A weekly dose of dauntlessly dealt reality from the What It Is Wednesday Blog Carnival…
I’ve been finishing up a book that I began writing over a decade ago. Its focus is chronic health conditions through a shamanic lens. Why has it taken me so long to wrap it up? Because I’ve dealt with chronic pain and fatigue since 2001, neither of which have neat treatment or cures, and often leave me feeling like crap, to say nothing of inarticulate. Besides, how do you conclude a topic-centric semi-autobiographical book you haven’t finished living? That conundrum alone epitomizes the nebulous nature of chronic conditions. You never know when they will strike, or how long an episode will last. Productivity be damned.
Over the last month, I’ve had very clear revelation that the fact that there’s no end is the end. In all circles of wellbeing we talk about healing. From the allopathic standpoint, you either heal or die. They really don’t know what to do with you if you don’t situate in that very wide middle. Natural and alternative medicines provide powerful alleviation of symptoms, though also often don’t cure conditions. From this ambiguous soup of fragile existence we emerge with “healing” meaning complete cure, or resolution of symptoms enough that they don’t interfere with day-to-day life. Either way, we assume an identifiable alleviation of symptoms for the long haul.
However, many of us never get there. And what does that mean, exactly? If you listen to allopathic medicine and even complementary medicine, certainly spiritual aspects of the New Age, it’s your fault for not feeling better. That’s not to say there aren’t totally controllable components such as diet, exercise, mindfulness, etc. And if you express to others feeling poorly, again, everybody and their sister has something you should try, that worked for them, that their great-great-grandmother root doctor swore by. And when it doesn’t work? Silence. Worse yet, blame.
What about when you’re doing all of those and the shitshow just doesn’t stop? Or you find relief for a while, only for it to rear in your face again six months down the road for no particular reason? Chronic conditions often have no clear signs for when the tide will turn.
That one thing is why there’s more to the picture of chronic conditions. It doesn’t re-surge because you’re not doing all the things you need to, or because you’re not doing them perfectly. It doesn’t come back because you’re damned, or flawed, or missing something, or not good enough. It comes back because we have no allowance for tending in our culture.
In tribal cultures, a person who sustains a life-altering wound or condition that leaves them compromised with regard to fulfilling their duty to the overall tribe doesn’t remain part of the tribe for long. We’ve all read stories of how the wounded, incurably sick, or elderly take it upon themselves to wander off into the woods and never return. We consider that barbaric, uncivilized, yet in tribal cultures, this is an honorable death. Us? We have medicine, and therapies, and heating pads, and surgeries, and specialists, and MRIs, and…
Am I saying if you have a chronic condition that you should wander off into the woods and do yourself in? No. I have no plan to do that, myself. However, just as my conditions don’t fit neatly between heal or die, neither do they situate perfectly between vanish into the night or stay in physical therapy and on pain control meds for life. My point is, there’s a great deal of room between the extremes of anything, and chronic conditions are no different. Our culture, and perhaps specifically from the Baby Boomers to the Gen-Xers and Millennials, haven’t been taught the art of tending. Frankly, because of the aforementioned western medicine amenities, we haven’t had to learn. And because we don’t have elders who have carried that wisdom forward from generations of unfixable problems.
Some shit doesn’t go away, period. It requires vigilance, care, tending, ongoing, forever, the end. Our culture has lived in the realms of healthcare without a model of tending, except for in the case of extreme mental need or elderly care from different services, you can contact Partners for Home to learn more. Why, then, from a spiritual perspective, are young people developing autoimmune conditions that give them chronic pain and fatigue, for life? Because of environment toxins, frankenfood, overuse of said medications. Yes, all of those. That’s not what I’m asking, though. What need, at the heart of awakened spiritual living, would a chronic condition serve?
What if everything isn’t meant to be cured? What if alongside our definition of ‘healing,’ there runs a concurrent state of being that is ‘tending? ‘ They’re not separate, yet they’re not the same, either. Healing exists. Some conditions do go away, for good, or become well-managed. Tending hurts, though. It annoys, distracts, inconveniences, plagues. Our natural reaction to something that must be tended is to try to heal it. We throw at it medication, surgery, therapy, soul retrieval, and gain improvement, yet still it remains an unresolved something. I talked about this state of presenting no soul wound, yet clearly not being well a few months ago in the Life Betwixt series. I discussed the initiatory wound that shamans confront in that post, yet now, my suggestion is that we all have one, shaman or no. Maybe we all carry some unresolved something in heart, mind, body, or even soul, that we must tend.
The rune Fehu means assets that must be tended. It’s always interpreted as meaning material assets, wealth. However, what currency is more important than our health? Without it, we don’t get far in this world, literally. My conclusion, which I never thought I’d come to for this book, is that we all have that in our lives which we must tend. A dynamic, a sadness, a pain, a lack–it’s likely unique to each of us, and not easily described to others. And it’s not failure. It’s just life. It’s living on the planet, in this day and time, in this culture.
By tending, I don’t mean keep doing all the healing things with thoughts of outcome. Some things can’t be healed; they can only be tended. Tending is the outcome. Tending is the healing. Be present to this hurt, care, have compassion for the state of caring for what isn’t well, as if nothing will ever come it, as if it will never be well. Yet you still tend it anyway, because to do otherwise brings a greater hurt than any part of you can bear. You tend it because the thing that needs you is the thing you least want in your life, always.
Maybe this is Buddhist suffering. Maybe it’s timeless sacrifice. My modern brain struggles with those concepts, yet I wholly understand tending. I understand standing betwixt and between. With those in mind, I also understand how this book ends, now.
How do you sit with chronic conditions? How do you tend the untendable?
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