Personal Growth

Dis-Ease as a Spiritual Initiation

by Suzanne E. Harrill

Living in a body is an amazing experience if you really think about it. Considering all the billions of parts and things it does to be alive deserves respect. Even when we appreciate our physical form, it has its downside at times. It gets ill, can be injured easily, ages and wears out, is susceptible to disease, and feels pain.  I have experienced all the above and I want to give you a peek at how I currently navigate dis-ease in my life.

Let us use climbing a mountain as a metaphor for the spiritual journey to understand initiation, which includes new ways to look at and handle dis-ease. Many early beliefs and patterns learned from our conditioning keep us circling at the bottom of the mountain of awareness, where we feel stuck and victimized when any kind of dis-ease is experienced. The bottom of the mountain is a never-ending circle, a closed system that doesn't incorporate change or new information, that is until change finds its way onto our path usually through a crisis. Climbing the mountain is a winding, open path in the configuration of a spiral. Here change is part of the journey because it includes the unknown. The higher up the mountain more understanding is available to help us deal with our pain, suffering, and fear. Let us discuss what initiation means, then learn to apply it to challenging experiences related to our bodies and dis-ease, whether it be illness, aging, recovery from surgery, being born with a disability, death of a loved one, chronic pain, or nearing the end of life.

The word initiation conjures up images of gurus and ashrams in India in my mind. Here people meditate all day and listen to talks to awaken and grow in higher consciousness. I've learned you don't have to go anywhere to grow in consciousness, to change belief systems and emotional patterns, to let go of the ego and control, or become enlightened. In fact, initiation after initiation can happen while living in suburbia, working, going to school, raising children, or whatever lifestyle you are living. It is easier to pay attention to your consciousness when hitting mid or later life when there may be fewer responsibilities and less busyness in your lifestyle. We live in an age where information is readily available to help us grow and evolve, such as entering therapy, reading self-help books, taking classes online, and listening to teachers on YouTube explaining ways to solve our dis-ease dilemmas and (en)lighten us.

Simply put, initiation is a leap in awareness to a new perspective of life, and in particular your life. A major initiation is to take full responsibility for your life on an inner level. Here you shift from being a victim of the outer world, of other people's words and actions, or from negative feeling life situations, to seeing where you have something you can do with what you experience and how you steer through all that appears on your life path. In other words, it is not what happens to you but how you deal with what happens. A shift, over time, moves you to see that blaming and complaining or criticizing others for your unhappiness or negative circumstances is a stuck, dead-end street. You grow to understand that some of the early training you received from parents, teachers, religions, and society is dysfunctional and inadequate to live as a healthy, fully functioning adult, managing with maturity all that moves onto your path. Most people live unconsciously repeating early conditioning until such time as they are ready to experience a shift into greater awareness. Once a self-understanding track begins, your life becomes a journey of many initiations that move you along the path to live more and more consciously. Then when the downs of life find their way onto your path, you find it easier to go with the flow, knowing it is your responsibility to navigate to the best of your abilities and with awareness, continually learning about yourself (and others and life).

As you ascend farther up the trail, many secrets are revealed, through many initiations as you are ready to receive the information. One example is your body has intelligence and wants to communicate with you. This deep, intuitive, inner process is full of information that can help you understand and deal with the dis-ease being experienced. You can get in touch with not only your wounding but ancestral baggage handed to you through your bloodline.

It is important to note that each of us is at a different place on the journey of higher awareness. Comparing ourselves to another is fruitless because we can only be where we are on our life path. Each of us is totally unique. No two people are alike with genetic patterning and predispositions, conditioning, interests, values, goals, attitudes, experiences, and temperament. The initiation you are ready to take may look like being in first grade or graduate school from an outside perspective. What I have written already will be new to some of you and old hat to others. It matters not because we do not compare, choosing to fully embrace where we are and taking our next step. Ideally, we turn around to help others a step behind us and welcome the help of those a step ahead of us. An interesting thing I have learned is, we attract people and draw events towards us that make us grow. Many people go kicking and screaming when lessons find them, while others go along with the process and grow in conscious awareness knowing this is how it works. The latter is the journey I am on.

I view all experiences as an opportunity to play in the field of consciousness, the easy ones as well as the difficult ones. Some things on my path I do not welcome, however, I have matured to be able to move towards accepting all as opportunities for growth. I choose to walk my talk and keep evolving my awareness. I do forget temporarily at times. Complaining and blaming may be part of my healing process, and it feels good sometimes. It does not serve me to stay there long, however.

Let us get back to the idea that dis-ease in our physical bodies can be an opening to move along in self-understanding, healing, and growth. It is challenging to have our bodies age and get ill, however the gift in disguise is that it forces us to ponder the deeper mysteries of life, to face our current reality, come to terms with our life, and eventually prepare for our death. Let us apply the idea of initiation here. Ask yourself where you are today in loving and appreciating your body unconditionally? How do you manage dis-ease in your body or that of a loved one? Do you appreciate the wonder and beauty of your body no matter what? Do you forgive yourself for being self-critical of your body or for unwise choices made in the past? Do you appreciate that your body is doing the best it can under the circumstances at hand?

