Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Limboland of Illness

I'm back from a whirlwind tour of my hometown in Maine.
All the way from the coast of California, my husband and I got ourselves to a little town in the middle of the state and--with my sisters, their husbands, my three nephews and my parents--squeezed in a day at Acadia National Park, a lobster dinner, a cocktail party and a million other things. I came back to a full schedule of clients, including all day at a women's retreat.

This morning I woke up with a headache that hasn't gone away.

It's not completely debilitating--I've seen clients, shuffled some papers around. But I find myself walking in circles, not completing thoughts or tasks. I am not quite tired enough to sleep and not quite with-it enough to be operating at my usual frenetic pace. As a result, I have spent most of the day, literally, staring into space, flipping through a magazine, listening to the sound of birds. I have no idea where the day has gone, in fact. But I wonder if this isn't the point.

My body is up to something. Its pain calls me into the wilds of Limboland, a place that is neither here nor there, where I respond differently to everything around me. I can't even make to-do lists in my mind if I want to. I have surrendered, succumbed. I have to give in.

I remember how strange this feeling was in childhood--when a perfectly fine day would suddenly yield itself to a woozy feeling, chicken soup in bed and constant sleep. It surprised me, and it felt like an altered state, something bewildering and powerful, to which I gave myself completely. A day or two later I was back in action.

It's more of a battle as an adult. I like neat lines, agendas, moving forward. The limboland of illness is something I fight, want to get out of. As I sat with my head pounding today I realized how little I ever just stare into space, doing nothing. I realized how rarely my time is vast and open with no activity in it but just being. I'm talking about sitting, like a blob on the bed, watching the world around me through the slow-motion filter of non-doing.

Almost never. Which must be the function now of illness for us. Our body calls us into an altered state, a place of other-soul work, a moment removed from the functioning of life. It's a kind of initiation, though we could never fully put it into words, when we fall into it. And things feel strange and dizzying until they don't anymore. And that state can last a moment or years, depending on our symptoms and our health.

I often ask clients with chronic pain or illness to go more fully into what they're experiencing, become curious about it, dialogue with it rather than resisting. But the resistance is ingrained in us, the desire to move forward heroically without slowing down. We learn surrender from illness and the sense it ultimately gives us of something greater than ourselves running the show.

So I am in slow motion today, but--let's be honest--I probably deeply need to be. My whole being is integrating a week full of experiences and travel that went by at lightening speed. Stop, my body says. Please don't do anymore. Let's just be, like a cat in the sun or an open boat on the flat water. Let's just be and soak in all that is.

If this is what my headache has to teach me, I'm trying to listen.
Illness is like a funny guru, coming to call us into deeper places in ourselves.
Sometimes we forget how to get to that stillness, that netherland, on our own.
Our bodies remember. Our bodies, whether we like it or not, take us there until we find it.

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