By Karen Wright
To this day I still can't stomach cherry-flavored stuff. Decades have passed since I was last forced to swallow Luden's Cherry Cough Syrup, but the memory is vivid and permanently turned me off to cherry flavorings.
Few of us relish taking medicine. It usually tastes bad (even when they try to coat it, infuse it, disguise it). And it's often got a sticky, slimy, or chalky texture too. Some of us would rather deal with our symptoms than take medicine that eases them.
The same could be said for our spiritual medicine. We sometimes gag at the thought of taking it. What is spiritual medicine? Glad you asked. You know that person at work you can't stand? Medicine. The traffic you slog through every day? Medicine. The sorrow you feel over losing a loved one? Medicine.
The problems that confront us - the large ones that assault our core beliefs and the minor ones that engulf us like swarming mosquitoes - these are our spiritual medicines. How so? The situations we face that we don't want are truly just situations - neither good or bad. It is WE who label them good or bad and then react to the label we just bestowed.
I know, how could falling and breaking your ankle be anything but a 'bad' situation? Bear with me just a bit longer. A friend of mine recently did fall and break his ankle. It put him out of commission for six weeks. Couldn't work; couldn't walk or drive. Lots of pain. Had to sleep in a chair because getting to the bedroom was too hard. To say nothing of showering! He lives alone and even fixing a meal was torturous. What about any of this could be anything but bad?
Well, as it turns out, he wanted to quit smoking. And he'd tried before, without success. Running out of cigarettes, and not being able to get any more, gave him the perfect opportunity to quit. And he accepted the challenge gratefully, knowing that if life had been as normal, he'd likely not have had the singleness of focus to really commit and invest himself into ending this habit.
And during his immobility, he began pondering his life. Where it was, who he was choosing to be, what was missing, what he was grateful for. This forced rest allowed him to make deeper personal commitments and define what he really wanted his life to look like.
From a broken ankle he was able to redirect his life toward a more fulfilling experience. Was it necessary for him to break a body part for this transformation to take place? Probably not. But, when we engage with life as it typically is for us, we're often much less likely to pause long enough to tackle such core issues. From his broken ankle (what some might consider to be a bad thing) he created and experienced a great gift.
Whatever situation we're in at the moment, we can rarely judge its goodness or badness accurately. What looks bad can turn out to be incredibly rewarding and what looks good can end up being devastating.
Back to spiritual medicine. For my friend, his injury was a spiritual medicine that administered time for contemplation and growth. Problems are our spiritual medicine - a situation, circumstance, person or reality that shakes us awake. Reminds us that we don't know everything or have it all figured out. That we need to pay attention, stay alert, be watchful of what we believe and who we're becoming.
Our natural response to confronting a problem is to 1) run, 2) ignore it, or 3) deny it exists. Of course, none of that works. Because the only thing that WILL work when facing a situation you don't know how to deal with is to face it and look for the message (medicine) it's delivering. To learn that the problem is actually an opportunity to grow. I know, that sounds like something your mother would say to you...but, you know what, she was right.
Medicine's purpose is to heal. Problems are problems only because we don't know how to deal with them. They present themselves as opportunities to heal - to understand and respond to the situation in a way that maintains our power and creates peace - for us and for others. In a way that reveals the illusion we suffer from: that situations control us. No situation ever controls you. And the wake up is the awareness that regardless of the situation we face, the control is ours to have or reject.
What are your hot buttons? Those situations that you immediately react to in very predictable ways? The situations that repetitively come up. The ones that leave you asking, "Why me??" Where there is a pattern, there is a healing waiting to happen. What message/medicine is that problem offering you?
What if, just this once, you listened and watched for the message/medicine instead of reacting as you always do? You already know that your typical reaction doesn't work. What if, just this once, you asked, "So what message is trying to get my attention here?" It might be worth a try, don't you think? You could, with this understanding, not only end this problem forever, but achieve even greater strength and peace. Not a bad trade-off.
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