( Did you catch Part I? I recommend reading that first so that you can get the full gist of what I'm layin' down. You can read or listen to it HERE.)
Are you starting to understand what I mean when I say that being chronically ill has given me more than all of my other life experiences combined? There are many more priceless treasures I've gathered from this experience that I'd like to share with you. Let’s dive deeper...
:: From Naïve Thrill-Seeker To Appreciative Receiver Of Life ::
I used to seek out extraordinary experiences to feel alive. Whether it was going to mind-blowing parties or taking mind-bending substances, I was seeking that rush—you know the one—that unmistakable feeling of being alive. It seemed nothing less than everything would do. My vision for my life involved fantastic travel adventures, becoming wealthy and well-known, and hopefully winning some prize for having the most epic life ever. (I’m definitely a Leo at heart.) While there is nothing wrong with having massive ambition or leaning toward the thrill, the unfortunate side effect of this mindset (besides the fact that peak experiences never last) is that the small glories of everyday life get discounted. Like refusing to honor anything subtler than the blazing sun, I had forgotten that candle flames, twinkling stars, campfires, and fireflies were also worthy of my reverence.
Since falling ill I’ve become an introvert with little use for parties and just the idea of traveling far and wide tires me out. You know what’s epic for me now? Getting to leave the house. Going for a walk in the woods on a crisp day with my lover. Reading a soul-stirring book with my cat snuggled nearby. Opening the blinds in the morning and feeling the warmth of daylight rush in. Smiling at a stranger on the street and seeing their face light up.
I never imagined that the little things would fill me up so much. As they say, the little things are the big things. I’m no longer seeking the epic because I know that just being alive is as epic as it gets.
:: From Externally Pulled To Internally Guided ::
Who am I? Why am I here? There was a time that I didn’t have the answers to these fundamental human questions. I sought the answers, like many seekers do, outside myself. What are others doing? What do my friends think? What’s the media telling me? Of course, I thought I had a good grasp of who I was at the time but when I fell ill the ground beneath my feet—reality as I knew it and understood it—fell apart. I found out that my beliefs didn’t pan out, that things I took for granted were not reliable. The New Age story I had adopted about how things work didn’t match up with the very real experience I was having. My worldview was completely rocked and blown apart. Boom. I had to stand empty for a time—no longer able to buy into my old beliefs and not yet knowing what I could believe in. It was completely disorienting.
When I began to sink into the depth of my being, not by choice but because I was too sick to do anything else, I tapped into an inner wellspring of truth and knowing. I came to realize that when I’m connected to this place of inner knowing, away from all distraction and outer influence, I’m connected to truth itself. I actually have all the answers to the questions I seek right inside my being—and so do you. This depth of knowing is available all the time. Call it instinct, intuition, inner knowing, or whatever you want—I realized that I could trust myself deeply and that I all was seeking was living right inside of me.
:: From Critical To Kind ::
I notice that I’ve grown an attitude of kindness through my illness journey, not only toward myself, but toward others as well. Kindness is an extension of compassion. I see kindness as a mode of operation or way of being in the world. I feel more allowing of humanness—yours and mine—than I did before I fell ill. I know now first hand that this human ride is not an easy one.
I don’t think I was ever a total jerk but I’m way nicer now that I’ve known suffering. For instance, if someone is taking forever to cross the street in front of my car, instead of meeting them with impatience, I extend my heart to them. Perhaps they’ve just had surgery, are on heavy meds, or have just lost a loved one. They deserve kindness. We all do. Even the most well-dressed, successful, ‘together’ people have pain, challenges, and grapple with things that bring them to their knees.
Let’s be kind—it’s the only way of being that makes sense once you’ve known suffering. There is no special club that allows you to transcend the difficulties that come with being human. Spiritual teachers die of brain tumors. The rich and famous suffer drug overdoses. Everyone is doing the best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt. I know that now. Falling ill has made me kinder.
:: From Ego-Driven to Spirit-Powered ::
My personality or ego used to be in the drivers seat (as it is for most of us) making goals and plans, maneuvering situations, and manipulating outcomes. I kept trying to live this way for years after falling ill. Old habits die hard. I thought that with the right research, the right healer, the right diet, the right affirmations, the right meditation, the right yoga practice, the right 'whatever' that I’d be able to make my healing happen. At some point weeks, months, and years in I finally realized that I wasn’t actually in control of my healing or of my life, for that matter. I’m sure this statement will make some of you squirm. I know. Were conditioned to believe that we are in charge and that we decide how things are going to go down.
I got to the point with my healing where I had done every single thing I could think of doing, I had done everything in my power to figure it out and change things, and I was still not feeling any better. I finally accepted that I was not in charge. Sure on a whole soul level I’m sure I orchestrated this experience for my learning and evolution but as this human being I was in the throws of an experience that for once in my life was out of my powers of control or manipulation. I learned, through this illness process, what surrender really means. I’ve learned to surrender my body and my whole life to Spirit and in this surrender I’ve found tremendous peace and freedom.
:: From Self-Centered To Other-Focused ::
Stemming from newfound compassion and an ethos of kindness, I find myself aligning with deep and purposeful work helping others who are chronically ill. I never would have imagined that I’d be working with people who are ill and their healers and caregivers. I received the wisdom a couple years ago that being sick was the ‘seed in the dark soil of my life’s true purpose’ and I know now that it’s true. While I still attend to my own healing and self-care I am increasingly focused on helping others.
When I realize that the suffering I’ve gone through has not all been for nothing—it’s been so that I can help YOU effectively, not from theory but from a place of first-hand knowing—I can breathe easier. My suffering has not all been for nothing. Against all the odds, being chronically ill has aligned me with a life of meaning, purpose, and service that is way more fulfilling than the work I did before. Imagine that! I used to think I was being punished by being sick but I know now that a great and holy work has been entrusted to my care. I needed this harrowing experience because there is no other experience that would adequately prepare me for this sacred work.
Have these priceless treasures and this newfound inner-wealth cost me a lot? You bet. They’ve cost me no less than near-everything. Has it been worth it? Yes, it has, and I say that without hesitation. Do I still have super hard days where I curse my fate, weep, and throw tantrums? For sure I do—that’s part of this ride. Am I committed to doing absolutely everything in my power to heal, regain my health, and align with vitality? Of course! Regardless of the value I’ve gotten from the experience of being chronically ill, I am wholeheartedly dedicated to my healing and I encourage you to be too.
I write this piece not so that those of us on this journey throw in the towel or resign ourselves to being sick, but so that we open our eyes and hearts to the gifts that are present now, as we are, no matter how sick as we feel. Seen through the right eyes—this experience too is a gift.
It took many years for the treasures of my suffering to surface and I encourage each of you reading and listening to be so very patient if you're feeling more cursed than blessed at this point in your own journey. I felt that way too for a very long time.
:: CREATE ::
I invite you to open to the gifts that your own suffering may have paradoxically brought you. While this exercise may sound strange at first I’m fairly certain that with your willingness and creativity that you’ll be able to come up with some potentially surprising treasures that have arisen through your suffering. Are you more compassionate, a better listener, less judgmental? Do you have more faith, a deeper relationship with the dark, or know what fear tastes like? I invite you to create something tangible – a collage, a drawing, a list of words, or a collection of objects that represent the treasures from your own journey through the underworld of illness.
(You can also do this exercise inspired by any other extreme life challenge you’ve had–-the loss of a loved one, a divorce/separation, financial hardship, etc.)
Copyright © 2015 Marie-Ève Bonneau