Having a summer dinner with a dear friend recently, I asked if he had fully recovered from a recent acute, but severe, illness. He spoke succinctly of a shared experience worth highlighting. When we’re not feeling well, getting better is all we can think of. When we’re in pain, we are riveted to the discomfort. Demands of life, the minutiae, the relationships, and to-do lists fade away. All that matters is that we get better. And when we’re better, all that stuff comes rushing back! Our worlds are filled with demands and thoughts and people that pull at us, it’s challenging to even recall, that so many ‘important things’ are really not that important at all.
When I was in treatment for cancer some years back, I experienced a kaleidoscopic sense of my world simultaneously shrinking and becoming unrecognizable: doctor visits slamming into thoughts of mortality; CT scans bumping into walls of fatigue; nausea and pain overlapping with changes from surgical procedures. My medical practice, teaching and writing, my peppy family and social life and my giving, high energy person, went quiet. The clarion call was to remain focused on the task at hand: stay as healthy as possible to handle treatments I needed. And more to the point, it felt exactly right. Without even trying, I stopped paying attention to the chatter, the clutter, the whirlwind of life, as so many demands fell away.
Weeks ran into months, and I started to feel better, and so much of my world came flooding back. The good stuff, but also the thinking about any and every little thing: family, work, garden, patients, and the disturbing state of the world. I began to mull over all the little decisions I needed to make, and picked up threads of my world that had gone quiescent. The times we live in are filled with so many demands so many details that present at once crucial and urgent.
Going through any illness, like all adventures, there are souvenirs to keep. Like finding my capacity to quiet the noise, go offline literally and metaphorically, ignore the mounting needs and to simply be present. Being sick forces this hand, demands this kind of attention, or lack of attention! But we don’t have to be sick to be quiet, we don’t have to fall ill to try and focus on the things that matter. We can nurture ourselves and make space to slow the spinning world, any time at all. Happy summer!