In March, the day before my birthday, I suffered a medical intervention for a painful and chronic disease called Endometriosis. It’s something you have to live with for all your life and it can also make you infertile. Everything came as a shock to me. Rationally, I did everything I could – I read everything I could find, I went to three different doctors. But I don’t think I emotionally digested the events. I started therapy, because I’m often so sad. I used to be a joyful person, and now I’m just this maniac that’s always preoccupied with her health.
I also read that this disease has a spiritual meaning – it is said to be the disease of women who don’t love themselves – and I kind of empathize with that. I neglected myself for the last couple of years. Now I’m taking care of my body, I changed my lifestyle, I exercise, I pay attention to what I’m eating. But I don’t know what this disease symbolizes for me, emotionally. And how I can make peace with it, how I can just be.
There are moments when I feel mindful and I feel that it’s not only on me, that I can do only what I can. But I’m more likely to be worried, to live in fear. Fear of being infertile, fear of cancer, fear of dying. And I don’t seem to figure out how not to, how to be free from fears and anxiety.
I think that this is actually why I wrote to you: to ask you how I can make peace with my disease and how I can live by simply being, and not in fear.
Thank you for giving me the possibility to write this down.
First of all, you say that the disease has to do with women who do not love themselves. Well, if that were the case, most of the population would be suffering from exactly the same disease! Please, do not pay attention to such nonsense! Yes, it is true that most people (exceptions are very rare) don’t love themselves the way we should love ourselves – completely and absolutely, embracing every up and down, with complete confidence and compassion and understanding. But this does not mean that people will suffer a particular disease.
You love yourself, and the very proof is that you took the courage to write to me, nearly a complete stranger – the strength to do such a thing came from your love. If previously you were not really paying much attention to your body, it is because you were busy with other things (job, money, profession, love, whatever). And you spent time on them because you thought that they would make you happy. It is your love for yourself that was looking for that happiness, even though it was the wrong place to look. All the fears that you mentioned are nothing but love for yourself. It may be wrongly directed love, but it is love nevertheless.
So, the reason why you have that disease, if there is a reason, is certainly not lack of love.
It is obvious to me that a person that can write such a beautiful letter is a person that has abundant love!
There is a modern, new age tendency to believe that whatever we get is given to us for a specific reason. But how can anybody ever know that, without seeing the whole of life (which of course no one does)?
What we can try to do is lean to be quiet with whatever we have to deal with and see, in the depth of our hearts, if there is anything we can learn from that experience. Sometimes, something new and wonderful appears. But many times, nothing comes.
Either way, there is always something you can learn – and that, to me, is the real meaning of our lives. What you can learn is to live with what is given to you, whatever that is. Or, as they say in poker, ‘play the cards you have been dealt.’
Or even better, as Epictetus said, 2,000 years ago (things don’t change that much): ‘Remember that you are an actor in a play of such a kind as the author will chose; if short, then short; if long, then long. If he wants you to act as a poor, cripple, a king, or a commoner, see that you act it well. For this is your business, to act well the part given to you; but to chose it, belongs to another.’
You don’t lack love, quite the opposite. You are full of love! It is so clear to me. Recognize that love for yourself, see it, feel it, and let it help you deal with the situation that you have been given.
In my understanding, we don’t really have problems. We only have thoughts about the things that appear in front of us. For example, we believe that life is supposed to give us what we want, and when it does not, we cry. But why is life supposed to adapt to our needs? What do we know about life? What does anybody know about the meaning of life? We know nothing! Or, if we become very wise, we could agree with Socrates (one of the most beautiful beings that ever existed) that ‘all we know is that we know nothing’.
We cannot know why we get what we get. But we can learn to see that things in themselves are neither good nor bad – they just are. We are the ones that create the good or bad, the ups or downs, and we do it with our thoughts, with our ideas of how things are supposed to be.
Of course there is nothing wrong with wanting a particular thing to be in a particular way. But it is a mistake to believe that because I want a particular thing, life should give it to me. It is like saying: ‘I love you, so you should love me’ – many times that is not the way life goes. I can want something, but whether I get it is really not up to me. People – and obviously life in general – are much more complex than our mind would like them to be. It is fine to want to have kids, for example, but to expect or demand that the whole of life will accommodate itself to me is nothing more than an honest misunderstanding. What we need to learn is to want what we want, and, at the same time, to be fine with what comes. I want to have kids, but I am also fine without them. Why? Because having kids is really not up to me.
