Be tough in the way a blade of grass is: rooted, willing to lean, and at peace with what is around it.
— Natalie Goldberg
This month, my lessons started when I contracted an illness that left me no choice but to abandon all plans and get into bed.
The symptoms were intense, and my suggestion to patients to find a place of balance and breathe when they are dealing with challenging illnesses, was now appropriate for me.
By letting go and breathing, I was not ignoring the fact that I needed to be attentive to the best ways to proceed in order to heal well. I was choosing to bring my attention to the present moment to expand my awareness and possibilities.
Each time that I was able to bring my attention to the present moment, rather than reviewing the past or fearing the future, my nervous system calmed, and my irritated and reactive lungs accepted a bit more air. My thoughts quieted, and my sense of clarity increased.
I tell patients that each time I get sick, I become a better doctor. I begin to understand what patients mean when they say that it feels like there are sharp edges in their throat or they just can’t eat because all food tastes badly.
I develop a clearer understanding of the depth of insult that a pneumonia brings and the arduous process of getting a shower when your vitality has been severely depleted.
I learn what it feels like to lack the breath to complete a phone call and to crave the peacefulness of a softly lit, quiet room.
With this illness, I was gifted with still another realization.
When I couldn’t “do” , and could only “be”, the world looked and felt very differently to me.
The warmth of the sun on my chilled body was a blessing beyond words, reaching inside to calm the chills in a way that a blanket or extra sweatshirt had been unable to do. I soaked it in with awareness and gratitude.
The wind roared through the trees, speaking to me of things infinite and always from which I could draw strength.
As small sips of water trickled over my ulcerated throat, I appreciated every drop, grateful for the softening of the swollen membranes and the slow but definite replenishment.
The trees and flowers caught my attention and welcomed me to their energy and nourishment, the communication clear and unobstructed, and I was reminded of and grateful for the intricate web to which we are all connected.
The vividness of this experience was akin to suddenly experiencing the world without barriers, and I felt as if I was being re-united with old friends.
Because I was unable to “do”, I could more fully “be”.
And then there were the dandelions…
After a few weeks of lessons, I walked outside to see if I could find some warmth in the sun.
I noticed the bright yellow dandelions growing through the cracks in the patio. The yellows were exquisite in the sunshine, and the seed heads were magical.
Did the dandelions care that they are often considered undesirable weeds rather than welcome flowers for our tables?
Did they worry about which crack in the stones they moved through, which plants accompanied them or whether they popped up in the middle of a freshly mowed, green lawn?
Did they become discouraged or abandon their journey when the winds tore at them or the drenching rain drowned them?
Not at all.
They lived fully in the moment, moving through the openings that were presented to them and taking their place in the world, no expectations, no critiques, no hierarchy.
Did their journey depend on happiness or success?
Were they in some way diminished if they didn’t live or make it to the sun?
A beautiful state of neutrality. Just being what they are. Accepting what is.
I envisioned creating small bouquets of dandelions in the cracks of our patio, lovingly and carefully using scissors to gently create circles of yellow wisdom – or leaving them to wander and express themselves as they pleased.
Either way, pulling them out of the ground and discarding them in a plastic trash can was not an option.
This day, the dandelions were the teachers, the full expression of mindfulness, of unbiased, illuminated presence.
As I went back inside to meditate, I aspired to be like the dandelion, fully engaged in the moment, simply reflecting acceptance, welcoming the next opening.