the dance

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

Mary Oliver

After over a month of feeling very sick, I’ve been remarkably well for the last several days.  It is amazing how much lighter my step is, how much brighter and friendlier all of life seems when I don’t feel ill.

My illness is like my dancing partner.  I’m learning to dance with her and learning to let her lead is the hardest part!  I keep trying to lead and all that gets me is sore feet.  It increases my suffering to resist or deny or get angry or sad about being ill.  Practicing with my illness has been like having a very determined teacher.  In this way, my illness is both my enemy and my friend, a curse and a blessing.

When I’m in the middle of a bad time, lying on the bed with my body curled around the pain, so weary that every movement is hard…all of life loses its spark and joy.  I’ve felt horribly guilty for this, thinking that I should be able to regulate my moods better, that I should have that stiff upper lip and be a man.  But my teacher has been showing me that this guilt and shame only add to the pain and suffering.  Now, I remind myself that it is normal to feel this way, that there is nothing “wrong” with me when I become surrounded by darkness during times of illness and pain.

Another lesson my teacher has been impressing on me is that everything in my life must take second place to the illness.  Where once I was dependable, now I have to back out of plans at the last minute.  I often avoid making any plans at all because of worry over breaking my word yet again.  When the symptoms return, my life becomes very stark and narrow.  I often feel sadness.  It is hard to hurt again, hard to feel ill so often, hard to let my partner and family down.  I worry about Tam during these times, stuck here in the dark with me.

I’m beginning to learn that I must pay careful attention to how I feel.  My body will tell me what I need to know if I will but listen.  When I get tired, I must rest, not soldier on.  When I find that something makes me ill, I must lay it down, even if I love it.  (goodbye coffee, dear friend)  I’ve been learning to treat my body with respect and compassion, letting it lead in the dance.  Remembering that resistance increases the suffering.  Remembering that the illness must lead and my job is to follow.  During times of pain and weakness, this is tough.  I struggle to accept this as my path.

They say that if you pay attention, all of life is your teacher.  Perhaps this is the greatest gift of the illness, this paying attention.  This learning to follow, to submit to the hard teachings of my Guru Crohnes has also given me eyes to see all sorts of small blessings in my every day life.  It has forced me to be quieter, to sit stiller, to listen, to be engaged.  I’m thankful for that.  So, crank up the music.  The night is young and I feel like dancing.