Those Damn Toxic Cantaloupes
When I was a child, my mother’s consistent response to my ailments, be they sore throats, colds, or tummy aches, was something like, “What was your role in this?”. Usually, with some maternal prodding, it was revealed that I had violated some basic law of self-protection; I had created the circumstances in which sick happened to me. Often, too, this misstep of life took the form of that crime against humanity, that deadly offense of going outside with wet hair. In the 1950’s, this scourge was the potential undoing of the human race as we know it. Surely we would all perish through the plague of wet hair.
As I write this, however, I find myself questioning my memory here. Really? Did my mother really say, “Okay, you tiny child, how did you make yourself sick?”. Perhaps not literally, yet this was clearly the paradigm in which we lived, the air that I breathed. Being ultimately responsibility for the turnings and twistings of the planet was the burden of my childhood. This ultimate responsibility without personal agency equals an exhausting and ineffective way to life. Have you noticed?
During this past week, I injured my back. It was my annual, lower- back-from-hell-experience. Walking and sitting were fine—getting from one to the other was not. Within those days of pain and exile from life as I know it, I found myself anxiously reviewing events of the previous days: what did I do? Did I not stretch after racquetball? Did I not spend enough time on the mat? Midway through the third day of this inquisition, I noticed the anxiety I was causing myself. This was surely a non-effective response to injury. I wasn’t attending to myself compassionately—I was, in fact, making myself feel worse. I then remembered: figuring it out is not a spiritual practice.
Yes, of course, we are responsible for our own well-being. Yes, of course, attending to the pillars of self-care keeps us balanced and connected. And yet sometimes, we just get sick. Sometimes we go to the supermarket and touch a cantaloupe that somebody sneezed on. That’s all—a sneezed upon cantaloupe. The partnership we hold with life, the interface between actions of self-care and then essential surrender to what is, that is the arena in which living yoga, the ancient practices of mindful presence, have much to teach us. Do your best and let go of the results! Having the agency to choose self-care, to commit to balance and consistency with food, movement, sleep and stress reduction, is clearly the practice to support life in a body, since lifestyle is both the problem and lifestyle is the solution. Yet, right relationship to reality, that is the door to real ease and skillful living.