The gifts of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

 

Yet another revisited topic:

For me, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) has come with many genuine gifts.

Of course, it’s important to acknowledge all the challenges that come with it. CFS and any chronic condition can bring up grief, anger, struggle, threatened identities, and unresolved issues. And it can lead to loss of work, relationships, money, status, and so on.

But we also have to acknowledge the genuine gifts that can come with CFS to get a fuller picture. These are gifts we may intentionally notice, explore, and even pursue (at least in periods where we have some energy besides what’s needed for basic daily tasks).

Here are some I have found for myself:

It has helped me with my spiritual practice.

From putting effort into my practice, I have found ways that are far less effortful. For instance, even when I did Shikantaza practice (“just sitting”), I put more effort into it than I needed. Now, I am happy to just notice, allow, and rest with what’s here. And that’s a more genuine way of doing this most basic meditation or noticing practice.

Also, since I have been more raw in periods, due to the CFS, I have been able to notice, meet, and inquire into unloved and unexamined parts of me that previously didn’t come as much to the surface.

Earlier, even if I saw all as Spirit, at a more visceral level I tended to associate Spirit – or at least awakening – with certain feelings and states (even if I knew that wasn’t the case). Now, I am able to more viscerally experience what’s here as Spirit including what’s challenging and uncomfortable. (This is still a process, I imagine it will continue to deepen.)

I have explored and delved into a range of new (to me) practices. I have to admit that this has been my tendency my whole adult life, so I probably would have done that anyway. Although the sense of urgency has perhaps been a bit stronger because of the health-related challenges.

It has given me time. And I have used this time to: Rest. Spend time in nature. Explore and investigate the topics I write about here. Explore and investigate other things in life that I tend to not write about or write less about. (Since I want to keep this blog somewhat focused.)  Find deeper healing for my relationships with the world, others, myself, and my life.

It has come with an invitation to drop facades and be more honest with myself and others.

I have learned something about how it is to face challenges in life. In my twenties, I often had the thought that life was too easy. Now, I know something about going through challenging periods of life.

I have learned about a range of new (again, to me) approaches to healing, including some I may have been less interested in otherwise. For instance, herbal medicine, therapeutic tremoring (TRE), and Vortex Healing.

I have found a deeper appreciation for the simple things in life: a cup of tea, resting, friends, family, nature. I always appreciated these, but it’s different now.

I have found a way to often be genuinely content, and with a deep appreciation and gratitude for my life as it is.

Of course, it’s not all a dance on roses. There are still daily challenges. I sometimes get frustrated when my body doesn’t play along as I think it should (most recently today). I sometimes get annoyed and sad when I consider the many losses connected to health challenges. I sometimes get angry when things are not as my mind thinks they should be. I still sometimes have fear or concerns about the future. I sometimes feel embarrassed when I consider how others may see me. I have small flashes of envy when I see someone living the life I did or thought I would at this time in my life. But all of these experiences are part of being human. They are here to protect me, and they come from deep care for me. And they do happen within and as what I am. And there is often deep gratitude for my life as it is, including all the challenges.

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Simplistic assumptions: emotional issues and physical illness

 

Some like to think there is a one-to-one correspondence between certain emotional issues and certain physical illnesses. Or, at the very least, some like to present it that way.

Why are people drawn to it?

It can give a sense of hope and control, and something to do about a serious issue.

Since all emotional issues are on a scale, we can always find any one issue in ourselves if we look.

Sometimes, there may be some truth to the apparent connection.

And, sometimes, someone will work on a specific emotional issue and the apparently corresponding physical issue clears up – for another reason.

What are the potential drawbacks?

We may blame ourselves. For instance for the emotional issue or for being unable to change it.

We may put time and energy into resolving an emotional issue that has little or nothing to do with the physical illness. (This, in itself, is not a bad thing if it doesn’t take away from other approaches.)

In the worst case, we may neglect other approaches that could be more effective.

What seems more accurate?

First, reason and experience suggest that a one-to-one correspondence between specific emotional issues and physical illnesses is overly simplistic. Life is more complex and varied than that.

At the same time, it seems clear the emotional issues can create physical weaknesses and susceptibility to physical illness. For instance, in a general sense, we know that’s true for stress or feeling lonely.

And sometimes, a specific emotional issue may indeed be connected to a physical illness. It may be one piece of the healing process puzzle. Other times, there may be little or no connection.

So what may be a more reasoned approach?

In general, it’s good to take a holistic approach.

What can mainstream medicine do? What can other – perhaps more leading-edge – medical specialists do?

What can we change in diet, environment, or activity to support healing? How can we change our life to support healing, including finding social support, more sense of meaning, and reducing stress?

And, yes, does there seem to be an emotional issue behind the physical illness, and what happens if we find healing for it? (Vortex Healing is the approach I have found that seems to best do both of those.)

As usual, there is most likely some grain of truth to the emotional issue – physical illness correspondence, at least to some extent and in some cases. And it’s good to take a whole picture and more grounded approach.

Note: I know I have taken a devil’s advocate approach here. In reality, most people will look up what books etc. suggest about what emotional issue is behind their physical illness, take it with a grain of salt, check in with themselves to see if it seems likely, do something to find healing for it if yes, and still do whatever else they would do to find healing for their physical illness. It’s just one of many components, and for most people not even the most important one.

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Illness as retreat

 

It seems not uncommon for people in a “spiritual emergency” to experience illness, which in turn may function as a form of retreat.

In some cultures, they recognize the symptoms of a spiritual emergence or emergency, and support it in various ways, including through retreats. In our culture, there is often not such an understanding, so illness may sometimes serves that function instead. It’s what’s possible for us, so it’s the direction life takes. (The lack of understanding of – and support for – these types of processes, may in itself contribute to fatigue and illness.)

The purpose of a retreat is to remove us from our daily routine, the business of daily life, and allow us time and space for meeting what’s already here.

And that’s exactly what an illness can do, and perhaps especially fatigue. (Which seems a typical symptom for some in a certain phase of a kundalini or awakening process.)

An illness allows us a retreat setting. It allows unmet, unquestioned and unloved things to surface in us, so they can be met, loved and examined.

And some of the things surfacing will, most likely, be about the illness itself. An illness is often perceived as a threat to some of our most cherished identities.

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March Ian Barasch: In illness, you’re suddenly not yourself anymore

 

In illness, you’re suddenly not yourself anymore. The question is: Are you going to cling in panic to some idealized self that no longer exists? Or are you going to cross the threshold and acknowledge that you’re on a journey, though you don’t know to where? You haven’t chosen it, but now you’re different in some way. This is one reason physical illness shows up as a turning point in so many spiritual biographies or as the catalyst of shamanic initiation. It’s a profound shock to the system. It dislodges you. You look in the mirror, and one of the unfortunate ill stares back. But in a way, you could say that disease also abrades away, painfully, all of these superficial ways in which we judge our worthiness, even life’s worthiness. Our worthiness, as in: “Am I strong, beautiful, competent, undamaged goods?” Or life’s worthiness, as in: “Life is good only when it makes me happy, or aggrandizes me, or favors my enterprise.” But who’s bigger, you or life?

by Marc Ian Barasch