When you experience any bodily challenges -- discomfort, a diagnosis, an injury, or chronic pain, your main options are:

1. to be a victim and focus mainly on the health challenge and the loss of not having the body you want, or

2. to use your physical problems to initiate an expansion of consciousness and grow spiritually.

Growing spiritually moves you in the direction of not suffering over your suffering. (Take some time to digest this concept.) You can update your self-image to the current reality and learn to accept it as your norm while continuing to learn about yourself and grow. Grieving also is an important part of the healing process. Sounds like a big job, right? It is. The rewards are worth it though.

Knowing yourself is the key to begin living with greater awareness at any age. To help those of you new to the idea of initiation, begin by answering some questions to get started contemplating who you are today.

1.      Do you spend much of your time worrying about your body, focusing on what does not work?

2.      What do you talk about when someone asks how you are doing? Do you complain and talk at length about your symptoms and forget to ask the other person what is going on in their life?

3.      What do you do to help yourself that is positive? Do you pay attention and include in your day things you like, such as listening to music, talking to a friend, reading, walking?

4.      Do you pay attention to your attitude and know how to uplift your emotional self? Are you curious how to do this?

5.      How do you live your highest values, such as connection to others, when you have a health challenge or experience pain?

6.      What are some of your feelings, beliefs, and fears about pain, and dying?

7.      Are you at peace with your life? Is there work to do to resolve and be at peace with former people or traumas? Is there a need to talk to or forgive anyone, including yourself?

8.      Do you feel your situation is beyond your control and therefore you are doomed to be unhappy?

9.      Do you understand the grieving process and know where you are in this process with any dis-ease in your life?

10.  Are you open to receiving help to understand ways to take the path of greater awareness no matter what the dis-ease is in your life?

Just reading these questions can shift you to a new place, bringing things in your blind spot forward for healing. Notice if your answers come more from the victim point of view or that of an aware, growing person. Each answer is loaded with information to consider that goes deeper than the physical symptoms of dis-ease. The bottom line is that the emotional component of your suffering is particularly important even if currently hidden from your awareness. Illness or pain can be a crisis that begins a journey of being more honest with yourself and an invitation to stop ignoring the emotional component of dis-ease. Go easy on yourself if stuck in an old holding pattern of being a victim of your circumstances or if you are unable to understand emotional aspects of your situation. We live in a society that supports being a victim and doesn't like to look at the emotional components of illness, pain, or any dis-ease. Go at your own pace. Spend time by taking one topic to ponder. If you need added support, consider reading free books and articles on my website, innerworkpublishing.com.

Once adequate progress is made towards understanding and dealing with the beliefs and emotional issues, you can pay more attention to your spiritual growth. If you are curious you can delve into finding deeper meaning for your life and connection to God. Ask yourself, "What am I learning from this situation that I never expected to find? What is important to me now after having gone through certain challenges? What are my true values, needs, wishes? What are the hidden gifts I've been given from being ill or in pain? Am I ready to face my fears, such as, that of aging, being in pain, or dying? Am I able to let go of control and trust as I surrender?"

The beauty of entering the phase of spiritual initiations is that you gain more and more acceptance of life situations, releasing crippling fears and understanding deeper concepts and paradoxes such as, "We are one," seeing ourselves as part of the collective experience as we are living an individual life. You eventually accept all life, moving beyond duality thinking to live with equanimity. You move in the direction of being the observer as well as the participant of your life.

We have looked at new perspectives for undergoing dis-ease in our physical bodies, treating them as opportunities for growth and healing and expansion of consciousness. Moving past unhealthy patterns and beliefs handed to us by parents and society empowers us to no longer be victims of our circumstances and to awaken to a life with greater awareness and choice. Observing our mental and emotional state is necessary to grow and expand our awareness. As we move to spiritual initiations, we learn to come to terms with our life and experience the peace that passes understanding. May you take your next step to manage dis-ease with grace and acceptance.

Richard Rudd, author of The Art of Contemplation, sums it all up very nicely for me.

"Illness is a natural part of life. There are many forms of illness, but all forms offer an opening into the contemplative state. Illness drives us deeper in the consciousness of our body, through the discomfort and pain that we are forced to confront. Illness tends to remind us of our mortality, so our contemplation might naturally swing in the direction of the subject of death. We do not generally know how we will die, but there is a chance that it may involve some physical pain and it will involve the dissolution of our attachment to the body. Illness therefore is to be trusted at a very deep level. Whether we surrender to our illness or fight it, it invites us to contemplate our own death and to open our heart to embrace the great mystery of life and death. Try to view illness as an opportunity to let go of some of the deep fears held in your body and trust that it will deliver you its own unique teaching."

 

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