No one wants to be sick. No one wants to suffer through a cold let alone something as debilitating as Alzheimer’s, cancer, or rheumatoid arthritis. No one wants to change their schedule, see doctors, get tests done, or deal with treatments. We do everything we can (or so we think) to stay healthy and well. The moment we don’t feel right we start to wonder what it is and what to do about it. When a germ invades the body we literally go into fight mode and try to eradicate the invader. Sometimes it isn’t an invader but a pain, a tear, or a dysfunction that sets us on edge. In autoimmune diseases the body actually attacks itself. Dementia, bad hips, and failing eyesight are often attributed to the slow breakdown of the body with age. There are so many ways things can go wrong in our bodies and every time we respond by getting our defenses up and willing ourselves to master whatever it is.
This is, of course, perfectly natural and normal. Our bodies and minds want to eliminate the problem and return to a state of balance and wholeness. Illness can cause suffering on various levels. Small illnesses can disrupt your dinner plans. Major illnesses can disrupt your life and the lives of everyone you know.
However, while illness is something we want to avoid and get rid of as soon as possible it is also paradoxically not our enemy. Illness is not out to get you. Its purpose is not to ruin your life or destroy your relationships or even tear apart your body. It is a facet of human experience that, like all others, is here to tell you something.
When you see illness from an energetic level, you see that it is the natural result of a disruption in the energy system. When your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy moves properly through the physical and energy bodies, you experience health and wholeness. However, when energy gets blocked the system cannot function properly and problems emerge. The more blocks, the more problems pile up and larger issues are the result.
To try and explain this, let’s start by thinking about the physical symptoms of a cold. Perhaps you have been pulling a lot of late nights trying to keep up with work and home and you're feeling stressed and worn out. Your body is invaded by a pathogen (cold virus) and it automatically goes into a fight response. Your nose may run, your temperature may go up, you may get really tired, etc. These are all totally normal responses as your body does everything it can to expel the cold. However, when your Western mind may also jump into fight mode and says, “Oh no! I need to fight this off! Grab the medicine! Get rid of these symptoms! Keep powering ahead as if nothing is wrong!” If you keep pushing yourself, or if your immune system is weak enough, you can’t fight the cold off and then it gets worse and turns into pneumonia or something worse. Suddenly you end up in the hospital because your body is overwhelmed with the illness.
Let’s look at this again from an energetic level. Perhaps you have been pulling a lot of late nights trying to keep up with work and home and you're feeling stressed and worn out. The emotional energy of stress causes energy blocks in your body. On an energy level you are depleted. You don’t have enough life force energy to keep all your systems up and running. You may even have energetic blocks that are keeping you from functioning properly. Enter the pathogen. On an energetic level that pathogen introduces yet another energy block that keeps your energy body from running smoothly. So now you are blocked with emotional energy (stress) and with physical energy (the pathogen) that are causing disruptions that your immune system is going to have to work around. If you were to relax and rest, your body might be able to dispel the stress energy and then be able to function better and focus on dealing with the energy of the cold. If you don’t relax, you might add yet another layer of emotional energy (more stress) plus physical energy (medication) which can add blocks of their own. Suddenly your energy is so blocked up it can’t function properly and you succumb to an even worse illness.
So yes, the pathogen is an invader and causes disruption in your body that you want to remove. But the cold is also highlighting a problem that was there BEFORE the illness itself. In our example, it is bringing to light the fact that you are stressed and tired. It’s clearly showing you the limits of how hard you can push your body and mind before it breaks down.
If you look at it this way, illness is less of an enemy and more of an unwanted messenger. You may not like what it is saying, but it is clearly telling you that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. And what is wrong and needs to be fixed was almost always a problem BEFORE the illness itself showed up. It’s almost as if the illness is making you sick to point you toward what you need to do to make yourself healthier and more whole.
It feels like a Zen koan, an “unanswerable question” designed to stop your thinking brain in its tracks. How can an illness be an invading destructive force while also being a messenger of health and healing?
Am I really saying that all illness, even the large, terrible, no-one-should-have-to-deal-with-this illnesses are just messages that the body (your soul/God/the Divine/the Universe) is sending that something is wrong? Well, yes. I know it seems like an unfeeling oversimplification, but that is essentially what is going on.
