Hostility begins to exist when we think we can choose by whom we shall be nourished. If the web of humanity is in any sense one, then we must choose to be nourished by those of whom we most wholly dislike or disapprove.
That is me on the porch with my friendly neighborhood black snake yesterday morning. The visitation felt timely and profound. I watched as the snake came through the yard into the sunlight and began nosing around on the stones for something. I watched as the snake turned its head this way and that, investigating with smooth but sharp movements, the grass, the stones, even me apparently, turning it’s head in my direction as I captured its shiny essence. I began to contemplate something I often contemplate; how can we turn poison into medicine. (That lovely black snake is NOT poisonous, it’s presence just precipitated that contemplation through association. Black snakes are good friends to have especially out in the country where they feast on local rodents and keep to themselves usually)
I’ve been doing a lot of sitting on the porch these days, a lot of listening to birds and gazing into space, and a lot of breathing. These have been and continue to be such extraordinary times. Yet, we humans still need all the usual things; food, water, sunlight and love. These usual things that our body converts to thought, sensation, feeling and energy for us each and every moment of each and every day. I could go on about what a miracle your body is but I won’t. What I do want to say is that these usual things are feeling so dear right now, dear in both senses of the word, scarce and precious. And the thing that perhaps is most dear, air, that very air is feeling like it could be dangerous.
Ordinarily, most of us avoid things that are dangerous. Even scrupulously avoid them. But you cannot avoid air. And in some everyday magic, it is ordinary, common, even easy for your body to convert that very air to something nourishing and vital. Every day and every moment, your body is taking in the air and using it to power your life. Could it be possible that danger, which heightens your awareness, brings you right to the moment, is the right medicine right now?
I don’t know about you, but for me, the events of the last few weeks have felt poisonous at times, an insidious poison wearing away at my conviction in the basic goodness of human beings. Yet, I have also always known and had great faith that part of the inherent goodness of every human being is the capacity to take what might look or feel like poison and use it to make medicine. Making medicine, to state the overly obvious, seems crucial right now between pandemic, protest and polemic. In times like this, we must make medicine from the materials at hand. At hand are fear, grief, anger. Medicine can be made here. Real medicine is made from real feeling, true feeling. It is not made from should or supposed to. It is not made from obligation, personal or professional. Instead, medicine is made from being willing to feel. Being willing to feel not only fear, anger, sadness or joy, but even more importantly being willing to feel pain.
What I notice, especially in this time of sheltering in place, which I am still doing right now, is that many of my preferred choices disappear. Such choices used to fly below the radar, and now, when there is little to choose about, these small choices seem huge. Should I read? Should I write? Should I eat, go for a walk, do yoga, meditate? What should I do in these daylight hours that seem to stretch on and on? What nourishes me?
Precisely the question in these times when I seem to dislike or disapprove or both of pretty much everything that is happening as well as all the feelings that everything that is happening makes me feel pretty much every day all day. Whew, I mean, what is to like and where are the choices that would feel good?
A choiceless choice.
Pain, like needing air, is a fact of life, a fact of life for each and every one of us regardless of age, race, financial status or gender. No living being avoids pain. Our willingness to acknowledge and to feel our individual pain is the beginning of making real medicine. What is real medicine? Real medicine is exactly that which, rather than saving you, finds you at home in whatever is happening.
So, are you willing to find yourself at home in your body, in your life, in these times? How are you making medicine from your grief, your anger, or your fear? If not, what is stopping you? I wonder if you are remembering to breathe deeply these days. You can’t live without breathing.
What do you do when you find yourself in a situation where you think you have no choice? You choose anyway. It may not be your first choice. It may not be the choice you had in mind. It may not even be a pretty or pleasant choice, but you still choose.
Choose love. Choose grief. Choose anger. Choose joy.
Previously published on Medium.com and is republished here under permission.
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Photo credit: Author.