Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like the great tree in the midst of them all.
Buddha’s Little Introduction Book
Yesterday, I was talking with an acquaintance about acupunture. He had great suffering going on in his back, and there were other issues, including weight gain, that were causing other problems. He was working with a chiropractor, who was helping him with his weight loss, but the pain had not decreased as this point. I told him about my own suffering with ulcerative colitis, and how it had debilitated me. He will be calling the acupuncture therapist soon.
Thinking about that time of my life, going through three ulcerative colitis flare-ups, with each more severe than the last one, I am reminded of the growth I had in my life, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. That is is what suffering does for us.
Spiritually during that time, my day to day interactions with my faith centered my life. I learned a lot about compassion for my own suffering and the suffering of others. I learned the difference between prayer and meditation. While I had been pretty good at listening, which is meditation, I had always struggled with praying, which is asking. I always felt that to need to pray is to admit a weakness, so while I could pray for others, I was above prayer for myself. Or so I thought. Until you have that moment when you think to yourself, “Is this how I will die? Am I slowly dying right now?” That humbling moment reminds you that God wants us to pray. And that God also answers our prayers.
Emotionally, I learned how to bring myself into a state of balance, as I made umpteen trips to the bathroom, all with the same devastating results. I learned that the moments between bathroom visits were precious. I would not let ulcerative colitis define who I was as a person. My focus on my day switched from focusing on each trip to the bathroom to focusing on each breath I took away from the bathroom. Whether I was teaching a yoga class, or taking a nap, or eating the bland diet that I was assigned during my healing, THOSE defined me, not my trips to the bathroom.
Mentally, I learned about the disease, and I learned about my body. My acupuncture therapist, Joyce, has been a great source of information for me. She taught me that my ulcerative colitis, allergies, cluster migraines, and other odd diseases I have had throughout the years, are all related to my weakened auto-immune system. I had not been caring for my immune system for most of my life, and that is what led me to colitis. It was my next stop. My next wake-up call. Thank God I finally got the message. I have learned which foods trigger which reactions to my body. I have learned to differentiate between gas and bloating. I have felt my intestinal tract and been aware of the movement of food and gas throughout it, from start to finish. I know that cheese digests in a day, beef in three days, and corn digests right away. I can look at a plate of food and determine how I fast it will digest. I know the balance of eating a salad with steak, as one will aid the digestion of the other. These are just a minute amount of the information I learned while in an ulcerative colitis flare-up.
Physically, I learned that I needed to stay strong while healing. Yoga is the perfect exercise while healing. You can bring as much strength into your yoga practice, but if you need to back off, to modify your practice, yoga offers that opportunity, unlike most other workouts. Yoga offers stretching. During our stretching, we breathe deeply into our muscles and bodies, and so we concentrate on each area that we are working. It is calming. I am not sure that I would have understood the importance of listening to my body during my flare-up if I had not learned, through yoga, how much that helps us to improve and heal our bodies. In yoga we are reminded to bring balance into our practice and our lives. We practice poses that help us with our balance, but we also take the concept of balance into our lives. We remind ourselves on our mats: “Just this.” Today, I will do just this.
The quote at the start of today’s blog reminds me of tree pose. Tree pose is a pose of balance, and we are reminded to balance our happiness through the good times and also through our sorrows. We are reminded to not let them define us. Trees have no arms to grab onto sorrows, and so we, too, must remember not to hold onto our own sorrows.