Why do I believe this? Well, because of the thousands of stories I have heard from people about how illnesses have changed their lives. How it gave them a course correction to take them out of that job, that marriage, that place, or that situation that was wrong for them. How the illness led them to find the life they had always wanted or the person they were meant to live with or even the reconciliation they were supposed to complete. How it helped them find their spiritual path, live their life's purpose, get real about their past, and heal family trauma. There are even stories of people who died of their disease, but the journey of trying to heal brought a whole new level of life to them that would not be possible otherwise. I have to admit that I don’t love the endings of those types of stories, but I have to acknowledge that for some it appears to be a valid path of peace and healing. Illness isn’t fun or desirable, but in a strange way it can be a door to a whole new, blessed way of being.
Now, for every story of transformation that occurs as a result of illness you can probably think of one or two that end poorly. The sufferers never get through the hard stuff, they never find the blessing in the challenge, or things just keep getting worse. I have to wonder, are these people so caught up in the fight response they never take a moment to stop and listen for the message in the illness? To really listen at a soul and energy level? I can’t say this is true for everyone, but I could name a few examples in which this was the case.
Listening to the message your illness is trying to send you may not be easy. It's not enough to feel sorry for yourself and wonder why this is happening. You have to dig deep, get quiet, and be willing to open yourself to hearing some hard stuff. What makes it even more challenging is that sometimes the message of an illness is for one person and sometimes it is for a family, social group, or society. The message can be something from your present life that is wrong, or something from your past, or even something from your family’s history. It could reflect larger social problems such as lead in a community’s water pipes or toxic fear. It could also be a mix of many things all coming together at once. Finding the message(s) in an illness can be a complicated endeavor.
This past year we have seen Covid-19 devastate the world as a whole (except for some exceptional communities). What messages does this pandemic have for us individually? As countries? As a global collective? I’m sure there are many and I am sure it will take years to fully understand them all. Like I said, it’s not easy, but there are answers there if we are willing to take the time to hear them.
I don’t in any way want to minimize the great suffering that can come from illness. I see so many people suffering through what feels like senseless agony. If I had a magic wand to wave and get rid of cancer, ALS, Alzheimer’s, dementia, fibromyalgia, Crohn's disease, and more I would do it. I’d very much prefer that we learn our lessons another way, with less pain and suffering. Unfortunately, this is the world we have right now and this is the way our messages come. Honestly, I wonder if in some way the increasing severity of the illnesses we see in the world is a direct result of our increasing ability to ignore our own bodies, souls, minds, relationships, and communities. We’ve so completely lost touch with what it means to be healthy humans that maybe it is only severe illness, on the personal and collective levels, that will break through our bubble of ignorance and alert us to the problems.
So is illness the enemy? Not really. It’s unwanted and undesirable, but it doesn’t have to be senseless. Illness brings misery in one hand and a message in the other. So even though your whole being goes into fight mode when it shows up (as it should) you also need to take some time to relax into it and ask, what is this trying to tell me? Sometimes the answer is easy (stop working so hard and get some rest) and sometimes the answer is harder (it’s time to change your whole life and start over). If you don’t listen, though, you’ll never know what the message is.
So once you get the message, does the illness automatically close up shop and go away? Sometimes yes. You hear tons of stories about people who have miraculous or spontaneous recoveries from all kinds of diseases and suffering. They listened, they learned, and they healed. However, sometimes it isn’t that easy. There are many people living with cancer, AIDS, degenerative disc disease, hereditary blood diseases, and more. The ones who live with their illness in beautiful and inspiring ways are ones who have listened to their condition and embraced the message that come with a lifelong healing journey. Why do some get the easier road and some the harder road? I honestly have no idea. I have enough trust in the Divine to believe that there is a reason, but I won’t pretend to know what it is.
I’ve personally been dealing with a variety of issues for nearly 15 years now. I’ve learned so much. I’ve changed so much. I wouldn’t be here now, as the person I am at this moment without my illness. I don’t like living like this and I’d be really happy to wake up tomorrow feeling whole again. But for some reason that is not my path and I’ve learned to trust that there is a Divine plan for this. So some days I’m mad and whine about it, but most days I lean in and listen for the next lesson waiting for me. I discovered many years ago that the illness is not my enemy. It’s a house guest I am seriously sick of, but since I can’t kick it out I may as well learn all I can.
So if you are sick and suffering, I hurt for you. I’d magic it away if I could. It’s a piece of being human that I would really like to change. However, until I can do that, I don’t want to see you suffer needlessly. Spend time leaning in and listening for the messages embedded in the illness. Pursue your healing journey knowing that it is less about the destination and more about what you learn as you travel. Trust that whatever the end is, that there is blessing and healing now in the midst of the challenge. Fight your way back to health in any way you can by embracing the messages you are receiving. It’s part of this messy physical and energetic human life we are living now in which we learn through the hard stuff of life. It’s not easy, but it is possible.