By David Fredrickson
Certified MSC Teacher and CDP Team Teacher
I tried hard to avoid COVID and was successful until I wasn’t. It finally caught up with me a few weeks ago. I don’t know about you but when I’m sick, I get so many visitors and most of them aren’t invited. I’m not talking about family and friends bearing fresh squeezed orange juice and chicken tortilla soup, more like the visitors in Rumi’s poem, The Guest House, “the crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture.” There’s something about lying in bed, feeling icky, and staring at the ceiling or the backs of my eyelids, that invites what feels like bad company. I’m a captive audience and there literally is “nothing to do, and nowhere to go.”
As Sharon Salzberg says, “sometimes it just hurts,” and being sick is one of those arrows that pierces our tender parts. I think it’s why we get all the visitors. In my recent illness there were body sensations that made want to abandon ship and go live in different skin, difficult emotions that floated in like bad weather, and memories that took me to dark places—a different pandemic, HIV/AIDS, and the memory of watching my mom die from COVID complications.
These visitors were fodder for a whole quiver of arrows that I self-administered. Our scabs can be weaponized by our dear, old, overactive, survival brain in a misguided attempt to protect and save us from these resurrected and perceived threats. Often it ends up in some form of self-judgment or self-criticism and so the initial hurt becomes a full-on self-attack. “If I wasn’t so _____, I’d be _____.”
Thankfully this isn’t the end of the story, however, wellness or well-enough is not a passive process. If we remember to listen, there is an invitation to participate in our own healing with the resources of mindfulness and self-compassion.
It feels like grace because it comes from beyond and yet it’s an inside job. In a moment of grace, there is a pause, a bit of space, that creates possibility. For me this was a moment when the visitor didn’t fill up the full aperture of my awareness, and I was able to see a glimmer of something just over their shoulder, a little light, a soft breeze, a being on the other side looking at me with a warm and caring gaze. And in this awareness was the understanding that the “crowd of sorrows” didn’t travel alone! Just behind grief there was love, accompanying a body in distress was a faithful inhale and exhale, Jesus was holding a scared boy’s hand, and shame was disco dancing with a leprechaun. Fred Rogers used to tell kids on his television show, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, “Look for helpers.” What if being sick was about looking for helpers? They just might be behind the visitors we didn’t invite.
If you’d like to consider a writing practice around this topic, perhaps try one of these prompts: “Behind the uninvited visitor is . . .” or simply the prompt, “Help.”
David Fredrickson is a long-time resident of San Francisco, lover of nature, music, good friends, dogs and good food. He sees the world through the lens of a retired psychotherapist, seeker, writer, kitchen elf, and the squishy heart of a MSC student and teacher. Gratitude to David for permission to repost this from his personal blog at www.davidafredrickson.com.