Illness II

When we are ill, we feel trapped by our body in a rigid zone of pain and malaise. The body which we so carefully cultivate for others and for our vanity betrays us. It leaves us helpless and asea.

Is sickness inevitable, like the cycle of seasons that revolves many times for our learning, or the cycle of life itself, which only revolves once and inexorably? According to some, each illness debilitates us in a pattern of revising genetic code. Our body remembers its vulnerability, like an old and unresolved temptation, and knows how to betray us when the near occasion arises again.

The metaphor seems far-fetched, yet from a biological point of view we are a bundle of delicate chemical interactions, complex yet predictable. The body is many times smarter than ourselves when it comes to the arbitrariness of our personality, our intelligence, our poorly-honed spiritual sensibilities. We astonish ourselves when these human characteristics work well — we call it synchronicity, more ambitiously a tapping into a collective consciousness, or even a kind of mysticism. But sickness can yield this same strange insight. The abandonment by the body, the thrust into affliction that is the counterpoint of beauty, can also provide us a moment of insight. How many classic mystics have suffered a physical affliction? “Malheur,” as Simone Weil called it, is “the only way that the human creature can re-create itself.”