It has been a challenging few days for me.
Eoin and I are on a much needed 2 ½ week holiday in Provence where we are house-sitting in a 600 year old farm which now comprises a stunning home and a selection of 5 star gites spread over 6000 square feet. The sun is shining and it is warm enough to have lunch outside followed by a siesta by the pool most days. We are caring for 2 dogs, 3 outdoor cats and 15 hens in return for us being able to live in this amazing place for free. We even have use of a car! We are close to one of the best market towns in the area where we can stroll in the sunshine and purchase a whole array of delicious local produce. Apart from caring for the animals, we have no commitments to anyone other than ourselves. Heaven! Our plan had been to relax deeply, explore this beautiful part of the world and enjoy long hikes in the winter sunshine.
So, why is all this challenging for me?
My usually strong, healthy body decided on our 2nd day here that it had different plans for me to the ones my mind had. I was aware of a little discomfort in my left ankle when we were out walking that day. After 5 days of ever-increasing swelling, redness, itchiness and limping over the Christmas weekend, I finally had to admit defeat and ask Eoin to take me to Urgences (A&E) at the local hospital yesterday morning. I am now waiting to see an orthopaedic surgeon and get blood tests back tomorrow morning to see if they can figure out what is wrong with it.
All of this means that I can now hardly walk at all and am being forced to, literally, put my feet up and allow Eoin to do everything for me.
On the way home from the hospital yesterday the tears started and when I found myself unable to walk to the toilet during the night on my own, I was reduced to a sobbing pile of self-pity! However, this morning as I sit up in our beautiful bedroom watching the sun stream through the windows the tears have gone. Whilst my ankle is still as bad, I feel completely different. This is a result of many years of actively practising acceptance or non-resistance.
Yesterday I realised that my tears were coming not from the physical pain that I was experiencing (although that was pretty bad) but from what was happening internally for me. Thoughts like “This shouldn’t be happening during our holiday”, “We should be out hiking around Provence in the sunshine” and “We should be shopping in the market on Wednesday and not going back for another hospital appointment” were all making me feel really frustrated and disempowered. Notice the recurring use of the word ‘should’ here! That is the first sign that I am resisting reality or wanting reality to be different to how it actually is. The Buddha taught that all our suffering comes from our desire for things to be different and I know that there is such profound truth in that.
Once I realised what I was doing to myself mentally and emotionally yesterday, I was able to begin to work my way through the 3 levels of acceptance which I learned from Michael Neill many years ago and which have been so transformative for me since then.
Level 1 is PEACEFUL ACCEPTANCE. For me, in my current situation, this goes something like “I don’t want to have this pain, I don’t like it and I would prefer things to be different but IT IS WHAT IT IS”. For me, the very act of accepting that there is something wrong with my ankle and that I am now forced to rest and accept support from Eoin is challenging in many ways but once I accepted that I can’t alter this reality right now then my internal suffering eased considerably. I found myself cosied up in front of a roaring fire with my feet up bingeing on one of my favourite Netflix series and being brought food and drinks. How was this bad? What on earth is so wrong with it? For many people this would be heaven on earth! Why was I making it a hell for myself? And so from Grudging Acceptance I quickly progressed to Level 2 which is PEACEFUL ACCEPTANCE.
To make this move from Grudging to Peaceful Acceptance you simply state the truth of your situation and then add the words “….and I choose to be at peace.” In my case, “I can’t walk and need to rest my ankle and I choose to be at peace.” Every time I feel my ego-mind trying to make this situation wrong I repeat that statement. I have had to say it about 15 times this morning already and it is only 11.30am! Our ego-mind really wants to keep us miserable, to make things wrong and to trap us in unhappiness. The very act of choosing to be at peace with a situation, however challenging it may be for you, is an act of self-love and self-liberation. It sets the spirit free to receive guidance and healing. It opens us up to miracles which are defined in A Course in Miracles as “a shift in perspective.” Suddenly being bed-ridden can shift from being something depressing and frustrating to something quite indulgent and pleasurable. After all, when was the last time I actually allowed myself to lie around reading, writing and sleeping all day? It has been a while and, now that I have made my peace with it, I am quite enjoying it! In fact, I am easily able to transition to Level 3 now which is GRATEFUL ACCEPTANCE which is when you are able to recognise all the blessings in what was previously a challenging situation. For example,
My ankle is damaged and I am grateful because the rest of my body is 100% well.
My ankle is damaged and I am grateful because this bed is incredibly comfortable.
My ankle is damaged and I am grateful because there is nothing else that I have to do today other than rest.
My ankle is damaged and I am grateful because Eoin is here to care for me.
My ankle is damaged and I am grateful because I have lots of time to read, write and catch up on Netflix.
My ankle is damaged and I am grateful because there is a state-of-the-art massage chair here which is helping to relax my body deeply.
My ankle is damaged and I am grateful because the sun is shining and there are comfy recliners beside the pool which I might be able to get to!
My ankle is damaged and I am grateful because I don’t have to travel home for another week.
My ankle is damaged and I am grateful because I have learnt lots of new medical vocabulary in French.
My ankle is damaged and I am grateful because the French medical system is caring for me.
You get the picture…..
Gradually, as you consciously move through these 3 levels of acceptance you can feel your mind, your body and your whole system relaxing and, from this place, you are able to access all the Grace and healing that the Universe has on offer for you.
I have used this process over and over and it never fails to relieve my suffering. I used it when my Dad’s dementia was driving me up the walls with frustration. I used it when my financial situation was really precarious. I used it when my Mum was experiencing a long, slow, painful death and I was caring for her. I used it when Eoin was collapsing with gallbladder attacks on a regular basis. I used it when I discovered lumps in my breasts. Now it is an automatic set point for me and it works miracles every single time I become conscious of the fact that I am the one who is causing my suffering whether that suffering manifests as frustration, fear, resentment, anger, stress or anxiety. It is not the situation which is causing the suffering. It is my thoughts about the situation which are the real root of my suffering.
So whatever tomorrow’s diagnosis is for my ankle I will be grateful because it is teaching me so much and deepening my spiritual practice to a whole new level as I learn to be vulnerable and dependent on others…….big stuff!
God grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change,
The courage to change what I can change,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
And so it is.