As a GP and homeopath and new member to the team at The Natural Practice, I bridge the gap between different ways of thinking about health and illness. One's own experience is a profound teacher. At the beginning of October I had Covid. I was fortunate to have a mild illness, which of course is not everyone's experience and so this reflection is a personal one, though aspects of it may resonate with some of you.
We have a tendency in our culture today to treat every illness as something to be avoided and to view health as being a state to be achieved and maintained. Yet we are never still. We are always changing. On a cellular level we have a continual turnover and on an emotional, mental and spiritual level we are always evolving. My uncle is Chris Day, a pioneering holistic vet of many years' experience. In his words 'there is no such thing as the status quo; we are either getting better or getting worse'. But we know that change, like a trek in hilly terrain is never a continual upward trajectory, rather we traverse the ups and downs in our effort to reach the mountain top. Our lives are no different. Therefore, health cannot be considered a state to be attained and preserved. It must be a state of continual change and evolution, else we stagnate and decline.
Have you ever noticed how a small child recovering from an acute illness seems to display a new maturity and wisdom or some other subtle, but distinct alteration and progression. When we can clearly see that in our children, why should we doubt that the same could be true for ourselves?
The world’s great religions all agree that lessons are brought to us in life to teach us something and they are the precise lessons that we each individually need to learn. The challenge often is in determining what the lesson is. It might be to strengthen us, to teach us compassion, or fortitude or even to teach us that a task we have undertaken is actually not meant for us.
In the words of the great writer Rumi in 'The Guest House',
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
For some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.
This is a tall order and to live up to that in its entirety is no mean feat! But we can try to look for meaning and opportunity in life events and in illness. At the very least this attitude helps you bear the burden. But moreover, it may take you down a road you would never otherwise have considered and set you off on the journey you need to make.
During the illness of Covid itself, I realised the benefits of having enforced time off work - a luxury which we often forego these days in our societal demand for (ofttimes fruitless) productivity and understood more fully the discomfort and stigma of isolation (Jesus did not avoid the lepers). I also experienced symptoms which in their resolution have driven out symptoms I have suffered with for 29 years, in true homeopathic fashion: Similia similibus curentur (like treats like). In an inversion of the Trojan horse a gift is delivered within an ugly packaging.
‘All that is gold does not glitter’. JRR Tolkien (Lord of the Rings)
But beside the illness itself I believe the Covid pandemic has given each of us very individual opportunities to learn and develop if we so choose. One opportunity is to choose principles over fear and humanity over self-preservation.
Whilst we cannot choose the state of the world we live in or the nature of the challenges we will meet, we can choose with what attitude we meet them, what price we are willing to pay to overcome them and what is too precious to be sacrificed.