“The substitute life is a very narrow way of living. This narrowness is rooted in our need to feel comfortable, to cling to what is familiar and safe,” writes Ezra Bayda. His words ring true after a day and a night of tossing and turning, disjointed dreaming, throwing up, aching stomach, and vertigo that keeps knocking me over. Nothing spectacular as illnesses go but still, not what I’d prefer. I’d rather sleep well, keep food where I put it, and wake up reasonably refreshed and pain-free.
Not knowing the cause of this condition is one thing, but equally annoying is the unpredictability and in convenience of it all. Already I had to cancel two volunteer shifts and I’m even further behind in my correspondence. House-moving boxes are piled up in the living room and the deadline for emptying and cleaning the old abode is four days away. What a nuisance, and, just behind that, variations of Poor me and Why now? In short, my attachment to how life should unfold is being ambushed by things beyond my control. Home-made suffering on top of natural discomfort.
What I’d like is to sleep and wake and walk and eat and go about my business without interference. That’s the attachment, a preference for the status quo. As I look back over the last 24 hours I realize that I’ve become increasing annoyed with my body, especially my stomach. Why are you giving me pain? Why make me worry? Why not keep food down? Put this way, I’ve been treating my body as the enemy.
And yet, it is neither enemy nor friend but a complex system of systems. What if I were to pay attention to it, give it some compassion, listen to its aches? Asking “What is this?” is what Joko Beck suggested to Bayda during his long illness. Lying still, breathing into my stomach, I turn loving kindness inward. Almost instantly, the tightness in the belly relaxes as awareness sinks into my centre, spreads from there, relaxes body and mind. What is this? is not to be answered intellectually but as an inquiry away from what I want (attachment) to what is (reality). Simply giving attention to pain and discomfort, to listen and to care, calms my body and I fall into a light and restful sleep.
sources: Bayda, E. (2003). At home in muddy waters: a guide to finding peace within everyday chaos. Boston: Shambala, p. 43. Beck, C.J. (1993). Nothing special: living Zen. HarperSanFrancisco. images: (top) sick puppy at sodahead.com; (bottom): glasgowsciencecentre.org