Illness touches a part of the soul that no pharmaceutical drug can touch. Sometimes it is important to look beyond even holistic therapies to the arts for true healing. Poetry, painting, dance and other art forms can all engage a part of the soul that sparks the vital force to living and coming into harmony with one’s surrounding.
For me, one of the most helpful poets for healing is John O’Donohue.
A Blessing for a friend, on the arrival of illness by John O’Donohue
Now is the time of dark invitation
Beyond a frontier that you did not expect;
Abruptly, your old life seems distant.
You barely noticed how each day opened
A path through fields never questioned,
Yet expected deep down to hold treasure.
Now your time on earth becomes full of threat;
Before your eyes your future shrinks.
You lived absorbed in the day to day,
So continuous with everything around you,
That you could forget you were separate;
Now this dark companion has come between you,
Distances have opened in your eyes,
You feel that against your will
A stranger has married your heart.
Nothing before has made you
Feel so isolated and lost.
When the reverberations of shock subside in you,
May grace come to restore you to balance.
May it shape a new space in your heart
To embrace this illness as a teacher
Who has come to open your life to new worlds.
May you find in yourself
A courageous hospitality
Towards what is difficult,
Painful, and unknown.
May you use this illness
As a lantern to illuminate
The new qualities that will emerge in you.
May the fragile harvesting of this slow light
Help you to release whatever has become false in you.
May you trust this light to clear a path
Through all the fog of old unease and anxiety
Until you feel arising within you a tranquility
Profound enough to call the storm to stillness.
May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness:
Ask it why it came. Why it chose your friendship.
Where it wants to take you. What it wants you to know.
What quality of space it wants to create in you.
What you need to learn to become more fully yourself
That your presence may shine in the world.
May you keep faith with your body,
Learning to see it as a holy sanctuary
Which can bring this night-wound gradually
Towards the healing and freedom of dawn.
May you be granted the courage and vision
To work through passivity and self-pity,
To see the beauty you can harvest
From the riches of this dark invitation.
May you learn to receive it graciously,
And promise to learn swiftly
That it may leave you newborn,
Willing to dedicate your time to birth
As we suffer through illness, John O’Donohue, former Catholic priest offers us the wisdom that there may be fruits of the spirit we can gather along the way through the difficult initiation.
Illness has a way of stripping us of what is no longer important and as our vitality is drained and we are called to choose staying whole. Mary Oliver can guide us in her poem the Journey…
The Journey by Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice – –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do – –
determined to save
the only life you could save.
I sincerely hope the often times painful process of illness encourages you to focus on caring for yourself with compassion and gentleness.