The Joy of Feeling Terrible
by Ann Marie Cross
(Port Hope, Ontario, Canada)
I was diagnosed in my late twenties with an auto-immune disease, and since then I have ridden its ups and downs with varying degrees of grace. More and more, I allow it to be my playmate. Winking at me in its sometimes unpleasant disguise, it can lead me to my joy more powerfully than pleasant things.
First hearing the diagnosis, I was not happy. It felt like a curse. I have since learned that when something undesired seems to assert itself into your reality, there are really only two options: Fight it or accept it. You can try and make it better if that's possible, but a moment of total acceptance must come first. Living with chronic illness for the past 20 years has taught me something about the futility of fighting reality, and the joy of true acceptance.
On a bad day, various symptoms may arise. I've come to view them as "jumping off places." I can jump to an immediate stream of negative thinking or I can dive into something more empowering. The symptom itself - the pain or discomfort or fatigue - is a meaningless sensation until the mind chooses its story about it. The sore foot - (or fatigue or sadness or whatever it is) is already a reality in this moment. Do I want to fight it? How can I? It's here.
Here's what preparing for battle looks like: "This pain again! It never ends! Now I can't have my walk. What if it gets as bad as last time? What if i have to cancel tomorrow's plans? I can't believe it's here again even though I've tried so hard/been so careful/so "good". What did I do wrong? I hate this pain. Well, really, if she hadn't done this, or he had done that, this wouldn't have happened. If I was a better person, this wouldn't be happening. God is punishing me because I ate chocolate yesterday. Fate is against me. No one gets my suffering. Nothing works. Where's the chocolate?!"
We each have our go-to stories. They're just thoughts, able to be changed in an instant, but we must first know our thinking. Whichever story we tell creates our future.
Acceptance might look something like this: "My foot hurts. Maybe I'll soak it in epsom salts. And then instead of my walk today, I'll sit by the River. How I love the River."
Quite a difference. I frequently have knee-jerk resistant responses but am learning over the years to shift more and more quickly.
So what if there's been a momentum of negative thinking for you, over many years? What if the complaints or the fear or anger just seem to pop up, like there's no choice but to feel bad when bad things happen?
There's always a choice. And if I can do it anyone can. I was a pro at wailing and despairing at the first sign of trouble. No kidding. Years of meditation helped enormously - but you have to start somewhere, and this practice actually is a form of meditation. Maybe you can't jump right into sunshine and roses when something falls apart, but you can begin to notice the difference between the facts and your story about it. Notice the resistance.Let the complaints or anger or sorrow be there. And then simply recognize that you have a choice right now, in this moment. You can create a thought that feels just a bit better. Like "It's not as painful as it was last time." Or "It's kind of exciting to imagine that i could choose *not* to let this wreck my day."
The truth begins to shine through the situation when we surrender to what "pops up". The truth is that all is always well, and that everything happens for our benefit. Seeming obstacles become opportunities. The joy that has been playing hide and seek in every so-called problem delights in being discovered.
The next time you terrible, see how fast you can turn it into a game of hide and seek. You deserve joy. And it's always waiting to reveal itself to you.