Unusually, I woke feeling human and for a few minutes, I lay there relishing this experience denied me for over two years. Without effort, I felt relaxed, refreshed, normal, I could string thoughts together. There was no need to lift my attention from the disorienting nastiness of pain, sickness, deep brain fog and more.
To lie there was a treat. Usually, regardless of how I feel, I get up and stumble through morning routines, trusting that habit will revive direction. But today I lay within my bliss. Perhaps five minutes later, having digested what the sparrows who love the buddleia bush outside our bedroom door were telling me, having relished the sunshine obliquely lighting the splay of lavender we see through our sash window, I got up and went downstairs to make tea and so began my day.
People often tell me health is the most vital element of their lives. I disagree. When your good days are what others consider to be a ‘bad-cold’ day, you realise that your mental state is more important than your physical health. You also discover that this is manageable, whilst the other is out of your control. You come to realise that you have choice, to leave your attention in your suffering or to lift it elsewhere.
People argue back that when your body is ill your mind dips badly and so it is unable to be bright. Hmm. No. Years of experience has shown me that you can take your attention to where ever you wish to take it. Stew in your muddy puddle or peer above its putrid rim and admire the colours in the hedgerow of life.
They say that when the mind is stuck coping with, say, that bad cold or, worse, flu, there is no choice but to be sunk in misery. Yes, if that’s what you wish to experience. Hmm, but no. Like many people, I’ve had worse than dreadful flu, and like many, I learnt to rise above it. It takes practice, but it is possible. All that is needed is a realisation that we have choice, that we can place our attention where we want. Simple, yet it takes daily effort, however, it is well worth it.
And what of the rest of my day? It is now a few hours since I woke and that superbness has long since wilted. I spent it on vacuuming the ground floor. A friend used to tell his poorly wife, “Stop! Rest. You’re spending tomorrow’s energy today.” Body shivering, muscles trembling, brain hurting, mind in a fog, an hour since cleaning I am resting by writing this and trusting that it will revive my wilted sense of self. When ill of health you sag, your sense of who you are fades, you quaver, unsure of anything. This is when it is time to remind yourself that you have choice and need to work out a route from the pit.
Research by experts of anxiety, which I suppose this is part of, have concluded that removing ourselves from cloying downward thought spirals by concentrating on body sensations is sufficiently distracting. Observing hundreds of anxious patients, they found that when using a simple exercise, within two weeks their anxiety levels had dropped significantly. These people had to guess the count of their heart beat over 15 seconds, then compare this figure to the actual count when touching their pulse. They did this a few times a day and so it became established as a technique which enabled them to calm down, even when in difficult social situations.
I have always done what I term ’Settling’, which takes just one to three minutes, depending on the time available. It goes like this -
A flash awareness of my body as a superb sculpture.
A quick run through my sensual self - sound, sight, skin, smell, taste.
An awareness of the little bodily movements such as pulse and breath.
Delight in my inhabiting the universe’s best bit of kit!
Wow, what a privilege!
A wee smile.
A gentle laugh.
Established carefully in the first week, in a quiet spot like the loo. Once this mindset is set, it is available on a busy bus, during the chaos of work, in any tough social situation anywhere at any time. Even in hospital as your body writhes on the edge of likely death, (I can assure you).
I have practised this as I write and I am one step aside from my muddy pit and can exist in this positive mental environment, regardless of my body not feeling any better. Though the headache and the thick glue which makes thinking hard, continues, I am in control. I can flip sideways. My attention flies free.
Vigilance is needed. If I see myself sinking back, I slip in to ‘Settling’ to revive my mental balance. Fortunately, the sun is shining in the world beyond of my muddy physical puddle and so I go out to enjoy the garden.