WHEN SICKNESS BURNS INTO BLISS
I have spent an enormous amount of energy trying to change things. As an acupuncturist and healer, it often seems like that’s what I’m hired to do. Change a woman’s irregular menstrual flow, change a man’s swollen prostate, change the body’s qi flow, change someone’s mind.
A person walks into my office and is often thinking, “fix me.” I know this because some actually say the words. They want to be fixed.
A lot of the time it seems to work, sometimes it doesn’t seem so, and sometimes it isn’t so clear (like it slowly gets better but maybe it would have anyway).
If they appear fixed, I may get praised. But at some superficial level I feel relief. Thankful I was up to the task. I didn’t screw up. Like taking penalty kicks for Brazil. I put the ball in the net. I didn’t choke. I will survive another day.
For me, this emotional relief is a sign that somewhere in the process I have taken on the role of ‘the fixer’. In doing so, I have put an unreasonable burden on myself, but especially on the process of healing itself.
You could say the disease is the opponent, the goalie. Yet to be truthful, can we really separate the disease from the person? One person’s state of health may be another’s state of disorder. Health for one may be the absence of pain or significant illness. While for another it may be better described as the flow of energy, an inner synchronicity. The definition of health is more about one’s personal and subjective narratives rather then any fixed external measure.
Because of this co-dependent relationship between health and individual narrative, healing becomes personal and entirely holistic. This relationship sets up a potential trap for the “healer.” If I view myself as the one who must change the patient, it becomes a confrontation of sorts, a sport.
Me, my acupuncture needles, some old Chinese barks and flowers, a few Reiki symbols, and a whole lot of hopeful words, verse the patient with their mess of dis-ease, discouragement, resistance, bad lifestyle, bad luck, and just plain bad old karma.
Or I can see the process as a game between the glorious and dysfunctional aspects of a patient’s health. I become the coach and booster, tactically employing whatever means to help the healthy parts beat out the unhealthy parts. The patient’s healthy diet, daily yoga practice and gentle heart have to combat against their fear of abandonment, poor sleep schedule, systemic blood deficiency and negative self-image.
In either scenario, I am missing the greater opportunity of the moment. The play sets up a resistance to what is actually being experienced as being medicinal itself. Are pain or disease actual opponents? Or are they something necessary to experience to grow? Potentially, they could be either, but which approach brings the greatest overall benefit to the patient?
Even if healing appears to win (the patient feels they are getting better) it’s only a matter of time before the next health crisis. Like a giant holding up the falling sky, the healer eventually must wilt under the weight of being the one to fix things. And so will the patient.
What happens if I let go? If I drop the sky? I mean if someone is in a burning building, I should pull him out. But what if the whole wash of humanity is burning? Then I am helpless.
Perhaps I need to accept and understand that things need to burn. Unless we are compelled by suffering no true change can occur. Perhaps change is a mere by-product of something altogether new and nameless and indefinable. Something that only looks like change just before it happens, but when it arrives it is something much more, beyond change, beyond health. Not dependent upon any duality or opposition to define itself.
So then what does my job become? Much more than a combatant against disease, I become a direct witness to what the patient is actually experiencing in the present moment. The acupuncture needles then are like little witnesses that quietly slide beneath the shell of the skin to give presence. If my needles could talk, I imagine they might say, “Hello, sweet and precious friend…suffering, burning patient, I am present here with you. Inside your skin, still and unwavering to witness your struggle. I am here. You are not alone. I support your experience of this moment as it is now.”
But this is not all. You could say life is a battle, but you could also say it is a garden. A symphony. A clear violet sky dancing under a giant glow star that sails over a majestic mound of dark green earth. Just by putting our attention single pointedly on the breath, we have the capacity to notice the perfect potential of each precious moment. This means that we learn to trust that the first moment of healing always finds itself in the acceptance of the suffering moment that just preceded it. By acceptance I mean looking directly at pain without distraction, looking at it outside of the very personal narratives that may have spawned its actual genesis. The personal way we see ourselves and our world is the matrix that houses all of our experiences, good or bad.
The healer initiates the intent and supports the patient as they begin to fully arrive in the present moment. The acupuncture points I choose, the herbs I prescribe, the words I speak, all are ways to deepen the experience of surrendering. Once the healer and patient surrender, then the energy begins to flow and the body and mind unwind and release. The patient begins to see herself as a new creation, unchained from her prior relationship with disease. She feels better.
The best part is we can’t lose. All we have to do is show up for the appointment ready to surrender. It will all happen. No one can stop it. So let’s let the sky fall and let’s give witness to our pain, to our dance with death and to the nearly indescribable experience of bliss that seems to accompany all true acceptance.
The healing happens, the remission, the resolving, and the transformation into what we call health. But I dare say in some ways, the biggest healing comes from learning to live a life without resistance to the moment at hand. In this sense the healer’s journey begins and ends in the same moment, all inside this present awareness on the perfection of being. All is exactly as it should be, and I recognize this fully only after completely surrendering. Give up the stories, the narratives, and just be with the patient as a witness, as light. It’s a simple switch that has always been turned on, but now the patient and I both see it. Why hold up the sky when instead we can fly in it?