The Courage to Heal
21 Practices for Challenging Times
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Illness, injury, and troubled times are a perfect opportunity to strengthen ourselves, on so many levels. Most of us understandably resist this growth because it challenges us, often to our core, and we'd prefer instead to fall back into our old familiar patterns of comfort-seeking and dependency. This appears to us to be the easier path - and yet it actually isn't, because it's really much harder to feel disempowered by our illnesses, shortcomings and other tests. Life almost always flows better when we feel guided by purpose. When we can find meaning and invitations within our challenges, we can even begin to welcome them! The chorus from a song by ‘The Ragbirds’ goes like this: "How else are you ever gonna learn to shine, unless you roll with the rocks, let them press and grind? How else are you ever gonna learn to be smooth, without these hard times to polish you?"
Personally, I have hit rock bottom a few times, and been challenged to my core many times. It has taken all these deeply tough experiences to prove to me that resistance doesn’t pay, while choosing to commit myself to reaching for inspiration does. This requires real courage, combined with true stamina. Here, I’ve outlined some principles that I’ve realized as critical in my own healing, and I hope they might be helpful to others who are opening up to the idea of engaging intentionally in the act of positive transformation through adversity.
Healing can be slower than we'd like. Nature has her own agenda! It gets easier when we accept this fact, and do our best to flow with the natural current. When I embarked on a month-long water fast with a group in Costa Rica, our fasting supervisor instructed us to write out a list of things we wanted healed through our fast. Afterwards, he invited us to crumple it up and throw it out, since our intelligent bodies would know best where to direct all available energy, and in what order to clean things up. Perhaps a tumor or other disease might be forming, that our conscious mind was not yet aware of, though it might pose a more serious threat to our survival than the felt symptom we were complaining about on our list. We were asked to basically ‘sit back and watch the show,’ without questioning or resisting the necessary natural process.
Our body knows how to heal itself, but it needs our support. It's critical to practice good discipline around providing the conditions of health. This will often require that we rearrange or re-create certain aspects of our life – it certainly has for me – and this is where inspiration can really help. Get yourself inspired about what you are aiming for, and why, and you’ll see how it is that discipline = freedom.
It can be very comforting to trust that the symptoms our body expresses, as uncomfortable as they may sometimes be, are always in service to our health. One of the "Laws of Nature" states that the body will always choose the least harmful means to detoxify and heal itself. We can view our magnificently intelligent body with a sense of awe, and trust that it is working in our best interest even when we don't understand (and sometimes don't like) the process. If we interfere (such as by taking drugs to suppress a fever, cough, or rash), the body may be forced to choose another detoxification route, which may be more uncomfortable.
4. Inner Wisdom
Our body comes designed with a blueprint for perfect health. Why would it be any other way? There is a vast intelligence at work deep within, all the time. Take regular time to tune in to this inner wisdom, or at least to hold space for its good works.
The energy of the Universe, the love-energy that lives in and through us all, responds directly to our beliefs, thoughts, requests, and actions. We can choose to focus on what we really want, and cultivate an unshakable faith that we will be taken care of. Trust….let go….believe.
6. Loving Kindness
Our natural compassion is most easily directed outward toward our fellow beings. Health and healing require that we practice extending loving kindness and deep compassion toward ourselves as well. I find that spending quiet time by myself in nature is a direct route to self-compassion, as it helps me to hear what I need.
If we look around we will see someone faced with a challenge bigger than ours. This will always give us a quick dose of perspective! And we can appreciate that we are still alive, after all. Feel your bare feet on the earth’s surface, the breeze on your skin, the healing rays of the sun, and open into a larger view of things.
Self-absorption can exacerbate our pain. Being of service to another person (even in small ways, if that's all we can muster when we're challenged) shifts our focus, gives us purpose, and heightens our own well-being. What we focus on expands….sometimes it’s best to shift focus away from what is festering in ourself, and toward offering something outwardly.
We can heed the sage advice in a Simon & Garfunkel song: "Slow down, you move too fast." Sometimes, we simply need more rest than we find convenient, or even comfortable. By surrendering to our body's requests for rest, and actually filling that (sometimes deep) well, we greatly increase our odds of healing from whatever ails us. My long water-fast showed me this, but better yet is to pay attention to regular intervals of relatively deep rest, within the flow of day-to-day life.
10. Deep Inner Listening
Sometimes we must be very still and quiet to hear the most important messages from the all-knowing place deep within us. We really do already have the answers we need, but we often aren't really listening. A slower pace of life, and more spacious days with fewer commitments, allows for deeper listening day to day.
11. Self-Knowledge: Knowing God Within
As Marianne Williamson's most famous quote reminds us, "We are powerful beyond measure." We all possess an intelligence so vast that it is incomprehensible to our thinking mind. We access this profound wisdom by stilling our mind, and allowing our heart to soften and open. As a part of my personal practice, I like to begin each day with spontaneous words I say out-loud to myself that will include something such as, “I greet this day with a calm mind and a soft heart, knowing my divinity.”
12. What's Most Important
Is healing our body really the most important thing? Happiness and inner peace come when we truly surrender to God/Source/Love, and fully open our hearts. This does not require a healed physical body.
Having an attitude of gratitude for all that we have and all that we love keeps positive energy flowing through our being, and the chemicals released through this positivity will help our body to heal. Start a gratitude journal, meditate on your gratitude, or speak gratitudes aloud every day.
14. Respecting the Body
Physical healing requires that we give our body what it wants, and not what it doesn't want. It takes time, commitment, and discipline (fueled by inspiration and love!), to consistently honor our higher needs rather than what our lower ego/id mind wants to grasp at.
15. Right Action
Just keep doing the right things, day by day. Every action counts, and we are always choosing to move ourselves in a positive, neutral, or negative direction.
16. Nature's Healing Powers
There's a reason why it feels so good to be out in nature on a nice day. When we reconnect with our source, we are infused with the most powerful healing energy. Even not-so-nice days out in nature will inspire positive, healing connection. It’s freeing to stand unprotected in the rain, and a cloudy, snowy, or muggy day can invite deep meditation.
We are never alone. It's easy to forget this when we are suffering, so it is especially important during these times to allow support people into our lives, to tune into other people’s stories of navigating challenges, and to foster our spiritual connection.
We can do just about anything, one small step at a time. Healing can sometimes feel maddeningly slow, but if we keep imagining our wellness, and keep doing the right things, healing will come. If we lose sight of what these right things are, we can look within and look to Nature, and we will remember.
19. Non-Attachment to Complaining
It is so tempting to complain! We want everyone to know how much we are suffering – sometimes we even want them to suffer with us. But complaining doesn't actually attract what we most want - in fact, it usually brings us just the opposite because it pushes people away just when we need them the most. By simply dropping our complaints, and being with what is, we can be delighted to find that we actually receive more of the support we most want and need.
20. Personal Responsibility
The ultimate truth is that we each must heal ourself. No one else can do the work for us. We will not heal completely until we take full responsibility for our own well-being. This may be the single hardest lesson we will face in this lifetime, and the most rewarding to master.
21. Reverent Surrender
Healing is not a matter of going back to the way things were, but of finding the courage to allow what IS to bring us closer to God. I think this is the secret to inner peace.