I’ve been sick with a nasty flu since Sunday night. Typically even when I get *really* sick I recover fully within two days—I go down, I do nothing, I sleep for 2 days, and by day 3 I’m ready for business (and dancing). Not this week. I am siiiiick. Last night around 4am I woke up to cough up yellow balls for about an hour from some where near my lungs. So today I found myself worrying about when I’m going to get better.
I don’t have a home in one place right now- I’m nomadic, staying with friends, working on the road, etc. While being sick at home is one thing being sick on the road is another. How do you really give in to being sick while staying on a friend’s couch/floor? I ended up getting an airbnb for 3 nights just so I could rest and recuperate without worrying about 1. getting other people sick, 2. whether being kept up by their late night conversations was going to affect my healing 3. whether my next spot would even let me sleep there because I’m sick.
All of this = stressful.
And you know what?
Stress ≠ healing.
So here I am in my super sweet rented light-filled peaceful garden cottage in Emeryville, enjoying the rain and continuing to stress out about whether I’ll be better by check out time. At some point something clicks inside of me. This is not helpful. This energetic pattern of relating to my situation is making me worse, and is *also* not fun.
Sooo….how do you change course?
I’m a firm believer that you don’t just stop doing one thing effectively without having a different pattern to replace it with. Part of this is because worry represents a thought relationship between myself and reality. I’m not going to stop having a thought relationship with reality (I’m not that close to enlightenment) so it doesn’t work to just say “stop worrying.” I have to actually create a new and different thought relationship based on what I want.
These are my familiar thought alleys “What if I take longer to heal now because I’m older (an ancient 33) and my health isn’t what it used to be?” or “What if I have pneumonia and I need to go to the hospital and I don’t have health insurance and I can’t afford it and I’m totally screwed?” or “What if this becomes a chronic illness and I’m sick for months?!”
So every time I catch myself going down one of these I stop, with firmness and love (because I’m making a really positive choice that actually feels great). Here’s what my inner dialogue looks like:
“That’s a negative fantasy. Stress has a negative affect on the body, so going down that thought path is counterproductive. Come back to this moment. You feel better today than you did Monday. Trust your body, it’s a healing machine, it is healing all the time without you having to do anything. If you’re not well by Sunday trust yourself to take care of it then. You’re capable. Look how well you’ve taken care of yourself so far! Just keep loving yourself, resting, drinking water, being kind to your body. Be patient. Allow this to take the time it takes. Pay attention to what your body is asking for. Is there anything you need in this moment? Be grateful. Look how amazing your body already is- how much healing has already happened. Enjoy this quiet time of less movement. What gifts are here for you? What might this pause also be giving you time to be with or make space for? Remember all the other times of illness during this lifetime and how well your body has always recovered. Receive the gift of your health that has already been demonstrated over and over again. Trust. Patience. Gratitude. Enjoy.”
As I repeat this to myself I feel better- I feel healthier, and I actually offer this time of illness and healing as a part of my devotion and love for life. If my life is a microcosm of all life then let me fully embody here the kind of compassion, care and tenderness that I seek to embody in the rest of my life. My space fills with a luminous presence and I feel alive and happy.
Empowerment in our thoughts
I’ve heard some people say that it’s hard to not go down the familiar thought paths and I’m going to repeat that it’s hard to just not do anything. A new pathway or relationship must be created. If you’ve ever read “Don’t think of an Elephant” by George Lakoff he discusses this from a cognitive linguistic standpoint- when you say “don’t think of an elephant” it’s impossible for your brain not to conjure an elephant. Saying “stop worrying” is just as ineffective.
But I think this difficulty also stems from how unaccustomed many of us are to choosing our own thoughts. Or for that matter how unaccustomed (disempowered) many of us feel about creating our selves, lives, neural pathways, habits, etc. While some thoughts do think us we can also create our own thoughts.
So here’s the deal: It’s well known now that the brain is quite plastic (changeable) and that thoughts patterns, skills, and much more are adaptable. It’s also known now that we can actually direct the reforming of certain neural networks consciously (meaning we can participate in how pathways form in our brains). But many people still feel limited by who and how they have been. So choosing a different thought relationship to illness requires on some level, either conscious or unconscious, the empowerment to seize on what we know to be true about the brain, and use it to our advantage creatively. I.E. It is necessary to know that it is possible to change our own thoughts and habits of mind before we are able to consciously change our own thoughts and habits of mind.
So choosing a different thought relationship to illness requires on some level, either conscious or unconscious, the empowerment to seize on what we know to be true about the brain and use it to our advantage creatively.
Negative thought patterns are addictive and when we’re engaged in them we often seek relief in the form of external sympathy rather than a different outcome. It’s an inherently disempowered and draining cycle where we are the victim of something external and we’re seeking something equally external to ameliorate it. This is the same pattern as alcoholism, btw. Everything is outside, no responsibility is taken for our internal agency in creating the relationship we have with our circumstances.
Positive thought patterns are more focused on our choices and what we have the power to affect and influence. Think about that. Negative thought patterns rarely have in them any vision of what we want or what would feel better, nor are they part of an empowered process of creating what we want. Positive thought patterns focus on choice, empowerment, what is, and what we would like to create.
Healing is different from not worrying
To wrap this up- is it difficult to stop worrying? It will take some amount of effort to change any practiced habit of mind. The real question is are you ready to choose something different and create a more enjoyable (and most likely healthier) experience. If you really want the experience of wellness (happiness, confidence, etc) you’re going to have to make a decision. That’s where it all starts. Look- no one’s going to do this for us. Ready? Great. Let’s go enjoy life.