The following blog had aspirations of becoming a magazine article but that vision has not yet materialized. So here it is:
In February 2009, I arrived in Chiang Mai Thailand, the popular hill-country destination, having come to study and practice Thai massage, a mixture of assisted hatha yoga, energy healing, and acupressure. After three days of listlessness I sat sagging in a daze, staring at a computer screen in the front area of my guesthouse. Pictures of various skin afflictions were displayed on the monitor.
If not for shooting pain and a newly formed rash that spread from the upper thoracic spine towards my ribcage, I might have mistaken my growing fatigue for jet lag.
“Let me see it,” the guesthouse manager startled me. I lifted my shirt so he could take a look at the skin eruption. “You have shingles,” he said without hesitation. In that moment my life changed in a profound way. It was the beginning of a chronic illness, one that continues to grace my life in ways I could never have imagined.
As a result of this illness submersion, I understand the desperation that millions of people are living through. A chronic illness was certainly not anything I thought would be part of my journey. I was an acupuncturist and yoga teacher, a health coach, the guy who climbed mountains, skied black diamond runs, raced bicycles, and helped people restore vitality and recover from dis-eases. I believed that robust health was in my control, yet all my treatments, strategies, and manipulations failed to produce a cure.
Driven by hopelessness and suffering and the pursuit of health restoration, my only option was to increase earnestness and conviction in my true nature. After several years, the willful energies exhausted themselves. I stopped pushing for a cure and discontinued attempts at regaining my old life again. When the seeking stopped, awareness came even more powerfully to the forefront, bringing the direct experience of true wellness, which is beyond the body.
An estimated 180 million Americans are undergoing a chronic illness in United States. Today 7 out of 10 American deaths are attributed to a chronic illness, which is defined as an illness of long duration (lasting at least three months) with slow progression that takes away a significant measure of health. Millions of sick people are frantically searching the internet for a panacea, a miracle pill. It is said that over 50 percent of all internet searches involve illness recovery or health enhancement.
All of us are on the precipice these days with an earth inundated with a variety of toxic forms. One big event, like a loved one’s death, divorce, sexual trauma, loss of job or housing situation, can trigger a chronic illness. The impact of big-stressors, especially over a period of many years, can drain savings accounts and leave one on the edge of homelessness, as I have discovered firsthand. In those with chronic illness, there is no easy way to generate income or buy needed supplements and therapies. Through challenges like these, trust in the Divine Mystery deepens.
After a decade of holistic treatments, procedures, supplements and diets, my body-sled once powered by Siberian Huskies is at times replaced by a litter of Chihuahua pup’s, while a banquet of micro-organisms seems to feast in the gastrointestinal tract and sometimes deliver dessert in the form of deep fatigue and brain-fog. In order to reduce symptom intensity during these cycles, I take activated charcoal, a remedy used in hospital emergency rooms for acute poisoning. I also use a peppermint, ginger and fennel tea strong enough to require drug approval by the FDA.
Not having a quick restoration of health, however, was a gift, otherwise I would have returned to old ways of living, and put most of my spare time towards pleasure-seeking activities and adventures, become overly fixated on a distorted vision of success, or accumulation of wealth. Engrossed with such things, I would have been distracted and less focused on the true purpose of life: to realize the Immortal Self and know the truth of my being in this existence.
When we look deeper, beyond the physical manifestations, chronic illness is not seen as a disabling force but a spiritual pointer demanding our full attention. Sitting with the most debilitating and painful bodily perceptions, simply watching, one realizes that these occurrences are not continuous. They are only flashing impulses that arise and pass away. More important is the space of pure consciousness which underlies these fleeting sensations. When attention goes into the ever-present awareness instead of transitory thoughts and sensations, we experience freedom from suffering.
Chronic illnesses are one way a large part of the populace is steered towards Source Consciousness. These kinds of illnesses are an opportunity for a sabbatical from our conditioned ways of living. Resting as the ever-present witness, the natural state of peace shines forth unimpeded, for it is already there. Trusting Source becomes our true refuge. With the increased sensitivity gifted to us through our illness sojourn, we are guided towards a fuller immersion in God, Spirit, Consciousness, or Divinity. Life gets simplified.
Of course it is important to have a pure diet and improve detoxification processes on the physical level when undergoing a chronic illness. Obvious wellness aids I’ve used include regular consumption of organic fruits, vegetables, juices, mineral broths and various high-grade supplements and therapeutic herbal compounds. These important adjuncts have accelerated detoxification, enhanced immune function, and improved my health.
During the last eleven years, I’ve also immersed myself in various sound healing exercises, like the chanting of ancient Sanskrit mantras, and undertaken silent meditation retreats. The use of harmonizing energy practices like yin yoga, qi gong or tai chi are potent movement meditations that can be done even on days of low vitality.
During illness, when we grow humble and sincere, a fierce grace arrives burning away latent tendencies of mind, habits of thought-formation, while healing childhood psychic traumas and emotional patterns related to ancestral conditioning. With the removal of these conceptual distortions and limiting beliefs, peace springs forth from within us.
One of the greatest tools on the return to authenticity is Self-inquiry, a passage to the expanse of pure being, free from thought. Self-inquiry, moves one from absorption in the mind, to the witness of thoughts. By questioning the validity of thought and abiding in silence our insight grows. In this way identification with body, thoughts, emotions and sensations fade away and leave Pure Existence in their wake.
When we abide in our true being, the Eternal is no longer ignored and meditation recognized as the natural centerpiece of our lives. Compassion and love naturally flow in this deeper Consciousness. From this space of clarity, even when the body appears ill, the real YOU is truly well.
Michael Harrington was accredited in massage therapy in 1995 and became a nationally certified acupuncturist in 2001. He is an end of life caregiver and author. His latest book, Conscious Transition: A Journey into the Heart of Death & Dying, was independently published in September 2019. He can be reached at http://www.opentohealing.wordpress.com.