By Shulamit Lando |
Everything I know and everything I have learned came thanks to the surprise that life had in store for me: MS (Multiple Sclerosis), a supposedly incurable and degenerative disease. All of what I write, even if it is not specifically related to it, came from the broadening of awareness that I got in and through the process of learning to deal and eventually heal from illness.
As I was leaving my volunteer job, the woman responsible for me and my work, calls me aside. She wants to ask me a question.
She wants to know if I would offer another half an hour to the clinic. I supervise psychotherapists who volunteer their time and expertise at a center that provides alternative therapies to people with Cancer, their families AND even their caretakers. It is an awesome project carried at the Oncology ward of a main Jerusalem hospital and at a clinic. All this work is done by professionals who volunteer their time and expertise.
My job is to supervise two therapists at the clinic. This lovely petite woman wants me to supervise another volunteer. It would mean to stay over for another half hour or 45 minutes after I’m done with my previous group.
“What is another half hour…?” -I think- If I’m already there!
‘Do you want to go home and think about it?’ she asks me. She is a very caring person and is concerned that I might be talking too much on me… and for free.
I tell her, ‘It’s OK, let’s give it a try. Let’s start next week.’
Holding me by the arms and intensely looking me in the eye she says:
‘Thank you Shuli! You know, you are so flexible and I appreciate that immensely. I am usually faced with the opposite, especially in this job. People want security and comfort; they want to have things in certain ways and always with all kinds of conditions. I admire your flexibility!’
What came to my mind was a very clear movie of thoughts and memories:
‘You know, Louise Hay says that the (probable) cause of Multiple Sclerosis, which I have lived with most of my adult life, is “mental hardness, hard-heartedness, iron will, and inflexibility.”
I guess that being faced with the undeniable reality of having that illness, I must have chosen to work on myself to increase flexibility.’
‘That’s an interesting way to understand things’, she said.
I had no other option, though! This is what life brought me so that I learned from its contrast.
When I was just starting my practice, one of the first patients I got for therapy was a woman my age (I was in my 30s then), a very strong willed and highly successful business woman who did catering for massive events. Marie, like me, also had MS. I was dazzled by her capacity to create, organize and manage these huge events and the large staff that worked for her.
But, in spite of all her success, Marie was very unhappy. She was rigid, hard headed, stubborn in a bad way and very moody. She spoke loudly, had a hostile yet witty humor, and limped. She was angry and not willing to let go of her bitterness; her worse resentment was against her body and her limitations. If there was a god, she was resentful even at him for letting her become “this!”, she spitefully showed me by kicking her cane.
In her experience, as soon as she got sick, even her family and closest friends started to “betray” her. Feeling like a victim had, paradoxically, become a very uncomfortable place of comfort. She was just not willing or able to perhaps consider what was her part in all that was happening “to” her. She would not want to look at how she was rejecting everyone around her, keeping them all at bay, for not being who she wanted them to be for her.
Working with Marie has been one of my most challenging experiences as a therapist and healer. But she was the teacher sent to me for my own healing. She was holding a mirror up to my face, a mirror of what I could become if I was not extremely cautious. She was my lesson of what could happen if I would just let the rigidity of the illness determine who I was.
Given what Louise Hay sets as the reason for MS: rigidity and inflexibility, the remedy for it would be: “…choosing loving, joyous thoughts, that create a loving joyous world”, Hay claims. I tried hard to help Marie achieve that for herself.
In my intent to help her soften her perception of her reality and brighten the doomed meaning she had given her experience – the way she judged herself and everyone around her – and in my intent to help her realize the good in her life without the bitterness that had stained it all so that her life’s experience would be a kinder one, I was actually healing myself.
Don’t get me wrong. Illness sucks!! I’m not about to get into the “silver lining” and bla bla bla. But I know we grow from adversity and not from our vacation time on earth. Even though being sick weakened my body, it strengthened my connection to what really matters. Being in a situation from which I had no way out of, made me connect to what was inside of me, my inner resources and strengths, in a way that nothing else could have.
I believe that we come to this life with a purpose, to be and do, who we are supposed to be and do. And each and every obstacle we find on our way – in my case, the allegedly incurable disease – is a teacher.
These difficulties are precisely what will tune us and train us; what will place us in the right direction toward a life of purpose and meaning. I must have somehow understood this from the beginning of my journey. I believe that by sharing whatever you learned through facing your own obstacles, is what heals you and propels you forward and higher. I cannot know the spiritual purpose of illness for someone else, but since that was one of my life’s hardest lessons, when I help another (specially with their sickness) I can realize my own spiritual purpose.
I could have had that other discourse too. Marie’s tale could have very well been the story I told myself; and I would have created a rigid life of resentment just as she was scrupulously creating for herself. Instead of that, I learned to see and appreciate the good in everything, even when it comes in drops. I know that, no matter how much I want to believe that we are in control of our lives, at the highest level of reality, life’s conditions are not really in my hands and that, the more flexible I am, the less disappointed I will be. But most of all, the more flexible I am, the easier it will be to navigate my journey.
By Shulamit Lando