At Samhain, by sunset I was in bed, the world was spinning. I had just gotten off the phone to cancel the evening’s ritual. I had doggedly worked through the previous two days with a headache that just wouldn’t go away, and an all over body ache that I attributed to overdoing it in yoga. Now nausea took over; I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. This was something different.
My blood boiled and the fever took over, running for the next three days. Then blisters began to appear, and I knew – I had chicken pox. I had managed to elude it for 39 years, and it finally caught up with me. My immune system was already weakened from a previous virus and an unrelaxing but still enjoyable holiday.
Halfway through the night we had to get up to change the sheets. The fire in my body was trying to be quenched with sweat. The pounding in my head was almost unbearable. As I dragged my aching body back into bed and into the blessed darkness, I wondered how I could deal with this illness on a spiritual level.
Using meditation techniques to calm the body and ease the headache, it was pretty easy at first. But then the rash came out, and all thoughts of coping with meditation flew out the window. The fever comes and goes, a rush of fire through the body and that is quite easy to follow along, feeling it along my body and in my bones, through my hair and rising off my body. It’s the stillness that is difficult in these circumstances. I thought my Zen and meditation training would help to ease this. I was wrong.
It was impossible to sit still. It was impossible to sleep. It still is. Lying down, you feel all the nerves reacting to the virus, sending sharp little elf shots throughout the body and into the blisters. You twitch. Even now, the twitching doesn’t stop. The mind is doing all it can to get away from the pain, from the discomfort. Trying to type these words and form a cohesive thought pattern is a real challenge.
So what to do? How to deal with the chicken pox virus spiritually as well as physically? I’ve found that my skin is soothed outside, by sitting in the backyard, letting the sun and the wind ease the pain. It doesn’t last for long – when I go back inside again it returns, but I am reminded of the moments of normalcy, of nature all around me, continuing on even as the fires rage within my body. It is a reminder that the world is bigger than you are – when we are ill, we can so easily become despondent, self-absorbed ( I know – writing a blog about this is a tad on the solipsism side, but bear with me).
I look at my cat, who has been fighting with a stomach infection for months now. She doesn’t seem terribly bothered by it – animals deal with pain and illness, death and dying so much better than most humans. They have an innate grace when it comes to it, all things considered. And so I take inspiration from nature to help me combat the mental and physical challenges that lie ahead this week.
I let the awen flow.
I also hit the bottle of calamine lotion, and take some white willow bark.
I feel that this is also a turning point – the Celtic New Year has begun. My body is undergoing some serious trials right now, and I feel that at the end of this journey I will have learned something valuable. I was not able to perform any Samhain rituals, but did light a candle for the ancestors and leave it in the front and rear windows of the home, like I do every year, to guide the dead on their journey. A couple of days later I was able to sit in my altar room and, after trying and giving up on meditation I turned to my oldest set of cards for inspiration. What did I need to learn from this, I asked? The card I drew was Initiation.
And so, I feel that this is telling me to stop, to slow down even, to see the new phase in my life. To literally do nothing. To deal with pain. To deal with suffering. To get on and be inspired by life. To let go of all concepts related to my looks. To let go of all thoughts of the future. To enjoy the moment. To simply be. There is nothing like pain to get you in the present moment, if you truly open yourself up to it.
It has showed me that even though I talk about slowing down, and not taking on so many commitments, that I need to walk the talk. I have talked about slowing down for months now, and yet keep accepting new work, birthing new ideas and letting the awen flow. What I need to do is to retreat, to stop for a bit, to perhaps stem the flow of awen pouring out, and focus on it pouring back in.
This illness has really highlighted that for me. Exchange, relationship. I talk about this a lot, and yet now see how unbalanced I was in it. And so, learning from this episode in my life, I start the new year unable to do much except sit and read, or watch the birds as the sun sets a little closer each evening. There are books to read, sacred places to visit. A retreat from the world in order to better engage with it – this is what the monastic tradition is all about. It’s calling to me at the moment. Time to ponder on thoughts of the self, to chop wood and carry water. The cool breeze from the open window beside me is so delicious on my hot and blistered skin.
Is this how to deal with illness as a Druid? Maybe – each person’s journey is different, and sacred. May yours be walked in balance and harmony, in darkness and in light with equal joy and yes, pain.