The Flu and Contemplation

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You know that feeling when our bodies are fighting the flu? It’s like a truck hits us. Our bodies feel completely empty, tired and achy. Below our awareness, our white blood cells are releasing cytokines to up-regulate our immune response and kill the invaders. This creates inflammation, which makes us feel like crap.

We then load up on vitamin C, and other remedies. We do our best to keep on going, but sometimes we can’t. That sobering moment is today’s consideration: the moment we acknowledge we’re really sick. We throw in the towel, clear our schedules and go home.

In this moment, our mind/body connection has broken. The body is no longer compliant to the wishes of our minds. This ushers in a new sobriety. Everything that was so important, suddenly lessens in importance. It’s a small microcosm of what hits those who are diagnosed with life threatening illness. With a cold, we rearrange our days priorities. With cancer, we rearrange our life.

Please don’t skim over this moment should it strike you this flu season. When our bodies are diminished, it ushers in a type of suffering that is truly healthy for our soul. Acquiescing to our bodies call for attention tortures our ego and our over-inflated self image. Nothing is more spiritual than lowering our flag of self importance, and sickness has the power to force the issue.

Suffering opens up questions like: “I’m exhausted, is all this effort really worth it? What is my life anyway? Who am I if I can no longer do this work? What matters most right now?”  These are back-burner questions while our lives are distracted in frenzied effort and output. Ninety-five percent of our effort is spent maintaining what we had yesterday. Sickness opens up that five percent.

Sickness is a form of suffering. It makes us lowly and forces upon us humility. It can be truly beautiful and inspiring if it reveals to us that our ailment is NOT the sickest part of our life.

In twenty-five plus years of pastoring, coaching and counseling I can tell you that pride makes us so sick, that we can’t or won’t acknowledge our deeper sickness. We puff ourselves up. We get highly offended. We over-appraise ourselves as we take credit for others contributions. We cut others off in traffic. We hide our weaknesses. We take no pause when gossiping, or diminishing others. We think we thrive by differentiation.

What will it take to wake us up to our pseudo self, cover up job, that has become our life? I think it requires something severe. Suffering is severe. In this sense, it is also benevolent. Sometimes it’s lasting. When the cytokines hit, the gig is up.

There is another way. Though it will not prevent suffering, it does transform it. The way is CONTEMPLATION.

Contemplation is a spiritual practice similar to meditation. It’s a form of prayer or divine union that allows us to recognize that we are not what we think we are. The untrained mind (what the bible calls “Kardia” or heart) is, as Henry Scudder describes, “a court jester blowing a feather in the presence of the King.” It struggles to sit still within the PRESENT MOMENT  because it’s preoccupied with the past or the future.

Contemplation is a very imperfect practice of simply being what we are, here and now. No defending, apologizing, strategizing, planning, or worrying. Just an exercise of learning how to be here now, in the present, in THE PRESENCE. It’s accepting the sickness that won’t acknowledge it’s sick.

In the present moment, God ceases to be a vending machine that bears countless requests, but the very life sustaining breath that gives AND IS our being. Contemplation is accessing the ground of all being by discovering it’s not up there, out there, or over there. It’s not distinctly other. It’s only HERE, only now. It’s not even an it, the subject and object dissolve into only IS or I AM.

This fragile, messy practice opens up the discovery of how our proud pseudo-self loudly parades around, distracting and feeding itself like the selfish toddler it is. At first we think it’s us, but then learn it’s the sickness setting in. Divine union starves this pseudo self, leaving only the authentic (Bible calls it “Perfect“- Matthew 5:48) self that is transparently grounded in God.

The goal is not to get to Heaven one day by doing good. The goal is to live out of the Heaven (divine union) experienced in each moment. Contemplation helps us do this. So can sickness.

Our world places little value on spiritual practice and divine union. Perhaps the love of God has purposed suffering as an alternative portal. Suffering ensures we cannot go through life and miss God.

May we be quieted by our suffering.