you see that, you'll probably feel inspired to give more. I also bet you receive more than you realize. And when you see that, you'll probably feel inspired to give more and be grateful for the love that you're getting.
Let's get this love party started with some sweet simple steps:
- Intend to share more love. Today. This hour. This week. Whatever floats your boat. With strangers. With family. With friends. Where ever it's calling you. By doing this, your lighting up some conscious optimism.
- Acknowledge the love you're givin. The phone call you made to a friend to check on them. The vote of encouragement to the person at the check out line who is reaching the end of their shift and did an awesome job serving you. The practice of saying "I love you" no matter what every time you hang up the phone with your loved one.
- Give a little more. As it moves you. Organically. Just follow the soft spot in your heart. You know the feeling you get? Mine sometimes feels like a flutter. Other times like a bursting feeling I can't quite contain. Others like a quiet warm sunlight on an early summer's day. The point is, I feel it. in my body. It tells me when to give love. What do you feel right before you give love? When are you feeling that invitation and can you follow it a little more?
- Acknowledge the love your gettin. Take stock and see the love coming back to you each day. Like I said...strangers, co-workers, family, friends, and acquaintances. It's a lot if we look for it. We just have to be receptive. Open.
- Say thank you. Thank yourself for sharing. Thank others for receiving. Thank those for giving. You can do this out loud with yourself, with others, with the Universe. Quietly in your silence. Through pen and paper in your gratitude journal. Just consciously say thank you.
- Notice how you feel. I always think it's essential with any practice to notice how you feel. Observe what changes. What doesn't. This is how you learn how different experiences impact your life and how you get to know yourself more deeply. Think reflective observation.
- You always know my last step...repeat :)
What do you think your life would be like if you shared your love 10% more? If you received love 10% more? What would your family members lives be like? Your friends? The strangers you encounter? You may think...eh...not that different. I beg to differ. And that's because I believe my life is different today as I'm battling this nasty bacterial respiratory infection because of Love. And I bet, if you looked deep into your own life, you'd discover that love carried you too through the challenges, the pain, the suffering, and perhaps inspired you to be consciously optimistic amidst the odds.
So, ready to generate some love to be consciously optimistic? Let's get on loving. I don't know anything more worthy of our time.