“Growth begins when we begin to accept our weaknesses.” -Jean Vanier
I used to believe the word “healed” had a very specific meaning. In my mind, it described a state of perfection that always looked very different from the chronic health challenges I endured.
Being born with VACTERL Association, a birth disorder that causes malformations in six of the body’s systems, meant that I entered the world needing a lot of fixes. There were surgeries, hospitalizations, treatments, and medications aimed at perfecting something inherently imperfect.
I grew up searching. To be like everyone else. For a cure. For Peace. Clarity. Happiness. Always searching for a technique or philosophy that could mold me into the ideal woman I imagined I should be.
My search was fueled by a very narrow view of “normal,” “beautiful,” and “successful.” Images perpetuated on magazine covers and a myriad of self-help manifestos told me that life was good only if you could figure out how to become flawless, inside and out.
I read hundreds of books, attended seminars, journaled, meditated, said affirmations, communed with my inner child, prayed, eventually begged, finally groveled. And nothing.
Well, there was something. I found out that I was going to need a kidney transplant.
I assumed this prognosis meant that I wasn’t being “spiritual” enough. I needed to try harder. I saw the decline in my kidney function as a manifestation of negativity in my emotions. Maybe the damage was subconscious?
I saw healers and hypnotherapists. I listened to subliminal message tapes. I reviewed my memories, and looked, and looked, and looked for the cause of my current predicament. And still nothing.
All that came out of my search was restlessness and desire to search more.
I was operating under the assumption that if I meditated masterfully, became enlightened, or at least healed old emotional wounds than life would bend toward my will. It followed that since life was not yet how I wanted it, something must be wrong with me. I needed to find the fix.
As I stewed in my own spiritual turmoil, my kidney function continued to decline. The pressure I had placed on myself to not just find the cure, but to become the cure was making things worse.
Life is Suffering
I thought “healed” meant that life became the way you wanted it to be. I could not have been further from the truth. I had missed the most basic of Buddhist principles: life is suffering.
Becoming spiritual does not mean that we are no longer human. It doesn’t take away the pain, illness, and stress; it only reframes it. Suffering tells us that we are inherently human. Coping with human challenges does not mean that we are less-than or that we are damaged; it only means that we are experiencing things all human beings experience.
The trick is not to bend life’s will to our personal desires. It is the other way around. We must find the flexibility to bend to Life. That is what I had been missing.
There Was Nothing to Find
All of that searching took me to the most basic of places: exactly right where I was. Nothing to fix. Nothing to do. Nothing to become.
I no longer see “healed” as some form of perfection. It isn’t a certain health status, lab value, or lack of a diagnosis. Healed isn’t remission or cure. It isn’t any specific thing.
Healed is the willingness to unconditionally accept whatever life is at this exact moment.
My kidney is now flirting with the edge of kidney failure. Transplant plans are in the works. Sometimes I feel scared or worried. Sometimes I cry. Those are things I accept too. I no longer need to always be positive. I don’t force myself to be anything other than exactly what I am.
I’m learning to yield. It is a practice. I still have latent urges to “figure this out” or to be the miracle doctors cannot explain, and those tendencies get welcomed into my experience as well.
That’s the thing about acceptance: it doesn’t require searching. It is always available. Simply knowing that these rough edges are part of being here in a body, on earth, lifted a huge weight off of me.
I am healed. Even as I face surgery and a lifetime of medication, I am healed. At peace. With clarity. Content. Happy.
Photo by Cornelia Kopp