I have let a few things stand in the way of my writing lately (see below), including a move for our family to the country, and the sudden worsening of a chronic arthritic condition I’ve struggled with for some time. Around Christmas, the pain began to plague me in all my limbs, and it is an interesting experience to learn to live with chronic pain. One of the most interesting parts of it is that, while I do contemplative practices, which traditionally call for the pilgrim to cease all indulgences in mind-altering substances, I find that I must take pain medication in order to have any quality of life at all, for if I didn’t, I would not be able to do much of anything. Hopefully, I will get past this point, and I’m thankful that I don’t seem to have a tendency to addiction, but even so, it is a real balancing act to use medication for pain relief and still maintain a regular and disciplined meditative practice. A friend and teacher of mine said to me, “let it all be part of the same process,” and although I would be hard put to explain this idea, it resonates: if I time the medication carefully enough so that I can do my practices relatively unmedicated, and work hard to maintain a sincere commitment to my highest goals, I can manage it. This pain is useful to me, both inwardly and outwardly, because I find that I am able to avoid self-pity–mostly!–and that living with pain helps me to become–mostly!–more saintly. Well, kinder, anyway, and that’s important, because pain makes me cranky. It’s not as if the medication really relieves the pain, of course (my doctor insists I don’t take enough to really help myself), but makes living actively more possible.
While I always knew my health might take this turn eventually, it is a surprise to have it happen so early, and I know not what the outcome will be. But my path seems to be taking the turn all paths must take, into a greater and less self-indulgent reality, and all that I once took for granted–or tried to–has needed to be released from my conceptions, as St. Paul said: “For now we see through a glass darkly, but Then face to face.” It is the glimmers I’m having of Then that make the sacrifice of my pretty imaginings a very worthwhile sacrifice indeed. In giving up my attachments, I find love as it really is, and as Pir Vilayat said once, “if you really knew what love actually is, you would be overwhelmed in your understanding.” Well, I don’t know yet, but as I say, I have glimmers, and I have a much more realistic and intimate relationship with my highest ideal.
Fellow mureed and traveller Ellen Burstyn said in an interview I recently read, “I try to start every day with the words ‘thank you.’ I must keep trying to do that.