These days, I spend a lot of time confronting a couple of cultural assumptions:
- The best, most authentic & worthy, version of me and my life is the able-bodied, fully-functional, vitally healthy, independent one.
- It is my right to expect as much of this way of life, and for as much time as possible, as long as my lifestyle choices, personal/spiritual beliefs and the resources of medical technology and health science support it.
In other words, the life I want (the life I feel is within me to express) is the one I deserve and should not be limited, as long as I am willing to believe in it and to live in a way that is inspired by and supports that belief.
As someone who has been doing illness and disability since childhood, I have lived with these assumptions deeply ingrained. Even before I could consciously articulate them, they guided my way and acted as the lens through which I perceived my experience. Over the course of decades, they became my way of understanding. I wrote an entire book based on them. – It’s a good book. As a modern spiritual text, I am proud of it. On the other hand, my path has now led me to question these assumptions and wonder about other ways.
So here is the question that came to me this morning:
What if, as someone doing chronic illness and disability, I am living a fuller life than an able-bodied person?
By experiencing limiting, unpleasant and difficult circumstances on a regular basis, it’s possible that I am experiencing a wider scope of life. From that wondering, it is not far to the idea that a life defined by chronic illness and disability is more whole, more authentic, than an able-bodied one.
With a practice of staying open to how life is – as it is, instead of how I want it to be; with a practice of obeying how life is – as it is, instead of how I intend it to be, there is a chance for me to be made into a whole and real human.
What makes a person and their life authentic and whole? The capacity to identify what they want and live a life in accordance with that vision and purpose or the capacity to restrain their personal will and know life deeply for how it is, naturally? Some people may suggest that it need not be a binary choice. But in wondering about the assumptions our society holds at its core, I find myself wondering about the suffering they have caused me and many others. Feeling entitled to a life of our own making, one characterized by freedom and possibilities, may be the heart of suffering that we carry as a people and in our relationship with the planet.
For today, it is enough to wonder about my own life and its wholeness. I have spent many years getting to and staying on friendly terms with my condition, sometimes failing miserably. This morning, a sweet warmth and caring emerged. This experience is life in its wholeness, it is me in my fullness. To shun any part of it – or to attempt to bend it towards my own ends, is to turn my back on how life is.
It is possible that our humanity is not defined by how we overcome limitation but by limitation itself. We put so much energy and effort into not being defined by limitations (ours, others or the planets). But perhaps limitation, and an open embracing relationship with it, is what makes our life full. Perhaps it is what makes us whole.
Worth wondering about.