Saturday, July 31, 2010

sick and mindful

Well, we are all sick here in the gesbaby household. A summer bout of influenza has sneaked up on us and laid us low, and the timing is, to be honest, just terrible. We were all supposed to be in New York City this weekend, celebrating the upcoming birth of my brother's baby girl, and hanging out with some very dear, old friends who we rarely see. So, in addition to being ill, we have had to be mindful of indulging in our disappointment.

This can be tough for me. Disappointment is just so juicy, isn't it? And when I am physically sick, I sometimes feel justified in letting go of mindfulness practice, because, well, it can be hard work and I just don't feel like it- I'm sick after all. I want to focus on the negative - how my house is even messier, wholesome food scarcer (my husband doesn't cook), the babes are needier and I can't get the rest I need. Add to that a cancelled vacation with loved ones and things are simply bleak. We spend our lives trying to get everything to conform to our wants and needs and illness upends that applecart entirely!

Which is why maintaining mindfulness, even during illness, is one of the most nurturing things we can do for ourselves and our families. I find it helpful during these times to keep letting go whenever I notice myself engaging in thoughts dwelling on the illness or my frustration/disappointment that I am sick. I try to come back to the present moment and allow myself to rest there, even though it might not be entirely comfortable to do so, what with aches and fever and what have you! But I have found that adding anything to the physical discomfort of illness just makes me feel so much worse, and also makes me very cranky with my children and partner. Illness slows us down, so we can relax into that and not fight it. When illness makes us itchy to be outside of the house, or tackle a project that has been planned, we can notice that itch of wanting things to be different, notice the tightness it creates in us, and just breathe. We can send breath to where the tightness lives and practice releasing it physically. We can give ourselves a glass of orange juice or a nice bowl of warm soup, watch a movie on the couch snuggled with our children, take them all into bed with us for a communal nap. Sometimes just breathing is enough. We so rarely give ourselves the space to do that in our busy days.

When feeling really awful, I also try to practice tonglen. By breathing out healing for myself and all beings who are suffering from illness, I am able to unwind my tendency to make it all about me and how miserable I am. This invariably leads to me feeling less miserable. I start by connecting to my basic goodness, that sense of complete spaciousness and freedom, then start slowly breathing in my suffering and discomfort and breathing out healing. Then I extend to other beings - I breathe in their suffering and discomfort with the flu, and breathe out healing to them. This can be very brief, just a touching in really.

So we are practicing just breathing here while the chaos around us builds up. My babes continue to teach me generosity, as even in my illness I have to extend out and care for them, and care for them with tenderness and patience as they are also sick. I continue to practice turning my heart and mind outward towards others, rather than inwards towards just myself. Sometimes I do this willingly, and sometimes not so much. But this is the heart of our practice, and illness gives us an amazing opportunity to deepen it.

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