as we age, illness often accompanies our days. sometimes the illness is chronic and serious; sometimes it is acute, an ‘ordinary’ cold.
regardless, there is the accompanying sense of disconnection and isolation. our internal and external states seem to set us apart from others.
illness is also said to be an obstacle to spiritual practice. my experience of a recent cold put paid to that notion. it is true, i found my usual spiritual practice a serious challenge. it requires concentration, which eluded me while my head was full of snot, breathing was near impossible and a cough continually interrupted my attempts to focus.
i gave up.
i then noticed that i could pray. i have never really understood prayer, not from a place in my heart. suddenly, it made sense. a found myself opening my heart to others who were suffering. i found myself opening to people in war-torn parts of the world. it didn’t matter which part of the globe. sadly, there is always ample choice. i found myself opening to people living with illness and disease. here too, it didn’t matter which illness. there are always many from which to choose. i found myself opening to people who had been on the receiving end of violence. here too, it didn’t matter which form of violence or who was the perpetrator. there are, sadly, too many choices available.
my heart cracked open in the midst of sneezes and coughs, remedies and nostrums, to bring me into connection with all who suffer. i was not isolated or disconnected after all. prayer brought me into contact with them all.
and what was my prayer?
it was not a request for them to be safe, whole, happy, peaceful and loved, though i certainly wished that for all. it was not a plea for revenge against those who harm, though i certainly wished for their healing. it was not a hope for disease to be eradicated, though i certainly wished for an end to the pain and suffering we experience.
no. my prayer was simply an opening in my heart...an opening to the pain and suffering and the willingness to sit with the heartbreak. the place of a heart broken open is glorious as the same moment as it is devastating. there is a deep sense of comfort along with the experience of searing distress. there is an acceptance of the fragility of life and the magnificence of each breath.
from that moment, i found peace with my ego's misery and held as much pain and glory as possible as i walked the path of healing my nasty head cold.
(i have several times, heard a story of a group of tibetan buddhist monks who took on a practice of serving the pain of the world. they simply wept for seven days.)