For the past year or so, my contemplation has revolved around the mutual relationship between sickness and medicine. For me, sickness could be described as our failings, ignorance, discomfort, misfortune, or sometimes even literal illness of the body or mind. Medicine on the other hand, is our power to transform these parts of ourselves. It can be found in the qualities of our higher potential, such as hope, humility, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude or perhaps at the most essential level, our ability to love. On a universal level, perhaps we could reduce our sickness and medicine to two diverging potentials in the human condition: fear and love. On the personal level, these two forces take a myriad of creative forms. They express themselves in the minute details of our daily lives, attached with rich stories we create about our past, present and future selves. They are embedded in our unique karma and family history, in our particular wisdom and ignorance, in all that we know and do not know about ourselves and our purpose here. Our singular expression of sickness and medicine maps out the path to self-realization. Both are necessary, and one cannot exist without the other. We cannot find or develop our medicine, if we do not know our own sickness.
This is the blessing of the darkness. It challenges us to strengthen our medicine, to find the light over and over; and as we enter into a more integrated heart space, both our darkness and light transform and begin to take on new meanings. “There are no demons here, Mary of Magdela.” There is nothing wrong, nothing missing. The sickness itself is what divides us into right and wrong, shoving the undesired parts of ourselves into darkness and casting shadows onto the world around us. Choosing to look at the darkness without judgment is choosing medicine. It is a choice that can be made in every moment with what is available. Our medicine does not have to be strong our well developed to choose to look at what is present now with love. We always have the choice to continue to fear the darkness—to ignore it, to fight it, to judge it—in whatever way our habitual patterns have been constructed to not see those exiled parts of ourselves; or to just look with the question “can this too be loved?”
I remember when I first started to gain weight in college. I felt so angry and uncomfortable with my body. It was an emotionally intense time for me, filled with anxiety, depression, and physical sickness. My body was really just trying to protect itself and send me a message that I needed to stop and take care. I didn’t have the emotional support or guidance that I needed at that time, so I stumbled through this struggle mostly alone. After college, I lost weight naturally, mainly because I stopped drinking and had more regular sleep patterns. At my desired weight, the fear of my body changing again was still very alive, and for the first time I began to control what I was eating out of fear of gaining weight again. In general, my response to control is to rebel, so after a few years of controlling what I ate, out of anger, frustration and rebellion, I began to gained weight again.
This fight between control and rebellion went on for about a total of five years, and I remember when I began to soften into the fight. I have always been curious about the concept of radical love. Is it possible to love everything? To love every single part of myself? Something deep inside me believes that it is, so my life practice has always been aligned with this principle. After years of resistance, control, and anger with my body, I wondered “could I love myself if I gained 100 more pounds? Does the weight of my body really limit how much I love myself?” That thought began to turn things around. I decided to eat whatever I wanted, whenever, and in whatever quantity, as long as I could sit with the emotions that came up before, during or after eating and just love what was present. Naturally, over a long period of time accompanied by emotional growth and healing, my weight began to balance out. I love the relationship I have with my body today. I don’t have any restrictions around my diet. I listen to my body. I eat what it craves, and I thank it for speaking to me. Sometimes I gain weight, sometimes I lose weight, but it feels natural and loving; because of course our bodies change, just like the seasons and the tides.
Our relationship with our body is such a great metaphor for self-love and care, because it represents our most basic needs. Our physical body in many ways maintains the same needs we had as infants, our most essential self. It is also brilliantly designed to preserve equilibrium, a natural dance between inner and outer, give and take. When we eat too much, is there some part of ourselves in the shadow that is starving for attention? What are we denying ourselves? When we eat too little, are we overwhelmed or have we taken in too much from the outside world?