Mary Oak is author of “Heart’s Oratorio: One Woman’s Journey through Love, Death and Modern Medicine” (Goldenstone Press, 2012), a series of linked personal essays about living with congenital heart disease within the context of sacred ecology and deep story, with archangels and bodhisattvas woven in.
Illness happens to us. We become a cancer patient, a heart patient, a head-injury patient. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the meanings of “patient” is “one to whom something is done.” Our first response in receiving a startling diagnosis is to experience ourselves as a victim. Certainly we feel that circumstances are out of our control. They are! We find ourselves asking, Why me? —life is unfair. We may rage at the injustice. The indignity! We may shut down in overwhelm, become numb against the onslaught. Wake me up when it’s over. We may become limp as we withdraw into denial fueled by fantasy or addiction.
When an accident or serious illness strikes, acknowledging it allows us to move through despair and seek out the opportunity entwined with the crisis. Accepting what befalls us and having faith in something bigger than our own plan allows us to surrender; to take a different stance. We step into trusting a mystery beyond our control. This openness is not the same as going limp, defeated. Rather, it is a dynamic receptivity, a choice to participate in our unfolding story as consciously as we can. For those of us who identify with being “natural”, dealing with hospitalization can compound our sense of being ill at ease.
As a seventh generation homeopath with shamanistic leanings, I eschewed all forms of western medical intervention. Then, eight and a half years ago, I had a cardiac arrest and my life was literally saved by a machine. Through being forced to deal with a serious congenital heart disease, and navigate invasive surgery, I discovered how western medicine has a place within the whole of holistic medicine. When engaging in technological interventions, it is imperative not to contract into a mechanistic mindset, but to encompass it with a sense of spaciousness and inner resources.
Participating consciously in our healing process, we move from identifying as victim to awaken a sense of our own agency. This happens in many ways. By becoming acquainted with our condition and researching treatment options, we follow the adage, “knowledge becomes power”. Alongside this, we have a choice to engage inner resources. One way to do this is by developing and using creative Imagination as a healing faculty (I refer to Imagination with a capital “I”, to distinguish it from fantasy). There are many modalities to call upon Imagination in this way: poetic medicine, guided visualization, shamanic journeying, healing story, dream work, writing as a way of healing, therapeutic art, moving to heal…and more. It is beyond the scope of this post to enumerate these, but I encourage you to explore what speaks to you, to strengthen your inner resources in the face of outer adversity.
For me, going through a medical crisis led to working more deeply with the realm of archetypes, those underlying energies and universal patterns that reside in our psyches. A plentitude of healing beings are present to recognize and call upon as allies: Medicine Buddha, Tara, Mother Mary, Quan Yin, Christ, Artemis, Rainbow Woman, and many more. Alongside these beings, there are potent stories that correspond to the journey that we unwittingly embark upon after diagnosis that resonate with states of being that arise in response to what we are dealing with. Both healing beings and healing stories are strong sources of comfort and courage. How vital it is to balance the depersonalization of technological medicine, in all its outer objective power, with inner resources. Blessings on your healing journey!
Here are some recommendations and reminders to develop patience in being a patient:
- Expand your sense of self: you are not your diagnosis;
- Look beyond this time, “This too shall pass”;
- Seek out sources of hope, find your allies, inwardly and outwardly;
- Become knowledgeable about your condition;
- Seek a second opinion;
- Allow time to nurture yourself, physically and soulfully;
- Honor the need for Rest;
- Learn ways to relax, and center yourself. Possibilities for unwinding: Meditation, listening to soothing music, body work / massage, movement, being in nature, creative expression;
- Rest some more.
Practice ways to nurture inner resources and Imagination (as listed above) as well as journaling, listening to or writing healing stories, creative expression, prayer, shamanic work.
Find other sojourners on a healing journey– in person—or in books and film, who have dealt with your medical condition or a similar one.
Mary Oak is author of “Heart’s Oratorio: One Woman’s Journey through Love, Death and Modern Medicine” (Goldenstone Press, 2012). She teaches creative writing and works as a writing guide and developmental editor in Seattle. She is currently working on a patient’s handbook for ensouling surgery. She is offering a workshop on Writing as Remedy on June 4th. To find out more about her work, visit: www.MaryOak.com