Our thoughts can only see a very small aspect of life. Most of our thoughts are like little kids crying: ‘I want, I want, I want’. But as adults we know that sometimes kids can get what they want, and sometimes they can’t. We need to mature as human beings to see that our thoughts and desires are pointers to where and what we may prefer, but they are far from being the deciding power of where we are actually going. We need not get blinded by our thoughts and desires, but remain open to the larger ‘needs’ of the whole of life.
Of course nobody wants to get sick; but sickness happens. If sickness would not exist then neither would health. Do the best you can to get rid of it, if that is possible. But do also more than that.
Learn to live with what is given to you. Even your fears. As long as you have them, don’t reject them. Fears are nothing more than loving ‘small kids’ wanting things to be different than what they are. They don’t want to harm us; they are just not very wise. Don’t reject them, but see them for what they are: ‘unwise beings’ that would like the whole of life to adapt to their little needs.
Keep wanting what you want, but also, don’t reject what life ‘wants’. What life wants is ‘what is’, independent of your wishes and desires. And ‘what is’ is neither good nor bad and cannot be any different than what is. It is what has to be, because billions of laws (known and unknown) come together at any particular point to create each particular moment. Each hair on our head is there because of these laws. Nothing happens outside of them. Birth and death and life and experiences and health and sickness and spring-days and earthquakes and day and night – everything that ever happens is within those laws. Our mind calls some things good and others bad. Good is anything that makes the mind feel good and bad is anything that makes it feel bad. But from a larger point of view, things are neither good or bad. They just are.
Of course I will always have preferences; I will always prefer health to sickness, pleasant to unpleasant, sweet to sour, life to death; but I also need to learn to see the larger view of life itself, and to realize that from that point of view, nothing is out of place, nothing is wrong, nothing is neither good nor bad. I need to keep the two points of view in sight, and live my life between them: I want what I want, but life is what it is and wants what IT wants. If I only want what I want, sometimes I will be fine, and often I will suffer. But if besides wanting what I want, I also allow, embrace and accept what life wants, then there is nothing that can take me down, and I will flow with life.
Flowing with life, being one with life, ‘being life itself’ and not a fearful little being is, to me, the real meaning of our lives.
All suffering is only a thought, a way to see life, a way to interpret what is happening. We can and should rewire our minds to begin to see life not from the point of view of the little person, but from the point of view of life itself. From that point of view, there is no good or bad. All there is, is Life itself.
* If you find some of the things I wrote here useful, remember that just reading them once may make you feel good for a few moments, but the old ways of thinking will return. You need to read whatever you find useful over and over again, and when you are not reading them, you need to play them in your head over and over again. It is like a rewiring of the mind, and it takes time. (There is also a note in my book called Rewiring the Mind.) Take your time, which means practice, practice, practice – keep bringing these thoughts into your head, keep thinking about them, keep seeing the truth in them, keep applying them into your everyday life, especially when the mind is trying to replay the old patterns of thought.
** Here are some practical things you could do:
- Eat well, loving, nutritious meals.
- Sleep well.
- Spend time with people you love.
- Spend time with beauty (see the note in my book The Tool of Beauty)
- Within your possibilities, move your body.
- Do some pleasant activity you enjoy doing, not because you have to, but because you want to, like a hobby.
- Do the five offerings daily (see the note in my book What is a yogi? – The Five Offerings)
- Don’t expect things to change quickly. Be patient; change takes time. Give time to time.
- Take time (even 5 minutes a day can be enough) to love yourself, to see the beauty that is in you, to see the beautiful things that you have, and to be grateful for them.
- Do what you can to take your mind off problems and instead, direct it to the beauty around you. For example, make some time to take walks in silence, in nature if possible (even a park will do), just seeing, hearing, perceiving. Take them for a very specific time, let’s say 15 minutes, and for that time, do not let thoughts take you away from nature. If they come, just treat them like little kids: tell them that they need to wait for the specific time you have set up, and that they can ‘talk’ to you when you finish.
- Or listen to beautiful music, also for a very specific time, and for that time, don’t let your thoughts interfere with the music. If they come, and they will come, for sure, just return to the music.
- Keep reading my book.
- Keep reading, or read again, any book that you feel has helped you to see things more clearly.
- Read The Manual of Living (also called The Enchiridion) by Epictetus. You can see it here in an old translation: http://classics.mit.edu/Epictetus/epicench.html or try to find a newer one.
- Keep going to therapy.
- Come to my classes, even if you cannot do the gym. Just be there, listening to what I say, or just being in silence.