When we’ve taken the medicine and await relief; when the fetus grows steady inside the womb; in the space that lingers between apology and forgiveness; when we’ve watered and fertilized and there is still no sign of seed sprouting from ground—what are we to do? When we reach the end of our impact, when we’ve done all that we can possibly do? What then?
I hear the chickadees again. One calls, and the other responds in the same two-tones that emerge out of a near-silent dawn. Their simple duet lures me out of bed, where, in the window, I sit and watch as sunrise floods the sky with a pink and orange-gold glow. There is nothing else to do. Not in this moment. Beyond all notions of what should be or could be—this is what is.
I had woken up again to the infernal high-pitch ringing, to the rushing and thickness in my head, and to the oppressive flu-like feeling that seemed a constant companion since it had settled in. And the weight, this weight that made me forget that I had ever danced like light, a weight that felt like each cell was lined with lead. These assorted sensations had become my anchor—a tether of attention to body—but they were also the greatest teacher that I had ever known, a most ferocious guide that I resented at times for making me suffer so and that I gave thanks to at others for the continual awakenings bestowed.
Like a whack on the head from a tough-love guru, the manifold lessons of this passage are both painful and illuminating.
Chronic illness had stripped me down to bare essentials. A state I couldn’t have possibly imagined from the bustling life I had led prior. I’ve long stopped making plans for my days never knowing what I’ll be able to do. This is a strange blessing disguised as catastrophic curse. Being present has become the foundation of my days as the symptoms ‘force’ me to be present with myself and to attend to my needs moment-by-moment. Preparing meals, eating, boiling water for tea, brushing my hair, showering, and getting dressed. Ordinary rituals likes these are practices in enacting love, in being present, and in continuing to animate this precious body—as difficult as it is sometimes. After years of hustle, bustle, and overriding the small, wise voice inside—coming home to myself, coming home to presence—even like this—has been a gift I never would have given myself otherwise.
Last week on a cocktail of strong meds I began to feel too heavy, too oppressed, and too sick to function. It was the first day in a long time when even my usual basics felt difficult. Every gesture, every movement counted as energy I didn’t have to spend. I had to keep lying down—releasing my whole self completely to the oppressive force that had me in its grip.
It’s still strange to find myself in such an extreme experience—I don’t think the alarming quality of this undergoing ever fully goes away. This experience demands total surrender. Not the kind of surrender that can be chosen at will or that sounds like a nice spiritual ideal, but the kind of surrender that is the only way. When the body is too weak to move, lying still is not a choice, because there are no other options.
Moments of mandatory surrender have been my greatest allies in discovering my true nature.
‘Worst-case scenario’ kind of experiences are the ones that we avoid and fear, the ones we don’t even like to talk about or acknowledge. I don’t suspect this will ever be a popular topic. We prefer our illusions of control over facing the inevitable uncertainties that comes with being alive. This is natural. Unfortunately, this means that those undergoing extreme experiences have little to lean on in the way of support, wisdom, and guidance—a gap I hope sharing my experience can fill, even just a little.
I’ve learned that this ‘no-mans-land’ of reaching the end of my own illusion of control, is a space of rich transformation—you simply cannot live through an experience like this and not be changed. It is also, perhaps more surprisingly, a space of tremendous freedom once resistance is dropped—a deep let-go beyond all questions, distinctions, and folly of mind, a wide-open freedom, like a bird soaring in an endless sky can be found when we wholly surrender. It is a space of grace and love—something we hear so little about in our cultural conversation about catastrophe. I feel that when it gets unbearably intense a field of grace opens around me, my heart opens into a space far vaster than the suffering, I am held in love. I feel tremendously present and awake to the simplest things.
Strangely enough, I feel whole—more whole than I felt when I was ‘well’. How mysterious is that?
I find myself here, along for a ride that is bewildering, and yes, sometimes frightened, but when I surrender to where this experience is bringing me in consciousness, I’m curiously often at peace. It is the deepest peace I have ever known, as though grace itself is being instilled in me, is permeating everything. I am centered within at the very origins of my existence—like the eye of a storm. I am the still everything, untouchable.
In this space of deep surrender, when I get past the fear, and past the loss of control, and even past the fear of losing my own life, I feel deeply relaxed. I feel the rightness of all things. I am in touch with the shining core of everything. When I let go deeply I’m actually moved to tears by the benevolence in simple things like hot water as I let it run over my hand while drawing a bath. I am disarmed completely by the warmth of my lovers’ body as he holds me close—still seeing not my brokenness, but my beauty. I feel immeasurably blessed by birdsong, by sunrise, by the minutest of things.
Before I had it all—the full-throttle life I thought I was supposed to have—but it was somehow vacant, empty, or I was vacant, empty—not fully there somehow. Now, stripped to bare essentials, it all lands deeply meaningful in my wakefulness. I am finally here.
No longer trying to direct the current, no longer swimming, or treading water even, I am floating, I am the current—allowing myself to be carried, out beyond, even my own understanding. I am learning to releasing my life, my relations, this body, everything, all of it, to spirit. And of course I am releasing nothing at all for this ‘meness’ was not ever mine to begin with.
We like to believe that there is nothing that we cannot do in and of ourselves. We believe that we have choices, and that there is always something to be done. We take comfort in thinking that, no matter what, we can always pull another card out of our sleeve, that there is always another move, another plan that we can put into motion to get our way or to get life to go the way that we want it to. There is, of course, some truth to this. I believe both in the human spirit and in how incredibly resourceful we are. We are strong and capable beyond our wildest dreams—I recognize these qualities both in you and in myself.
The greatest wisdom of my passage however, lies elsewhere—not in the doing, or in the accomplishments of form, but in being and in the richness of the formless. I’m learning with humility, that there exists a space in which our efforts are not required, a space in which passivity, receptivity, patience, and non-doing are appropriate. As true as our limitlessness are the very limits to what can be done with our will. I am being shown this everyday and it is not futile, it is not a negative experience but one of receptivity, surrender, beauty, grace, and humility.
There is profound relief that comes when I stop trying to manage life.
When we’ve taken the medicine and await relief; when the fetus grows steady inside the womb; in the space that lingers between apology and forgiveness; when we’ve watered and fertilized and there is still no sign of seed sprouting from ground—what are we to do? When we reach the end of our impact, when we have done all that we can possibly do? What then?
Soaked in the moment, opening as the now, (sometimes brought here as a result of catastrophe or chaos), we find that we must let life take care of itself, we must hand ourselves, our very lives, over to the mystery. We come home to ourselves when we allow ourselves to be, when we pause to listen to the wind, to the birds, when we allow the sunrise to fill our eyes. We come home to essence when we allow the quiet grace of silence to nourish our troubled heart.
Allow yourself to float, my love. Regardless of where you are and how you find yourself. You are safe. You are held. Now and always.