Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal; receiving raw treatment from his friends.
Sick, sick, sick. Two and half days' of snotty nose and achy muscles and strangely feverish instability, and I'm finally forced to accept the incontrovertible challenge to that constant bullheaded assertion that no, I do not ever, ever get sick.
Everyone's got the bug right now, of course, and so I sucked it up and tossed back some meds and sweated through bikram Monday afternoon with high hopes for detox and clarity and then rolled into Rusty's class that evening stocked with Kleenex and low expectations and really just a deep, deep desire to undo. We crave that release promised by the practice, that undoing, of course, even when we are so already undone, unbalanced, not our own, alien to these bodies we naively call ours.
I taught yesterday, three classes, and they were harder to get through than any I've taught to this point; a real challenge in coming into the moment and seeing through watery eyes and a nose wholly resistant to Ujjayi breathing. Veit was telling me a story as we sat there on our mats before class waiting for the others to arrive, me just listening there in half-lotus, trying to soften into the morning; his recent engineering trip to Peru wrought new perspective, a fresh lens, on the ostensibly simple process that is being able to take an easy breath. There in the high altitude, every step became an undertaking; required to undergo a physical exam before even heading up the mountain, these strong able-bodied young men were suddenly aware of the heavy exertion of every exhalation, the fragility of each inhalation, the grasping richness of every full breath cycle. I thought of Veit's words again last night teaching, struggling to sing, wanting to sing, unable to sing, realizing how very much I take even that ease of voice for granted, hating the struggle of just trying to walk, heavy head swooning, across the studio.
So easy to take this whole thing for granted, really, the inhales and exhales that come so thoughtlessly for most of us, strong, healthy, stomping through the world as if we own it all, as if these easy-breathing bodies of ours will always be so. We all, god-willing, assuming we stick around that long, will hit a point where every step does become an undertaking, a challenge, a vast difficult journey across the room, across the street, up the sidewalk. And yet, it's so easy to assume we're invincible, that that struggle to breathe is relegated to oxygen-tanked sickies and AIDS-ridden hospital patients and certainly not to us scrappy healthy young folks in bodies that breathe and flip and stretch and chaturanga and generally do whatever the hell we want them to do.
I am struggling even now to sit with this less-than-healthy body, really struggling. How not to power through it, bulldoze over the delicate fragility that is being sick? So many people have known and spoken this struggle on the grandest of life-threatening scales, and in light of that, it seems silly that really just my little flu might be the source of that frustration. Enough melon and enough water and enough meds will surely take care of this within the day, hopefully before tomorrow's busy teaching stretch hits at dawn, and so, knowing that, we remind ourselves, of course, that nothing is permanent, all things change, whether that be our youth or our health or our strength or our sickness.
This stuffy nose will pass. As will this strong quad. As will this soft skin. As will that bruised hand, already healing.
It all passes. That's the point. Good, bad, healthy, sick; it all passes. And that is the simultaneous grace and sorrow of being alive in a body. (Thank you, Buddhism.)
Thomas Moore has written a gorgeous chapter on the body's poetics of illness in his sharp and soulful book, Care of the Soul. The whole thing is really worth your time; I always think of it when someone I know is unwell. Moore writes that
The word disease means "not having your elbows in a relaxed position." "Ease" comes from the Latin ansatus, "having handles," or "elbows akimbo," a relaxed posture, or at least not at work. Dis-ease means no elbows, no elbow room. Ease is a form of pleasure, disease a loss of pleasure.So you find the pleasure. You find the pleasure in learning to sit still and fold the laundry when really you want to go, go, go. You find the pleasure in collapsing into a rare mid-afternoon nap between classes and noticing the silence of twilight and the ragged sound of your shallow breath and the way the sun falls across the room at 430 for the first time in months. You find the pleasure of breathing through a clear nose, the pleasure of letting it be enough to lift your head without the concomitant rush of fever. (Thank you, neti pot.)
And you are reminded. (Thank you, body.) It is brief. And ever-changing.
I hauled my sick ass out of bed early today, having crashed hard and fast after teaching last night, to find an email from my mother. A childhood friend, a peer, a girl we used to play with in the piano room as kids while our parents talked about Boring Things over coffee in the dining room, has been diagnosed with a massive brain tumor, in Kentucky. It's too large to operate. She's my age. 31. Chemo and radiation. Suddenly everything shifts.
And the flu is not so awful. And the silence is not awful. And I will slog through a class at noon and clear out enough to shake some martinis tonight and it will all be fine. Ease will return. As it always does. Though that ease of being in a body might shapeshift completely. For Ashley, 31 with a brain tumor, that ease will look very, very different. The notion of ease suddenly takes on new meaning. Dis-ease rushes in.
I've been moved to share so many heart-wrenching conversations with so many over the last week or so about dis-ease. Cancer. Breast cancer. Ovarian cancer. Brain cancer. Cancer, cancer, cancer everywhere I fucking turn. And the sick grace of those conversations, of course, is the reminder that we are not alone in the suffering, and the certainty that we will all share some experience of poison, toxicity, an alien life form breathing ache and dis-ease into the body, and the awareness that it all passes, it does, as does everything in this brief life of ours.
It's a sunny clear blue day here in San Francisco. I'd like to be out in it, moving, breathing, running, soaking it up. I'll stay here, my body will dictate, I'll breathe and slow and wait and practice just being instead of doing, doing, doing. And the ease will come. And things will soften, and undo, as all things do.
Love to Ashley and Jennifer and Cynthia and Sylvia and Lochlann and Kamala and Nina and Stacy and Renee and the other Nina and so many others for whom my heart swells in the midst of so much cancer talk. It will pass. Ease will come. I trust.