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Practical Spirituality: Living in the Modern World

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For most of my life, I have worked with people struggling with chronic illness, emotional discomfort, addictions, and relationship difficulties. Over the course of this time, the consciousness movement has presented some interesting theories about the cause of suffering. Many of the current teachings propose that the mind and distorted beliefs are the source of most illness and that in fact we “create” our own illnesses by our thinking.

I beg to differ. Unfortunately, this philosophy itself can contribute to even more guilt and suffering by imposing an additional measure of self-blame and self-hatred.

This is not the direction we want to take. While I do believe that most illness has a mental and emotional root, often that root is preverbal, primal, and beyond
the reach of the everyday conscious mind. The path to finding that root involves courageous work with the unconscious mind and is often a very complex path to wellness.

Before many people even arrive at that starting point, they often misunderstand the idea of “creating your own reality” and use it as another source of guilt and self-hatred. Perhaps there is a different way to start the path to well-being. Perhaps it is a matter of asking a different question. Rather than asking, “What am I doing wrong?” or “How did I create this?” we might rather ask, “What is this issue bringing into
my life?” There is a great and profound difference between blaming ourselves and asking what a situation is here to bring us, yet this subtle difference is rarely stressed.

Too often, a loving, kind-hearted person has sunk into self-hatred and greater suffering by believing they have done something “wrong” to bring about their illness. They are told that they have brought it upon themselves in some way. The tragedy here is that the result is greater suffering, not relief.

We are here on this earth to learn. We are given many avenues for this learning to take place. One of them is through the body. The body is the miraculous learning ground for the soul. For those of us who believe in a Divine Intelligence, this is even more profound, since every great tradition in the world teaches a variation of the following: “God gives to whom S/He wills and God takes away from Whom S/He wills.” The implication here is that we, in our humble humanity, can never presume to know why we are given certain challenges. The minute we do, we are playing God.

Therefore, the best we can do is ask what reason this challenge has been given to us. Perhaps it is merely to keep the scales of humanity balanced. For example, isn’t it amazing that many great human beings with an exceptional gift have been given an equally difficult challenge, impairment or burden? And it seems the greater the gift, the greater the cross to bear in some other way. Beethoven was deaf. Roosevelt was crippled. Mick Jagger has bad hair.

The point is that no human being is exempt from suffering and the scales are always balanced. To spend our lives fighting what we have been given because we believe it is “bad,” (or worse, that we are bad) is a waste of our time and energy. Maybe the solution lies in looking elsewhere, possibly even a radically different philosophy. What if we were to turn and embrace every single thing that we hate about ourselves and our lives? What if we were to make peace with our cross to bear rather than try to change our belief system so it will go away? There is a secret here in understanding right use of will. We return once again to the philosophy and question of what healing really is. Perhaps healing is the relief of suffering rather than the relief of symptoms. What if every symptom, challenge, difficulty and disease remained exactly as it was but we stopped hating ourselves for having it, stopped questioning what we were doing “wrong,” and therefore the suffering of the struggle were ended? Most of us believe that if we are struggling, it means we care. Can we stop struggling and still care? Can we stop worrying and still know we are concerned about those we love?

Many years ago, I was suffering deeply from serious and life-threatening chronic illness. I had been to every traditional and non-traditional specialist I knew, from energetic healers to Columbia Presbyterian specialists. One morning I woke up and decided I was going to stop running around spending all of my time and money trying to “fix” what was “wrong” with me. I decided to arrange my life to accommodate the fact that I was always going to have this disease, I was always going to be uncomfortable to some degree and I was going to live with it. I decreased my work hours, I kept my environment impeccably clean, I tried to get enough rest and eat the right things. I adjusted my life to accommodate this “terrible” illness. The change was very slow, but subtle and profound. It was like watching the grass grow. One day I realized that although I was still often uncomfortable, I wasn’t suffering. I wasn’t hating myself and I wasn’t depressed. I was happy and having a reasonably functional life. To this day I do not do everything that “normal” people do. But I do not suffer. (And truly, what is normal anyway? Isn’t it usually just other people’s outsides being compared to our own insides? ) I accommodate my life—end of story.

Maybe some day I’ll find the deep-seated reason for this condition, but frankly I was born with it and perhaps it’s just plain genetics. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes illness is just plain whatcha got from your ancestors.

And sometimes whatcha got from your ancestors is not always a bad thing.

Illness results in a very subtle sensitivity in the world that allows for intuitive understanding at a very deep level. I don’t know if I healed today if I would lose my high sense perception, but I do know that the physical state I was born into provides me with tremendous sensitivity to the subtle workings of the world. Do I need this illness? Maybe, maybe not. I suspect there is a primal wound that happened in infancy which I have not yet been able to uncover. Maybe some day I will get to it. But in the meantime, why suffer? There is enough struggle in the world already. Believe it or not, we can be happy in spite of and including the fact that we have not healed every imperfection and physical/emotional/spiritual
difficulty—by allowing them to be what they are while they are still around. This does not mean that we don’t care or we don’t try to improve the conditions of our lives. We must continue to seek every possible means of help and to follow up on every option for healing. We must not confuse acceptance with resignation or despair. In fact, despair is about NOT accepting what is. Making a place for the less-than-wonderful things in our lives does not mean we give up.

It just means we don’t have to suffer while we are still learning.

© Shemsi Prinzivalli  2017

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