Moving from Illness to Wellness

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Whew! We’re getting through our national election process with relative peace and calm (knock on wood).  In many places, in many people’s hearts, there is great relief and joy.  For nearly as many people, there remains fear and  anger, if not frustration and resentment.

We must be careful.  That is, continuing to be full of care.  We must continue to be mindful and compassionate, clear-headed and warm-hearted.  Globally and locally. In our communities, in our homes.  In our relationships with one another, and with our own selves.

Many of us are still struggling with significant stress in our lives, worries in our heads, and heaviness in our hearts.  We remain on a challenging journey towards healing.

The process of healing is one of moving from illness to wellness.  How does that happen? You may notice, as several sages have astutely pointed out over the years, that illness begins with “I”; wellness begins with “We”.

Moving from “I” to “We”

When anyone is stuck in an isolated, ego-centric view of the world, they react with more “fight-flight-freeze” defensiveness.  They are more likely to counter-attack others that they see as against them.  They are more prone to get sucked into the blame and shame game.  They are more likely to feel and act in ways that lead to further fragmentation – of themselves and their relationships.

When someone is able to remember and appreciate the inter-connectedness of our existence on this planet (in this country, in this school, in this family), then they are more likely to activate the “tend-and-befriend” mechanisms of self-preservation that rely on group cooperation and cohesion.  They are able to be more integrated – physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially.

Integrated doesn’t mean homogenized or forced “sameness.”  It means combining unique parts into a coherent whole.  It’s how any system (political, economic, social, biological) maintains equilibrium or finds homeostasis.  It’s how we function optimally.

We, as human beings, are hard-wired to respond to acute stressors – perceived threats to our safety and security – with both the more primitive “fight or flight” response and with the later evolving “tend-and-befriend” response.  Under stress, our nervous system releases adrenaline and cortisol that fire us up to fight or flee. It also releases oxytocin (the love/bonding hormone) that propels us to both help others and seek help from others.

We have instinctual fear and anger reactions that pull us towards either avoidance of or aggression towards others we perceive as different.  As social mammals, we’ve also developed empathy and cooperation skills that help us survive better when working together, rather than separately.  And as human beings, we have uniquely evolved with higher-order reasoning capacities that let us approach problems rationally, critically, and creatively.

Our higher selves have literally built up amazing, modern civilizations – as well as thriving communities and stable, loving families.  Our lower selves, always present in each of us, can and do sometimes tear it down.

Let’s move away from mental illness and social dysfunction towards emotional wellness and communal healing.

Let’s be wise elders in our villages, raising our children.

Let’s Recognize our differences as real, sometimes quite large, yet still capable of being resolved peacefully and productively.  (“Whether you believe you can, or you can’t, you’re right!”)

Let’s Allow these differences to co-exist, acknowledging the pain and wisdom in each of our hearts and minds.

Let’s Investigate, with quiet self-reflection, how that pain manifests in our own lives.  What and where do we feel it in our bodies?  What thoughts arise from it in our minds?  How is this healthy or unhealthy?  If we can’t see clearly and accept compassionately what’s really going on inside ourselves, we can’t begin to do so with others.

Let’s Nurture our selves and our children.  Let’s find the love inside and around us that can overcome fear, greed, and hatred.  It’s there, inside each of us, however buried or wounded.  Let’s make peace with ourselves – all our imperfections, warts and scars included – so we can begin to make peace with others.

There is a mindful compassion practice called RAIN, developed by Tara Brach and others, that helps us realistically begin to do all these things.  Next week, we’ll focus on and practice that.

Meanwhile, rejoice that you are still here, in this beautiful, crazy, imperfect world. And believe that you can continue to move through various illnesses towards greater wellness and wholeness.

We’re all counting on it!